More thoughts on elbows and the classics of Tai Chi and Xing Yi

From we find this nice quote about Chen Taijiquan:

“The, at first sight, seemingly humorous Chenjiagou saying to “always keep an egg under your armpit” reflects the importance of not allowing the upper arms to become stuck to the side of the body.

This idea of always keeping a space under the armpit is something I’ve heard said in other styles of Tai Chi as well, and it fits in very well with the idea of “Peng all over the body” that you’re aiming for in Taijiquan, that kind of “inflated like a balloon, but also soft, springy and heavy” feeling. 

Taijiquan, with armpit gaps. Photo by Stephen on

But how does that relate to the question I was looking at recently about the issue of where the elbows should be in Xing Yi? “The elbows never leave the ribs” is a line from the Xing Yi classics* (more of that later) that has caused a lot of arguments between practitioners on its interpretation and meaning. 

And when you compare it to the previous saying about the armpit from Chen Village, it’s basically the complete opposite advice! And yet, both Taijiquan and Xingyiquan are said to be internal arts, and part of the same family. So, is the advice about the elbow a crucial element, as fundamental as, say, aligning the Bai Hui point (the crown) with the spine? Or is this more of a piece of strategic advice to do with the fighting style of Xingyiquan, and not anything to do with its fundamental body method?

Let me throw in a curve ball here and switch arts to BJJ. “Glue your elbows to your ribs” is something I say to my students in BJJ all the time when they are on the bottom defending a position like side control, knee on belly or mount.

Knee on Belly in BJJ. Photo by RDNE Stock project on

If you let your opponent separate your elbows from your ribs in that position then only bad things can happen, so it’s great advice. Normally after I submit somebody new in BJJ I stop to explain to them how I did it, so we can turn it into a learning moment. 9 times out of 10 my explanation starts with “it started when you let me into the space under your armpit”. However, it would be ludicrous to make it into a hard and fast rule, to suggest that you should never let the ribs leave the armpit at any moment in BJJ. There are plenty of other times in BJJ where you need to pull with your arm, and you can’t do that fully without separating your elbow from your ribs.

* And let’s also decide on what constitutes a “classic” in Xing Yi. My own teacher only considered the 10 Thesis of Yue Fei  to be the classic writings in Xing Yi. Most of what people call the Xing Yi classics today are, in fact, writings created in the early 20th century when there was a publishing boom in martial arts manuals (See Chinese Martial Arts Training Manuals: A Historical Survey by Kennedy and Gau), and are based on the original Yue Fei writings anyway. For Xing Yi it started with Sun Lu Tang’s 1915 A Study of Xing Yi Boxing.

In the preface to his manual Sun says (Translation by Brennan), “While once at Bai Xiyuan’s home in Beijing, I got to see one of the Yue Fei manuals, not an original copy of course, but a handwritten copy made by someone in a later generation. It was not very detailed and unfortunately contained no explanations of its terminology, only the barest of text from beginning to end. I was suddenly inspired by this, immediately wishing to provide more complete information, even though I was fully aware that my level of learning and skill was superficial, and without being tempted to make anything up [in order to fill information gaps]. I secretly made my own copy and then deeply studied it, going through it posture by posture until bit by bit I had built up the material to make this book. There is no decorative language in it at all, for in my studies I have not dared to hold on to even the slightest exaggerations. Wherever flaws are found within my work, I hope my comrades will correct me, for which I would be very appreciative.

