Of all of the martial arts that I practice, Xing Yi Quan (形意拳, Form and Intention Fist) is one of my favorites. Xing Yi Quan is the oldest internal martial art, and is the most no-nonsense. I first encountered this style in 1995, when I was living in the martial arts academy. We were initially taught a bit of Xing Yi to show a visiting official, but all of the students enjoyed it, so it was added to our regular evening practice. Later, Xing Yi became one of my specialties, and I was always asked to demonstrate and perform it at exhibitions.
Xing Yi Quan can be traced back to a man named Ji Ji Ke (姬际可) who lived in Shanxi Province in the early Qing Dynasty. Legend has it that Ji Ji Ke was skilled at spear. One day, he came across a military treatise known as the “Book of Wu Mu” (武穆拳譜) written by Yue Fei.
Yue Fei (岳飞) was a Song Dynasty military strategist and folk hero. Legend has it that when Yue Fei was young, his mother tattooed his back with four large characters meaning “loyally serve and protect the country” (精忠报国). At age 19, Yue Fei entered the army, defeated many of the enemy’s most feared generals and helped resist foreign invasions. However, as Yue Fei grew in fame and influence, the emperor felt threatened. He had Yue Fei imprisoned and killed. Yue Fei’s patriotic ideals were embraced by later generations. In particular, Nationalist leader Sun Yat Sen, praised Yue Fei as a model of loyalty and strength that all young people and martial artists should emulate.
When Ji Ji Ke read Yue Fei’s “Book of Wu Mu” he was inspired. He combined his own spear fighting techniques with the military theory from Yue Fei’s treatise and the Chinese theory of the five elements and created a new style. Xing Yi Quan has five strikes: chopping, bursting, cannon, drilling, crossing. It also has animal forms: dragon, tiger, monkey, horse, chicken, swallow, sparrow hawk, snake, eagle, and bear. Later water strider and ostrich were added for a total of 12 animals.
Wudang Xing Yi Quan focuses on the role of the five elements: metal, wood, water, fire, and earth. The Five Elements are ancient philosophical concepts that describe the cycle of life and death and the relationships between living beings.
The generative cycle of the five elements is: metal generates water, water generates wood, wood generates fire, fire generates earth, and earth generates metal. The destructive cycle of the five elements is: metal overcomes wood, wood overcomes earth, earth Overcomes water, water overcomes fire, and fire overcomes metal.
Since each element also corresponds to one of the five Yin internal organs, you can practice a specific Xing Yi strike to strengthen that organ!
One of the things my students love about Xing Yi Quan is its practicality. Although the movements are and easy to learn, they can be combined in hundreds of ways with endless martial applications. Xing Yi is a wonderful art!