One of the hardest things I think that there is to convey in Xing Yi, to the perspective new student, is how the 5 fists work with the stepping. All the time I see people doing the arm positions of the five fists in a highly stylistic and precise way, but the body isn’t right. If the body isn’t right then the fault can usually be found in the legs and waist, and most likely it’s the stepping. In Xing Yi your stepping is the delivery system for the power of the body.
The words of the Xing Yi Classic of Unification apply here:
“When the upper and lower move, the centre will attack. When the centre moves, the upper and lower support, Internal and external, front and rear are combined, This is called “Threading into one”, This cannot be achieved through force or mimicry.”
i.e. everything moves together, as one.
In this video I look at some of the common faults I see in Xing Yi stepping, which could be described as problems of partiality. First, the foot arriving before the hand, then the hand arriving before the foot, and finally the foot and hand landing (i.e. finishing their journey) at the same moment with no penetration.
The real Xing Yi stepping is deeper and more penetrating. You’re hitting the person (or bag) while your front foot is still in the air, as you move through them, displacing their mass. That’s the trick.
(N.B. this style of striking in Xing Yi is more popular in the Hebei style – other styles of Xing Yi have different specialties).
The Tai Chi Notebook would hereby like to approve this message from Olivia Rodrigo and Lilly Allen to the 5 unelected justices of the Supreme Court who overturned Roe vs Wade, from the stage of Glastonbury 2022:
I listened to a rather interesting comment in a podcast recently from a Tai Chi practitioner who preferred to do weapons forms rather than hand forms because “Tai Chi is really a battlefield art” and the postures in the hand form are clearly derived from holding weapons, and it was therefore more authentic to practice the weapons forms. The implication is also that the hand forms were retrofitted onto the art, while the weapons forms are the true origin.
There’s some truth in this idea depending on which art you art talking about, of course. Xing Yi for example – there’s no doubt that the weapons forms came first. Doing a Beng Chuan (a straight punch to the belly or chest area) barehand, as presented in the classical 5 Elements form, leaves a lot of questions unanswered – why is your head not protected as you punch forward, for example? Why is your other hand pulled back at your hip where it’s not doing much of anything? What stops them punching you in the face?
As a barehand method, it’s clearly sub-optimal. Put a spear in your hand, and even better, wear armour, and it starts to make a lot more sense though. The hand withdrawing to your hip is pulling the spear back after a thrust, for example.
But if we’re talking about the long, elaborate weapons forms found in Tai Chi, done usually in silk pyjamas, then you’ve got to ask yourself – what good is all that dancing about if your goal is martial effectiveness on the battlefield? Do you think Chinese soldiers, village militia or bodyguards with spears or Guan Dao did this kind of practice? I don’t think they did. Or maybe they did for demonstrations at the many and frequent festivals in old imperial China in the Qing Dynasty, but what use is all that on a battlefield?
While using a spear, for example, might be connecting your art back to an earlier time and usage, I’m not sure that your 180-move spear form, with jumps, twirls and spins is any more “authentic” than a modern day hand form.
It’s very easy to fool yourself in Chinese martial arts. Stay sharp!
In this episode my guest is Phil Duffy, a senior student of Sifu Wan Kei-Ho from Hong Kong, who carries on a lineage of Northern Shaolin and Buk Sing Choy Li Fut from the famous masters Ku Yu Chang and Tam Sam.
Buk Sing is a much rarer sub style of Choy Li Fut that involves less long forms and more conditioning and drills, and it’s the same style of Choy Li Fut that I learned in the UK, so when I met Phil back in the 2000s we had a lot to talk about.
We’ve kept in touch over the years so it was good to catch up again for a chat.
Here we get into the differences between the various Choy Li Fut styles, how it’s different training martial arts in Asia compared to the west, and we talk about the key to it all, the ging (or jin) – that special type of soft power, that some people call Internal power – that the Chinese martial arts are famous for, and how it’s used in Choy Li Fut. We also talk about the famed Wing Chun / Choy Li Fut rivalry and how Choy Li Fut relates to other styles from the same area of China, like the older Hung Kuen style.
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I was observing the usual argument/discussion between two people about ancient Chinese words like Yi and Qi that frequently happen in Tai Chi circles, and it was going down a familiar route..
“Don’t lecture me! I read classic Chinese and Yi means ‘idea’ and Qi means ‘movement’.”
“Really? Wang Yongquan wrote ‘To mobilize Qi, you create an empty space, by Soong and a light Yi to empty the area. The differentiation of yin and yang is what makes Qi flow.”
“Seems quiet different then…”
And on and on and on…
Recently I had a conversation with a very experienced Chinese martial artist (it will be released as a podcast soon, don’t worry) about how these things are trained in Asia vs how we do it in the West.