  – sincerely written by Sun Fuquan [Lutang] of Wan County, Baoding, 1915, 1st month, 15th day”

In his manual Sun has a chapter called “The Essentials of Practice” in which we find the advice about elbows and ribs. (Translation by Brennan)

The essentials of practice in Xingyi Boxing: 1. Sink your waist. 2. Shrink your shoulders. 3. Hollow your chest. 4. Press. 5. Lift. 6. Horizontal and vertical should be clearly understood. 7. Lifting, drilling, dropping, and overturning should be clearly distinguished.
  Your head presses up during drilling, then shrinks back during overturning. Your hands lift during drilling, then drop during overturning. Your foot lifts during drilling, then drops during overturning. Your waist lifts during drilling, then drops during overturning. [from the Xingyi Boxing Classics:] “In lifting there is a horizontal aspect, but it is invisible [because it appears to be only upward]. In dropping there is a vertical aspect, but it is invisible [because it appears to be only forward].”
  Lifting is going out and dropping is striking, but when lifting is also striking, dropping is still striking. Strike with lifting and dropping, like the overturning waves of water, which are lifting and dropping. Regardless of lifting and dropping, drilling and overturning, going and coming, it should always be that your elbow does not leave your ribs and your hand does not veer off from your centerline.
  These are considered to be the essentials in Xingyi Boxing. Knowing these, the right path in the art will be obtained.“

But you can see that even in this passage, Sun is quoting the older “Xing Yi Boxing Classics”. So, you have to start to wonder, how old is the advice that the elbows do not leave the ribs, really? I know some styles maintain that their “quan pu”, ancient collection of classic handwritten writings their family possesses has this advice in. At least with Sun’s work we have a published date we can be sure of. 

Photo by George Sharvashidze on

But this also brings up the question of how much we dedicate ourselves to following the literal words of “the classics” to the letter. How much freedom are we allowed in our martial art? Were the classics intended to be a kind of set in stone, unwavering, set of rules to be followed on pain of death? The ancient writings of the founders always tend to take on this weight that gets heavier over time. If they’d been written a year ago, would we treat them with the same reverence? There are hard line Christians who treat every word of the Bible as the word of God, never to be questioned, and there are more modern progressive Christians who interpret the words in the Bible into a modern context, or see them as simply stories designed to teach an idea, and not to be taken literally.

So, the question still lingers, like a bad smell. 

Where do you put your elbows in Xing Yi? 

I think the best answer I’ve found so far is…..

“in between your shoulders and your wrists”.

Where should your elbows be in Xing Yi?

Today’s blog is about a weird quirk of the Xing Yi world. There’s a surprisingly large amount of online debate in Xing Yi circles about where the elbow should be when performing Xing Yi. I mean, a surprisingly large amount of debate. Especially for a matter that might, forgive me for saying this, be seen as trivial by people actively engaged in combat sports that actually spar with resistance.

Obviously, if you have some sort of two person free practice in your Xing Yi system that you actually engage in regularly, I’m not talking to you. I think the real reason why all these debates happen is simple – too much forms and not enough fighting.  

But, ok, there are other reasons. For example, details do matter in internal arts. Quite often we’re being asked to look in detail at our movements and micro movements to get the most perfectly coordinated and natural human movement possible. But without keeping one foot on the ground, (and grounded in the reality that sparring provides), the theoretical arguments start taking over and the art disappears up its own bum. A martial art that is predominantly forms-first is always going to be theoretical at best. To take the well worn analogy – you don’t learn to swim by practicing on dry land.

Long, explanatory videos have been made, back and forth, about why a certain person is doing it right or wrong because his elbows stick out or tuck in.

The problem stems from the fact that there’s a line in the Xing Yi classics that translates as: 

“The hands do not leave the heart and the elbows do not leave the ribs”.

But it’s how literally you take these words seems to be the crux of the matter. Now, I’ve seen videos of respected Xing Yi masters quoting this passage while demonstrating and their elbows are clearly leaving the ribs, if not in the horizontal axis, at least in the vertical axis. 

The reasoning behind keeping the elbows tight is sound – in boxing, kickboxing and MMA it’s generally considered best practice to keep your shoulders high and elbows tucked in close to the body to help protect the ribs. But boxers don’t tend to get hung up on this – as their individual style develops they don’t feel like they have to conform to the same ‘rules’ that the novice has to. They are free to develop their own personal style through experimentation and testing in the ring. I’m sure Prince Naseem was taught the same basics as Mike Tyson, but look how differently their boxing styles turned out in the end.

