The Classic of Fighting is part of Yue Fei’s 10 Thesis, a collection of works also known as the Xing Yi Classics. (I once got into a bit of a tiff about these documents being attributed to Chen Changxin in error, but that’s another story.)
The Classic of Fighting is one of the more practical works in the classics, and contains some fascinating insights on martial matters. Amongst the verse is this part:
“The outstanding person boxes through freely releasing technique. It is also useful if the boxing is tightly reeled using Qi in the haft grip”.
The translation I’m using here is by my teacher Damon Smith and Shan Gao, and is reproduced in full in Xing Yi Quan, A study of Tai and Tuo Xing by Glen Board.
“Haft” here refers to the bit of the spear that you hold, but the same thing applies to holding a sword by the handle.
Later on in the classic it expands on what using Qi in the haft grip means:
“When the haft is gripped, this grip is done with the whole body; when one thing extends the whole body extends. The key to extending is to gain extension in the entrance; the key to the grip is to gain the grip from the root, as if coiling explosively. The coiling should become tight, like the power that exists in the bow at full draw.”
I really like this description as it gets across the feeling that needs to develop with the sword or spear as you use it day in, day out. So when it says “the coiling should become tight” I think it means over time. When you grip, it becomes like your whole body gripping the weapon, and if you want to move the weapon you have to move your whole body in a coiling manner. In fact, the best way to manipulate a weapon with your whole body is using reeling – spiral actions that move inwards and outwards. Our bodies are built for spiral movements.
It’s also worth noting that the coiling is not done slowly, but explosively, although I’d suggest starting to find these coiling movements slowly and without using force first. If you want a simple exercise for developing coiling movements, then I’ve got one of those as well.
The other thing I wanted to mention before I go was the use of the word “boxing” here. Boxing would imply empty hand martial arts, but it instantly goes on to talk about a “haft grip”, which implies weapons. Of course, “fist” “boxing” and “martial art” are all implied by “Quan”, so it’s all open to interpretation.
Either way, it’s long been said that Xing Yi is a spear fighting art that is done mainly bare hand. The frequent references to weapons in its classics would seem to confirm this theory.
4 thoughts on “The boxing is tightly reeled”
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Yes, the implication being that you would hold your fist like you are holding a spear. And I would say that all translation is interpretive. That’s the nature of translation. Go back and read the Classic of Fighting again and you’ll find the second quote in there. It’s in all versions I’ve seen. Translations vary, of course. Yang Jwing-Ming translates it as “when one hand is grabbing the entire body is grabbing”, for example.
My teacher spent a long time working on his translation, and with help from a Chinese researcher, to get at what these old Chinese characters were really saying. There is also a bias against referring to weapons in translations these days. For example the character meaning a “bow at full draw” gets turned into simply “tight” a lot. But translation is not my speciality, I’m just relaying what he told me.
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The first quote is quite interpretive rather than a strict translation. I found it in the manual attributed to Yue Fei. It could also be instructions to curl one’s fist tight with the same energy as gripping a handle. The second quote must be from later Xingyi writings.
But, there is nothing wrong with taking principles, interpreting them, and applying them to one’s art. And, generally speaking, an interpretive translation is much easier to read.
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