Xingyiquan is simple, direct and effective


How does Xingyiquan compare to typical Southern Shaolin Kung Fu (such as the Flower Set) as far as philosophy and techniques are concerned?

Sifu Roeland Dijkema


Comparing Xingyiquan and Flower Set is both interesting and educational as these two arts manifest and represent vastly different philosophy and practice in fulfilling their goals. A comparative study of them will enable practitioners understand their own arts better even when they do not practice these two arts because the comparison spans a wide range from the simple to the sophisticated which includes many arts in between.

We should also note that Xingyiquan is a kungfu style by itself, whereas Flower Set is a kungfu set in a kungfu style, which is Southern Shaolin. In Xingyiquan there are only two major kungfu sets, namely Wu Xing Lian Huan Quan or Five-Element Continuous Fist, and Shi Er Xing Lian Huan Quan or Twelve-Animal-Form Continuous Fist, though there are many versions of these two sets.

Flower Set is one of many important and well known kungfu sets in Southern Shaolin. Southern Shaolin, as a kungfu style, is open to different interpretations. In its wide sense it includes all kungfu styles that issued from the southern Shaolin Monastery, like White Crane, Hoong Ka, Wing Choon, Choy-Li-Fatt.

Not many people know that there were two southern Shaolin Monasteries, or one but located at two different places, both in Fujian Province of South China. The first southern Shaolin Monastery, built during the Ming Dynasty by imperial degree and known to the public, was situated at the city of Quan Zhou. It was razed to the ground by the Qing Army led by the crown prince, Yong Zheng, assisted by Lama mercenaries from Tibet using the infamous "flying guillotines". White Crane Kungfu issued from this monastery.

The second southern Shaolin Monastery, built by Chee Seen who escaped from the first southern Shaolin Monastery, was secretive and was situated on the Nine-Lotus Mountain. It was also razed to the ground by the Qing Army, led by Pak Mei who originally escaped from the first southern Shaolin Monastery. Hoong Ka, Wing Choon and Choy-Li-Fatt issued from this second southern Shaolin Monastery.

In a narrow sense, Southern Shaolin as a kungfu style refers to the type of kungfu originally practiced at the southern Shaolin Monastery both at Quan Zhou and on Nine-Lotus Mountain. Hence, depending on whether the wide or narrow interpretation of the term is used, Southern Shaolin may or may not be the same as kungfu styles like White Crane and Hoong Ka. This apparent confusion occurs only in English. In Chinese, where terms are used for convenience rather than as definite classification, such confusion is absent.

There are some interesting facts about Xingyiquan and Flower Set that are contrary to popular beliefs. Although Xingyiquan is frequently regarded as Wudang Kungfu, and Flower Set as Shaolin, Xingyiquan looks more like Shaolin Kungfu (in its narrow interpretation) than Wudang Kungfu. Xingyiquan was derived from Northern Shaolin, and had no connection with Wudang Kungfu, the style of kungfu practiced on Wudang Mountain and derivatives from it.

The classification of kungfu styles into Shaolin and Wudang was made only recently in the 19th century. Wang Jin Nan, a kungfu scholar, classified kungfu styles into two main categories, Shaolin and Wudang. He regarded Shaolin as external, and Wudang as internal. He listed Taijiquan, Xingyiquan and Baguazhang as Wudang Kungfu, and all the rest as Shaolin.

This was incorrect, but his classification as well as its reasons have become established, and many people follow them without knowing the facts. Hence, although much of what we practice in Shaolin Kungfu is internal, others think of what we do as external. Although there is nothing internal in what most Taiji practitioners do, most people think of them practicing an internal art.

Flower Set is a shortened and more popularly used term of Plum Flower Set, which is "Meihuaquan" and is shortened to "Huaquan" in Chinese. There is another kungfu style from Northern Shaolin written in Romanized Chinese as "Huaquan".

