Xingyiquan -- kungfu for generals


You mentioned at the last Wuzuquan course that Wuzuquan was the Kung Fu style for generals. Wuzuquan represents excellently profundity in simplicity.

I also read that Xingyiquan is regarded as the Kung Fu for generals, also representing profundity in simplicity.

Another kungfu style invented by Yue Fei , which is more elaborated and sophisticated, is meant to be the Kung Fu style for soldiers.

Could you please elaborate more on the differences between the Kung Fu of Generals and the Kung Fu of Soldiers in terms of techniques-form, energy-force and mind aspects?

Sifu Roland Mastel


Xingyiquan, invented from Shaolin Kungfu by the famous Song Dynasty marshal, Yue Fei, is often regarded as the kungfu for generals. Although Wuzuquan, also invented from Shaolin Kungfu by a kungfu genius, Bai Yi Feng, during the Song Dynasty too but before the time of Yue Fei, is not normally called the kungfu for generals, it is like Xingyiquan a classic example of profundity in simplicity, and fit for generals to practice.

On the other hand, Eagle Claw Kungfu, which was invented by Yue Fei too, and has elaborated and sophisticated techniques, is regarded as the kungfu for soldiers. This is interesting. Many people may expect that a kungfu style that is elaborated and sophisticated to be for generals, whereas one that is simple to be for soldiers. But here the reverse is the case. It is therefore illuminating to compare the techniques-form, energy-force and mind aspects of these three kungfu styles.

The fundamental techniques of Xingyiquan are the five elemental fists, which are pi-quan or thrust palm, zuan-quan or spiral fist, beng-quan or crushing fist, pao-quan or cannon fist, and heng-quan or horizontal chop.

Please note that in most Xingyiquan literature pi-quan is usually translated as chopping-fist, and heng-quan as diagonal fist, which are their literal meanings. Here I translate pi-quan figuratively as thrust-palm, and heng-quan as horizontal chop, which describe what these techniques actually are. In other words, the word-by-word meaning of pi-quan is chopping-fist but the technique described by this term is actually thrusting out a palm. The word-by-word meaning of heng-quan is diagonal fist, but the technique is chopping a palm horizontally.

All these five fundamental techniques are simple; there are no flowery movements involved. There are also no preliminary or intermediate movements. In pi-quan, you just thrust out your palm. There is no preliminary movement like circulating your other hand, or intermediate movement like shifting your body backward, as in "Green Dragon Shoots Pearl" of Taijiquan.


Wuzuquan -- kungfu for generals

In zuan-quan you just spiral out your fist. In beng-quan, you punch out in a crushing manner, in pao-quan you punch out with one hand while the other hand grips or wards off an opponent's attack. In heng-quan, you chop your palm horizontally. The techniques are simple and straight-forward. But there is much profundity in the simplicity, which students at the coming Xingyiquan course at the UK Summer Camp 2013 will learn and experience, and which I shall briefly explain later.

The stances generally used in Xingyiquan are also simple and straight-forward but they are profound. Though all the kungfu stances are found in Xingyiquan, more than 80% of the time only the Santi Stance is used. "Santi" literally means "three bodies", but actually refers to three aspects of the body, namely feet, body and hands.

When performing the Santi Stance, a practitioner pays attention not only to the three external harmonies of feet, body and hands, but also includes the three internal harmonies of essence, energy and mind. The Santi Stance is effective in implementing these three internal harmonies of essence, energy and mind, which will be briefly explained when we examine the energy-force and mind aspects.

While other kungfu styles use different stances in their movements, like retreating from a Bow-Arrow Stance to a False-Leg Stance, or moving forward to another Bow-Arrow Stance in another leg mode, Xingyiquan uses just the Santi Stance with the drag-step or roll-step, both dragging or rolling forward and backward. The movements are simple but profound, and very effective for combat especially in the present time when opponents bounce about.

The fundamental techniques of Wuzuquan are found in San Zhan or Three-Battle Set, which is the fundamental set of Wuzuquan. As in Xingyiquan, Wuzuquan techniques are simple and straight-forward. There are no flowery movements. There are also no preliminary or intermediate moves. Yet the techniques are profound.

The simplicity of Wuzuquan techniques is manifested in the four-fold principle known as tun-tu-fou-chen, which means "swallow-shoot-float-sink". All these four movements of swallowing, shooting, floating and sinking are performed in one smooth movement as if they were one smooth pattern.

Nevertheless, the most commonly used patterns in Wuzuquan are the flick-hand and catch-hand in defence, and the thrust punch in attack. But the profundity of Wuzuquan is such that the so-called defence techniques can be used for attack, and attack techniques can be used for defence-cum-attack.

