– by Allen Pittman
The combative theory behind Hsing-I (Xing Yi) is based on starting after, but arriving before, the opponent’s attack. Because of this, the movements must be precise.
Be aware not to add “curly-cues,” bounces or wobbles or any other extraneous movements. Additional flairs and decorations may seem to make the art prettier or more dramatic, but remember that Hsing-I is not a performing art – it is an internal art with martial applications.
It is “Form-Intent Boxing,” so it is basically the release of an idea. Thus you must have the ideas in mind as you do it. The main ideas are found in the Five Elements or Five Catalysts:
Splitting is like an ax falling. It can be a short chiseling action like splitting a shingle, or a great swing like chopping wood. The raising of the arms raises the ribs, which makes room for the lungs to expand and take in breath as you inhale. As the arms swing down, exhale. Try to feel the feet at all times and notice how the upper and lower torso connect in the midsection – particularly around the naval.
Be sure the back foot does not “follow-step” too much. A half step is a good length. Sometimes the shorter people in class (due to their stride) must follow-step a bit more to keep up with the movement of the group. This is fine, but at home they should work at the other way with a shorter follow-step. Keep an eye on your back foot which should have an angle of about 30-45°, depending on where your knee is pointing. Over time your bones will change and your knee-to-toe shape will alter as your ankle gets more flexible. Give this time. It usually takes a month or so of regular daily practice of a half-hour to an hour a day. Lacking daily practice will slow down the process.
Some teachers put Crushing in the number two position, but the older cosmologies, for ritual and healing reasons, put it second. You can practice either way. Notice your expanding lower ribs over the kidneys when you do this form. Sit well back into the follow-step. This form uses oppositional or tearing energy in the hands as they move in opposite directions. The actual drilling is in the front fist as it goes from palm down to up. This form, like splitting, goes straight ahead.
Older forms of this usually hit with a downward arc. It is assigned to the liver (Wood) and easily targets this organ (unless the person is unusually tall or short!). The “Tiger-Mouth,” or the outstretched area between thumb and forefinger is best aligned with the armpit and let the turning of the hips align the fist to your body-center. The pulling of the opposite hand is very important for good posture, as well as function. This can vary in some styles from a straight stabbing action to an overhead hammer-like strike, stabbing downward. This one also goes straight ahead.
The arm, which guards the head, can vary considerably in position. The compact version, from teacher Hung I-Mien, is as though you are a unicorn holding your own horn. The expanded version of Chen Pan-Ling swings the elbow well back, like in archery, and works well on a long-armed “hay-maker” type of punch. This form moves on a “Seven-Star step,” or follows a zigzag pattern. Keep the zigzag relatively narrow in order to protect your knees. Imagine going down a narrow corridor.
This form, which goes with “Fire,” strengthens the heart and targets it as well. Do not wait for the follow step to punch. Get the hand out early with the initial front step. Or drill with the guard hand with the first step then punch with the rear hand in coordination with the rear follow-step.
According to Huang Po-Nien, in his old Ba Gua book, Crossing is the same as Ba Gua’s “Single Palm-Change.” Remember that the arm that crosses does so from outside the retracting arm. The movement varies from a purely lateral swing across the diaphragm – to a corkscrew into a descending hammer-like action. The footwork is along a wavy circular line. This fist is also called “The Mother” because within its articulations can be found all of the other 4 fists of Hsing-I. Crossing is paired with the Stomach and Spleen, and targets the same. In combat, one may target under the chin or throat too.
Remember the contact of the strike can be well before the end of the movement.
The Five Fists are an excellent foundation for all else in martial arts. They give you correct footwork, alignment, strong legs and lungs and develop the cross-crawl reflex. The empty-handed movements easily transfer to wielding a knife, hammer or an axe. Obviously the main thing when using a weapon is to not cross the arms. The transition for empty hand to weapon creates a whole new set of logistics which largely hinge on weapon length, placement of edge, and shape of blade (if there is one). Some of the well-known practitioners of Hsing-I were known for their skill with a spear.
The geometry of the movements, alignments of the limbs (the Six Harmonies), verticality of the spine and rooted-ness of the legs allow one to move forward with a fortress like fortitude.