Essays on Xingyiquan
© Geoff Sweeting 2018
Xingyiquan (Form-Mind Boxing) is one of the major martial arts approaches evolving from ancient Chinese martial and warrior practices. It is the oldest of the so-called internal martial arts and emphasises a clear intent, fierce spirit, maintaining a stable centre, enhancing one’s natural instinctual energies and responses, integration of mind, body and spirit, and developing great courage in battle. As well as utilizing animal styles, five element fists, and weapons training, Xingyiquan is credited with being one of the first martial arts to place emphasis on standing or stillness practice. Early practitioners of the Art discovered that the more profound the inner stillness, the greater the explosive energy that could suddenly arise from it. This may at first appear paradoxical, but the law of opposites, the duality of yin-yang states that you cannot have one thing arise without its exact polar opposite also being manifested. So there is a direct relationship between stillness and movement. Working both internally and externally Xingyiquan practitioners learn how to approach life with greater courage in heart, clarity in mind and a profound sense of unity of will and energy. In light of these empowering qualities, the practice of Xingyiquan has the additional benefits of healing the body of illness and strengthening the spirit to help face and overcome many forms of suffering.
In plain terms, Xingyiquan is a combative training method that places great emphasis upon one’s thoughts, feelings and actions being congruently aligned. This means that the boxer’s intention, which puts them into a certain feeling state, is then expressed through the physical form (postures and movements). The form and technique that the Xingyiquan boxer assumes needs to be strong and stable enough to handle the intensity of their intention and feeling. If a boxer becomes too angry or emotional, then their attacks become wild swings and over-committed lunges that put them out of control. This is a case of the emotional intensity breaking apart the integrity of one’s xing- the postural frame and techniques applied. Conversely, if the intent and will is too feeble or not strong enough, the attacks will be weak and ineffective, regardless of how strong the structure of the body is. This is why Xingyiquan has the core teachings of unifying intention with feeling state, and developing an empowering, unified physical structure to support these inner powers.
A Brief History of Form-Mind Boxing
The history of Xingyiquan has become obscured through time, but is attributed to the great Song dynasty military General Yue Fei (Yue Wumu). Though he is a favourite folk hero of China this claim cannot be substantiated. What is known is that one Ji Longfeng (Ji Jike -1600’s) made the art popular in the Ming Dynasty. Ji Longfeng supposedly found an old manuscript hidden in the wall of a ruined monastery (or a cave, depending on who’s telling the story) that was written by Yue Fei. After much contemplation and practice Ji Longfeng emerged as a formidable martial artist and was subsequently held in great esteem by his peers through the use of his new art.
Ji Long Feng’s only known disciple was Cao Jiwu. Cao made the art famous by ranking highest in the military examinations of his time, and he in turn had two famous disciples; Dai Longbang and Ma Xueli. The art was then handed down through many generations and was known as Xinyi Liuhe Quan (Heart and Mind Six Harmonies Boxing) and was famed throughout the whole of China. Through many great masters and refinements the art broke into three main branches, one in Henan province- keeping the name Xinyi Liuhe Quan (still surviving today), the other two in Hebei and Shanxi province where it was refined and modernized by Li Nengran. Master Li changed the name of his art to Xingyiquan to put emphasis on the body/mind connection. Today our lineage of the Hebei style is down to the 7th generation of practitioners, or 10 generations from the original Xinyi Liuhe Quan origins.
As the name Form–Mind Boxing suggests, the principle at work in this system is the understanding that the expression of the body is directly linked, indeed reflects, the inner state of mind, and that “As we think, in our hearts, so we become”. The Xing may represent a shape or form, and The Yi may be translated as intent or will, and conscious awareness. There is a traditional Chinese saying that speaks of the mechanics of Xingyiquan;
“The heart (desire/feeling/instinct) harmonizes with the mind,
The mind (intent/awareness) harmonizes with the Qi (energy),
The Qi (intrinsic energy) harmonizes with the Li (power/expression of strength)."
The desire is to feel strong, vital, powerful, robust and healthy with a clear mind and steadfast, indefatigable and unconquerable spirit. Our intent is the focus that keeps us present to the sense of this powerful idea in the movements of our body, the depth of our breath, and the freedom to express the will. This allows the energy to build and release, issue and return with real whole body power, the mind and body as one. When we become still the mind and heart are clear and empty, full of potential. Then when we are about to move, we already sense and feel that we are strong, quick, powerful, unstoppable. Out of this internal state flows the quality of our external movements. Our inner thoughts and feelings can be seen, felt and heard in the expressiveness of our physical movements. That is, our inner state is communicated by our outer form and vice-versa. The basic use of qi (intrinsic energy in the body) in Xingyiquan may be thought of as a medium of communication between inner desire, intention and external manifestation. It fills the space between feeling, thought and action. This qi is the energy of physical and instinctual impulse. The mind responds to a stimuli via an intent, which causes a flow of felt-momentum arising from within the deeper core of the body. This energetic and motor reaction expresses force outward through the peripheries in order to move the body. Li is the resultant power released, and when the prior chain of events is correctly unified in response, then the power release is strong and formidable in manifestation. Form-Mind Boxing trains this ‘chain of events’ response to be quick, adroit and powerful. It combines the inner instinctual power and conscious awareness of mind with a unified alignment of the body’s structures to achieve a highly integrated posture and attitude of oneness.
Training begins slowly at first, standing in stillness practices to strengthen the body, stabilize the spirit and build an inner will of steadfastness. Then training evolves to large, whole-body movements done at walking pace so that the body can be relatively relaxed and allow mind- in the form of sense and feeling, to fill the body. Training slowly allows the full use of present moment awareness and directing intent, enabling practitioners to keep mind and body unified in the movements. In this way we become aware of the movement of the energy through the alignment and momentum of the movements. As we learn to feel and sense the energy and the movements as large and powerful, full and flowing, we gradually speed up to self-defense pace.
Xin is the instinctual heart and spirit,
Yi is the mind in awareness and intent,
Qi is the energy and felt-force momentum urged from the inside of the body
outward through the peripheries,
So that Li is the power expressed in strength of manifestation
Xingyiquan holds the alignment practice of the Six Harmonies as fundamental to its training. These six parts are divided into three internal and three external combinations. The Six Harmonies are a way of consciously practicing the unification of the internal and external parts of a human being, and provide a practical sense of what is often referred to as the mind-body-spirit connection. Only by long term and deep practice in this art, can one come to really know the value of this integrated whole-being form.
The strongest and most powerful expression of physical force is a direct, frontal, slightly weight-sunken, forward attack, with the body’s alignments ‘square on.’ Having the full body weight, breadth and root power behind the striking expressions of the limbs gives ‘whole-body power.’ The Six Harmonies teaches a direct frontal attacking posture combined with a protective wrapping around and forward to cover and hold power along one’s centreline. This forms a wedge type shape- a broad curve at the back of the body coming into a thinner centreline at the front- that can be driven into the opponent’s position to split their unity apart. The finer vertical front line-up finds gaps in the opponent’s defences more easily and so allows the wider and heavier part of the back of the torso to be driven through smoothly and forcefully like metal wedges used to split wood. Having this forward facing, weight-dropped wedge shape moved as one piece so that hand and foot, elbow and knee, hip and shoulder arrive together at once, is the essence of the three external harmonies. This physically powerful form can only be properly maintained in unification during training or application by an accompanying internal component. The heart is one’s deeper feeling and in santishi (three point guard stance) standing, it is calm and empty of attachment. The mind is focussed, free of distraction, seeing and assessing all before it though remaining present and in the here and now. This allows the energy of the body to circulate through the channels comfortably and naturally without obstruction.