Like in Xingyiquan too, while all kungfu stances are found in Wuzuquan, most of Wuzuquan patterns use the Triangle Stance and the Dragon-Riding Stance. These two stances are simple and profound.

The Triangle Stance is like the Santi Stance except it is wider. It is similar to the Four-Six Stance of Taijiquan. The Dragon-Riding Stance is similar to the Bow-Arrow Stance but with the legs apart instead of in a straight line.

In adjusting space for defence and attack, Wuzuquan practitioners need not move their feet but shift their body backward and forward from the Triangle Stance to the Dragon-Riding Stance, and vice versa. This enables them to be fast.

If they have to move half a space or a space or more forward or backward, they employ the drag-step or the roll-step settling down at the same stance or the other of the Triangle Stance or Dragon-Riding Stance. It is similar to Xingyiquan movement -- simple and profound.

In contrast, Eagle Claw Kungfu is elaborated and sophisticated. The fundamental techniques of Eagle Claw are found in the 50 Sequences of Eagle Claw. In each sequence there are a few different techniques. This means there are two or three hundred different techniques in Eagle Claw compared to just five basic techniques in Xingyiquan and three basic techniques in Wuzuquan.

The stances in Eagle Claw are also elaborated and sophisticated. All the kungfu stances -- Horse-Riding, Bow-Arrow, False-Leg, Unicorn, Four-Six, Single-Leg -- are widely used in Eagle Claw, compared to just the Santi Stance in Xingyiquan, and the Triangle Stance and Dragon-Riding Stance in Wuzuquan.


Eagle Claw -- kungfu for soldiers

As explained in more details in another answer, the simplicity of Xingyiquan and Wuzuquan is not due to lack of a variety of techniques, but due to crystallizing a variety of techniques to a basic few.

When an opponent attacks an Eagle Claw exponent in a particular way, the Eagle Claw exponent would choose from his rich repertoire the appropriate counter. When the opponent attacks in another way, the Eagle Claw exponent would use another appropriate counter. He has a great variety of counters to meet many different attacks.

When an opponent attacks a Xingyiquan exponent, the Xingyiquan exponent would choose any one of his five elemental fists to counter. When the opponent attacks in another way, the Xingyiquan exponent can use the same counter. In fact, he can just use pi-quan to counter any attack!

When an opponent attacks a Wuzuquan exponent, the Wuzuquan exponent would use flick-hand or catch-hand to ward off the attack, and counter attack with a thrust punch. When the opponent attacks in another way, the Wuzuquan exponent would also use the same flick-hand or catch-hand to ward off the different attack, and counter-attack with the same thrust punch!

In other words, an Eagle Claw exponent would use different counters against different attacks, whereas a Xingyiquan exponent or a Wuzuquan exponent would use the same counter against a great variety of different attacks. Obviously, it is not just the techniques that make the counters effective. The Xinyiquan or Wuzuquan exponent needs much knowledge and skills. Hence Xingyiquan and Wuzuquan are kungfu for generals.

Let us examine some examples. Take a typical attack, a thrust punch and see how a Eagle Claw exponent, a Xingyiquan exponent and a Wuzuquan exponent would counter.

When an opponent throws a thrust punch at an Eagle Claw exponent, the Eagle Claw exponent can counter in more than a dozen ways. The counter movments are sophisticated and elaborated.

When a thrust punch is thrown at a Xingyiquan exponent, he can counter with a pi-quan, or any one of the other five elemental fists. Does he need to ward of the thrust punch before executing a pi-quan? No, he doesn't, the defence is already incorporated in the attack. The counter movement is simple and profound. This is a hallmark of kungfu for generals.

To counter a thrust punch, a Wuzuquan exponent would use flick-hand or catch-hand to ward off the attack, then counter with his thrust punch. A Wuzuquan master may not need his thrust punch. He could disable the opponent with just the flick-hand or the catch-hand. These movements are simple and profound. Doesn't he need to strike the opponent to disable him? No, the attack is already incorporated in the defence. This is another hallmark of kungfu for generals.

Okay, a thrust punch is straight-forward. What about a double round-house kick, a sophisticated felling attack or an elaborated chin-na, can a Xingyiquan exponent use a pi-quan or a Wuzuquan exponent use a flick-hand or catch-hand to disable the opponent? Yes, he can, and he can choose to do so as soon as the opponent starts his attack, or during the process of his attack, or at the completion of the attack! It is not for no reasons that Xingyiquan and Wuzuquan are kungfu for generals.