So, (and I know, dear reader, that you are just dying the hear this), what’s my take on where the elbow should be in Xing Yi?

Well, I’m glad you asked. Rather than getting hung up on words in an old writing (that may or may not be old at all) I prefer to get hung up on history. I mean, you have to get hung up on something, right?

Xing Yi is generally considered to be descended from military spear fighting. If you hold a heavy spear it becomes readily apparent that your best chance of wielding it with power is to keep it in front of the body, not out to the sides. It’s the same when you hold any heavy object – you are stronger when your arms are in front of you holding it than when they are at your side holding it. This is the truth I feel these words are aiming towards, and generally the postures and techniques of Xing Yi all comply with this idea of keeping the elbows in and the arms in front of the body, not to the sides. There are exceptions though. For example, Xing Yi Bear has a much rounder posture, with gaps under the elbows, more like the Yi Quan standing postures.

Professor Yu Yong Nian, demonstrated Yi Quan standing posture from

Some postures in our Xing Yi dragon and chicken links are for hitting with the elbows and we hold them out to the side when doing so, but in these cases you are normally (but not always) standing side-on to the opponent, so the elbow tip is pointing at the opponent, so in that sense it is not ‘out to the side’. 

A good example is this famous Liang Yi Zhuang posture from Baji, which is similar to the chicken posture I was talking about. (Baji is another Northern Chinese martial arts, that is a bit similar to Xing Yi).

Picture from两仪桩

I mean, we could decide that viewed from the opponent’s position the elbow is in line with the body, therefore it is not leaving the ribs, but the hands are not in front of the heart. No way. Are we therefore going to decide that this posture, taken out of context on its own, is wrong because it doesn’t correspond literally to some ancient writing that may, or may not, have been referring to a specific context?

Here’s another theory: I think what the whole thing is quite possibly about how soldiers work in formation on a battlefield. If Xing Yi does have military roots then a line of soldiers on a battlefield would all be orientated towards the enemy, standing side by side in a line. That’s another good reason to stick the elbows to the ribs. Any bladed weapons going towards your sides would definitely not be welcomed by your brothers in arms. 

Ultimately, I don’t expect this post to have really made a difference to the debate. I feel like this one is just going to run and run forever. So long as there are mainly theoretical practitioners of the art there will be always be many theoretical debates about how what somebody is doing is right or wrong in relation to some ancient writing.

I just think people’s efforts would be better put to trying moves out on other people and getting feedback that way. As one of my teachers used to say often:

“There is no such thing as correct technique, there is only appropriate technique.”

Episode 23 – Mike Ash on using Xing Yi Quan for combat

There’s a lot of great martial stuff in Xing Yi Quan, which is feeling more and more like an untapped resource these days. With that in mind I interviewed one of my old training partners, Mike Ash, for the latest episode of my podcast. Mike has always been interested in training Xing Yi Quan as a martial art, and that’s what we talk about. He’s also practiced plenty of other martial arts and has recently started a new study into Taijiquan.

We talk about all of that, plus the spiritual side of martial arts. Here’s the podcast:

The military roots of Xing Yi

So, as a kind of counterpoint to my previous post questioning whether all Chinese martial arts come from military methods, I’d like to focus on one that definitely does – Xing Yi. Although, this really just emphasises my previous point because Xing Yi looks very different to most other Chinese martial arts and the reason it looks different is because it comes from weapons-based military methods and is therefore more concerened with military engagements than civilian. As our podcast series is showing, there is a verifiable historical connection between Xing Yi and soldiers – for example, the oldest historically verifiable practitioner linked to Xing Yi – Ji Long Feng, was a real life soldier in the Ming Dynasty army.

But the real reason you can tell Xing Yi descends from military methods is that you can simply look at it. The arms and legs are generally close together and close to the body, the posture is narrow and the direction of techniques is straight in front of you. Everything is done within the profile of the body. There are two main reasons for this 1) you were wearing armor and had to accommodate for the weight of it, and 2) you were using weapons, which were probably quite heavy, since they had to penetrate armor.

