Principles and the Internal Martial Arts

This is an excepert from my in progress book The Study of Xingyiquan (working title). However, I wanted to continue sharing parts of it for interest and review. – Dr. Troy Schott, D.C.

Li Guichang in Xingyi’s Santi Shi

Principles are an important part of any martial arts system especially when teaching beginners since they have no foundation from which to understand how to move. This is true regardless if one is learning a traditional style or more modern combat sport style. These principles are mostly concerned with several aspects of a martial art. This could be how to stand, move, defend, attack, or any other subtle aspect of each of those.

In general, when referring to the martial arts that are typically classified as “internal” we can observe six factors that at the very least present themselves as skills important to all martial arts especially on a high level. These are:

  1. Not using force against force
  2. Using the power of the whole body to attack the opponent’s weaknesses
  3. Using primarily weight, momentum, and proper alignment to generate force
  4. Sticking and following the opponent
  5. Yielding to force and borrowing the force of the opponent
  6. Techniques based on leverage and superior angles instead of brute force
Luo Dexiu and Ed Hines

These concepts are especially universal to Xingyiquan, Baguazhang, and Taijiquan, but are described in different ways, and reached at different levels in training. You will notice them described throughout this chapter several places that will allow you to better understand your own training progression especially as it applies to Xingyiquan. These principles are not however only isolated to the Chinese internal martial arts but can be found in other arts such as those that focus on high level striking, wrestling, and grappling. In all honesty, “internal” is a made-up fantasy term that means very little when you get punched in the face, the same goes for “external.” These are just silly, arbitrary terms that have been abused for the last hundred or more years, allowing practitioners to feel that they are practicing some special martial art that is magical.

The following principles have been and will be translated by many others giving their traditional meanings and interpretations. I will be drawing on the translations primarily from the ones that Tim Cartmell made in the book Xing Yi Nei Gong. It is important to understand that all translations from their respective Chinese are partially interpretations even if the translation is fairly straight-forward. Very few languages, especially those not related to each other on a similar branch linguistically speaking, offer true one-to-one translations. Sometimes this can mean that one language offers a depth that another language cannot express, but more often than not it has more to do with the culture the language arises from and less about intellectual and spiritual depth.

Book written by Tim Cartmell and Dan Miller

Xingyiquan is a very practical and straightforward martial art, but it also contains a depth that will continue to enhance your practice as you train and develop your individual expression of the art. This of course does not mean that you do whatever you like, but that you make the principles your own by bringing the one thing that any martial art cannot bring, yourself. The more you practice any martial art, the more you change it, even if you follow that art’s principles and tenets to a fault. This is a normal aspect of training and thus embodying any art form, and it is what encourages further progression.

Push Hands or Tui Shou

For this chapter, we will explore twelve principles for Xingyiquan that are most necessary for all practitioners to pay attention and grasp. It is important to remember that Xingyiquan is a martial art which means that it’s true expression is through fighting. Xingyiquan is an art however based on both the shape (Xing) and the intent (Yi) one applies to fighting. While there are likely more principles than the ones described here, and it is important that you read from multiple sources as I already mentioned above, these will be invaluable to your training. In my interpretation of these principles, I will do my best to approach from a scientific perspective based on anatomy, physiology, and biomechanics. While scientific understanding of martial arts especially in the so-called “internal” martial arts such as Xingyiquan is often erroneously seen too mechanistic and deconstructive as opposed to “natural” it is important to understand that like any martial art they are still bound to the laws of our physical world. Regardless of our personal beliefs on the matter we must in fact deal with this reality, and our ultimate pursuit of deepening our practice of the martial arts.

5 thoughts on “Principles and the Internal Martial Arts

    1. Hi Matthew, I don’t at this time but thank you for reminding me that it is something I need to work on.

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