How to hit in Xing Yi and Tai Chi

“When the opponent expands, I contract. When he contracts, I expand. And, when there is an opportunity, I do not hit – it hits all by itself.”
Bruce Lee

Practicing both Xing Yi and Tai Chi together helps you gain insights into both arts. Here’s what occured to me this morning: If you were to strip down Tai Chi and Xing Yi forms to their essentials then Tai Chi is a series of deflecting moves interspersed with occasional punches or kicks, and Xing Yi is a series of punches or kicks interspersed with occasional deflecting moves.

That’s a gross simplification, but I think it’s true to some extent. It’s what makes the two arts good companions for each other.

I’ve written before about not putting power in the form, but in a related note I think the idea of not using your arm to punch is another way of looking at it from a more Xing Yi perspective. It’s the same nut, just another way to crack it.

The famous Tai Chi practitioner, Cheng Man Ching, is said to have had a dream in which he had no arms, and it was only after that that he grasped the secret of pushing hands. The secret was that pushing hands had nothing to do with hands at all, and he credited this dream with in his ability to push people.

But I find it a lot easier to understand the ‘not using your hands’ thing when you are constantly pushing and deflecting. It’s a lot harder to do it when you are striking.

Xing Yi is obsessed with striking. Most of the forms are a series of strikes linked together (called “links” – Lian Huan). I’ve come to appreciate however that the key to it is to not use your arm to strike. I mean, yes, your arm is doing the striking, of course, but it’s like it’s not involved in the process. I’m thinking about what Bruce Lee said when he said “it hits all by itself”. But while I believe Lee was talking about a more spiritual process (the top line of the hexagram), I’m thinking about a more mid-line process that’s rooted in the body. The hand moves into the position you want, but what moves it there has nothing to do with the arm at all, it’s all from the body. I find that when Xing Yi becomes “too much in the arm” it ceases to be the art it’s supposed to be. 

Paradoxically by trying to hit hard, you ruin it. You’ve got to ease back a little bit – take your foot slightly off he gas and let the body do the work, almost as if you are a craftsman using a tool skillfully (your body) rather than making a great effort to get things done and just making a mess in the process.

I do not hit, it hits all by itself.

3 thoughts on “How to hit in Xing Yi and Tai Chi

  1. “If you were to strip down Tai Chi and Xing Yi forms to their essentials then Tai Chi is a series of deflecting moves interspersed with occasional punches or kicks, and Xing Yi is a series of punches or kicks interspersed with occasional deflecting moves.”

    As you say, it is a gross simplification, but it and the “master” performances in the previous post “Another one Bites the Dust…” belie an incomplete understanding of the very nature of taijiquan training. I will limit myself to two areas.

    Taijiquan draws first on a close-quarters training. There is no debate that Lieh, Zhou, and Kao have to be executed hip-to-hip, rib-to-rib, or shoulder-to-shoulder. But, the subtleties of Peng, Lu, Ji, An, and Cai also work better at this range. There are spacing, angle, and timing lessons here too.

    As these lessons are learned, the distance can be opened up to apply the lessons and learn new ones at greater distances. But, the distance to which a Taijiquan adept should default with a talented striker / kicker is close in. No worries about being taken to the ground. All Taijiquan forms have techniques for fighting opponents on the ground and many Taijiquan skills still work from the ground. BUT, you must train them.
    .
    Second, Yilu means the first path and erlu, the second path. Today, these are primarily associated with the two Chen and some Zhaobao style forms, but this is not the original meaning.

    The original meaning had to do with phases of training. The first path was about learning to control the opponent in the clinch and, with weapons, in the bind. The training method was push hands, and there were specific lessons to learn.

    The second path was to learn to use the lessons learned on the first path and apply them to fighting. The training method was called Cut Hand. Thirteen Postures (1st) form techniques were then viewed in a new light and Cannon Fist (2nd) form learned with the knowledge of both first and second paths.

    As I learned the Cannon Fist form, I thought it was the stupidest form ever devised, then I started realizing that I needed to use skills I was learning from the Thirteen Postures form. It suddenly started becoming very interesting

    I learned this tradition from Chen style instructors and have shared it publicly in the past. I have since been contacted by Yang, Wu and Wu/Hao stylists describing that they were taught essentially the same thing, but instead of a second form, some re-learned the first form in a new frame with different applications.

    Some Taijiquan students already had fighting arts and experience, but wanted to add the unique skills of the first path to their repertoire to improve their overall skills, so they learned only the first path.

    Some Beijing Taijiquanists upon seeing Chen Taijiquan for the first time dismissed it as Shaolin. Others have compared it to Xingyi. Yet, others have claimed Chen family martial art is very good but not Taijiquan at all. Having trained in some Baji, I think second path is like very clever Bajiquan. However, rather than a series of deflecting moves followed by an attack, Taijiquan is redirect to create an opening, then like Bajiquan, attack, attack, attack,…with apt moves until your opponent is down and unresponsive.

    That philosophy is shared by a number of Chinese martial arts, but as the adage goes, “Chinese martial arts are all sons of the same mother.”

    TL;DR
    1. Taijiquan is intended to be very close-quarters fighting.
    2. Taijiquan has phases of training. Most practitioners only experience the first level.

  2. It’s a great point.

    People who perform the throwing action well, step, rotate their bodies, and usually there is some sort of snap or release. The arm just basically goes along for the ride.

    This does not have to be the case. One can throw with the arm. People who have to jump up to throw against the inertia of the body or throw from their knees throw primary with their arms. It can be done, but frequent repetition often causes injury.

    While the action and muscles involved in striking are different, the arms are built more for speed generation than power generation, especially when there is.the mass of a human body on the receiving end.

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