In martial application, the instinct of the heart sends a quick response and the intention of the mind directs the force of will which moves the energy to urge the body into an appropriate response of force and power expression.
The Six Harmony teachings are divided into three internal and three external couplets as described below.
Three Internal Harmonies
Heart and Mind harmonized (Xin-Yi)
Mind and Energy harmonized (Yi-Qi)
Energy and Strength harmonized (Qi-Li)
When the heart is calm and desire not aroused, then the energy of the body flows and circulates freely and harmoniously. When the mind is clear and concentrated, can observe all yet remain unattached, then your movements will be natural. When you are calm and good natured it is said that the heart and mind are harmonized, the mind and energy are harmonized, and the energy and strength are harmonized. The Xin is your deeper primal instinct, your Yi the learned, wise part of consciousness. They need to be used in harmony and agreement in order for the energy and power of the body to respond in unified force.
In most of your training the heart and spirit should be calm and settled naturally, your intent clear and focussed and your movements smooth and natural. In martial application the desire of the heart is quick, and cruel and the intention is to overwhelm absolutely. Thus the energy and power can be full of vital strength and expressiveness like a wave crashing over the opponent.
To practice with an empty heart, calm and good natured is to handle life nobly and confidently. To also practice with full power and all of one’s spirit in fierceness of will, is to use the deeper instinctual forces to express the strength and energy required in times of survival. The deeper teaching is that with a calm, empty heart the spirit permeates everywhere. This means that even the slightest outward stimulus allows one’s awareness to catch it and respond with the whole body and mind instantly.
The stillness that one holds also results in stored up potential movement. So that the greater the stillness, the greater the movement.
Three External Harmonies
1. Hand and Foot harmonized
2. Elbow and Knee harmonized
3. Shoulder and Hip harmonized
Both hands push and pull with strength. At the same time both feet twist with strength outwards and have the feeling of pressing forwards and backwards simultaneously. This is called hands and feet harmonized.
Both elbows hang downward with a heavy feeling and cover the centreline, whilst both knees press inside with some strength. This is called elbows and knees harmonised.
Both shoulders relax and are drawn open through the upper back with some strength, both hips shrink inside the root with strength. This is called shoulders and hips harmonised.
Looking closely we can see that these three external postural alignments describe a sense of similarity in form and function of each part. The feet are like the hands, the knees are like the elbows and the hips are like the shoulders.
In Chan (Zen) Buddhism, it is taught that in order to achieve correct form, the accompanying right spirit and mindset must also be present. It has long been understood in the inner traditions that one’s outward form influences the inward state of mind, and in turn, one’s state of mind may be observed through the external frame, movement and posture of the physical body. Mastery of the requirements for correct posture are understood to be the very art itself. In simple terms, this means that the attention and awareness needed to correctly take up and maintain the essentiality of the boxing art’s postures, is the exact and correct state of mind that is required for expression of power in the techniques.
The Six Harmonies do not describe just one shape (e.g. santishi), but rather the shape of oneness.
The Three Centres Combined
The centre of the head must draw energy downward,
The centre of the feet must draw energy upward,
The centre of the hands must return energy also.
The Three Centres are the centres of the palms, soles of the feet and the crown of the head. Often Xingyiquan written material makes mention of the Three Centres as being Yongquan (K1) point, the Laogong (Pe8) point, and Baihui (Du 20) point, but this is just a guide. It is really the whole well or concaved centre of the palm around which the fingertips grip the iron spring, the pulled-up hollow of the soles just behind the front pads of the feet when the toes grip the ground, and the small, slightly sunken area at the crown of your head that are the three hearts. All of these anatomical locations sink in slightly or curve inward and with added intention give the feeling of drawing power back through them into the centre of the body (therefore they may also be referred to as the Three Empty Hearts.). These three peripheral points of the body all draw in power back to the one central meeting place of the body- primarily the lower dantian. All three of these points need to feel as though they are pulling power back inward together. If any one of them is insufficient then the power and stability of the body will be out of balance.
With the Six Harmonies and the issuing and returning intentions, the Three Centres combined helps store up energy within the body, so that it is loaded and ready like a drawn bow. The external form pushes outward whilst these centres (or hearts) also direct a returning force inward simultaneously.
The Three Centres are also the Five Points (the two palms, two soles and top of the head) used to express power. So that when you wish to express the force from within, you release it as though letting go of the arrow on the drawn bowstring and urge it out like pressing the Five Points outward; The top of the head trusts upward, the palms push forward and the feet press downward with instinctual force.
In standing or stillness practices, pay attention to the breathing and you will feel the movement of the breath’s energy travelling back and forth through the Three Hearts. Upon inhalation, there is a sensation of energy drawing in along the inside of the peripheries to the centre of the body and then upon exhalation flowing back out to the peripheries again. This is also referred to as tidal breathing.
(Three Point Guard Stance)
In beginning the study of Xingyiquan the most fundamental exercise is the santishi three point guard stake standing practice. Santi translates as the ‘three tips’ or ‘three points.’ In Form-Mind Boxing we line up the nose, fingers of the lead hand, and toes of the forward foot, along one plane. This forms the Iron Triangle of the Santishi fighting guard stance.
The standing practice is one class of ‘stillness’ exercise. It helps to calm the mind, strengthen the body, and feel out the fundamental form of the Santishi body or primary fighting shape of the art. When practiced for long periods (up to thirty minutes on each leg) Santishi becomes a type of ‘spirit’ or psychological practice in that it places the body in relative discomfort so that the practitioner discovers a way to remain calm, centred, focussed and at ease amidst difficult or challenging circumstances. This is a meditative style of ‘no mind’ or ‘empty heart’ from Chan (Zen) practice. In ‘emptiness’ there is no separate self, and therefore no self to ‘suffer.’
We may argue that the best form of self-defence is a ‘no-self’ defence.
“Thus, in emptiness there is no suffering, no source of suffering, no relief from suffering, and no path leading to relief from suffering.”
(The Heart Sutra-translated by Red Pine)
Completing the further requirements for Santishi:
1) Toes, fingers and nose all on one line. This forms what is referred to as the Iron Triangle. This provides a strong guarding and expressing force, whilst protecting one’s centreline from attack.
2) 70% of weight on back foot, 30% on front foot (or 60% & 40%). Sit down over the back foot, keeping the legs bent. This creates the Chicken leg posture.
3) The arms are like drawing a bow to release an arrow. The hand at the lower dan tian has a sense of returning energy, the front hand has the feel of issuing power.
4) The crown is raised to the sky (which slightly draws in the chin), so that the spirit may rise and ‘rush the gates of heaven.’
5) The pelvis is rotated forward and upward slightly, but the cheeks of the buttocks remain relaxed. This closes off the anus to circulate the qi through the little heaven circuit, and gently pushes out the small of the back to stimulate the Mingmen point (the gate of life). Combined with the central pole, full abdomen and empty chest, it also stabilizes the body during movement so you cannot be easily pulled forward or pushed backward.
