Zuan Quan: An Overview of Xingyi Quan Principles and Practices From Famous Practitioners Part 4

In this series of posts (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) I will be posting the various teachings of Xingyi’s teachers and authors who wrote books during the Republican period where Xingyiquan saw some of it’s greatest growth, and probably should be considered it’s golden age since it was often taught at many of the institutes, used in many of the fighting competitions held around that time, and even taught to various soldiers prior to WWII.

Much of what we know about Xingyiquan comes from these various writers.  This is obviously not an exhaustive compendium on Xingyiquan, which is probably impossible considering that there are a great deal of practitioners worldwide who practice the art from various of lineages. However, it gives us an “as close to the source” of Farmer Li as we can get in this day and age, especially since most of this material was either handed down orally or through special texts passed down to those who were considered the lineage-bearers of the arts.  It’s highly likely that a great deal of those texts were lost to time, war, family members selling them, or just overall destruction.  Much of these books can be considered the Xingyiquan “Classics” which is a bit different when we talk about that regarding the Taijiquan Classics but can be important for our own future study. 

The most important aspect to remember, however, is that no text can make up for actual instruction and practice. It’s the action of practice that makes the movements work, that trains the body to understand how to move, and more importantly the knowledge of how to use it.  The founders and developers of Xingyiquan were not as enthralled with various philosophies and concepts unless it had something to offer in improving their ability to fight.  As firearms became more prominent, the necessity to focus the majority of development on fighting became less so.  Therefore, when you read the following texts keep in mind that much of the references to Chinese philosophy and traditional medicine were either added by the authors themselves, their teachers, or their associates/friends.

A huge thanks should be made to Paul Brennan of Brennan Translations since this is where I’ve decided to take these texts from.  The links to the full texts are provided in order for you to read yourself should you choose to.  Keep in mind that a couple of these texts – especially Sun Lutang’s works – have been translated by many and can be found for sale at places where you can buy books.

Zuan Quan or Drilling Fist: An Introduction

This is the uppercut of Xingyiquan. Just like in boxing, it’s often used as an close-range upwards strike. It can be aimed at the throat, solar plexus, ribs, etc. Traditionally, it is associated with the water element with the imagery and action described as “water sprouting up out of the earth.”

Sun Lu Tang

Sun Lu Tang’s book Xing Yi Quan Xue 形意拳學 (A Study of Xing Yi Boxing) is probably one of the more well-known books from the early Republican era.  It is, as far as I know, the first published work on the art.  It contains some excellent pieces of information regarding Xingyi but it does contain references to Traditional Chinese Medicine that were intentionally added by Sun as a way to legitimize the martial arts in China to start the Physical Culture movement that gained strength in the Republican period as a way to strengthen the Chinese population.  It was also a means dissociating it with the people who commonly practiced the art, such as bodyguards, gangsters, and the like.  It was meant to make it look more like an art and less like a method of combat.

第三章 形意躦拳學

The drilling technique (which corresponds to the element of water) is a posture of constant bending, like a flowing current, reaching even to the smallest place. Drill upward like water suddenly shooting out from the ground, like a fountain suddenly jetting upward. Within the body, it corresponds to the kidneys. Within the boxing art, it is the drilling technique. Therefore the drilling technique is like a sudden jet of water. When its energy is harmonious, the kidneys have sufficiency. When its energy is contrary, the kidneys are depleted. Clear energy will not be able to ascend and murky energy will not be able to descend. If it is not practiced smoothly, genuine power cannot be developed and awkward power cannot be fixed. You should understand this.