Both the pronunciation and written Chinese characters of "Huaquan" as a kungfu set, and "Huaquan" as a kungfu style are different, though the Romanized Chinese spelling are the same. The former is pronounced in the first tone, and the latter in the second tone. "Huaquan" as a kungfu set literally means "Flower Fist", here "Fist" meaning a kungfu set. "Huaquan" as a kungfu style means "Beautiful Fist", here "Fist" meaning a kungfu style.

Although Flower Set is regarded as Shaolin Kungfu, it looks more like Wudang Kungfu than Shaolin Kungfu. It is because Flower Set is relative soft and flowing. And although Flower Set is internal, as in the way we practice it in our school, it is generally regarded as external by the public. There are two reasons. First, most people regard Shaolin as external, and secondly most practitioners of Flower Set today practice it as an external art.

With this background, which enriches our understanding and practice of the two arts, let us now compare Xingyiquan with typical Shaolin Kungfu represented here as Flower Set with reference to their philosophy and techniques.

Both Xingyiquan and Flower Set were devised for effective combat.

Xingyiquan was invented by the famous Song Dynasty marshal, Yue Fei, for generals on the battlefront. He based his invention on the needs of the generals and drew inspiration and resources from Northern Shaolin Kungfu. As generals were more likely to fight with other generals individually rather than in mass combat with ordinary soldiers, Xingyiquan was geared toward this purpose.

This does not mean that Xingyiquan is ineffective for mass fighting. If a few opponents attack a Xingyiquan expert from all sides, he would be able to defeat them effectively using purely Xingyiquan techniques. But if he also knows other styles geared towards mass fighting, like Choy-Li-Fatt for example, he would be more cost-effective using these other styles. Here is an example of the benefit of breadth and depth.

Yue Fei's generals who practiced Xingyiquan would not know Choy-Li-Fatt because Choy-Li-Fatt Kungfu was invented in the Qing Dynasty, 3 dynasties and 6 centuries later than the Song Dynasty. But the generals would use Shaolin styles like Luohanquan or Lohan Kungfu, and Taizuchangquan or First Emperor Long Fist, which were also very effective for mass fighting.

It is worthy of note that the generals were already expert in kungfu. Xingyiquan was taught to them as a supplement. Similarly students who will attend the Xingyiquan course are already good at kungfu. Xingyiquan is taught to them to enhance their kungfu further.

Xingyiquan practitioners should understand this point. If they are caught in mass fighting, they may still use Xingyiquan techniques to fight, but if they also know other techniques that are more suitable for mass fighting, they will be more effective employing these other techniques, though the fighting skills may come from Xingyiuan training. This is another example of the benefit of breadth and depth.

As in other aspects of our training, the philosophy here can be transferred to enrich our daily life. If you are trained as a manager, for example, when you wish to buy a car or go for an overseas holiday, you do not use the same techniques you use to manage your company, you use techniques of buying a car or going for a holiday. But you can transfer your skills as a manager, like planning and implementation, to operate the new chosen techniques.

Flower Set

Flower Set is elaborated and sophisticated

We in Shaolin Wahnam are very lucky in this aspect. Besides our core training in Shaolin Kungfu or Wahnam Taijiquan, we have a wide range of other kungfu styles to choose as selective, like Xingyiquan, Baguazhang, Wuzuquan, Tantui, Praying Mantis, Eagle Claw, Wing Choon Kungfu and Choy-Li-Fatt. Even for those of our students who have not trained in any selective styles, they still have breadth and depth, though of course it is not as broad or as deep as those who have attended selective courses. Why? It is because all the selective styles were derived from, or are specialization of, Shaolin Kungfu. In other words, all the techniques of these selective styles can be found in Shaolin Kungfu. It is a matter of selecting them.

Our students may not have the knowledge and experience to select the right techniques. This is true, but their instructors and I have. We have made things easy for our students. We select the best techniques for the required purpose, arrange them in the best way, and teach them to the students. An example is free sparring against those who use Boxing techniques, which in practical terms means the great majority of all other martial artists regardless of the martial arts they practice.