6) The tip of the tongue curls back and upward to connect to the upper palate. This joins the Ren and Du mai (the centreline energetic channels), and helps complete the little heaven circuit. It also keeps the tongue out of harm’s way from the teeth in combat.
7) Maintain the energetic Central Pole under all conditions. This is the energetic line that connects the two points of Baihui (Du 20) with Huiyin (Ren 1) when steps # 4 and #5 are followed correctly.
8) Equally rooted in heaven and in earth. The spirit rises to heaven and connects. The qi sinks to follow the downward movement of gravity to earth and connects.
9) The arms and legs are extended outward, but the wells in the palm withdraw, and the Yongquan points on the soles of the feet draw upward.
10) Though the crown pushes skyward, the Baihui opening draws down energy into Niwan.
11) The chest is emptied and curves (very slightly withdraws), the upper back is rounded, the arms are embracing. This forms the bear’s shoulders, and tiger embracing its head shape.
12) The curved and emptied chest allows the breath to flow naturally to the lower dantian whilst gives a feeling of gravity accumulating downward to stabilise and fill the lower elixir field.
13) The hands and fingers extend and the tiger's mouth is rounded. This forms the eagle's claws.
14) The whole xing or combined form of the posture may be felt as the dragon shape.
15) Thus Xingyiquan can be said to contain five essential animal ‘spirits’ or ‘qualities’ at the heart of its way;
It is important to train and study the essential spirit and movement of these five animal styles until you come to a deep understanding of their fundamental virtues and you are able to express these strengths in your boxing.
The overall feeling or quality of the Santishi posture can be summarised as follows;
The hands and feet, elbows and knees, shoulders and hips, all feel as though they wrap around the central pole to contain one’s centre within, whilst urging the power outward at the same time. Simultaneously half the body has the intent of pulling back whilst the other half expresses energy forward. This is the feeling of issuing and returning, pushing and pulling, advancing and retreating, yin and yang, all at once. This generates a sense of the entire body assisting in ‘drawing the bow’ as though ready to release a powerful arrow. The upper back is curved into the embracing arms, which in turn empties the chest. The fingers extend and yet also squeeze at the tips as though pressing down iron springs. The body sinks and crouches down, allowing the feeling of gravity to draw the power downward for stability and giving a sense of the lower abdomen being full and stable. The lower body is crouched like a wildcat ready to pounce upon its prey. The upper body presents a strong attitude, with eyes focussed steadily on a distal point. The crown pressed upward to the sky, the forehead ready to butt like an iron ox and the entire head matches the hands in strength, force and a noble, ready bearing. The extremities are urging outward in form, but the five centres are drawing energy back inward through their openings to cultivate the energy.
This simultaneous pushing and pulling, extending and contracting, allows the energy of the body to both circulate in the peripheries of the body and build up its reservoirs of power at the same time.
It is important to understand that the postural and attitudinal requirements in the Internal Martial Arts are pointers to power, not rigid controls. Do not create a self-imposed prison of conformity or slavish adherence to a formal, one-size-fits all ideal of postures, shapes or alignments. Feel them out and find what generates greater agility, provides you with a feeling of protection and concentrates your strength and power for free-flowing, dynamic practical application.
All the above concepts are pointers to an empowering experience of energy and consciousness. The shapes and movements of Xingyiquan assist to nourish and condense the ‘noble qi’ whilst simultaneously directing and guiding it through the body for practical use. Thus we can say that Xingyiquan (and all of the three Internal Martial Arts) meet the practice requirements of the two types of qi gong; Nurturing (nourishing) and Exercising (directing/guiding) one’s intrinsic energy. Work to achieve a sense of wholeness or a single feeling of powerful oneness of mind-body-spirit. It is a guide to assist you in discovering a ‘whole’, complete or total feeling in your ready stance.
In Xingyiquan the body is further divided into three sections of three parts. Each section is divided into a tip, middle and root. Understanding how to use these sections individually allows us to break down and analyse in detail each part of a technique and where the power arises and is applied. By initially understanding the 9 parts separately we can then ‘forget them’ and return to a unified whole body power. After 9 comes 10, which is 1 again.
The body divisions are as follows;
The Head is the tip;
On the outside there is the head, on the inside there is Niwan (The point at which two lines joining from Yintang and Baihui meet).
The Back becomes the middle section;
On the outside there is the back, on the inside there is the heart.
Waist is the root section of the body;
On the outside there is the waist, on the inside there is the Lower Dantian.
Basically the three “insides” of the Body divisions, refer to the Three Dantians or energy centres from Daoist energetics. The Upper Dantian (At the head: Niwan/Yintang as reference points), the Middle Dantian (at the chest: Heart and solar plexus: Shanzhong/Zhongting-Shendao as reference points) the Lower Dantian (In lower abdomen: Qihai-Mingmen as reference points).
The arm divisions:
The shoulder is the root section.
The elbow is the middle.
The hand is the tip.
The leg divisions;
The hips are the root.
The knees are the middle.
The feet are the tip.
Use the Three External Harmonies, Nine Part Strength and the Body Divisions to study and learn how to make the whole body into one integrated power. See how all the tips are alike and all the middles and roots are serving similarity of function, feeling and energy. Notice how the elbow and the knee both have emptiness and fullness, what is open and closed, and how their intent and feeling are aligned. Pay attention to how the head and neck, the wrist and hand, the ankle and foot are similarly aligned in spirit, energy and form.
The Seven Quickening
In the martial application and power of Xingyiquan, the seven quickening are paramount in study, understanding, practice and mastery.
From a health, vitality and qigong perspective, realising the seven quickening is to also make the whole being come alive. In alertness and readiness the vial force is primed, the spirit has awakened and the energy of the body is flowing freely and powerfully.
The explanations below are taken from my translations of Ling Shan Qing’s ‘Pictorial Explanation of Xing Yi’s Five Element Boxing’ along with my own observations from practice.
The eyes need to be quick.
The eyes act as a direct outpouring of the inner spirit into the external world. When the eyes are quick to survey and read the scene before you, then you are able to respond successfully and appropriately to happenings around you. The eyes provide immediate feedback to your conscious awareness in order for you to competently assess your opponent and move your body in accord to the needs of the situation. An old martial verse reads; “The heart is the commander whilst the eyes act as the vanguard.”
Thus the eyes need to be quick.
The hands need to be quick.
Indeed we have a saying that the “Hand is quicker than the eye.”
In Form-Mind Boxing the hands are quick, agile and clever; changing in the blink of an eye, rising as quick as arrows, falling like the wind, the enemy cannot handle your rapidity of changing. Defence and attack, advance and retreat all depend upon the movements of the hands and arms, as these are the primary weapons used in fighting. Xingyiquan describes the hands as being like the wings of a bird which gives a clear indication on the importance of the hands in combat. Victory relies on the hands responding very rapidly during fighting. To have quick hands is to win, and for the hands to respond slowly invites defeat.
An old song says; “With bright eyes and quick hands one has the victory and cannot be defeated.”
In ‘chasing the wind or catching the moon’, do not slacken your efforts nor the speed of your exchange. In the swiftness and intensity of your hands responsiveness, you can utilise the element of surprise and snatch the victory from your opponent. With quickness of hands you do not need to fear even if an opponent is larger and more powerful than you, for ‘he who hits first wins.’
Thus the hands need to be quick.
The feet need to be quick.
