The history of any martial art style from China is often shrouded in legendary or even mythological tales that are often unverifiable at best. Xing Yi Quan is no exception in this case and its possible origins are unclear. The art and style are often attributed to a legendary general, the Shaolin Monastery, the Muslim or Hui community, and a farmer. Examining the links to each other and their connections is worthy of a book and could possibly be quite the volume.
Xingyiquan is a martial art that has deep roots in military spear techniques of the Ming and Qing dynasties. The art is often attributed, mythologically, to Yue Fei 岳飛 (Yue Wu Mu) of the Southern Song dynasty. Yue (March 24, 1103 – January 28, 1142) was a famous and legendary general fighting against the Jin or Jurchen people from the steppes. Little detail exists about Yue Fei’s personal martial training, despite what can be ascertained from legendary and semi-mythical stories. He likely was well-trained in archery and spear/lance of the time. As with Xingyiquan, he is credited with creating Eagle Claw, Yue Family San Shou, and the Eight Pieces of Brocade Qigong, of which all is posthumously found to be attributed to him centuries after his death.
Legend has it that Ji Ji Ke (姬際可) (Ji Long Feng, 姬龍峰) was the one who discovered the ancient Xinyi/Xingyi manual of Yue Fei in a temple. He then took the techniques combined them with Shaolin martial arts, especially the animals, and spear creating Xin Yi Liu He Quan (心意六合拳) or Heart and Mind Six Harmony Boxing. Regardless of what is now taught today as Xin Yi Liu He, we know little of what Ji practiced and taught. His martial arts were eventually passed through the Muslim community of Henan province and somehow ended up with the Dai (戴) family, particularly Dai Long Bang (戴龍邦). The Dai family ran a Bao Biao (保镖) or security escort company. In Ancient China, these were necessary to help transport goods along roads that were often wrought with dangers such as bandits. Merchants, and the elite would hire them to protect them in case they were attacked, and these men had to be extremely good at fighting both empty-handed and with cold weapons (swords, spears, knives, etc.). Dai Long Bang was said to have learned Xin Yi from Ji’s student Cao Ji Wu and based on what he learned, combined it with his family style creating Dai style Xin Yi Quan.[i]
The mid-1800s was the beginning of the end for the Qing dynasty. The Taiping Rebellion was occurring at this time, as well as widespread government corruption. It was in this time period that Li Luo Neng (李洛能) (also known as Li Neng Ran) began learning from the Dai family in their art of Xin Yi Quan. Li was known to be a farmer, but more than likely he was a landowner and merchant; and had experience with Chang Quan or Long Fist. He was originally from Hebei, but for whatever reason he found himself in Shanxi Province attempting to learn the Dai family martial arts.
Li Luo Neng was said to have been the one who took the material he learned from the Dai family, combined it with his own previous martial arts training, and then developed modern Xing Yi Quan. There is a claim and hypothesis that Li’s instruction of the Dai family methods may not have come directly from Dai Long Bang, but a student of Dai’s named Guo Weihan (郭维翰). Guo was said to have only learned the martial or combative aspect of the system and not the Nei Gong or internal cultivation aspects of the Dai family system since Xing Yi Quan lacks the Squatting Monkey (Dun Hou Shi) exercise and posture. There are also many other differences between the five element (Wu Xing Quan, 五行拳) and ten/twelve animal (Shi Er Xing Quan) techniques; Xin Yi Quan actually only has ten animals, whereas Xing Yi Quan has twelve. Guo Weihan’s involvement in the creation of Xing Yi Quan is still being debated and there’s not nearly as much evidence to support it aside from a novel written about Qing dynasty errant knights, and a book published by one of Guo Weihan’s supposed grand-students in the 1930’s, almost 70 years after the fact and long after Guo and Li had both passed away.[ii]
[i] Miller, Dan, and Tim Cartmell. Xing Yi Nei Gong: Xing Yi Health Maintenance and Internal Strength Development. Unique Publications, 1999.
[ii] Szymanski , Jarek. ChinaFromInside.com Presents; XINYIQUAN; XINGYIQUAN – Guo Weihan’s Xinyiquan, http://www.chinafrominside.com/ma/xyxy/guoweihan.html.