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Hsing Yi Kung Fu


Xingyiquan or Hsing I Chuan is one of the major "internal" Chinese martial arts. Xingyiquan translates approximately to "Form/Intention Boxing", or "Shape/Will Boxing", and is characterised by aggressive, seemingly linear movements and explosive power.

Xingyiquan or Hsing I Chuan is one of the major "internal" Chinese martial arts. Xingyiquan translates approximately to "Form/Intention Boxing", or "Shape/Will Boxing", and is characterised by aggressive, seemingly linear movements and explosive power.

A Xingyiquan fighter uses efficient coordinated movements to generate bursts of power intended to overwhelm the opponent, simultaneously attacking and defending. Forms vary from school to school, but include barehanded sequences and versions of the same sequences with a variety of weapons. These sequences are based upon the movements and fighting behaviour of a variety of animals. The training methods allow the student to progress through increasing difficulty in form sequences, timing and fighting strategy.f breathing and zhen jiao.

Its origins are traceable to the 18th century. There is no single organisational body governing the teaching of the art, and several variant styles exist.

Xingyiquan features aggressive shocking attacks and direct footwork. The linear nature of Xingyiquan hints at both the military origins and the influence of spear technique alluded to in its mythology. Despite its hard, angular appearance, cultivating "soft" internal strength or qi is essential to achieving power in Xingyiquan.

The goal of the Xingyiquan fighter is to reach the opponent quickly and drive powerfully through them in a single burst — the analogy with spear fighting is useful here. This is achieved by coordinating one’s body as a single unit and the intense focusing of one’s qi.

Efficiency and economy of movement are the qualities of a Xingyiquan fighter and its direct fighting philosophy advocates simultaneous attack and defence. There are few kicks except for extremely low foot kicks (which avoids the hazards of balance involved with higher kicks) and some mid-level kicks, and techniques are prized for their deadliness rather than aesthetic value. Xingyiquan favours a high stance called Santishì , literally "three bodies power," referring to how the stance holds the head, torso and feet along the same vertical plane. A common saying of Xingyiquan is that "the hands do not leave the heart and the elbows do not leave the ribs." Another characteristic common to many styles of XingYi is a stance called "Dragon Body". This is a forward stance similar to a bow stance with a straight line from the head to the heel of the back foot and the front foot perpendicular to the ground. This is not so much a separate stance or technique in itself as a principle of movement to provide power to techniques.

The use of the Santishi as the main stance and training method originated from Li Luoneng’s branch of Xingyi. Early branches such as Dai family style do not use Santi as the primary stance nor as a training method.


Five Element Forms

Xingyiquan uses the five classical Chinese elements to metaphorically represent five different states of combat. Also called the "Five Fists" or "Five Phases," the Five Elements are related to Taoist cosmology although the names do not literally correspond to the cosmological terms.

Xingyiquan practitioners use the Five Elements as an interpretative framework for reacting and responding to attacks. This follows the Five Element theory, a general combat formula which assumes at least three outcomes of a fight; the constructive, the neutral, and the destructive. Xingyiquan students train to react to and execute specific techniques in such a way that a desirable cycle will form based on the constructive, neutral and destructive interactions of Five Element theory. Where to aim, where to hit and with what technique—and how those motions should work defensively—is determined by what point of which cycle they see themselves in.

Each of the elements has variant applications that allow it to be used to defend against all of the elements (including itself), so any set sequences are entirely arbitrary, though the destructive cycle is often taught to beginners as it is easier to visualise and consists of easier applications. Some schools will teach the Five Elements before the Ten Animals because they are easier and shorter to learn.

The Five Elements of Xingyiquan
Splitting Metal Like an axe chopping up and over.
Pounding Fire Exploding outward like a cannon while blocking.
Drilling Water Drilling forward horizontally like a geyser.
Crossing Earth Crossing across the line of attack while turning over.
Crushing Wood Arrows constantly exploding forward.

It is perhaps unfortunate that the names used for the elements are used as fundamental names for applications of energy or jin, since it can be confusing to describe the "heng jin contained within pi quan". The jìn referred to by the five element names are not the only ones, there are many others.