The Xing Yi we have today is what military arts would look like if you did them without wearing armor and using hand techniques instead of weapons. Of course, many people still do Xing Yi with a spear, but it’s rare to see anybody wearing armor doing it these days, which I think leads people to get the wrong idea about it.

Take a look at this video of my friend Byron Jacobs from Beijing doing Xing Yi Zuan Quan (Drilling fist). Look how tight everything is to the body and how the hands are kept within the profile of the body:

Here’s an example:

All this leads me to this excellent new video by Karate Nerd, Jessie Enkamp called “I trained like a Samurai for a day”. Here he gets Dr. Kacem Zoughari, a Japanese martial arts expert to take him around the Samurai Museum Berlin. It’s pretty interesting then half way through, it gets super interesting because he gets to wear old Samurai armor and have a go with a few authentic weapons. Now this is really valuable because he tries to do Karate movements in the armor and very quickly realises that it’s completely inefficient and exposes all the vital parts of the body to strikes from the opponent. The expert, Dr. Kacem Zoughari, gets him to change his movements so that everything happens within the profile of the body and makes him use the footwork, momentum and body to power the arm movements. The strikes become hidden, and tight to the body rather than telegraphed and open… and bingo! It starts to look just like Xing Yi! He suggests a cross step at one point and it looks a lot like Xing Yi Dragon step. The strikes he has to do start to look like parts of the 5 Elements – Pi, Beng, Tzuan.

Take a look:

Now you may be thinking Japanese armor isn’t the same as Chinese armor and therefore none of this is relevant, but you would be wrong. That armor at the top of this post is not Samurai armor, (although I bet if you took the average person off the street and asked them what it was they would think it was Samurai armor). It’s based on Chinese armor from the Song Dynasty. This would have been officer armor, not what your average soldier was wearing, but the same principles would apply – you want your movements to protect your vulnerable areas – the neck and joints in particular.

Xing Yi is based on these principles – minimal movement, a tight profile, using the body, momentum and the step to power the arms, strikes based on timing rather than speed, etc. And that’s why it looks so different to something like Karate or Norther Shaolin or Long Fist, etc.

Further reading:

Listen to parts 7 and 8 of our podcast on Xing Yi which focuses on Chinese armor and its influence on Xing Yi.

Xing Yi 5 Elements Fighting drill

Compared to solo forms in Chinese martial arts, a lot of questions you might have about why we do this, or don’t do that, are immediately obvious in application on a living, moving human being. And if they don’t make sense in that context, then you have to start asking yourself if what you’re practicing really has any point at all?

Switching the emphasis away from solo form doesn’t mean you have to be doing a sort of life and death battlefield combat every time you practice, it just means you need to be thinking about the other person, not yourself, so much.

Here’s one drill we practice in our Xing Yi system, called “5 Elements Fighting” – in its most basic form (shown here) it’s two people following the creative/destructive sequence of the 5 elements, so for example, your partner attacks with metal, you respond with fire, he responds with water, and so on. Later on you can improvise and vary the elements more so that you respond to metal with wood, or earth, for example. You can also add methods in from the 12 animals. But the idea is to keep a spontaneous feel, even if you’re following a set pattern, as we are here.

Whole Body Power, or “threading into one” in Xing Yi

The Xing Yi classics don’t tend to get as much play as the Tai Chi Classics, perhaps because they’re not as easy to read and ramble a bit, but they’re older, and as every good Confucian scholar knows, older is better!

The origins of the writing known as the Xing Yi classics is uncertain, but they’re often attributed to the Song military hero Marshall Yue Fei who is also the apocryphal founder of Xing Yi. Many people dismiss him as the originator of Xing Yi, thinking of it as merely a folk tale, but as our History of Xing Yi podcast series is trying to show, while there is no literal teacher/student line that traces back from modern day Xing Yi practitioners to Marshall Yue Fei, there is a history of ideas that can be traced back.