How the Xingyiquan or Wuzuquan exponent does so is a close secret, i.e. secret taught within close doors to selected disciples. This and other close secrets are not even mentioned in Xingyiquan and Wuzuquan classics. I believe not many Xinyiquan and Wuzuquan practitioners know them.


The simplicity of Wuzuquan Flick-Hand

I discovered them while preparing to teach Wuzuquan and Xingyiquan. Those who attended the Wuzuquan course in Penang in December 2012 would have no difficulty not only in using basic Wuzuquan techniques to counter any attack, but also using basic Xingyiquan techniques to counter any attack even when they have not learned Xingyiquan from a living teacher but only by watching Xingyiquan techniques shown on videos. This is an example of breadth and depth.

Now, if these close secrets are not mentioned in Xingyiquan and Wuzuquan classics, how do we know they are Xingyiquan and Wuzuquan counters? The counters use typical Xingyiquan and Wuzuquan techniques and skills, and follow Xingyiquan and Wuzuquan philosophy. If past Xingyiquan and Wuzuquan masters did not use these counters, they would not have survived. They would have been defeated many times over by these attacks.

In the spirit of Zen, even if these counters are not exactly the same as what past Xingyiquan and Wuzuquan masters used, it does not matter. The techniques and skills used, and the philosophy involved are typically of Xingyiquan and Wuzuquan, not of Kick-Boxing, Wrestling, Karate, Choy-Li-Fatt, Taijiquan or any other martial art. Most significantly, these counters work. We tried them out at the recent Wuzuquan course. We shall try them out in the coming Xingyiquan course.

Let us now compare the energy-force aspect of Eagle Claw, Xingyiquan and Wuzuquan to appreciate the difference between force training in kungfu for soldiers and kungfu for generals.

The orthodox approach in Eagle Claw force training is external, like grabbing Y-shape branches, gripping jars, pulling poles out from the ground, and in extreme cases, tearing back from trees. The Eagle Claw of such practitioners is powerful, but the training may spoil their hands especially in drastic methods like tearing bark from trees.

The force developed is localized, i.e. it is used only for Eagle Claw and not for other benefits, like enhancing vitality and longevity. Indeed, the external training may distract from vitality and longevity if practitioners are not careful, and the harm is insidious. They may, or example, cause blockage in their arms and stress to their spirit if they pull poles or tear barks brutally.

The force is also limited by age, size and gender. An elderly person, a small-size person and a woman would be less forceful than a young person, a big-size person and a man.

The force training in Xingyiquan and Wuzuquan is internal, and is holistic. It is also not limited by age, size and gender.

Xingyiquan force and Wuzuquan force are not limited to the body part where training is being focused, but is applicable to the whole body. While only the fingers of Eagle Claw practitioners are powerful, the whole body of Xingyiquan and Wuzuquan practitioners is powerful.


The sophistication of Cloud Dragon Lies on Pillow of Baguazhang

Xingyiquan force and Wuzuquan force are not limited to combat. They contribute to good health, vitality, longevity, mental freshness and spiritual joys. For example, while the grip of an Eagle Claw practitioner is powerful, he may not have more stamina or can comprehend his reading better due to his force training. But force training in Xingyiquan and Wuzuquan can have these and other benefits. Herein lies the big difference between internal force training for generals and external forcd training for soldiers.

The orthodox method of force training in Xingyiquan is practicing the Santi Stance. It is interesting to note that while the stances for force training in other kungfu styles like the Horse-Riding Stance in Shaolin and the Three-Circle Stance in Taijiquan are symmetrical, the Santi Stance is not. This was a puzzling question for me for some time in the past.

But I found the answer while preparing to teach Xingyiquan at the UK Summer Camp. From Xingyiquan classics I discovered that Xingyiquan practitioners in the past used what were called the "correspondence mode" and the "expansion mode". The asymmetrical Santi Stance is suitable to employ these modes, and the internal force developed is suitable for the five elemental fists of Xingyiquan.

In symmetrical stances like the Horse-Riding and the Three-Circle, internal force is focused at the dan tian. In the Santi Stance using the "correspondence mode" and the "expansion mode", internal force roots a practitioner to the ground as well as is focused at his arms.

Hence, in Shaolin Kungfu and Taijiquan which use symmetrical stances to build internal force at the dan tian, waist rotation is needed to channel spiral force from the dan tian to the hands. Of course, advanced practitioners whose body is already filled with flowing energy, can generate internal force from their wrists.

The mechanics of force explosion in Xingyiquan is different. Because the asymmetrical Santi Stance has built internal force at their shoulders as well as rooting them to the ground, Xingyoquan practitioners can explode force from their shoulders without rotating their waist. Advanced practitioners, of course, can explode force from their wrists.