If the students are smart, they follow instructions and get the best benefits. If they attempt to be smarter than their teachers, though they never mean to be disrespectful, they miss the benefits. A common example is that instead of following the sparring strategy that has been meticulously prepared for them, they think they are smarter by joining a MMA or Muay Thai class as a supplement and learn to fight like MMA or Muay Thai fighters.

In my preparation to teach Xingyiqian, I discovered a bafflingly simple sequence of Xingyiquan techniques that is excellent for this purpose. But before this discovery, I used the same philosophy and the same skills though the techniques are different, like pressing into opponents with Single Tiger, Black Tiger and Fierce Tiger.

What about those who practice Wahnam Taijiquan, will they also have the benefit of breath and depth since these selective styles were derived from Shaolin and not from Taijiquan? Yes, they still have. Actually Taijiquan was also derived from Shaolin, but the repertoire of Taijiquan is wide enough to provide for breadth and depth. For example, to handle Boxing techniques in free sparring our Taijiquan students can use Cloud Hands, Green Dragon and Fierce Dragon, which are Taijiquan counterparts of the Shaolin Single Tiger, Black Tiger and Fierce Tiger.

But students of Xingyiquan or other derivative styles in other schools will not have this advantage. It is because their path is from specialized to general, whereas ours is from general to specialized.

In daily life, for example, they work in the production section of a company and after many years are promoted to become managers. If a problem occurs which concerns accounting or marketing, they would be at a loss.

Our students work as general workers in the company involved in all aspects of accounting, production and marketing. When they are promoted as managers in any department, they can handle problems even when the problems deal with matters outside their departments.

Flower Set evolved from Shaolin Kungfu in the northern Shaolin Monastery also during the Song Dynasty. Like Xingyiquan, Flower Set was not taught to beginners; it was taught to practitioners who were already good at kungfu to enhance their performance further. While the goal is the same, namely combat efficiency, the mode of operation is different.

Xingyiquan techniques, like the thrust-palm and crushing-fist, are meant to kill or seriously injure with just one strike, which served the need of generals in battles.

Xingyiquan practitioners should take note of the philosophical point. Each strike should have not only the force but also the intention to end combat. Hence, bouncing about or generously exchanging blows is out of the question. Not only you do not bounce about and exchange blows, you give no chance for your opponents to do so even when this is his normal way of fighting. If he tries to run away, you chase after him effectively and finish him off with just one strike.

This training will give you an ideal mind-set and strategy to win free sparring competitions. You are trained in the element of threat -- both at the receiving and giving side. You know your opponents are not toying with you, but would kill you with one strike. You are also not toying with your opponents. You would finish him with just one strike, ensuring your own safety at all times.

Xingyiquan is not for the chicken-hearted. There is also no time for hesitation. Your purpose is already set before your enter combat. If you have a chance to strike an opponent decisively, but you hesitate, he will strike you decisively.

On the other hand, Flower Set techniques, like the dragon-hand used in dim mark and cross-hand grip used in chin-na, are meant to disable opponents giving them a chance to recover subsequently, which served the purpose of compassionate monks in the monastery.

You have a variety of choices on how to subdue your opponents. You may grip them with chin-na or dot their vital points with dim mark to disable their fighting ability but allow them to leave to seek remedial treatment. You may fell them onto the ground and place your fist at their head or your two fingers at their eyes telling them non-verbally that you could kill or injure them seriously if you wanted to, but you don't. Or, if it is needed, you could smash their groin or break their ribs and end combat immediately. Xingyiquan has done away with these choices.

To subdue your opponents mercifully you need to be of a higher level than them. You may also want to play around with them to demonstrate your combat superiority. Or you may want to trick them or amaze them. To achieve these purposes you need a great variety of techniques. Xingyiquan, born in a battlefield environment, has no time for such luxuries.