The feet serve as the foundations of the body. If you are steady on your feet then the whole body will be balanced and stable. Form-Mind Boxing has the aim of a unified, whole-body strength advancing stably in order to occupy the opponent’s territory. This requires a rapid sure-footedness combined with a merciless spirit when engaging in fighting. This boxing teaches that the feet need to be as quick as the hands to use this whole-body power method successfully for it is the feet that power your combative responsiveness. The classics say that the feet are seventy percent and the hands are thirty percent in importance of practically applying these approaches. This is to imply that the feet do the majority of the work. The power coming from the feet (particularly the back foot pushing off strongly to shoot forward quickly) helps advance you into a victorious position and also generates force through the body to be expressed out of the hands. Therefore the hands reflect the power and speed of the feet.
The quick advancing footwork combined with a ‘no retreat, no surrender’ mindset allows the Form-Mind Boxer a formidable strength and agility in attack, so that even a ‘spirit’ would have difficulty in guarding against it.
This is why the feet need to be quick.
The mind (intent) needs to be quick.
The mind, along with the spirit, is the commander-in-chief of the body. Knowing that the eyes have control of the spirit, that the hands have to be able to quickly strike and change and the feet support us in carrying out our skills powerfully and adroitly, we must also understand that they all rely on the mind’s quickness of intention. Decisiveness needs to be instant and absolute, determined in resolve and clear in intent. If our mind is slow in reacting, then the body, spirit and energy will also lag behind. In order for us to move our body, to strike out, to advance or retreat, to dodge first or attack directly; whatever our strategy and technique, then first the mind must decide upon which approach to utilise. If our eyes are able to perceive the smallest detail, our hands to be put forth with substance and our feet be nimble and quick, then all of this is due to the quick use of mind. The brain and body receive input through the senses and the mind is required to create some order or meaning out of the stimuli. In turn, the mind selects an intention to respond to the stimuli. This intention activates the nervous system, and moves the body into action. This is a form of ideomotor response. Therefore our ability to take action swiftly resides in the speed of our decisive intent.
This is why mind and intent need to be quick.
The breaking out (issuing) force needs to be quick.
The greatest power in human beings is the force of mind. Human survival depends upon the quick and intelligent use of mind to trigger rapid, congruently aligned actions that meet the needs of the situation at hand. First the mind moves, then the energy and the body in turn acts out the response. Xingyiquan training focuses on diminishing ideomotor lag. This means that the thought or intent is quickly translated into an outward expression of form with no real delay in response time. The mind can assess changing circumstances extremely quickly, but if the body cannot shift form just as rapidly, one cannot adapt to gain the upper hand. The Xingyiquan practitioner aims to think, move and express himself fluidly so that he can influence a situation at will. When the mind’s intent instantly triggers an outward expression of powerful movement the energy moves the body like lightening, issuing physical force so quickly that it causes the opponent to react after the fact. It is like the opponent hearing a thunder clap and then ducking for cover- they have responded too late to the lightening.
So the outward expression of form and power must be quick.
Advance & retreat need to be quick.
The quickest movement between two points is a straight line. In advancing rapidly move forward as directly and quickly as possible. Yet in retreating it is often quicker and easier to slip part of the body to the side and dodge at an angle before stepping, than it is to use footwork to retreat backward in a straight line. Use the mind to assess the opponent. If he is weaker, then meet his advance directly and apply strength to succeed. If the opponent is stronger, then you must apply wisdom to create an advantage and avoid a frontal attack. Flank or evade his advance, use the strategies of ‘sucking the opponent in’ upon retreating so that you draw their energy forward and turn it back upon them even as you are moving backward. Apply angles, horizontally crossing and vertically turning the wheel, whether advancing or retreating, gesture high and attack low, point low and attack high, feint retreat and turn back to attack and so on. Make sure all positional strategies appropriately meet the evolving needs of the situation at hand and that every change is quick, fluid and unpredictable.
All of these comings and goings need to be as fast and agile as possible.
Thus advance and retreat need to be quick.
The body method needs to be quick.
Central to all the skills of Form-Mind Boxing is the principle of the body method. The Five Elements, Six Harmonies, Seven Quickening and Eight Requirements all use the body method as their root. The classics say that the body is like a drawn bow and the fists are as arrows. They also say that to be in possession of high level skill the body must move first and the hands and feet immediately follow in order to form the basis of a genuine technique.
The core torso, head and neck requirements of the santishi posture are necessary through all the movements of Xingyiquan practice. The tucked chin and upright neck and head, the dropped shoulders, empty chest and full lower abdomen, the alignment of the three external harmonies (shoulder and hip, elbow and knee, hand and foot) and the central pole are kept unified through all circumstances.
All one’s efforts, whether advancing or retreating, dodging or flanking, training or crossing hands should be focussed upon keeping this Santishi Body balanced in its internal and external requirements in order to provide an unbreakable postural and mind-body unification in application. Chan Buddhism teaches that the right posture reflects the right mindset, and the correct mindset can be seen in the maintenance of the appropriate posture. Thus it takes inner control to maintain this outward form in an effective and empowered way. This strongly unified posture of the body also provides a deeply integrated structure that can support the intense power expression of the practitioner’s will and intent. This keeping of a unified body represents the ability to create some order amid the chaos of combat, and indeed life itself.
Since the body is the root of the limbs it needs to be moved very quickly in order for the hands and feet to successfully engage in the rapid changes of fighting and deliver strikes with whole-body power. To successfully dodge, evade or avoid attacks, it is also the body that needs to be withdrawn or shifted as quickly as possible in order to avoid being struck.
Therefore the body method needs to be quick.
The Eight Powers
Adhering to the Eight Powers of Xingyiquan practice make the stances, forms and free applications appear very strong and robust, but it is important that all these requirements are held naturally and harmoniously. There must be as little muscular tension as possible. Utilize a piercing intent and indomitable will, combined with a flexible, ready and integrated physical structure, over rigidly hard and contracted muscular movements. Use the bones to hold the strength and relax the musculature. Feel that the energy is inside the bones and ready to explode outward through the tendons and pores of the skin in every direction at a moment’s notice. With this approach the boxer is relying upon, and indeed cultivating and strengthening, the intrinsic primal energy force with a clear, mindful intention, over the grosser force of purely muscular power. The classics record that the Eight Powers must be adhered to for a powerfully united inner and outer strength that is loose and flexible, relaxed yet focussed, without the retention of power that rigid and contracted muscular force can restrict:
1. Ding (push up/outward). The head is pushed up, raising the crown toward heaven (raising energy up the du mai).Tongue tip is pushed up (allowing qi to sink along the ren mai). Outward hand is pushed out and slightly upward also (bringing the qi to the extremities).
2. Kou (press). The shoulders very gently press forwards to help make the empty chest. The backs of the hands and feet press as though grasping, to make them strong. The teeth press together to seal the bones as one.
3. Yuan (rounded). The back is rounded. The tiger's mouth is semi rounded. The chest is rounded so that the qi descends to the lower dantian.
4. Bao (embrace). The lower dan tian needs to be embraced-This means it feels as though the hips wrap forward around the lower abdomen. The heart centre needs to be embraced- the upper back curves which empties the chest. This is achieved by the two arms and elbows embracing the centreline of the body in the ‘tiger's embrace'.
