The importance of the Dragon to Xing Yi

black dragon roof ornament

Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

The Dragon is unique amongst Xing Yi animals because it is the only mythical one. Yes, I’m aware that some lineages of Xing Yi include a Phoenix as one of their 12 animals, but I think this is simply a mistranslation of Tai, a kind of flycatcher bird native to China. You sometimes also see it mistranslated as Ostrich, which is even stranger. You occasionally see Tuo translated as “water lizard”, or “water strider”, but it’s clearly a crocodile, another animal that is (or effectively was) native to China.

The question of why Xing Yi, whose animal methods are based on real, observable native animals, should include a Dragon we’ll leave until the end of this post, but for now, let’s look at its characteristics.

Dragon in San Ti Shi

The Dragon is one of the important animals in Xing Yi Quan because, together with Bear Shoulders, Eagle Claw, Chicken Leg, Tiger Embrace and Thunder sound, Dragon Body forms the famous San Ti Shi posture, (different lineages have slight variations on those, but they’re fundamentally the same).

san ti

San Ti Shi demonstrated by master Zhu Guang, credit Hsing Yi Leeds

Dragons in Chinese mythology have very flexible spines – they fall and rise through clouds with a long, flexible body that coils and rotates, twists and turns. You often seem them decorating Asian temple roofs, or spiralling around a pillar:

yellow and green temple

Photo by Elina Sazonova on Pexels.com

It’s the flexible nature of the spine that is the characteristic we seek to emulate in Xing Yi Quan. In Xing Yi the spine is characterised by a coiling action, a counter-rotation between hips and shoulders, that means the practitioner can easily generate power, or, always has the potential for generating power from all positions.

The typical Dragon Shape example you see demonstrated looks something like this one:

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Dragon, demonstrated by master Zhu Guang, credit Hsing Yi Leeds

 

Notice how his posture is placing a lot of torque on the spine, and creating potential energy. The right shoulder pushes back, but the right hip pushes forward. That is what is meant by “dragon body” in our style.

(And just to counter some things I’ve read a few times: It is not about creating a ‘spinal wave’ that moves vertically up the spine – that’s not how spines are designed to express power in human beings if longevity is one of your goals. Force (jin) itself can move up the spine to the hands, but there’s no actual physical ripple or wave that should move up your spine, like a whip cracking. I have seen some styles of Chinese martial arts that do this – they crack their spines like a whip. Good luck with that when you’re 70 I’d say, but each to their own.)

Xing Yi and Xin Yi Liu He Dragon comparison

A question came up recently (which inspired this post) about how Dragon in Xing Yi can possibly be the same as Dragon in its sister art Xin Yi Liu He, since they look different.

My first response to that is, of course, they are the same. Not identical in outward expression, but the same root.

These two arts developed in different geographic locations, but they share a common root. Take monkeys as an example: In biological terms, all modern-day monkeys look different, but they share a common ancestor. You can tell they are related. While their colourings, their sizes and their behaviours may have evolved along different lines, they’re still belong to the same species. It’s the same with Xing Yi dragon and Xin Yi Liu He dragon.

One phrase my Xing Yi teacher liked was “one root, 10,000 endings”, so there can be infinite variations on a dragon posture, or sequence, but the root, the essence of what is being expressed, is the same.

Every lineage of Xing Yi has its own slight variation, but in Hebei Xing Yi you usually see Dragon expressed in that rising and falling squatting posture shown above.

Here’s a video of Mike Patterson showing some applications:

This is the posture that is not found in Xin Yi Liu He? Really?

First, I’d dispute that. Here are two videos I found quickly online that are very similar to the standard Hebei Xing Yi version. This one looks like a prototype for the standard Hebei move, ending in a similar squat:

 

And then there’s this one called “Dragon wags tail” from http://www.xinyiliuhe.net , which has a different stance, but the movement is virtually identical:

 

Perhaps the confusion happens because the most common “dragon” movement you see in Xin Yi Liu He is this one (that you see translated as variations of “dragon shakes its shoulders” or “dragon shoulder” or “dragon carries the shoulder pole”.)

It’s one of the “3 old steps”. I like that name. Again, it implies that the dragon is a fundamental quality to the art, which is what we say in Xing Yi. I’m speculating here, but perhaps in Xing Yi’s San Ti Shi we see the bringing together of these “old steps” into a single posture that is held and practiced without movement, but with the same internal feeling?

If you look at what is being practiced in the Xin Yi steps above you see the same qualities of dragon that we look for in Xing Yi – the flexible, rotating spine. On the inside, it’s the same thing. Also notice that his arms are being held in a way that resembles wings, like dragon wings?

Let’s look at some more dragon movements you find in other lines of Xing Yi beyond the usual rise/fall squat movement you see:

This is Zhang Xi Gui is the director of the Shan Xi Xing Yi Research School. Notice the same ‘wing’ shape to his arms?

Notice the different flavours of the dragon are there – the strategic leg placement to set traps and trip, the coiling body motion and the ‘wings’ and ‘claws’ feel in the arms.

