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Santishi sunlutang.jpg
Sun Lu-t'ang standing in San Ti Shi
Also known as Hsing I Ch'üan; Xin Yi Liuhe Quan
Focus Internal (nèijiā)
Hardness Fajin/Full body powered
Country of origin People's Republic of China China
Creator Yue Fei (attributed)
Parenthood disputed, possibly military spear techniques or Shaolin kung fu
Olympic sport No

Xingyiquan (Chinese: 形意拳pinyin: Xíng yì quánWade-Giles: Hsing I Ch'üan) is one of the major "internal" (nèijiā) Chinese martial arts. The word translates approximately to "Form/Intention Boxing", or "Shape/Will Boxing", and is characterized by aggressive, seemingly linear movements and explosive power. There is no single organizational body governing the teaching of the art, and several variant styles exist.

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A practitioner of xingyiquan uses coordinated movements to generate bursts of power intended to overwhelm the opponent, simultaneously attacking and defending. Forms vary from school to school, but include barehanded sequences and versions of the same sequences with a variety of weapons. These sequences are based upon the movements and fighting behavior of a variety of animals. The training methods allow the student to progress through increasing difficulty in form sequences, timing and fighting strategy.





The "Four Generals of Zhongxing" painted by Liu Songnian during the Southern Song Dynasty. Yue Fei is the second person from the left. This portrait is believed to be the "truest portrait of Yue in all extant materials."[1]

The exact origin of xingyiquan is unknown. The earliest written records of it can be traced to the 18th century to Ma Xueli of Henan Province and Dai Long Bang of Shanxi Province. Legend, however, credits the creation of xingyiquan to the renowned Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD) general Yue Fei.

According to the book Henan Orthodox Xingyi Quan written by Pei Xirong (Chinese: 裴锡荣) and Li Ying’ang (Chinese: 李英昂), Xingyi Master Dai Long Bang "...wrote the Preface to Six Harmonies Boxing in the 15th reign year of the Qianlong Emperor [1750]. Inside it says, '...when [Yue Fei] was a child, he received special instructions from Zhou Tong. Extremely skilled in spearfighting, he used the spear to create fist techniques and established a skill called Yi Quan [意拳]. Meticulous and unfathomable, this technique far outstripped ancient ones."


Throughout the Jin, Yuan and Ming Dynasties few individuals had studied this art, one of them being Ji Gong (also known as Ji Longfeng and Ji Jike) of Shanxi Province. After Yue Fei's death, the art was lost for half a millennium. Then, during the Ming and Qing Dynasties in Shaanxi Province's Zhongnan Mountains, Yue Fei's boxing manual was discovered by Ji Gong.


Yang Jwing-Ming argues that aspects of xingyiquan (particularly the animal styles) are identifiable as far back as the Liang Dynasty at the Shaolin Temple.[4] Yue Fei, therefore, did not strictly invent xingyiquan, but synthesised and perfected existing Shaolin principles into his own style of gongfu which he popularised during his military service. Because this theory holds that Yue Fei based his style on existing Shaolin techniques, some consider Bodhidharma to be the originator of xingyiquan. Nonetheless, according to Yang, Yue Fei is usually identified as the creator because of his considerable understanding of the art (as shown in the work The Ten Theses of Xingyiquan, credited to Yue) and his cultural status as a Chinese war hero.

Other martial artists and Chinese martial art historians, such as Miller, Cartmell, and Kennedy, hold that this story is largely legendary; while xingyiquan may well have evolved from military spear techniques, there is no evidence to support that Yue Fei was involved or that the art dates to the Song dynasty. These authors point out that the works attributed to Yue Fei's role long postdate his life, some being as recent as the Republican era, and that it was common practice in China to attribute new works to a famous or legendary person, rather than take credit for oneself.[5][6] One source claims that the author of the "preface" is unknown, since no name is written on the manuscript. Most practitioners just assume it was written by Dai Long Bang. Some researchers of martial arts believe that it was actually written in Shanxi during the final years of the 19th century.[7] In addition, historical memoirs and scholarly research papers only mention Zhou Tong teaching Yue archery and not spear play.[8][9] Yue historically learned spear play from Chen Guang (陈广), who was hired by the boy’s paternal grandfather, Yao Daweng (姚大翁).[10][11]