Qing Dynasty portrait of Yue Fei.

But however the Xing Yi Classics came down to us, they have been hugely influential, so can’t be discounted. Pretty much all the manuals written about Xing Yi from the high point of the martial arts manuals creation period (the Republican era) quote from them extensively. So, if you want to find the source of the ideas that have seeped down into modern Xing Yi – things like elbows protecting the chest, all parts moving together, or all parts remaining still together, the six harmonies connecting and coordinating the different parts of the body together – they’re all here. And I think that the XingYi classics have been hugely influential on other internal martial arts, like Tai Chi. The Tai Chi Classics use similar phrases and ideas all the time. The Xing Yi classics are where we get our ideas of what makes internal martial arts different to external martial arts from because they contain the important idea of “Internal and external are combined, the front and the rear mutually required. ” And this was written long before people had heard of Tai Chi (Taijiquan).

I don’t read Chinese so I’ll point you to one English translation that’s available online. I don’t have any strong opinion on this being better than other translations, it’s just available. There’s one done by Yang Jwing Ming that’s also good.

Over and over the classic, which contains 10 ‘songs’, talks about how to coordinate the body so that a kind of whole body power is being delivered. Because of the amount of writing about it in the classics (including Tai Chi Classics), we have to assume that this ‘whole body power’ is not just a trivial, or easy to do. And if it was then I’d see a lot more people doing it, and I don’t. It’s hard to get a foot in the door of whole body power, and it’s even harder to do it very well. 

Being relaxed and not overly tense is important for whole body power, and I think Tai Chi is very good at teaching that, but the footwork tends to be lacking. Xing Yi is good for teaching you how to move with this whole body power. A lot of the Xing Yi classics are devote to talking about stepping.

But over and over, the overarching theme is of unifying the body, of “threading into one”. This is the whole body power that internal martial artists seek.

“About what one means; from top to the bottom of the feet, internally there are viscera, bowels, tendons, and bones. Externally, there are muscles, skin, the five sensing organs, and hundreds of bones of the skeleton, mutually combined and become one. When struck will not open, when hit will not decompose. The top wishes to move, the bottom automatically follows. The bottom wishes to move the top will automatically lead. The center section moves, the top and the bottom will coordinate. Internal and external are combined, the front and the rear mutually required. This is what is called threading into one.” – Thesis of Integrity from Mike Patterson’s website.

If you’d rather have somebody demonstrate the concepts contained in the Xing Yi Classics than read through them, then I’d recommend this new video by Byron Jacobs – he talks and demonstrates the content very well here:

Feet-together postures in Taiji (Tai Chi) and Xing Yi

I’ve always been curious about the postures in martial arts forms where both feet are together, because these postures don’t look very martial at all. In fact, it’s hard to imagine why you would want to use a stance like that in a fight, and yet we find them in a lot of Tai Chi forms:

From: Sun Lu Tang, A Study of Taiji boxing, 1921

From: Long ZiXiang, A study of Taiji boxing 1952

Here’s an example of the posture in application in Taiji performed by my teacher Sifu Raymond Rand:

Sifu Rang, Brush Knee, Twist Step.

It seems to be mainly Taiji lineages that have some influence from Sun Lu Tang that do this the most. A lot of people attribute the distinctive ‘feet together’ postures he used to his prior training in Xing Yi, and there could be some truth to this. Xing Yi does have ‘feet together’ postures quite a lot.

Sun Lu Tang showing a selection of postures from , A Study of Xing Yi Boxing, 1915

Of course, the root of Xing Yi is spear fighting, but the modern interpretation of the art is heavily biased towards bare hand training, and this creates a misleading impression. Think about it – if you were at at least one spear length away from your opponent the risk of being tackled to the ground because your feet are together would be greatly reduced. You’re now free to use the power generation advantages that can be gained by letting both feet come together, which is handy when you are holding a heavy object, like a spear.