He made the point that in the West we have to understand something intellectually before we will do it. i.e. we have to know we’re not wasting our time, that we will get something out of this. It has to ‘make sense’. And we usually ask loads of questions before even trying it. In contrast, in Asia, there is a lot less questioning and a lot more doing. You just do it. If you’re doing it wrong you hope your teacher will notice and put you on the right track. But generally you just keep doing it secure in the knowledge that eventually you will get it. It’s all in the feel. If you have the feel right, then you are doing it. End of story.
Nowhere is this distinction between the Eastern and Western approach more clearly represented that on discussion forums about Tai Chi that are full of Westerners. We love to argue about what these ancient concept and words like Qi, Yi and Xin really mean. As if one day we will arrive at the ultimate answer. It seems we can’t get enough of it.
But here’s the secret: it doesn’t matter how you define these words, what concept or theory you use for their implementation, or how well you read Classical Chinese from the Ming Dynasty. What matters is – can you do it?Can you show it to me?
If I said, “Show me your Yi. Let me feel your Jin” Could you do it?
If you can then it doesn’t matter wether you define Yi as “idea”, “mind” or “intent”. I’m sure we’re all familiar with the famous phrase coined by Polish-American scientist and philosopher Alfred Korzybski, who gave a paper in 1931 about physics and mathematics in which he wrote that “the map is not the territory” and that “the word is not the thing”, encapsulating his view that an abstraction derived from something, or a reaction to it, is not the thing itself.
So, all these online arguments about Qi and Yi, are effectively pointless. They are map, not territory. However, I do think that a little intellectual understanding can be useful. Especially if it stops you asking questions long enough to just practice. Also, there’s always this temptation to think that if I can just understand something perfectly, or write it down in the perfect, most simple way, then eventually everyone will go “Yes! That’s it!”
Anyway, as I was practicing this morning a thought popped into my head which I thought felt right, so I thought I’d write down and share it:
“Yi is the direction you’re sending your mind in, and the Jin follows.”
To me, Yi is always about a direction. And it is directed. It’s the opposite of a vague, warm, fuzzy haze. It has a steadfastness and a focus. There. Did that help? Or did it just make you more confused. Answers in the comments section please. If you have your own pithy phrase to summarise a concept as subtle as Yi that works for you, then feel free to add it below.
Now we’re a few months/years away from the high point of the Xu Xiaodong controversy it’s good to get a reasonable perspective on the matter from somebody who actually knows him and moves in the same martial arts circles in China.
It’s quite a long talk, but you can think of it like a podcast and listen to it while you’re doing your conditioning exercises. Wait, you are still doing those, right? 🙂
Filmed, edited and directed by Tim Cash. Follow members of the Oregon Tai Chi Wushu team as they travel with their teacher (JianFeng Chen) to China in search of the meaning behind a thousand year old art form : TAI CHI
In this episode my guest is Seymour Yang, a long time acquaintance of mine who is also something of a legend in the BJJ world, where he goes by the name Meerkatsu and is famous for his BJJ artworks, which get turned into beautiful t-shirts, rash guards and gis.
Seymour is also a black belt in Brazilian jiujitsu and teaches at the Roger Gracie academy in South Hertfordshire. So, it’s no surprise that this episode is highly focused on the art of Brazilian jiujitsu.
We’re talking right after we both attended the same jiujitsu seminar up in Stafford with Priit Mihkelson (my guest in episode 5 of this podcast) so that’s where we start our conversation. I hope you enjoy it!
I’ve just finished recording my next podcast with the mighty Seymour Yang whose martial arts clothing range goes under the name Meerkatsu. It will be out soon. At one point he asked me how Tai Chi practice fits into my life after I started BJJ and I replied that when you wake up the morning after a hard training session you inevitably feel a bit stiff. I run through my Tai Chi form a few times and pretty soon I feel good again and able to train BJJ later. That’s a great benefit in my view.
Sun Lu Tang put it like this:
“Those of you who are weak, suffering from fatigue, injury or illness, or who have weakened your Qi from practicing other martial arts to the point that you no longer have the strength to train, all of you can practice Tai Ji Quan. With practice, qi will quickly return to a balanced state and become strong, while the spirit returns to a state of wholeness.”
– Sun Lu-Tang, A Study of Taijiquan, 1924
To me that sounds like the same thing, except there’s no need to mention Qi these days. As Notebook reader Richard commented on a recent post:
“When a Chinese traditional teacher answered, How is this done? with the answer, “qi.” He was essentially saying biomechanics, or physics, or motor control, or sports psychology, or some other subject he couldn’t fully explain. Or more specifically, by qi, he was saying, “I can’t explain the details of why, but it falls in the category of qi.”