5. Chui (Dropping down). The energy needs to drop down to the lower dantian in order to stabilize one’s centre of gravity. Always keep the intention of the energy returning to the lower dantian. The two shoulder tips need to drop. Both elbows drop. This is utilizing the sense of allowing the body to partially follow the downward feeling of gravity.
6. Ting (straight/ firm. Something like pulling upward to firmly straighten.). The neck is straight for the energy to flow unimpeded. The whole spine is straight and held strongly. The knees have an intention of pulling upward to be held firmly. Making the joints powerful and sturdy.
7. Qu (curved). The tiger's mouth is curved, ready for grasping. The arms and wrists are in a crescent moon shape, and the legs are curved in a continuous crescent moon shape as well.
8. Min (sharp/alert). The eyes must be all seeing and alert. The heart must be ready, alert and nimble. The hands should be sharp and quick.
All of the foundational principles mentioned in the sections above help guide practitioners toward the goal of Harmonious Unification. By having these internal and external harmonies combined there is generated a unified, whole movement of body, mind and spirit. All is led by the heart and mind, the desire, will and intention and expressed immediately and skilfully through a flexibly aligned physical structure for maximum effectiveness. From the ideas above we can see that Xingyiquan’s most important principle is to be harmoniously combined as one.
On Five Element Boxing
Xingyiquan contains two main styles of boxing in its art: Five Element Boxing and Twelve Animal Style Boxing. Though they are practiced separately to begin with, it will be seen that the essential power expressions of the Five Elements are also contained within the Twelve Animal Forms, so that ultimately it is all one way of boxing.
As humans we are able to think, feel, create and act at many levels of consciousness. Through the use of imaginal and unconscious alignments, one is also able to penetrate a more elemental level of being- that which is deep in mind, body and soul. This level of awareness is connected to the unconscious realm which is inherently aligned with Nature. Part of this connection to Nature is the interrelationship of what Taoists traditionally refer to as the Five Elements.
Xingyiquan makes use of the five elemental powers of metal, water, wood, fire and earth in its art. These Five Elements are traditional Taoist concepts of understanding the interrelationship of certain forces that work to create the material universe. In this tradition all manifested things contain many levels and concordances that fall under the categories of the five elements. In medicine the internal organs of the body are categorised into five element energies and functions. The lungs are represented by metal, the kidneys by water, and the liver by wood, the heart by fire and the spleen by earth. Each organ has its function, associated ‘spiritual’ qualities and expression of physical energy.
In boxing the five elements are represented by the five fists of chopping-metal, drilling-water, crushing-wood, pounding-fire and crossing-earth. Though in the initial phases of training these fists are shown as specific techniques, it is best to think of these five elements as deep feelings, intentions, or primal energy expressions within one’s being, not only as abstract concepts or exact fighting movements.
For example the element of metal is initially presented as the chopping fist. Yet it is not only the fists or hands that have this quality. Rather, the whole body feels the power of metal and embodies the ability to express the chopping force completely. Don’t just try to think of a chopping fist or perform a single technique, rather, become the chopping force itself completely. Chopping is releases its splitting power through whole-body movement. The hands cut out like tomahawks, the legs tear apart with the force of iron splitting wood. The entire being is sharp and hard, the bones have become iron, the mind is steeled and the spirit intrepid, with a sense of the whole body being able to cut down anything before it. We say that the internal state (mindset and energy) can be seen in the outward posture and gesture, and that outward posture or gesture also reveals one’s inner state.
With the element of water one’s reactions are fluid and changeable. The will is to discover a way to overcome all obstacles. Water is to flow around or slip past, to penetrate, to overwhelm like a wave crashing on the shore, to dive down, rush through the gaps and strike like lightening. To be swift and deep, to be unfathomable in the changeability of one’s movements and responses is to reflect the qualities of water.
Fire is expansive, explosive and percussive all at once. One reacts so suddenly it is as though a cannonball burst from a gun barrel with a blinding flash. The spirit is quick and fills all one’s movements with a fierce and gleeful joy. The boxer is able to burn an opponent with the merest touch and their power explodes into life instantaneously with a bright flame of passion.
Wood is flexible and strong. All the joints of the body are connected by tendons that have a springy connected strength. One’s movements have the power to breakthrough any resistance without being overly rigid or becoming too hard and inflexible. The feet become roots deep in the earth, the body is solid like the trunk of an oak tree and your arms stretch out as though branches. The fingers and toes wrap and squeeze with the ability to crush rocks. Just as the roots of trees and plants can surround and encage an area of earth with a force that splits boulders. One is resilient and adaptable, with a spirit of great courage and tenacity.
Earth is heavy, solid. One’s centre is balanced and replete. The flesh of the body becomes substantial, allowing all movements to be rounded and full. One’s attitude is open and receptive, able to handle all changes with steadfastness. One can bear up under any circumstance. The earth element contains and supports all the other transformations of the elements and so it is present in all the fists. The crossing energies of the earth element are the hidden power in rising and falling, drilling and overturning, and makes for protecting one’s centreline whilst attacking the opponents centre simultaneously.
In the early stages of Xingyiquan training the five element energies are approached as separate studies. In the higher level of Wuxing Quan (Five-Element Boxing) one is expected to combine all of these elemental qualities into a single overall feeling, sense and attitude in one’s mind and body that is always apparent in everything one does. This makes up the Five Element Body or Five Elemental Expression of Unity, implying the harmonious interrelationship of the five element qualities of the internal organs and external manifested energies. The five elements are in relationship and relative to each other’s processes and ultimately cannot be separated from each other. Xingyiquan could be said to use the alchemical method of ‘Solve et Coagula.’ First one uses the process of analysis to break down the elements into their individual components and study them in isolation (solve). After each element has been studied, practiced and understood deeply, the resultant powers of all five parts are mindfully integrated into all of our movements, routines, applications and expression of force (coagula). Thus through the understanding of the individual parts one goes on to build up a new power of integrated wholeness that consists of five parts working in harmonious process together (solve et coagula).
Five Element Song
Everybody has iron within them-in blood and in will.
We all contain a blazing spiritual fire inside that illuminates and shines forth like a sun,
The spark of life shining from our eyes.
Humans grow and expand with flexibility and strength combined, just like the supple and tenacious qualities found in saplings and green wood.
The body is nurtured and develops prenatally in water,
And after birth the body remains predominantly water in physical composition.
The human body is full of minerals and life and is home to endless transformational processes- indeed the body is a small earth, a genuine ecosystem carried upon two legs.
Thus, the five elements make up the building blocks of life on many levels. Accessing and awakening these inherent, yet latent, powers within one’s self, requires deep study and profound practice in and of itself. Learning to align the five different aspects into a unity of harmonious interrelationship results in the realization of tremendous force in the world.
On Animal Style Boxing
All the animals of the world have their unique strengths and abilities. Human beings do not have any special claws or teeth, do not store up venom or have the ability to sting, but they do have a great inexhaustible power in mind. Using intelligence, humans are able to study and creatively emulate the unique abilities and special qualities of animals to help enhance the expression of movement and power. Yet, the animal forms of Xingyiquan are not mere mimicry. In practice the Xingyiquan boxer seeks to create an interpretation of the ‘spirit’ of the animal’s movements, energy and power and creatively infuse those qualities into their own expressive movements driven by inner feeling and intention. This idea energy is not used to become the animal, rather to inspire the boxer to draw out the deep unconscious resources and hidden powers within. Thus the Xingyiquan boxer seeks to combine the best of the animal, instinctual abilities, with the cleverness and resourcefulness of the human mind and spirit.