Therefore, Xingyiquan techniques are simple, direct and effective. Flower Set techniques are also effective but they are sophisticated and elaborated. Whereas a Xinguyiquan practitioner will just thrust his palm or fist directly to defeat an opponent, a Flower Fist practitioner may first lock an opponent's arms so that he could not escape before striking him.

There are a lot of kicks, felling attacks and chin-na in Flower Set, but Xingyiquan has done away with these other categories of attack and focus only on strikes. The rationale behind is that it takes more movements to apply a kick, felling technique or chin-na technique than to apply a strike. If you could successfully apply these preliminary techniques to accomplish one attack, you could have finish him off with one strike.

This is a relevant philosophical point for those who want to win free sparring competitions. It takes more time and more movements for an opponent to take you down onto the ground, to grip your neck to knee-jab you, or to grab your arms in an elaborated lock. While he is making these preliminary movements, you can finish him off with one decisive strike. You must have both the force and intention. If you hesitate, he will defeat you instead.

Xingyiquan was invented in the environment of the battlefield where combat was the first priority. Flower Set was evolved in a temple environment where spiritual cultivation was prominent. This historical background defined the form and direction of the respective arts.

Although our present environments have vastly changed from those when Xingyiquan was invented and Flower Set was evolved, their historical background influenced how the arts are being practiced today and what benefits we expect to get. For those who wish to have spiritual cultivation while practicing a martial art, Xingyiquan would not be a good choice. They would attain their aims better by practicing Flower Set. Of course we are referring to the genuine arts.


Xingyiquan ends combat with one decisive strike

Some people mistakenly think that Xingyiquan is a good art for spiritual cultivation. This mistaken view is probably due to Xingyiquan being regarded as an internal, Wudang art. Both terms, "internal" and "Wudang", suggest spiritual cultivation.

The internal force of Xingyiquan is not used for spiritual cultivation, it is used for combat -- to strike down an opponent quickly. The term "Wudang" is mistakenly applied to Xingyiquan. It was not connected to the Wudang Mountain in its development.

On the other hand, those who want to win free sparring competitions, Flower Set is not a good choice, but Xingyiquan is ideal. Unless they are already good at combat, Flower Set is too sophisticated; they are unlikely to have the knowledge and skills to use Flower Set techniques effectively.

Moreover, wearing of gloves, which is a common requirement in many competitions, will restrict the application of many Flower Set techniques. Thirdly, the sophisticated footwork, which is excellent for those who are well trained, may backfire as a liability for many people and make it easy for their opponents to fell them or kick them.

Xingyiquan is ideal. There are no elaborated techniques or footwork that may backfire as liabilities. The simple and direct techniques and footwork are excellent for present day competition situations. Wearing gloves would not limit their usefulness.

These limitations in Xingyiquan and Flower Set apply to most other people. They do not apply to us. We are elite. Because of breadth and depth we can change setbacks to strengths. We can do so because of many favorable reasons, especially that we understand the underlying philosophy and every time we practice it is a training of energy and mind.

Besides applying Xingyiquan internal force for combat, we can also use it for spiritual cultivation as well as for good health, vitality, longevity and mental clarity. After a typical Xingyiquan training we can go into a chi flow, which will overcome pain and illness, and contribute to good health, vitality and longevity. Or we can enter standing meditation, which contributes to mental clarity and spiritual cultivation.

Although Flower Set techniques are too sophisticated for most other people to apply effectively in combat, because of our understanding of combat principles we can select from the Flower Set techniques that are most suitable for various combat situations, ranging from simple ones like those commonly found in today's free sparring competitions to advanced ones like combat between masters.

The thread-hand technique we now use in our basic application against fast Boxing jabs and crosses, for example, are taken from Flower Set. At masters' levels, Flower Set provides techniques for chin-na and dim-mark.

Xingyiquan and Flower Set are great arts. Their philosophy and techniques are vastly different. A comparative study enhances our understanding and performance not only of these two arts but also other arts as well as daily living

Flower Set

Flower Set subdues opponents with compassion

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