Would these different ways of exploding force distract each other? In other words, would a practitioner of Shaolin Kungfu or Taijiquan who has developed internal force at his dan tian and explodes force by rotating his waist have unfavorable effect if he also practices Xingyiquan?

Yes, it would. The mechanics are different and may confuse him. The shifting of force from the dan tian to the shoulders and vice versa would minimize the force.

But we are different. For us the two different methods would enhance our results. In other words, if you have practiced Shaolin or Taijiquan force training, and now practice Xingyiquan, your force will be better. It is because of two main factors. We understand the underlying philosophy and we have the magic of chi flow.

How do Xingyiquan practitioners channel their energy to strike their opponents if they do not have the magic of chi flow like we do? They attain their chi flow by performing the five elemental fists, but normally they are not aware of the chi flow, and it is only along their arms, unlike in our case where we can use it to progress to induced chi flow movement to overcome pain and illness.

This is another example of the benefit of breadth and depth. Not only our students, having practiced Shaolin Kungfu, Taijiquan or Shaolin Cosmos Chi Kung, can attain more force in shorter time, our students can also have other benefits that others who only practice Xingyiquan would not have.

The orthodox method of force development in Wuzuquan is through practicing San Zhan and Abdominal Breathing. San Zhan movements provide the energy flow, and Abdominal Breathing builds up the energy.


The symmetrical Three-Circle Stance of Taijiquan

Wuzuquan practitioners also practice the Horse-Riding Stance, but its practice is not as much emphasized as in Shaolin Kungfu. The Wuzuquan Horse-Riding Stance is both narrower and higher than that in Shaolin, and the fists are held not at the waist but at breast level.

My experience of learning internal force while learning Wuzuquan in Sifu Chee Kim Thong's school should be well known by now. It is worthy to note that my sifu, Sifu Chee Kim Thong, was regarded as a living treasure of the People's Republic of China, his Wuzuquan school was (and still is) famous for internal force, and I was a fast learner. But after more than two years of San Zhan and a year of Abdominal Breathing, I did not have any internal force.

Yet, at the Wuzuquan course in December 2013, course participants not only could develop internal force using Wuzuquan methods, but also used San Zhan patterns to generate internal force similar to what is done in Wing Choon Siu Lin Tou, Taijiquan, Flower Set, and Iron Wire. It was true that the Wuzuquan course participants had many years of previous kungfu experience, which would be a big advantage. But I also had many years of kungfu experience before I learned Wuzuquan.

We could attain remarkable results in a short time because we understood the underlying philosophy of these various force training methods and had the benefit of chi flow. In contrast, when I first learned Wuzuquan I did not understand the underlying philosophy, and did not have chi flow. My Wuzuquan classmates also did not know the philosophy or have chi flow. Then, how was it that they had tremendous internal force? It was developed through years of dedicated training.

Regardless of whether practitioners know the philosophy or have chi flow, there are characteristic differences in both the methods and the benefits of force training between kungfu for generals and kungfu for soldiers.

In kungfu for soldiers the force training is external and the benefits localized and are limited by age, size and gender. The results are usually faster.

In kungfu for generals the force training is internal and the benefits holistic and are not limited by age, size and gender. The results are usually slower but more lasting.

But we are different. Although we use internal methods, we obtain results in shorter time than those who use external methods. As a rough guide, others who use internal methods would take years to obtain some reasonable results, those who use external methods would take months, but we only take days!


The asymmetrical Santi Stance of Xingyiquan

I believe that external methods may not actually be faster than internal methods. Those who use external methods achieve results faster because both the methods and the results are visible. When a practitioner pulls poles from the ground, for example, he knows he needs strength to pull the pole and he can see it pulled from the ground when he succeeds. When he is lacking in strength or makes mistakes in his pulling, he knows it and can correct himself immediately.

But when a Xingyiquan practitioner practices Santi Stance or a Wuzuquan practitioner practices San Zhan, he normally does not know what is happening inside him, and cannot see that energy, which will eventually give him internal force, is building. When he makes mistakes, which are more easily made in internal methods than in external methods, he may not know, and he also does not know that this mistakes hinder his progress.

If an internal art practitioner knows what is happening, his progress may be as fast as that of an external art practitioner. If he also can generate a chi flow before he starts his force training, he can speed up his progress remarkably.

This is my theory, and is contrary to what is traditionally believed. Traditionally it is believed that practitioners take many years to practice internal methods to develop internal force, and this is true. If my theory, which is based on actual experience of our students taking a short time using internal methods to develop internal force, is found to be true, it may revolutionize this aspect of kungfu philosophy.

