USE XINGYI TO SUPERCHARGE YOUR MARTIAL ARTS!
Out of the three best known Chinese Internal Martial Arts (Tai Chi, Bagua, and Xingyi), it is Xingyi which is by far the most applicable to Wing Chun, Boxing, and other striking arts. Xingyi (or Xingyiquan) translates to “Strength And Intent Boxing” and is based upon linear attacks from spear techniques. So the backbone of the system is aggressive linear attacks along the centreline. These are also known as The Five Element Fist, and the five elements are a fundamental part of Chinese medicine and martial arts. The system does have Twelve Animals as well, but those came later. The foundation and most important part of the system is the Five Elements. Without a solid understanding of that, then learning the twelve animals is useless. Many would argue that there’s no need to know the animals at all. It’s very true that with the skills and power developed from the Five Elements, your plate is full. And these skills will unquestionably enhance whatever martial art you practice.
The key attribute necessary for Xingyi is controlled aggression. There are no specific defensive techniques in Xingyi. Instead, the strikes themselves are the defense and attack all in one. This does not mean you go charging in recklessly. You obviously must have good technique and body structure with a good guard hand and covering your centreline and all that. But aggression is a must. This mentality is necessary for all martial arts actually. I’ve trained with many practitioners over the years and many of them at lower levels simply weren’t aggressive enough. Without aggression and if you’re scared to get close to your opponent, you'll never be able to defeat your opponent regardless of what anyone might tell you. So what exactly are the five elements? Below I’ve listed each element along with the personality associated with it. Here they are:
METAL - Chopping
WATER - Drilling
WOOD - Crushing
FIRE - Exploding
EARTH - Crossing
When training these personalities, it’s very important to understand that they don’t refer to one single angle or technique. They are personalities and can encompass many techniques. Looking at the Metal element for example, you can see that it’s associated with Chopping. In the traditional method of practice, it is a forward and downward chopping motion. However, when training, the chop can cover many different angles such as horizontal, diagonal up, diagonal down, or vertical up. It can be done with a knife edge of the hand, but it could also be with the ridge hand or a hammerfist. You can then do combos using different types of chops and you can also do combos with different personalities. In fact, one of the methods of training is to use what’s known as the Creative Cycles. If you look at the order I’ve listed the elements above, that’s the Creative Cycle. Here’s what I mean.
COMBO 1 - Metal collects water (Chopping to Drilling)
COMBO 2 - Water nourishes wood (Drilling to Crushing)
COMBO 3 - Wood feeds fire (Crushing to Exploding)
COMBO 4 - Fire creates earth (Exploding to Crossing)
COMBO 5 - Earth bears Metal (Crossing to Chopping)
You also have a Destructive Cycle. This shows you what element you can use to destroy another. Let’s take a look at the Destructive Cycle again starting with Chopping (Metal)
COMBO 1 - Metal chops wood (Chopping against Crushing)
COMBO 2 - Wood parts earth (Crushing against Crossing)
COMBO 3 - Earth absorbs water (Crossing against Drilling)
COMBO 4 - Water extinguishes fire (Drilling against Exploding)
COMBO 5 - Fire melts metal (Exploding against Chopping)
So for example if you wanted to practice the Destructive Cycle COMBO 1, you can do it as a partner drill. Person A will attack with Crushing and Person B will counter with Chopping. Of course, in application you can train these in any combination you want, but these are the elements the way they’re traditionally trained. If you look at COMBO 4 for example, Water (Drilling) will extinguish Fire (Exploding).
Five Element Theory is of course very complex, but I wanted to give a brief overview of it. Without at least a basic understanding, it’s very difficult to understand how Xingyi works. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s take a look at those elements!
METAL - PI CHUAN (CHOPPING)
This is a downward and forward chopping strike. The visualization you want to have in your mind is that of splitting a mountain in half.
WATER - TSUAN CHUAN (DRILLING)
This is an upward and forward Drilling punch finishing with your palm facing up. In Boxing, this is a Long Range Uppercut or it's also called an Up Jab. The visualization here is your fist is a super powered drill going right through your opponent. It can also drill the other way so your palm finishes in the facing down position.
WOOD - BENG CHUAN (CRUSHING)
This is a vertical fist centreline punch. I'm pretty sure all Wing Chun practitioners are familiar with this concept. Jack Dempsey also favored this type of punch as well as many Mexican boxers. You want to visualize your fist like a piledriver crushing whatever gets in its way.
FIRE - PAO CHUAN (EXPLODING)
This involves a compression of the body followed by a simultaneous outward parry and punch. The key here is the Exploding nature of it. A slip or duck followed by an aggressive counter is another example. Watch Mike Tyson fights to see what I mean.
EARTH - HENG CHUAN (CROSSING)
This is a Crossing movement going diagonal. The feet move in a zig zag pattern. It's similar to stepping off line as you throw a punch to your opponent's face or body. It can be done both with the palm facing up or down. It's a great way to open somebody up by attacking his guard hand. That itself could continue on to hit your opponent or you could use the opening to throw some heavier artillery.
There are other techniques as well such as kicks. There is one movement in particular involving a simultaneous tsuan chuan with a front stomp kick followed by a pressing down motion (chopping). But again we're using the elements and personalities. What is the kick? It's a Crushing movement. The vertical fist is one form of Crushing, but so is a front kick, an elbow smash, a knee, or even a headbutt. Learn to see strikes in terms of the elements and personalities and that's the lifeblood of Xingyi. And that's how it can also greatly enhance your martial art!