Xing Yis Power Source
(Editor’s Note: In part one, Di Guoyong, the man once called “Old Joints” because of his arthritic body, talked about how xing yi quan led to an amazing physical transformation. In part 2, he discusses weapons training and developing internal power.)
INSIDE KUNG-FU: An Shen Pao is considered an essential partner form for understanding and developing Xing Yi Quan fighting strategy?
DI GUOYONG: Two people can practice the Xing Yi Quan footwork, get used to judging distances, and learn how to move in and out, back and forth, using the techniques smoothly. All the characteristic footwork and hand techniques are contained in this partner routine. You should practice with different partners with different body types, speed and strength to adapt and apply your footwork and hand techniques.
IKF: People have given varying translations for An Shen Pao. Some translate it as “Protect the Body Cannon,” others as “Secure the Body Cannon.” What is the proper translation?
DG: An Shen Pao means to protect the body, to keep it safe. As long as the translation means something like this, it is fine. In Shanxi province they call it Ai Shen Pao (the bodies are close together), probably because of their accent.
IKF: What are the other partner routines in the system?
DG: There are seven partner routines, including Jiao Shou Pao, San Shou Pao, Jiu Huan Wu Hua Pao, Jiu Tao Lian Huan Pao, and Shi Shou Pao. There are also partner weapons routines.
IKF: What can you tell us about the function of weapons training in Xing Yi Quan?
DG: Xing Yi Quan emphasizes the spear. The four great weapons of China are sword, saber, staff and spear. The old masters say, “Taiji sword, Bagua saber, Shaolin staff, and Xing Yi spear.” A weapon is an extension of the body. So for Xing Yi Quan, the weapon should express whole body power.
IKF: Xing Yi Quan is famous for the Liuhe Daqiang (Six Harmonies Big Spear). What are the benefits of this training?
DG: It is a routine that is long, most difficult, and has the richest content. The Daqiang helps you considerably. It trains power and helps you to find the bodywork that is characteristic of Xing Yi Quan. It develops not only your skills with the spear but also your applicable strength.
IKF: Is the Daqiang essential to the development of Xing Yi Quan power?
DG: Many people do excellent Xing Yi Quan without having trained the Daqiang.
IKF: When should a trainee begin to practice applications?
DG: As soon as he is comfortable with the five fists.
IKF: Is it important to train sparring, to engage in actual fighting practice?
DG: Yes, especially if you are learning Xing Yi as a martial art. If you don’t train sparring, then you don’t really learn how to use the techniques. You are just training for your health. That is good too, and everyone can benefit greatly from its practice. However, Xing Yi Quan is a martial art and you should understand and be able to use the martial applications.
IKF: Usually during fighting practice trainees lose the characteristics of the style. Can this be avoided?
DG: When you are under stress, you will always do what you do best. So if you have always trained Xing Yi Quan, then you will fight with Xing Yi Quan characteristics. The techniques aren’t just the movements but the power that is used to do the techniques. You need to train how to apply them so you can exert the correct type of power without being bound by the model.
IKF: Traditionally, Xing Yi Quan is categorized by three branches: the Hebei, Shanxi, and Henan schools. What are the fundamental differences among these three branches?
DG: They have the same root, like three trees that are joined at the root. They have developed differently because of local characteristics. Shanxi style is compact. The culture in Shanxi has small courtyards and a more closed-in society. Beijing, in Hebei province, is large and open, as is the land and the city. Henan uses big opening and closing movements and also uses sound. It was only taught to Muslims for many years and kept secret from all others. Nowadays we are accustomed to the different styles being taught everywhere, but for a very long time they were only taught in their localities, not to outsiders.
IKF: During the evolution of Xing Yi Quan various masters contributed to its growth and left many adages to guide our practice. What is the significance of the concept of Qi Quan (Seven Fists) and how does it apply to Xing Yi Quan practice?
DG: Xing Yi Quan uses all parts of the body: fists, elbows, shoulders, feet, knees, hips, and head. You must think of every part of your body as a weapon and not focus solely on the fists. So in every technique you should not think of just the punch. You have to be aware of all possible uses of the technique. If your opponent is far away, then you use fists and feet. If they are closer, use elbow or knee strikes, and when in actual contact use hip, shoulder or head.
IKF: What is the significance of Yong (Boldness) in Xing Yi Quan?
DG: First you must develop your self-confidence. You must not fear your opponent. If you do fear your opponent, then you have already lost the fight. In the book, The Art of War, it says that when two armies meet, it is the braver one that will win. I don’t care if I lose a fight by being beaten, but I don’t want to lose by running away in fear.
IKF: The saying, Qi ru feng, luo ru jian (“Rise like a sweeping wind, strike like raining arrows”), represents the intent that should be displayed in Xing Yi Quan practice and in fighting. Can you give us a further explanation?
DG: The whole saying is, “Advance quickly, land fast and accurately, so that your opponent doesn’t have time to react. Even when you have won, you still think you should have been faster.” This applies to technique, footwork, spirit, but mostly to your whole attitude.
IKF: Can you elaborate on the saying, “Practice as if fighting an enemy and in combat strike as if practicing alone.”
DG: This means that when you train, you must have the spirit of actual fighting. And when you are fighting, then you have to be calm and unafraid. Be like a tiger; it doesn’t care what comes along, it can take on anyone and anything.
IKF: You were instrumental in helping to establish the Beijing Xing Yi Quan Research Association and eventually served as its president. What led to its development and what are some of its achievements?
DG: Bao Yuzao and I established it in 1982, and it became official in 1983. He has since died. We rode our bikes all over the city to sound out the Xing Yi masters about the association. A lot of the famous masters at the time were members. I was secretary at first, and I have records of all the meetings and of what we accomplished. I was vice president for two periods, then the sixth president, serving from 1996-to-2006.
IKF: What advice can you give Xing Yi Quan practitioners regarding their training?
DG: First, you must stand Santishi. Traditionally, this was done for three years. At first, you shouldn’t seek to learn too much or too quickly. Learn one thing at a time, and only go on when you have got it right. Xing Yi Quan is based on a specific structure, so if you haven’t got the fundamental postures correctly it will wreck all the moves. You must learn the proper structure and you must get corrected very carefully and in much detail by your teacher. If you allow a bad habit to creep in, it will be very difficult to change later.
IKF: Your Xing Yi Quan books have been translated into English and are giving access to many aspects of the art that were not easily available to students in the West. Do you have plans to publish other works?
DG: The books have been very well received. The three-volume set, Di Guoyong on Xing Yi Quan, covers many fundamental aspects and theories of Xing Yi training. They are available through TGL Books. I want to share my knowledge with all enthusiasts of martial arts who are eager to learn and I hope to publish additional works on Hebei Xing Yi and on Liang style Bagua Zhang in the near future.
Nick Scrima is president of the International Chinese Martial Arts Council.