With the late Ming-era and Ji Longfeng, evidence for the art's history grows firmer. Ji Longfeng's contributions to the art are described in the Ji Clan Chronicles (姬氏族谱; pinyin: Ji Shi Jiapu). Like the Preface, the Chronicles describes Xingyiquan as a martial art based on the combat principles of the spear. The Chronicles, however, attributes this stylistic influence to Ji himself, who was known as the "Divine Spear" (神槍; pinyin: Shén Qiāng) for his extraordinary skill with the weapon.

The master who taught xingyiquan to Ma Xueli is conventionally identified as Ji Longfeng himself. However, the traditions of the Ma family itself say only that Xueli learned from a wandering master whose name is unknown. Ji Longfeng referred to his art as Liu He, The Six Harmonies, a reference to the most highly developed spear style practiced in the late Ming military.

The Preface identifies Cao Ji Wu as a student of Ji Longfeng and the master who taught xingyiquan to Dai Long bang. However, other sources identify Dai's teacher variously as Li Zheng or Niu Xixian.

Xingyiquan remained fairly obscure until Li Luoneng (also known as Li Nengran) learned the art from the Dai family in the 19th century. It was Li Luoneng and his successors—which include Guo Yunshen, Li Cunyi, Zhang Zhaodong, Sun Lutang, and Shang Yunxiang—who would popularise xingyiquan across Northern China. Sun Lutang exchanged knowledge with Fu Chen Sung, who subsequently took this branch of the art to southern China.

Recent history

A simplified version of xingyiquan was taught to Chinese officers at the Military Academy at Nanjing during the Second Sino-Japanese War for close quarters combat. This included armed techniques such as bayonet and sabre drills alongside unarmed techniques.[12]

Xingyiquan forms have been adapted to fit the needs of modern practitioners of the competitive sport of Wushu. The style is relatively rare in competitions because all wushu practitioners must compete in several mandatory events, which make xingyi a secondary priority in wushu circles.

Disputed history

Ancient Chinese texts, the source of xingyiquan knowledge, often contain characters whose meanings are obscure or have disappeared completely from the language. Specialised terms which describe historically-specific concepts (names of ancient weapons for example) are commonly interpreted with regards for their closest, modern linguistic equivalent. The results can be problematic, producing translations which are linguistically correct but inconsistent within a fighting or martial context.

Jargon from other martial arts seems to have entered the xingyiquan vocabulary through cross-training. For example, some schools refer to a training method of "Xingyi Push Hands" - a term more commonly in use in training taijiquan - which may be called by other schools "Five Elements Fighting"

The recognised founder of baguazhang, Dong Hai Chuan, was reputed to have fought Guo Yunshen with neither able to defeat the other - though it is possible that they were training together. It would have been controversial at the time for Dong Hai Chuan to have studied under Guo Yunshen, since Dong was the older of the two. The most neutral viewpoint would be to say that they trained together, which may explain the stylistic similarities between baguazhang and the xingyiquan monkey. Frantzis[13] argues that this encounter never took place and that Guo and Dong had little contact with each other. Frantzis argues that a xingyiquan-baguazhang exchange was more likely to have occurred in Tianjin c. 1900 where xingyi masters Li Cunyi and Zhang Zhaodong, Bagua master Cheng Tinghua, and four other xingyi and bagua teachers lived together (Frantzis, 1998, p. 179). Sun Lutang states in his autobiography that the legendary fight between Guo Yunshen and Dong Hai Chuan never happened. The book states that the truth of the matter is that Guo Yunshen actually fought one of his older xingyi brothers and lost. Sun Lutang was a student of both Guo Yunshen and Cheng Tinghua so this stance on the subject seems to be one of the most accurate.