There are certain inherent qualities that each of the animals possesses and manifest in their natural fighting responses:
The eagle has swift and powerful attacking skills. It is agile in grasping and seizing and holds great strength in its talons. Its gaze is clear and calm, in brilliant in focus and concentration. The eyes look down but the head and neck stay erect. When it attacks, the force of its whole body is concentrated into its talons.
Spiritually, it can represent freedom.
The bear shows solid skills of defence. It utilizes tremendous whole body strength and has powerful upright qi. The bear also has the ability to stand on two legs and extend its neck with strength. Its eyes look upward and it stands with a noble bearing. The forearms hold great strength.
Spiritually, it can represent safety and security.
The dragon has the ability to fly up into the clouds and dive down to the bottom of the ocean. It can rise and fall, contract and expand its energy naturally. The dragon is unpredictable in its changing applications, stretching out and shrinking down, rising upward and plunging downwards without warning. It has the ability to fold the bones inward and extend outward with ease. There are vertical and horizontal movements combined with reaching out and drawing in. The energy sinks, and is crouched at the lower abdomen so that the dantian becomes full and solid through every movement. Simultaneously the spirit rises upward and opens out in clear awareness of every direction. The dragon combines all the core energies of Xingyiquan in the one form.
Spiritually, it can represent integration and consolidation.
The tiger is a majestic, noble and wild power in nature. It displays great courage in leaping on to its prey with a fierce intent. It has the power to draw in its energy and release it so that it can pull down and pounce with remarkable strength and vigour. It can advance to achieve its aim either stealthily or with incredibly direct speed and force.
Spiritually, it can represent instinctual power with fierceness of intent.
The rooster has great bravery in fighting. It uses quickness and sharpness, is fierce with its claws, and has the ability to jump up and fight off a single leg. The rooster advances fearlessly and refuses to retreat.
Spiritually, it can represent bravery and determination.
The snake has the ability to deftly part the grass. It can quickly contract and then expand to coil up its strength and strike out like lightening. It skilfully finds gaps to pierce through. The snake can wrap and bind, yet also bite and spit venom. It is all one strength without break, unified from head to tail.
Spiritually, it can represent transformation.
The monkey has the ability to roam freely over the mountains and move quickly through the trees of the forest. The monkey is nimble and clever. It has the power of climbing and leaping with great agility. It can leap out of harm’s way and jump forward suddenly to grasp and strike.
Spiritually it can represent ingenuity.
The hawk can pull in its wings and pierce the densest forest with remarkable speed and accuracy. It points high and attacks low. It may wait in readiness then swoop down suddenly to strike its prey. It can cover the upper, middle and lower levels with a single continuous energy. It also has the ability to turn back and spread its wings.
Spiritually it may represent brightness and quick-wittedness.
The horse is noble and righteous in its spirit and bearing. It has the ability to run and kick, and can leave deep hoof prints in the earth. It rears up to roll out its pounding hooves. The horse has a gallant heart and is bold and dutiful in war.
Spiritually, it can represent righteousness and steadfastness.
The swallow skilfully skims the surface of the water. It dives down in a swift and smooth arc to take up water without stopping to drink. It does not have to land to eat, but is greatly manoeuvrable and agile in the air so that in can ‘hunt on the wing.’
Spiritually, it can represent lightness and skilfulness.
The alligator swims in effortless curves through the water. It moves from the centre to the outside and back again with rolling continuous energy and power. It makes use of a revolving and twisting force. It is one fluid yet complete vitality.
Spiritually, it can represent flexibility.
The tai has the ability to send up its tail to dive upon its prey and wrap both wings. It wraps its wings around itself to protect its flanks and also to envelop its prey. It can snatch with the legs and tear with its beak. It has the simultaneous power to bind up and break free in one movement. So it has the power of making its defense an attack and its attack a defense. Thus, it combines, yin and yang, attack and defense, the curved and the straight, wrapping and opening, the linear and diagonal together.
Spiritually, it can represent unification.
On Spiritual Power
Hold steadfastly until you discover that the stillness within and around you is flowing like a torrential river
Listen with the ears of the heart to the great silence
Listen until you hear that the silence is a sound, the one sound behind all sounds
Stand as though you are empty in body
Be empty within until your body fills and shines with a vital radiance
Embrace your empty heart until its vital fire spreads calmly through the entire body to awaken the spirit, make bright the eyes and liberate the mind.
Xingyiquan practitioners should focus on arduous physical and mental practice sustained over time. It is through the mind-body efforts that the ‘spiritual’ aspects can be spontaneously realised. First work with energy and intent, mind and body, and then a spiritual sense shall naturally arise from using one’s energy and mind in the Xingyiquan way.
The spiritual (or internal) power of Xingyiquan comes from deep internal experience arrived at through sincere practice over many decades. Mentioned below are a few ideas for practitioners to consider in the work of the spirit in their training.
On a simple yet fundamental level, all the internal practices of the art can be grouped into two categories: Stillness and Movement. Stillness and movement is mind and nature, form and function, emptiness and fullness, changelessness and ceaseless flow, the unalterable and the malleable.
The aim of an ‘internal’ martial artist is to simultaneously cultivate and exercise energy. This is akin to holding stillness within whilst performing constantly changing movements. Expanding and contracting, descending and rising, drilling and overturning, stillness and movement, all become one in the practice. Thus the result is a unification of polarities that work together in harmony. This is the realisation of yin-yang working as one fluid principle (taiji) to restore the pre-natal energies and merge through emptiness to be at one with the way.
Xingyiquan aims for the harmonious balance of spirit, intention and energy, resulting in a natural unity of the whole self.
Naturalness of the heart-mind in wuji and the santishi standing practice allows the practitioner to learn to hold their ground internally under varying outward conditions. This is based upon the spiritual teaching that one cannot control outward events, but can learn (train) to take control of one’s inward responses to those events.
Work to keep the santishi body and empty heart-mind (wuxin) under all conditions. This is not merely a literal holding of the external santishi form, but the presence of a genuine integrated internal energetic structure that provides the boxer with a sense of steadfastness and resoluteness.
It takes steadfastness of inner will and a clear, determined mind to sustain the Six Harmonies, Eight Powers and all the requirements of Xingyiquan in the body through every aspect of one’s practice and application. Thus we can say that the correct posture is also the right mindset and the right mindset automatically results in correct posture. Keep an open, free and unhindered mind ready to respond to situations appropriately without any preconceived notion. Form-Mind Boxers understand that the deeper fight lies in the struggle to hold their xing (form) under variably challenging circumstances, and constantly retain the requirements that promote a unified mind and body.
This approach resembles a form of Chan Buddhist steadfastness training. Sitting in zazen and staying in the correct posture through the hours of disciplined training whether comfortable or uncomfortable. This leads to clarity of mind and calmness of heart, while building greater courage, resilience and patience. It is a form of non-attachment training. In fact, the Xingyiquan mind-body is the meditation mind-body taken into martial form. Standing in stillness, allowing thoughts, sounds and feelings to come and go, whilst remaining calm of heart and clear of mind; steady and stable in the unconquerable spirit of steadfastness. It is the willingness to stay in all the experiences of life.