It’s already clear there is more to the ‘dragon’ than just a single move. I’m trying to get to the point where I can convince you that dragon is a quality, not a move, that can be expressed in various different ways.

Dragon principles in Xin Yi Liu He

In terms of Dragon principles being expressed in Xin Yi Liu He the best video I’ve found is this one below.

Dragon is expressed all through this video and the teacher really goes into detail about the body actions. And again, it all matches with Xing Yi – the rotation of the spine, the actions of the hips and shoulders to create power that I talked about earlier.

I really like this video (despite whatever that young German man is doing to that tree 🙂 )

 

I hope that’s been enough to get you thinking. We need to stop thinking about Xing Yi animals as ‘this move’ or ‘that move’. It does this massive, practical, ancient and subtle art a huge disservice.

And going back to what I mentioned earlier – the other reason for the dragon being the only mythical creature in Xing Yi/Xin Yi’s animal styles?

Well, the dragon is the emblem of Yue Fei’s family and he is often illustrated with a dragon emblem on his robe:

yue fei

Qing dynasty illustration of Yue Fei By Unknown author – 清宫殿藏画本. 北京: 故宫博物馆出版社. 1994., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57090030

Was Yue Fei practicing what we call “Xing Yi” today in his back yard? Of course not, but the ideas that underpin it? Then yes, he was. His army used these strategies very successfully in battles against the Jin army, but for (much) more of that story, see my podcast.

XingYi Part 9

Four_Generals_of_Song

Yue Fei (right) from The “Four Generals of Zhongxing” painted by Liu Songnian during the Southern Song dynasty.

In this episode we discuss the role of General Zhang Jun in the survival of Yue Fei’s tradition, as well as in the survival of members of Yue Fei’s extended family. We also discuss how Zhang Jun managed to protect himself from the purges carried out by Qin Hui.

Previous episodes:

XingYi Part 8

This episode is about Song Dynasty arms and armour. This is a slightly shortened version of the episode from which a few of the more controversial topics have been omitted. The full uncensored version can be found inside Patreon.

XingYi Part 7

As a background to our upcoming discussion of late Song Dynasty armour and weapons, in this episode we give a brief overview of a few animal strategies applied on the battlefield at strategic and tactical levels, as well as in individual combat.

XingYi Part 6

We examine the life of Yue Fei’s best friend, General Han Shizhong, and the circumstances immediately following the death of Yue Fei. We also take a look at the the life of Han’s heroic wife, Liang Hongyu, and internal politics of the Jin Empire at that time.

XingYi Part 5

In this episode we examine the work of the Confucian Scholar Zhu Xi, who lived during the time period we have reached in the narrative (during the Song Dynasty). His philosophy did not impact Xing Yi until centuries later, but when it did, the effect was a large one, so this episode sets the scene for other episodes to come.

XingYi Part 4

We come at last to the great general Yue Fei’s greatest victories, and ultimate betrayal and death – at the hands of corrupt officials on his own side.

XingYi Part 3

In part 3 of our series on Xing Yi, we look at how the Li movement influenced Yue Fei and other Song generals in formulating effective strategies for use against the Jin, and how they managed to challenge the previously unbeatable dominance of the Jin cavalry. We also discuss the rise to power of chancellor Chin Hui in the regime of Emperor Gaozong.

XingYi Part 2

In this episode the look at the early life of Yue Fei, some of the factors that link him to the Li Movement, the meaning of some of the symbolism surrounding him, and the reasons for the transition between the Northern Song and Southern Song Dynasties.

XingYi Part 1

In this episode we discuss significant events that occur between the end of the Han Dynasty and the beginning of the Song Dynasty, in particular highlighting issues that form the background to the life of the famous Song Dynasty general, Yue Fei, who has traditionally been attributed as a progenitor of Xing Yi and other martial arts.

The history of Xingyi (a podcast series)

Xing Yi part 1

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Tang Dynasty soldiers

We’ve been building up to this episode of the Heretics podcast for a while, but we’ve finally got there. Here it is, the history of the martial art of Xing Yi, right from the very beginnings.

Damon heads back to the Tang Dynasty to dig into the historical conditions that gave rise to the Song Dynasty and influenced the eventual creation of Xingyi, specifically the An Lushan Rebellion (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/An_Lushan_Rebellion) and its disastrous consequences (some scholars have estimated that we lost a 6th of the world’s population! Although that figure remains controversial) and the subsequent rise of the Wen and Li traditions in the new Song Dynasty, and how this was going to influence the mother of a certain young commoner who hadn’t even been born yet, but whose name would come to be known throughout all of China – Yue Fei.

This is probably starting a lot further back than most people would imagine a history of Xingyi would begin, but we’re not in a rush – we’re going to do it right, placing everything in its historical context. Lots of detail and lots of depth.

I’ll update this post with each new episode.

Podcast Link:

https://www.spreaker.com/user/9404101/13-xing-yi-part-1

Xing Yi part 2

yuefei2

Yue Fei being tattooed.

https://www.spreaker.com/user/9404101/14-xing-yi-part-2

In this episode the look at the early life of Yue Fei, some of the factors that link him to the Li Movement, the meaning of some of the symbolism surrounding him, and the reasons for the transition between the Northern Song and Southern Song Dynasties.