Treating the story of Dong Hai Chuan and Guo Yunshen as allegory, however, reveals a common training protocol among xingyiquan and baguazhang practitioners. Often, because baguazhang requires significantly more time for a practitioner's skill to mature, it is acceptable to learn xingyiquan first or simultaneously. Such a practitioner develops a tactical vocabulary that is more readily apparent than the core baguazhang movements.

The founder of Yiquan, Wang Xiangzhai studied under Guo Yunshen, and similarities in techniques between these arts can be seen. The primary standing postures of Yiquan trains separately what xingyiquan santishi (三體式) trains simultaneously.[citation needed]

Characteristics and principles

Xingyiquan features aggressive shocking attacks and direct footwork. The linear nature of xingyiquan hints at both the military origins and the influence of spear technique alluded to in its mythology. Despite its hard, angular appearance, cultivating "soft" internal strength or qi is essential to achieving power in Xingyiquan.

The goal of the xingyiquan exponent is to reach the opponent quickly and drive powerfully through them in a single burst — the analogy with spear fighting is useful here. This is achieved by coordinating one's body as a single unit and the intense focusing of one's qi.

Efficiency and economy of movement are the qualities of a xingyiquan stylist and its direct fighting philosophy advocates simultaneous attack and defence. There are few kicks except for extremely low foot kicks (which avoids the hazards of balance involved with higher kicks) and some mid-level kicks, and techniques are prized for their deadliness rather than aesthetic value. Xingyiquan favours a high stance called Sāntǐshì (三體式 / 三体式), literally "three bodies power," referring to how the stance holds the head, torso and feet along the same vertical plane. A common saying of xingyiquan is that "the hands do not leave the heart and the elbows do not leave the ribs."

The use of the Santishi as the main stance and training method originated from Li Luoneng's branch of xingyi. Early branches such as Dai family style do not use Santi as the primary stance nor as a training method.[citation needed]


Five Element forms

Xingyiquan uses the five classical Chinese elements to metaphorically represent five different states of combat. Also called the "Five Fists" or "Five Phases," the Five Elements are related to Taoist cosmology although the names do not literally correspond to the cosmological terms.

Xingyiquan practitioners use the five elements as an interpretative framework for reacting and responding to attacks. This follows the five element theory, a general combat formula which assumes at least three outcomes of a fight; the constructive, the neutral, and the destructive. Xingyiquan students train to react to and execute specific techniques in such a way that a desirable cycle will form based on the constructive, neutral and destructive interactions of five element theory. Where to aim, where to hit and with what technique—and how those motions should work defensively—is determined by what point of which cycle they see themselves in.

Each of the elements has variant applications that allow it to be used to defend against all of the elements (including itself), so any set sequences are entirely arbitrary, though the destructive cycle is often taught to beginners as it is easier to visualise and consists of easier applications. Some schools will teach the five elements before the twelve animals because they are easier and shorter to learn.

The Five Elements of Xingyiquan
Chinese Pinyin
Splitting Metal Like an axe chopping up and over.
Drilling Zuān Water Drilling forward horizontally like a geyser.
Crushing Bēng Wood Arrows constantly exploding forward.
Pounding Pào Fire Exploding outward like a cannon while blocking.
Crossing Héng Earth Crossing across the line of attack while turning over.

It is perhaps unfortunate that the names used for the elements are used as fundamental names for applications of energy or jìn (), since it can be confusing to describe the "heng jin contained within pi quan". The jìn referred to by the five element names are not the only ones, there are many others.

Animal forms

Xingyiquan is based on twelve distinct animal forms (; pinyin: xíng). Present in all regional and family styles, these emulate the techniques and tactics of the corresponding animal rather than just their physical movements. Many schools of xingyiquan have only small number of movements for each animal, though some teach extended sequences of movements. Once the individual animal forms are taught, a student is often taught an animal linking form (shi'er xing lianhuan) which connects all the taught animals together in a sequence. Some styles have longer, or multiple forms for individual animals, such Eight Tiger Forms Huxing bashi.