If you watch this excellent video of Xing Yi spear technique by Byron Jacobs you’ll see that he doesn’t hang out with his feet together all the time, but occasionally he uses the feet together moments for power generation (and of course, also standing on one leg for range advantage and manoeuvrability in a way that makes sense with weapons).


Example feet together transitional posture:

Byron Jacobs of Mushin Martial Culture

In Xing Yi the most famous example of the ‘feet together’ posture is the Half-Step Beng Quan. Here the back foot stepping up to meet the front foot in place creates a powerful closing action of the body, kind of like a door slamming.

From: Selected subtleties of the Xing Yi Boxing art, by Liu Dianchen [1921]

So, is this the origin of ‘feet together’ postures in Taiji forms? Quite possibly. However, there is one more thing to consider. After first learning Xing Yi, Sun Lu Tang learned his Taiji from Hao Weizhen 1849–1920, who learned from Li Yiyu 1832–1892, who learned from one of the Wu brothers, Wu Yuxiang 1812–1880 who had learned directly from Yang Luchan 1799–1872 and also sought out Chen Qingping 1795–1868 who he learned from in Zhaoboa village.

It’s often thought that the distinctive stepping seen in Sun style Taiji, where the back foot is often lifted and brought up close to the front foot, is a consequence of Sun’s prior Xing Yi training. This makes sense as part of the narrative created as part of the Sun Style Taiji brand, which is that he incorporated his earlier Xing Yi and Bagua training into his Taiji style. However, if you look at the Wu (Hou) style he learned, it already had this distinctive stepping in it.

For example:

From: Wu Yuxiang style Taiji Boxing by Hao Shaoru

While the feet don’t go completely together as much, if at all, in Wu(Hao) style, they are very close together for a lot of the time. Watch this video for an example of the form in action:

One theory about why this is is that Wu Yuxiang was a member of the Imperial Court at the end of the Ching Dynasty, and was therefore expected to wear traditional court dress, which restricted the stepping.

I think you can see that influence extending into Sun Lu Tang’s Taiji, which makes sense since he learned from this lineage.

Finally, I should note that thought this post I don’t want to create the impression that all the steps in either Xing Yi or Taiji performed by Sun Lu Tang are small or restricted. He also had plenty of wider postures in his arts too, for example.

Xing Yi:


However, compare it to postures found in other styles of Taiji whose practitioners didn’t have to wear court dress:

Chen Ziming for example:

From: The inherited Chen family boxing art, Chen Ziming

Chinese armour breakdown

I try not to do too many posts that are basically just a video, but I thought this one from Kung Fu world showing how the various parts of Chinese armour were worn was pretty good. There’s not much information provided with the video, but from looking at it I think it’s based on Song Dynasty (960 – 1279AD) armour – I could be wrong about that, but what’s interesting about it is that your average person saw this they would probably think this is Samurai armour from Japan, especially because she’s holding a sword that looks a bit like a katana.

Chinese armour really reached a peak in terms of technology in the Song Dynasty because the Chinese were fighting their most difficult opponents at the time, the Mongol army. This was the time of the folk hero General Yue Fei, who is traditionally associated with the martial art of Xing Yi and Xin Yi. Eventually the Song Dynasty collapsed and the Mongols took over, creating the Yuan Dynasty which only lasted from 1271 to 1368.

Episode 16: Tim Cartmell on keeping it real in martial arts

My guest in this episode will need no introduction to anybody who trains in the Chinese styles of Xing Yi and Baguazhang, especially in the United States. Tim Cartmell is a lifelong martial artist who spent many years living in Asia learning the internal arts, before heading back to the US where he took up BJJ, becoming a black belt. Tim is now the head jiujitsu coach at Ace Jiujitsu Academy in Fountain Valley, California where he teaches classes and trains professional MMA fighters.

In this podcast I ask Tim about his training tips, especially for older martial artists, where he thinks martial arts is going in the future and his approach to combining all the arts he knows into a single principle-based, reality-driven approach.