Manifestation of Desire
Out of the desire for something the heart leads the mind into focussing on the attainment of it. Focussing one’s mind on a desire leads to forming a strong intention to possess it. Out of this intention, the energy of the body is roused up and in turn motivates the body into physical action for the achievement or manifestation of the desired result.
The mind is poised in stillness, the heart calm and empty, the body primed in stable readiness. In response to a situation the heart is suddenly stirred by a feeling. This feeling awakens the mind in awareness. Out of awareness is formed some intention. In turn, the intention inspires the energy of the body and moves it into profound action in order to manifest the desired outcome.
Thus from a neutral, non-attached or empty heart, one suddenly creates a feeling-idea of strength, swiftness and overwhelming force.
It is a ‘sense-feeling’ that one has become this force, and it automatically focuses the mind to move the body in a powerful response.
To rapidly dodge and shift, like a cyclone changing direction suddenly and without warning…to strike as quick and bright as lightening and step through the opponent as thunder…to suddenly contract as though a serpent coiled up ready to strike, and then shoot forth pouncing like a leopard from a tree upon its prey.
All of this begins in rousing up the feeling (desire) in the heart and intending such strong ideas in the mind that they provide the boxer with an empowered attitude and an unbending belief in the power of mind and body to be unified in an emboldened way. Thus the internal state provides the energy to focus one’s efforts and strategies in order to achieve the heart’s desired outcomes.
Though the physical body is limited, the creative capacity of the human mind and the power of imagination appears to be infinite.
‘As a man thinketh, in his heart, so he becomes.’
In the beginning of Xingyiquan training it is correct to have a strong and obvious intention accompanying the physical movements of each technique. As one progresses over many years of practice, the training begins to resemble that of Chan (Zen) Buddhist practitioners and Taoists whereby one aims for authentic emptiness. This is the wu-wei/wu-xin state whereby one’s plans and goals are replaced with the greater aim of merging with the One (or following Tao to know all). From emptiness flows the most appropriate intention for the moment and in following this automatically and without hesitation in mind and body, one is able to unconsciously respond according to the needs of the present.
In traditional Internal Martial Arts training, all practice begins and ends in the Wuji form.
Wuji refers to the completely natural state that contains all things without the restriction of singular form or the apparent duality of manifested life at the level of the physical plane. This is a relative sense of emptiness- a state of everything and nothing all at once. It is a state of potentiality or a condition of nothing-yet. The term nothing-yet suggests being open to every possibility. In nothing, we also have everything. Thus maintaining a wuji state of mind, allows one to draw from an infinite supply of possibilities. In the wuji, everything-nothing state of flow, a wonderful, chaotically natural freedom is present.
Wuji-standing is the time to relax the body, not having to use any other muscles than is necessary to stand still in the posture. One does not attempt to empty the mind of thoughts or do any special breathing or other specific methods. Consciousness is allowed to stream at the conscious-mind level. There is no intention, no thinking, and no not-thinking. Relaxed and open, the boxer’s consciousness and energy flows freely. Thoughts are ascribed no meaning or judgement. Thoughts, sounds and feelings come and go naturally, literally flowing like a stream of consciousness. The boxer stands at the centre of this stream, calm, free and easy. By giving conscious thoughts no special meaning, the natural mind is spontaneously revealed in the presence of a clear perception of the present moment in all its fullness and richness. This is realized without trying, or making use of any special mental effort. It is automatically liberated, whole and complete. The boxer simply stands and allows everything to settle naturally without intervention of any kind.
The eyes see everything but focus on nothing, the boxer stands still, simply breathing and relaxing. The mind moves and consciousness remains aware, yet no intention is formed. The ears hear, the nostrils smell, but no stimulus is singled out for attention. It is stillness in movement and movement in stillness all at once.
Thus the practice (or awareness) of wuji puts the boxer in touch with all things and yet keeps one unattached to any particular thought, feeling, perception or judgment. It is the experience of being with everything yet grasping at nothing. Mind flows openly while in a relaxed body, blood and energy flows unimpeded and uninterrupted in any way, just effortless and natural. This is wu-wei or non-doing. By wu-wei is meant the most natural state of being.
This free-standing state allows the practitioner limitless, creative freedom of choice. Because one has not moved yet, all movements are available. Thus wuji standing is another form of non-attachment practice.
In their internal practice, Chan Buddhists and Taoists move from action to inaction. In the art of Xingyiquan the boxer begins with stillness and moves into action. Stillness is the form and movement is the function (application). There is flow and counter flow, contraction and expansion of energy: one naturally becomes the other and it flows unceasingly in and out, forwards and backwards, up and down vertical and horizontal, either way it forms a circle. Things are born, flourish and diminish naturally. The way of life shows that all things grow and simultaneously return to their root automatically and without end. The ‘wuji’ state allows this natural cycle of movement and stillness, life and death, creation and destruction, action and non-action all at once and without attachment to form or not-form.
Wuji naturally flows into Wu-Xin.
The Instinctual and the Learned: Xin and Yi
Xin and Yi combined makes up the spirit in a human being.
The heart of desire is like the strong, instinctual animal force that automatically reacts to situations without prior thought. This is Xin or the emotional mind. Yi is the guiding, intending part of mind. The internal spiritual force of Xingyiquan lies in harnessing the wild unconscious power of the instinctual force and directing it with the more learned, refined part of conscious mind. When one has these two internal parts working harmoniously together one can achieve the full natural force of instinct, applied with the wisdom and directing abilities of the pure will and conscious intent. Use instinctual force as the raw power, and apply the will to keeping the body integrated so that one’s primal one-qi can be freely and effectively directed by intention, into the efficient application of one’s skill.
The learned aspects of skills are the insights and approaches flowing down to practitioners from the devotional genius of past artists. These products are refined into the traditional fundamentals to be store housed for seekers of future generations. Instinctual force is a glimmer of the raw, wild power inherent in nature. The hunting and protecting instinct, the will to live and prosper, to feel vital, well and alive, to connect with and care for others and the surrounding environment; all of these tendencies are natural empowering desires that assist in survival of self and others, and the quickening power of instinct vitalizes these impulses naturally and powerfully.
Wu-Xin means an empty heart-mind, the state of non-attachment that leads to the experience of oneness. The uncluttered no mind is pure and real. It is a state of mind free of attachment, of any clinging to what should or shouldn’t be. When we speak of emptiness in the boxing arts, it does not mean ‘empty-headed’, it simply means responding automatically to any given situation with the appropriate response without resorting to former planning or intense strategizing. Wu-xin is the free, open attitude that replaces artificial or preconceived notions. From emptiness flows the correct intention needed to successfully meet our need at any given time. Thus we say that from wu-xin arises authentic or ‘real intention.’
Xingyiquan uses a high degree of expressive feeling and instinctual force to power the physical movements. Wu-xin means that even though there may be a high intensity of emotion in the release of power, the heart, or deeper consciousness remains emotionally unattached to the force of this internal strength. The challenge for practitioners of Xingyiquan lies in striking the balance between utilizing extremely powerful inner resources and allowing the work stay free and unattached to the experience of power. So it is always important to begin and end practice in stillness and wuji, especially in the first years of concentrated effort, until one can practice and respond with wu-xin through all training naturally. This empty heart is then experienced as a form of stillness in movement during practice. The heart is calm and the energy and intent are used with power, focus and great unifying effort to meet present circumstance. It is important to understand that wu-xin acts as a type of non-attachment practice in this form of boxing. Form-Mind Boxing training assists the practitioner in learning how to better access and then harness the deeper instinctual and emotional powers within them. To use these energies in an appropriate way that allows them to be utilised as tools applied to a specific purpose and specific ends, yet with no further meaning attached to the experience. Powerful tools of mind-body-spirit integration that can be summoned from within to empower a person in their way of responding to life successfully and then ‘put away’ (return to emptiness/non-attachment) after right utilization.