The ten common animals
Chinese Pinyin
Bear Xióng In Xingyi, "the Bear and Eagle combine," meaning that the Bear and Eagle techniques are often used in conjunction with each other. There is a bird called the "Bear Eagle," which covers the characteristics of both forms.
Eagle Yīng
Snake Shé Includes both Constrictor and Viper styles.
Tiger Features lunging with open-handed clawing attacks mimicking the pounce of a tiger
Dragon Lóng The only "mythical" animal taught. In some lineages it is practiced separately from tiger because they are said to clash.
Chicken Mimics the pecking movement of a chicken. This form also mimics the quick and aggressive combat style of the rooster.
Horse Combination of Metal and a hand movement that mimics the action of a rearing a horse. Performed with tension, however.
Swallow Yàn Follows the swift and random movements of the swallow by rotating position and circling the enemy with strong but quick foot movement. May refer to the Purple Swamphen (Rallidae)Coot.
Goshawk Yào This can mean 'Sparrowhawk,' though the more common word for "Sparrowhawk" used to be Zhān (鸇), which has fallen from use over the years. The Chinese word for "Goshawk" covers both the Goshawk and the Sparrowhawk. Note - in some lineages this animal is translated to mean the Grouse or small pheasant.
Monkey Hóu Performed with light, empty movement, simple striking combined with parrying and deception of distance.
Other animals that may be present in a particular lineage
Chinese Pinyin
Crocodile Tuó The animal it is meant to represent is the Yangtze River alligator. Sometimes referred to as a water-skimming insect, or water lizard. The movements of a yangtze river alligator have been compared to those of a pig crossed with a dragon.
Tai (𩿡)
see note
This is a flycatcher native to Asia. Due to the rarity of this character it may be translated as ostrich, dove, hawk or even phoenix. The Chinese for this animal is a single character (𩿡), not two (as written); this character is not in the earlier versions of the Unicode standard so not all computers are capable of displaying it.. For further information on this character, check the Unihan database for complete data on this character.
Blowfish Tái
Turtle Guī Represents the snapping turtle which uses quick head snapping motions to catch fish. Some schools will teach this in combination with Tuó (crocodile), considering them to be the same animal.
Ostrich Tuó Similar in stepping to Fire and Tiger, with counter-directional circling and double uppercuts. This animal represents the Chinese Ostrich, which some sources speculate could actually be the source of the Chinese Phoenix.


Xingyiquan has three main developmental branches:

  • Shanxi
  • Hebei
  • Henan

However, the identification of three separate branches is tenuous because of the extensive cross-training that occurred across their lineages. This suggests that the branches did not evolve in isolation, thus diluting any major differences between them.

Schools of the Shanxi branch have a narrower stance, lighter footwork and tend to be more evasive. Schools of the Hebei branch emphasise powerful fist and palm strikes, with slightly different evasive footwork. Schools of the Henan branch are typically the most aggressive of the three[citation needed].

The Henan branch is known as the Muslim branch because it was handed down within the Muslim community in Luoyang to which its founder, Ma Xueli, belonged[citation needed]. Henan branch is sometimes referred to by practitioners as Xinyi Liuhe Quan instead of simply xingyiquan. This may be attributed to the fact that the Muslim community of China was historically a very closed culture in order to protect themselves as a minority, thus retaining the older addition to the name of Xingyi. Liuhe means "Six Harmonies" and refers to the six harmonies of the body (hips, feet, knees, elbows etc.) that contribute to correct posture. This is not to be confused with the separate internal art Liuhebafa.

Both the Shanxi and Hebei branches use a twelve animal system with five elements while the Henan branch uses ten animals. Depending on the lineage, it may or may not use five elements. Due to the historical complexity and vagueness of the lineages, it is uncertain which branch would constitute the "authentic" Xingyiquan.