Xing Yi part 3

800px-Gaozong_Of_Song

Emperor Gaozong of the Song Dynasty.

https://www.spreaker.com/user/9404101/15-xing-yi-part-3

In part 3 of our series on Xing Yi, we look at how the Li movement influenced Yue Fei and other Song generals in formulating effective strategies for use against the Jin, and how they managed to challenge the previously unbeatable dominance of the Jin cavalry. We also discuss the rise to power of chancellor Chin Hui in the regime of Emperor Gaozong.

Xing Yi part 4

Screenshot 2019-03-23 at 10.56.37.png

https://www.spreaker.com/user/9404101/16-xing-yi-part-4

We come at last to the great general Yue Fei’s greatest victories, and ultimate betrayal and death – at the hands of corrupt officials on his own side.

Here’s the picture by Fan Kuan ‘Travelers amongst mountains and streams’ which gets a mention often:

Fan_Kuan_-_Travelers_Among_Mountains_and_Streams_-_Google_Art_Project

The Rainbow Bridge

Not strictly part of the series, but a whole episode about the industrial revolution of the Song Dynasty using the famous painting “Along the river at the Ching Ming festival” as a window into the past.

We return to China in the Song Dynasty, looking through the eyes of artist Zhang Zeduan at the vibrant economy that developed among the common people while their confucian rulers were distracted by external events, and the nascent Industrial Revolution that it gave rise to, which lasted until the early part of the Ming Dynasty.

https://www.spreaker.com/user/9404101/1 … bow-bridge

Kaifeng-bridge-c.1100

The Rainbow Bridge

This link gives you access to the whole scroll to look at as you listen. It’s 17 foot long!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Along_the … g_Festival

Xingyi Part 5

220px-Zhu-xi1

Zhu Xi

In this episode we examine the work of the Confucian Scholar Zhu Xi, who lived during the time period we have reached in the narrative (during the Song Dynasty). His philosophy did not impact Xing Yi until centuries later, but when it did, the effect was a large one, so this episode sets the scene for other episodes to come.

Zhu Xi was responsible for what we call the “Woo Woo Tai Chi world view”. If you practice Tai Chi, or almost any of the Chinese martial arts that had input from the intellectual class, then you need to know about Zhu Xi, although you might not like what we’ve got to say about him

https://www.spreaker.com/user/9404101/20-xing-yi-part-5

Xing Yi part 6

In this episode examine the life of Yue Fei’s best friend, General Han Shizhong, and the circumstances immediately following the death of Yue Fei. We also take a look at the the life of Han’s heroic wife, Liang Hongyu, and internal politics of the Jin Empire at that time.

 

Xing Yi part 7

Screen Shot 2019-06-19 at 4.07.23 PM.png

Jurchen Jin Cavalry. Illustrations of Auspicious Omens [Public domain]

After looking at the rise of the Mongol Empire for a few episodes my Heretics podcast has come back around to looking at Xing Yi and in particular the use of weapons, military strategy and armour in the Song Dynasty armies.

Part 7 starts with a rebuke to the criticism “You haven’t even got to talking about Xing Yi yet!” then looks at some animal-based military strategy. These are the same strategies that are used in the Xing Yi animals today.

In particular, we look at Ma Xing – Horse strategy – but also look at Snake (She Xing) and Eagle (Ying Xing).

Listen to “#29 Xing Yi (part 7)” on Spreaker.

Xing Yi Part 8

animal animals backlit beach

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Part 8 looks at Chinese armour in more detail, but also talks about Xing Yi fighting tactics in relation to armour and how the armour influences the way the art works – stepping, continuous movement, minimal movement, twisting the fist in Tzuann, etc…

There are two versions of part 8, the first is for public consumption, available here:

https://www.spreaker.com/user/9404101/30-xing-yi-part-8-short-version

and we got into some controversial topics at the end of the episode, so the full version is reserved for our Heretics/Woven Energy Patrons ($5 and up):

https://www.patreon.com/wovenenergy/posts

Here’s some nice Song Dynasty style armour a google search turned up

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Image Credit: Dragons Armory.

From:

http://dragonsarmory.blogspot.com/2017/07/heavy-song-dynasty-armor.html

Like Damon says, you could show that to a ‘normal’ person and tell them it’s Samurai armour and they would probably believe you 🙂

Also, here’s an interesting clip showing how effective Lamellar designed armour was. This design is taken from the much earlier Tang Dynasty armour:

 

Xing Yi part 9

Four_Generals_of_Song

General Zhang Jun (left). From The “Four Generals of Zhongxing” painted by Liu Songnian during the Southern Song Dynasty.

In this episode we discuss the role of General Zhang Jun in the survival of Yue Fei’s tradition, as well as in the survival of members of Yue Fei’s extended family. We also discuss how Zhang Jun managed to protect himself from the purges carried out by Qin Hui.