The tiger slumbers deep in its forest grotto.
It is awakened and brought forth out of need.
Springing from darkness into the light of day
Its primal force is entered into battle.
Fierce and awe-inspiring
It could tear down a mountain with iron claws.
Its strength once spent,
The contest now passed,
All heat instantly forgotten,
The great cat slinks back, silent,
To slumber peacefully in its lair once again.
Zhuangzi said “Self-consciousness is the enemy of skill.” Wu-xin also provides a way to practice with no self-consciousness. Free of ego, no winning or losing, not even competition, just spontaneous creative response. One reacts but is unaware of how they responded. With internal emptiness one is released from being concerned with the small or ego-self. In turn, this liberates the larger Self (the ‘Self’ made up entirely of non-self elements), the unified self, that is at one with all things (Tao).
A western spiritual tradition says “Know God and you will know everything.” This is similar to the Taoist idea of ‘forgetting the self to merge with the Whole (Tao).” It does not mean annihilation of personality or killing off one’s true individuality- quite the contrary. This process of ‘emptiness’ refers to the emptying out of conditioned thoughts and feelings, even physical postural responses, that have become habit through learning and practice over our lifetime, so that the genuine ‘Self’ can emerge. These former habits of thinking, feeling, posture and breathing, emotional reactivity and internal belief systems are constructed over our lifetime, but many of these habits may in fact hinder our genuine nature which is deeply intuitive, naturally creative and at one with all things. In turn, when we “merge with the whole” we access greater or even infinite creative potential, for we give up the limited conditioned ‘human mind’ for the infinite potential of the “Mind of Tao.’
Thus we may say that ‘emptiness’ is in fact Oneness, and oneness is emptiness.
The body can be attacked, even struck, but what could harm emptiness? The best defence is a no-self defence. As well as an attitude of self-defence, emptiness also provides freedom from emotional overwhelm. It offers an uninhibited approach to the strong, aggressive power required in fighting situations and martial arts practice. It allows the boxer to get on with the business of doing whatever is required in that moment of life unencumbered by doubt. One can utilize every power within them, without becoming over-identified with it. Out of emptiness the dragon arises from within. The boxer makes free and good use of its power as required, and once its work is completed, the dragon force can return to its cave to ‘hibernate’, until needed again at some future point. This empty state is referred to as wu-xin (empty heart-mind). This is why it is important that internal arts practice begins and ends with wuji & wu-xin practice. Yet the aim of this emptiness is not cold-heartedness, not to live without a conscience, but to realize or awaken the naturally balanced ‘true nature’ of our greater Self : that which is in genuine harmony with Tao, or the natural way of things.
Out of wu-xin the body also becomes empty in the sense that it is unhindered by stagnant energy and physical resistance to the flow of power. The boxer is free to naturally and simply respond to any given situation appropriately and effectively, exactly as required and without preconceived notions. One’s responses are automatic or subconscious, and are positively congruent with what is necessary in that moment. This is following Tao in boxing. The strategy of no strategy means every strategy is available. The technique of no technique means that every technique is available.
The practice of Free-Boxing (the spontaneous art of shadow boxing) flows effortlessly and unhindered out of a wuji or emptiness state. Thus the free expression of our art arises from the open awareness of emptiness following no set patterns or fixed techniques, allowing the boxer to express their inner self, their soul, through the art, free of self-consciousness. The inner stillness and emptiness naturally arises from the continuous single-thread spirit and energy of the Free-Boxing movements. Though Xingyiquan traditionally favours a 1-2 style of combat (one strike to clear the way and another to take down the opponent), there is a continuous flow of consciousness and energy that remains unbroken through every technique. This links all applications and movements, no matter what rhythm, pauses and timing is at first apparent, with a single, connected intent and energy. This freedom and continuity, enables the boxer to give full flight to their innate power and soulful expression without feeling hindered or restricted by mind and body in any way.
To be free of attachment in one’s actions means there is no obstacle to reaching one’s goal. With an open, boundless and empty heart-mind (wu-xin), instinctual power and intuitive responsiveness are free to meet the need of the present situation with the expression of fluid, natural congruent movements. This enables the flow of energy to travel unhindered and the resultant power is clear and strong. With an empty heart-mind there is no thought of what one is about to do, no trying to guess what another’s moves may or may not be. There is just stillness and flow out of which the boxer respond creatively and appropriately from the subconscious level automatically. Of course there is still some intent utilized in applying the art at the higher levels, but it is a whole intent, or complete, in that it is pure expressive will.
Out of the emptiness of non-attachment the natural order of instinctual force combined with the wisdom of one’s refined learning can harmoniously work together. Free of obstruction and without obsession, in essence getting out of one’s own way, the Form-mind Boxer can naturally follow Tao.
We can say that in Xingyiquan;
The greater the stillness, the swifter the movement.
From total emptiness, arises complete fullness.
Out of non-doing comes true-doing.
From wu-xin flows genuine intention.
After making transparent the self, the transcendent Self emerges.
By following Nature, one’s own nature is revealed.
The benefits of both wuji and wu-xin can be thought to comprise the way of wu-wei. Doing ‘non-doing’; living and being and responding in complete alignment with the natural order of things.
Ultimately Form-Mind Boxing is a type of Will-Boxing. In application the Xingyiquan boxer presses forward relentlessly upon the opponent with an unyielding force of iron resolve. In dodging left and right, dropping low and pouncing high; chopping and piercing, scratching, gouging and pulling, the boxer applies an unrelenting power of will. One’s movements change freely and continually, exploding outward and sucking inward until one reaches a point where nothing is conscious effort, just mind instantly assessing the situation, and body moving instinctively into appropriate responses fluidly without end. One’s internal force of will is focussed like a laser beam, undivided and direct of intent. No matter how quickly one moves, advancing or retreating, sucking in and spitting out, the spirit stays connected to the opponent, never loosening its holding intent but continually oppressing and subduing the opponent’s body and sense of free will until he is defeated. This is also a great spiritual or internal practice for one’s higher self, and not only for subduing external opponents. The will to stay connected, to press onward with great tenacity and courage so that amidst the ever-changing conditions one comes into alignment with a deeper sense of something which does not move or change. The divine or eternal life spark that is ‘borrowed’ for a time in the body and belongs to the whole world as much as the self. From a true intent can emerge the pure will. This is a complete and whole spiritual expression that contains a deep sense of selfless commitment and yet is driven by a very singular intention. It is the expression of a clear and focussed intent, yet is open in greater awareness, giving rise to the use of a genuinely free-will. It is the power of will applied in definiteness of purpose but free of attachment. It gives the boxer a sense of something greater than one’s self, so that the immediate self is forgotten to the moment in a larger expression of pure energy and consciousness. This is to realize the great vitality of life, the energy and consciousness of an undying power that enlivens and supports the world’s transforming flow of being. Thus the Form-Mind Boxer comes to realize that their will and the animating spirit of the world’s will are one.
© Geoff Sweeting 2018