Traditionally xingyiquan was an armed art. Students would train initially with the spear, progressing to shorter weapons and eventually empty-handed fighting. Xingyiquan emphasises a close relationship between the movements of armed/unarmed techniques. This technical overlap aims to produce greater learning efficiency.

Close up picture of the “Chicken-Sabre Sickle”

Common weapons:

  • Spear
  • Straight sword
  • Sabre
  • Large Sabre (used by infantry against mounted opponents)
  • Long Staff
  • Short Staff (at maximum length you could hold between the palms of your hands at each end - techniques with this weapon may have been used with a spear that had been broken)
  • Needles (much like a double ended rondel gripped in the centre - on the battlefield this would mostly have been used like its western equivalent to finish a fallen opponent through weak points in the armour)
  • Fuyue (halberds of various types)
  • Chicken-Sabre Sickle. This weapon was supposedly created by Ji Longfeng and became the special weapon of the style. Its alternate name is "Binding Flower Waist Carry".[14]

Weapon diversity is great, the idea being that an experienced Xingyi fighter would be able to pick up almost any weapon irrespective of its exact length, weight and shape.

Famous figures

Since the validity of lineages are often controversial, this list is not intended to represent any lineage. Names are presented in alphabetical order using pinyin romanisation.

Famous figures
Name Chinese Other names Notes
Cao Jiwu 曹繼武 Reported to have won first place in the Imperial Martial Examinations sometime in the 17th or 18th century.
Chu Guiting 褚桂亭 Disciple of Li Cunyi. He mastered Xingyi, Bagua and Taiji.
Dai Long Bang 戴龍邦 First student of the art from the Dai family.
Fu Chen Sung 傅振嵩 Chief instructor of baguazhang at the Nanjing Central Goushu Institute
Guo Yunshen 郭雲深 A legendary tale reports him as having been incarcerated for killing a man, and when confined to a prison cell only being able to practice Beng quan.
Hong Yixiang 洪懿祥 Founder of the Tang Shou Tao school in the 1960s
Ji Longfeng 姬龍峰 Ji Jike (姬際可) Founder (or rediscoverer depending on how legendary you consider the Yue Fei tale.)
Li Luoneng 李洛能 Li Nengran (李能然) Nicknamed "Divine Fist Li"; popularizer of the art.
Li Tian Ji 李天骥 Li LongFei (李龙飞) Author of "The Skill of Xingyiquan". Was the first Chairman of the Chinese Wushu Administration under Communist China. Helped to preserve Xingyiquan during the Cultural Revolution.
Li Cunyi 李存义 Li Kui Yuan (李魁元) Famous Boxer. Disciple of Guo Yunshen
Ma Xueli 馬學禮 Founder of the Henan or Muslim branch.
Shang Yunxiang 尚云祥 Founder of the Shang or "New Style" of the Hebei branch.
Song Shirong 宋世榮 Founder of the Song Family Style.
Sun Lutang 孫祿堂 Sun Fuquan (孫福全) Author of several books on internal arts, also known for developing Sun style taijiquan. Disciple of Guo Yunshen and Li Cunyi.
Zhang Baoyang 张宝杨 Disciple of Wang Jiwu and Zhang Xiangzhai. Founder and honorary president of the Beijing Xingyi Research Association. Author of the book "Xing Yi Nei Gong", written with grandmaster Wang Jin Yu. Still has a few highly skilled disciples in Beijing.
Zhang Junfeng 張俊峰 Founded a major school in Taiwan in the 1950s.
Zhang Zhaodong 張兆東 Zhang Zhankui (張占魁)

Important texts

A variety of texts have survived throughout the years, often called "Classics", "Songs" or "Theories".