第一節 躦拳
Section 1

To begin, your hands grasp into fists. First your front foot is like in the chopping technique posture, going forward with a small step, and the distance is the same. Your front fist has the center of the fist facing downward and your rear fist has the center of the fist facing upward. Then your right fist goes out, your left fist pulls back to be below your solar plexus and above your navel, the thumb close to your belly. Your right fist goes out over the back of your left fist, drilling out no further than eyebrow height, the center of the fist facing inward toward your eyes, the fist stopping just over a foot away from your eyes. Your right foot at the same time advances as far as it can, the distance between your feet the same as in the chopping technique. The lifting and dropping of your fists and feet should again be in unison. Your shoulders and hips have an energy of drawing in, as in the three-substance posture. Your waist again has an energy of sinking, but your gaze goes upward toward the center of the fist.

《形意拳學》 孫祿堂 (1915) - photo 17

《形意拳學》 孫祿堂 (1915) - photo 18

第二節 躦拳
Section 2

Then lift again, your right fist twisting outward so the center of the fist faces downward while your left wrist twists inward so the center of the fist faces upward, your right foot taking a small step. The lifting, dropping, and advancing of your fists and feet is the same as on the other side, not at all different. How many times you perform the technique depends on how far you think your space will allow you to travel. Regardless of how far you travel, you should always finish with your left fist in front in order to turn around.

《形意拳學》 孫祿堂 (1915) - photo 19

第三節 躦拳
Section 3

When turning, your left foot hooks inward. (It is very important in doing so that your heel twists outward as far as it can.) Your left fist at the same time hooks inward until by your mouth, the center of the fist facing downward, the wrist twisting outward. Then your left wrist twists inward until the center of the fist is facing upward and drills out as in the chopping technique. Your fists then lift and drop as before, your right foot and right fist lifting and dropping in unison. It continues to be as though the left and right postures are the friction between the passive and active aspects.

《形意拳學》 孫祿堂 (1915) - photo 20

第四節 躦拳
Section 4

To finish, return to the place you started, performing the posture on the right side. Then your left fist and left foot go forward. Come to a halt. Then turn around, the lifting and dropping of your fists and feet the same as on the right side, as are the pressing up of your headtop and the sinking of your waist. When finishing, your left foot advances as far as it can, same as before, except that now your right foot tightly follows behind, same as the follow step in the finishing posture of the chopping technique. Be stable in the posture for a moment, then rest, as before. (See the photo for Section 2.)

Li Cun Yi

Next to Sun Lu Tang, Li Cun Yi is probably one of the more well-known names in Xingyiquan. Many practitioners can trace their lineages to Li Cun Yi in some way since he was a renowned teacher and well-respected for his fighting ability.  The book this material comes from A Combined Volume: Five Elements Manual/Continuous Boxing Manual 五行連環拳譜合璧 which was written by a student who had the material dictated to him by Li, himself who was probably illiterate; Li was a student of Liu Qilan, and Li’s Xingyi is considered the quintessential of the Hebei methods.

第三節 鑽拳
Section Three: DRILLING

一 路線
1. Footwork

These three steps are the same as for chopping.

二 起勢
2. Starting

Your left foot advances,
your left palm turning over so the palm is facing upward.
The palm hollows and the elbow bends
so that it is like drawing a bow.
Your right palm grasps in a fist,
the center of the facing upward, and is place beside your ribs.
Your gaze is toward your front hand
and aggressive energy builds.
Then as you continue into finishing,
this technique cannot be defended against.

三 落勢
3. Finishing

Your left foot opens outward,
then your right foot advances.
As the foot comes down, your [right] fist drills,
and your [left] fist should turn over rapidly.
Your left foot follows, pointing diagonally,
and your right foot is pointing straight.
Your front fist seeks to be at nose level
and your rear fist has its elbow tight against you.
Your feet, hands, and nose
are all vertically aligned with each other.

四 囘身勢
4. Turning Around

From your right hand being forward, turn around to the left. (If your left hand is in front, you would turn around to the right.) Your right goes to your [left] ribs, turning over to cover the opponent’s wrist. The footwork is the same as in chopping.