You can find out more about Tim at his website and don’t forget to check out the Shen Wu Martial Arts group on Facebook.

I hadn’t talked to Tim before this interview, but many of the people I’ve had as guests on my podcast have rated him highly, and now I know why – for somebody with so much experience of martial arts Tim is a very humble and genuine guy, as I hope you’ll discover over the next hour or so.

You can support The Tai Chi Notebook Podcast by becoming a patron. Head over to and become a patron today! You’ll get a version of the podcast you can download, exclusive video clips and articles.

The Heretical Baguazhang and Xing Yi Monkey connection

Bagua and Xing Yi are two styles that have historically been trained together. The story you usually read is that martial artists living in Beijing in the 1900s rooming together found the two styles to be complimentary and therefore a long history of cross training naturally arose between them. I think this description of history is true, however, I often wonder if the real story is that earlier in time the two styles sprang from the same source, so this period was more of a reuniting of styles than two separate styles meeting?

Xing Yi Beng Quan

We speculated about the origins of Baguazhang before in the Heretics episode I did with my teacher. That one seemed to upset a lot of people, especially those were emotionally invested in Baguazhang, but hey it’s not called the Heretics Podcast for no reason! You’re going to get an heretical view of things there, and that will always upset people. Perhaps we should have put a big disclaimer on the front! If you’re going to listen to it, we’d suggest emptying your cup first. But anyway…

If we forget historical lineage questions for a moment and just look at the arts as presented today, it’s not hard to see a connection between the two. The stepping is very similar. Xing Yi normally steps in a straight line, but once you look at the turns at the end of each line you start to see what is clearly the same sort of stepping that is used in Baguazhang’s circle walking.

I think this is a very good video by a martial artist called Paul Rogers explaining how Bagua circle walking is basically two steps – an inward turning out step bai bu (inward placing step) and kou bu (hooking step).

Notice that his student is asking him questions about why they circle walk in Baguazhang and he keeps returning to the same answer, which is “you could do it in a straight line”. The problem with doing things on a straight line is that you need a lot of space, doing it in a circle helps you make more efficient use of whatever space you have. So, it’s the steps that are important, not the circle.

Here’s a short article about the two steps and their usage in Baguazhang. Plenty of styles of Baguazhang do have straight line drills too. And when you take the circle walking away, I think the connection between Xing Yi and Baguazhang starts to become clearer, at least to me.

In the Xing Yi lineage I’ve been taught the animal that most looks like Baguazhang is the monkey. These days Xing Yi is know for short little forms (or Lian Huan: “linking sequences” -as we prefer to call them) however I believe this is a result of years and years of politically-directed reformations being applied to the rich and varied martial systems that existed before the Boxer Rebellion. After the Boxer Rebellion and the religious secret societies that fueled it, there was an effort to strip martial arts away from any religious connections. Then came the Kuo Shu movement (we’re simplifying history here, but several authors have written about this – have a look on Amazon, and this video from Will at Monkey Steals Peach will help) and then the Communists arrived with the WuShu movement. The result was that the rich and varied lineages of Xing Yi became standardised, often into short sequences that could be easily taught to large groups. In any case, the idea of set sequences doesn’t have to be the be all and end all of martial arts. Some teacher encourage students to create their own, once they have a good enough understanding off the principles.

We have an extended linking sequence for Monkey, taught to me by my teacher. Here’s a video of me doing a fragment of it, being a Xing Yi Monkey in a forest grove. My natural home :). I’ll put the full video in my Patron’s area if you want to see more of it.

But look at the steps I’m doing – can you see the bai bu and the kou bu? I think that if I added circle walking into that it would be almost indistinguishable from Baguazhang.

This begs the question, which came first? Xing Yi is historically older than Baguazhang, but I think because of the mixing of the arts, they both influenced each other at this point, and possibly are the same art to begin with!

I like to think of the best answer to the terrible question that plagues martial arts lineages of “which is oldest?” is “right now, we are all historically equidistant to the founder”.