  • Classic of Unification
  • Classic of Fighting
  • Classic of Stepping
  • Classic of Six Harmonies

See also


  1. ^ (Chinese) Shao Xiaoyi. "Yue Fei's facelift sparks debate". China Daily. Retrieved 2007-08-09. 
  2. ^ Pei, Xirong and Li, Yang’an. Henan Orthodox Xingyi Quan. Trans. Joseph Candrall. Pinole: Smiling Tiger Press, 1994.
  3. ^ (Chinese) Heart Chinese boxing emphasizing flexibility and confusing the opponent
  4. ^ Yang, Dr., Jwing-Ming & Liang Shou-Yu (2003). Xingyiquan : Theory, Applications, Fighting Tactics and Spirit. YMAA Pubn. ISBN 0-940871-41-6. 
  5. ^ Kennedy, Brian; Elizabeth Guo (2005). Chinese Martial Arts Training Manuals: A Historical Survey. Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books. ISBN 1-55643-557-6. 
  6. ^ Miller, Dan; Tim Cartmell (1999). Xing Yi Nei Gong. Burbank, California: Unique Publications. ISBN 0-86568-174-0. 
  7. ^ Jarek Szymanski. "Dai Family Xinyiquan - The Origins and Development". China From Inside. Retrieved 2007-08-09. 
  8. ^ Toktoghan (脫脫). Song Shi-Yue Fei Zhuan (宋史•岳飞传 – "History of the Song: Yue Fei Biography") (Volume 365), 1345. A rewritten version of Yue Ke's memoir. (See also, (Chinese) "岳飞子云". Retrieved 2007-07-17. )
  9. ^ Kaplan, Edward Harold. Yueh Fei and the founding of the Southern Sung. Thesis (Ph. D.) -- University of Iowa, 1970. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms International, 1970., pg. 10.
  10. ^ Yue, Ke (岳柯). Jin Tuo Xu Pian (金佗续编), 1234 - Chapter 28, pg. 16.
  11. ^ Kaplan: pg. 13.
  12. ^ Rovere, Dennis (2008). The Xingyi Quan of the Chinese Army: Huang Bo Nien's Xingyi Fist and Weapon Instruction. Berkeley, California: Blue Snake Books. ISBN 978-1-58394-257-4. 
  13. ^ Frantzis, Bruce Kumar (1998). The Power of Internal Martial Arts. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books. ISBN 1-55643-253-4. 
  14. ^ Yang, Dr., Jwing-Ming (1999). Ancient Chinese Weapons: A Martial Artist’s Guide. Boston, MA: YMAA. ISBN 1-886969-67-1. 

Further reading

  • Tadzio Goldgewicht (2007). Living in the imaginary world of the Chinese martial arts (Chinese only). Wuhun Magazine. ISSN 1002-3267. 
  • Tadzio Goldgewicht (2007). A few thoughts about the Traditional Chinese martial arts (Chinese only). Wuhun Magazine. ISSN 1002-3267. 
  • Li Tian-Ji (tran, Andrea Falk) (2000). The Skill of Xingyiquan. TGL Books. ISBN 0-9687517-1-7. 
  • Xing Yi Lianhuan Quan, Li Cun Yi (Translated by Joseph Crandall)
  • Damon Smith (2004). Xing Yi Bear Eagle. Jeremy Mills Publishing. ISBN 0-9546484-4-7. 
  • Robert Smith and Allan Pittman (1990). Hsing-I: Chinese Internal Boxing. Tuttle Publishing. ISBN 0-8048-1617-4. 
  • Smith, Robert W. (1999). Martial Musings (See chapter on Rose Li). Via Media. ISBN 1-893765-00-8. 
  • Sun Lu Tang (tran, Albert Liu) (2000). Xing Yi Quan Xue: The Study of Form-Mind Boxing. Unique Publications. ISBN 0-86568-185-6.  (Translated)
  • Jin Yunting (tran. John Groschwitz) (2003). The Xingyi Boxing Manual. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books. ISBN 1-55643-473-1. 

External links


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