Li Jian Qiu

Li was a student of Li Cun Yi, as well as his father Li Yun Shan. Li Yun Shan was a student of Li Kui Yuan (Sun Lu Tang’s original Xingyi teacher) and Li Cun Yi. The author, in his book The Art of Xingyi Boxing, writes in his preface:

The Xingyi boxing art in Hebei began with Li, and when he died, its transmission continued. Beyond Liu Qilan of Boling, it was taught by Guo Yushen, Che Yonghong [Yizhai], Song Shirong, Bai Xiyuan, etc, all who obtained the essentials of Xingyi. Liu Qilan taught all of his sons – Jintang, Dianchen, and Rongtang – as well as Li Cunyi, Zhou Mingtai, Zhang Zhankui, Zhao Zhenbiao, and Geng Jishan [Chengxin]. Guo Yunshen taught Liu Yongqi and Li Kuiyuan. Li Cunyi taught Shang Yunxiang and Hao Enguang, as well as his own son, Lintang. Zhang Zhankui taught Han Muxia, Wang Junchen, Liu Jinqing, Liu Chaohai, and Li Cunfu, as well as his own son, Yuanzhai. Li Kuiyuan taught Sun Lutang, my granduncle, Li Wenbao, and my father, Li Yunshan, both of whom also learned from Li Cunyi and Zhou Mingtai. I received it because it was handed down in my family.
Recalling my youth, I was very ill, and both Chinese and foreign doctors had no method of curing me, so I focused on practicing the Xingyi boxing art. Not only did I recover from my illness, I became quite robust. That Xingyi is therefore of great use is without doubt, and I am preoccupied with sharing it with everyone.
In 1912, Liu Dianchen, Li Cunyi, Zhang Zhankui, Han Muxia, and Wang Junchen launched the Warriors’ Association in Tianjin and then the Esteeming-the-Martial Society in Beijing. Later, Sun Lutang wrote A Study of Xingyi Boxing [1915]. It still seems to me that the spread of this art is confined to the north, and that Sun Lutang’s writings have not yet spread very far, and so I, despite my ignorance and shallow level of ability, have endeavored to make this book.

第三節 攢拳

The idea of “squeezing” is to gather in. The movement of this technique is like the hand is “squeezing” [as if clamping around a handful of some valuable substance] – hence the name.
     The footwork is mostly the same as in the chopping technique, and so it is not described here.

Liu Wen Hua (Dian Chen)

Liu was the son of the famous Liu Qi Lan, teacher to Li Cun Yi, Zhang Zhao Dong, and Geng Ji Shan to name a few.  He is well-known for being extraordinary at Xingyi, and famous especially in the beginning where he practiced just Santishi for several years before moving onto the Five Elements.  


The drilling technique corresponds to the element of water, and its quality is that if there is a gap it must enter it. It appears with suddenness, and its speed makes an opponent unable to ascertain what you are doing. Its energy is expressed from the kidneys, and when your muscles put forth effort, the kidneys will then be nourished. Practice method:
     Begin with the chopping technique. [1] Then your hands grasp into fists in unison, your elbows wrapping inward. Your right fist goes from in front of your solar plexus, drilling out upward to nose level, thus making a triangle with the area below your ribs. At the same time, your left hand releases into a palm and goes down to navel level to be below your ribs.

[2] When your left hand drills, your left foot goes along with it.

[3] When your right hand drills, your right foot goes along with it.
     Inside and outside are connected with each other. Your hands and feet are coordinated with each other. It is to be done continuously without pausing. This technique is basically an elbow strike and strength is applied mostly in the elbow. Your elbow wraps inward, pressing to your body’s centerline, guarding your whole body tightly so that the opponent has no gap he can exploit. The Manual says: “First attack his guard, then attack him.” This is the idea. The strength is concentrated in the elbow. Therefore when applying it to strike an opponent, if he defends against it, I withdraw my front hand, changing it to a guarding hand, then use my rear hand to attack him. Do it in this way continuously without pausing. It can be said that defense and offense are simultaneously prepared, but in the moment between advancing and retreating is when I will apply them.

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