Let us now examine the mind aspects between kungfu for soldiers and kungfu for generals.

As there are many techniques in Eagle Claw Kungfu, its practitioners have many patterns to attach their mind to. In contrast, not only there are few techniques in Xingyiquan and Wuzuquan, but also these techniques are simple. So there are few patterns for Xingyiquan and Wuzuquan practitioners to attach their mind to.

These same facts, depending on different variables, can have different results.

For example, because there are many places to tag their mind, it is easier for Eagle Claw practitioners to be mentally focused. On the other hand, because there are many places for them to tag their mind, it is also easier for them to be confused.

If they are focused, their attention is short-spanned, as they have to move to another point of focus soon. If their mind is wandering, they have more chances to bring their mind into focus again.

For Xingyiquan and Wuzuquan practitioners, because there are few and simple techniques, it may be easier or it may be more difficult for them to be mentally focused. When they are focused, their attention is long-spanned. But if their mind wanders, they would have to let it wander for some time before having a chance to bring it back into focus.

The mind of generals is stronger and better-trained than the mind of soldiers. Hence, Xingyiquan and Wuzuquan are more conducive for generals. Generals are more likely to be focused than confused, and maintain their attention for a longer time than letting their mind wander.

In this respect, Eagle Claw Kungfu is more conducive for soldiers. They are more likely to have short-spanned focus, and when their mind wanders, they have more opportunities to bring it back into focus.


Baguazhang application is sophisticated

But this does not mean that if you have the mind of a general, Eagle Claw Kungfu is not good for you. As your have long-spanned focus, you can easily perform the many elaborated and sophisticated Eagle Claw patterns in a continuous state or relaxed mindfulness. If your mind wanders, thought this seldom happens to a general's mind, you can quickly bring it back into focus.

What is a good procession for a practitioner who does not have the mind of a general but wishes to have one? He should start with kungfu for soldiers. The many patterns in Eagle Claw Kungfu provides him with good opportunities to have his mind focused. When his mind is strong and he can hold his attention for some time, he can progress to kungfu for generals, like Xingyiquan and Wuzuquan. If he starts straight away with kungfu for generals, his mind may not be strong enough to stay focused, and when his mind wanders he has less chance to bring it back into focus.

Similarly, Xingyiquan and Wuzuquan force training requires the mind of a general. Those who have only the mind of soldiers may have to settle for less mentally demanding external training methods like gripping jars, pulling poles from ground and tearing barks off trees of Eagle Claw.

The Santi Stance looks simple, but it demands much mental focus as well as mental relaxation just to remain at the stance for some time. Practicing Santi Stance in the "correspondence mode" or the "expansion mode" requires more mental focus and relaxation.

Some people may be surprised that mental focus and mental relaxation are required at the same time, mistakenly thinking that these two mental states are self-contradictory. In other words, they mistakenly think that when one is focused he cannot be relaxed, and vice versa. This mistaken view is due to the limitation of words. All our students know that it is possible to be focused and relaxed at the same time. We do this all the time when we start our chi kung and kungfu practice.

If one's mind is weak or untrained, he may be unable to be focused and relaxed for any length of time. At best he may not develop internal force, because his distracted or stressful mind hinders the building of energy. Worse, he may cause energy blockage resulting in adverse effects.

Similarly, being mentally focused and relaxed for some length of time is necessary to generate energy flow and develop internal force when practicing San Zhan and Abdominal Breathing in Wuzuquan. Distracted or stressful mind would not bring good results or may bring adverse effects.

Reversely, practicing Santi Stance, San Zhan and Abdominal Breathing will enhance a practitioner's mental focus and mental relaxation. This will lead to mental strength and mental clarity, which are not only important for generals in combat but also leaders in daily life. Ordinary soldiers and ordinary people who lack mental strength and mental clarity will merely follow instructions.

It is fitting to conclude this answer on kungfu for generals and kungfu for soldiers with a short story. Last year before teaching some courses in Bern, Roland kindly took me sight-seeing in a comfortable car. While going up a scenic hill, we passed some cyclists struggling uphill on their bicycles. "They are soldiers and we are generals," I told Roland. "They toll and sweat and use more time but cover only a short distance, while we enjoy driving in a comfortable car and cover a lot of distance in just a short time."


Wuzuquan application is simple

UK Summer Camp 2013
Xingyiquan Questions and Answers

The questions and answers are reproduced from the thread 10 Questions to Sifu about Xingyiquan in the Shaolin Wahnam Discussion Forum.


Preparation for Xingyiquan Course