Animal Forms

Xingyiquan is based on twelve distinct animal forms. Present in all regional and family styles, these emulate the techniques and tactics of the corresponding animal rather than just their physical movements. Many schools of Xingyiquan have only small number of movements for each animal, though some teach extended sequences of movements. Once the individual animal forms are taught, a student is often taught an animal linking form (shi’er xing lianhuan) which connects all the taught animals together in a sequence. Some styles have longer, or multiple forms for individual animals, such Eight Tiger Forms Huxing bashi.

The ten common animals
Bear In Xingyi, "the Bear and Eagle combine," meaning that the Bear and Eagle techniques are often used in conjunction with each other. There is a bird called the "Bear Eagle," which covers the characteristics of both forms.
Snake Includes both Constrictor and Viper styles.
Tiger features lunging open handed attacks mimicking the pounce of a tiger
Dragon The only "mythical" animal taught. in some styles it is practised separately from tiger because they are said to clash.
Chicken mimmicks the pecking movement of a chicken
Horse uses left to right movements similar to the tiger form but with closed fists. mimicks the action of a rearing and stricking horse
Goshawk This can mean ‘Sparrowhawk,’ though the more common word for "Sparrowhawk" used to be Zhan , which has fallen from use over the years. The Chinese word for "Goshawk" covers both the Goshawk and the Sparrowhawk.
Other animals that may be present in a particular lineage

Crocodile The animal it is meant to represent is the Yangtze River alligator. Sometimes referred to as a water-skimming insect, or water lizard. the movements of a yangtze river alligator have been compared to those of a pig crossed with a dragon
Tai This is a flycatcher native to Asia. Due to the rarity of this character it may be translated as Ostrich, Dove, Hawk or even Phoenix. The Chinese for this animal is a single character, not two (as written); this character is not in the earlier versions of the Unicode standard so not all computers are capable of displaying it..
Turtle Some schools will teach this in combination with Tuó, considering them to be the same animal.


Xingyiquan has three main developmental branches:

  • Shanxi
  • Hebei
  • Henan

However, the identification of three separate branches is tenuous because of the extensive cross-training that occurred across their lineages. This suggests that the branches did not evolve in isolation, thus diluting any major differences between them.

Schools of the Shanxi branch have a narrower stance, lighter footwork and tend to be more evasive. Schools of the Hebei branch emphasise powerful fist and palm strikes, with slightly different evasive footwork. Schools of the Henan branch are typically the most aggressive of the three

The Henan branch is known as the Muslim branch because it was handed down within the Muslim community in Luoyang to which its founder, Ma Xueli, belonged. Henan branch is sometimes referred to by practitioners as Xinyi LiuHe Quan instead of simply Xingyiquan This may be attributed to the fact that the Muslim community of China was historically a very closed culture in order to protect themselves as a minority, thus retaining the older addition to the name of Xingyi. LiuHe means "Six Harmonies" and refers to the six harmonies of the body (hips, feet, knees, elbows etc.) that contribute to correct posture. This is not to be confused with the separate internal art Liuhe Bafa.

Both the Shanxi and Hebei branches use a Twelve Animal system with Five Elements while the Henan branch uses Ten Animals. Depending on the lineage, it may or may not use Five Elements. Due to the historical complexity and vagueness of the lineages, it is uncertain which branch would constitute the "authentic" Xingyiquan.


Traditionally, Xingyiquan is an armed art. Students would train initially with the spear, progressing to shorter weapons and eventually empty-handed fighting. Xingyiquan emphasises a close relationship between the movements of armed/unarmed techniques. This technical overlap produces greater learning efficiency.

Close up picture of the “Chicken-Sabre Sickle”. ©

Close up picture of the Chicken-Sabre Sickle ©

Common weapons:

  • Spear
  • Straight sword
  • Sabre
  • Large Sabre (used by infantry against mounted opponents)
  • Long Staff
  • Short Staff (at maximum length you could hold between the palms of your hands at each end – techniques with this weapon may have been used with a spear that had been broken)
  • Needles (much like a double ended rondel gripped in the centre – on the battlefield this would mostly have been used like its western equivalent to finish a fallen opponent through weak points in the armour)
  • Fuyue (halberds of various types)
  • Chicken-Sabre Sickle. This weapon was supposedly created by Ji Longfeng and became the special weapon of the style. Its alternate name is "Binding Flower Waist Carry".

Weapon diversity is great, the idea being that an experienced Xingyi fighter would be able to pick up almost any weapon irrespective of its exact length, weight and shape.


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