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.
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: