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Li Kui-Yuan Discusses Xing Yi Quan

We are pleased to be able to share one of the most succinct and cogent discussions of the correct practice of Xing Yi Quan by Master Li Kui-Yuan, a student of the famous Guo Yun-Shen.

In four short sections, Master Li discusses the levels and layers of Xing Yi training, the profound depth of the art, how to train correctly and the common pitfalls in training. Excerpted from The Real Explanation of Boxing Meanings by Sun Fu Quan (Sun Lu Tang).

Excerpted from: The Real Explanation of Boxing Meanings

by Sun Fu Quan (Sun Lu Tang)

孙福权 (孙禄堂)
Li Kui-Yuan 李奎垣

Mr. Li Kui-Yuan, a native of Shanhoudian, Shangdun, Laishui County, attended school as a child and was very proficient in small-character style of Chinese calligraphy and fond of martial arts. He studied Spring Leg Eight Utmost Fist with Mr. Xu from Yizhou County, until he had proficient skill and powerful strength.

As an adult, he worked as a bodyguard to safeguard houses and yards with a good reputation. He liked to test his skills with others and often he was able to win in competition. Later, he met Mr. Guo Yun-Shen and competed with Mr. Guo. Mr. Li liked to use the leg [to attack]. Just as he lifted his foot, Mr. Guo waved his hand and Mr. Li, with a bench behind him, was thrown over the bench almost twenty meters backward to the ground. Mr. Li stood up and apologized for his offence. Later, he requested to be his student and treated Mr. Guo as his father. After being instructed by Mr. Guo for several years, he kept training day and night to sense every bit of the essential theory.

When I studied with Mr. Li, his skills were very delicate. Later Mr. Li attained the way, and although he often made notes, he seldom talked about the boxing skills: [Li said] “when I studied with Mr. Guo, although Mr. Guo did not talk about the boxing skills, I kept training and the others did not know about it.” Mr. Li died at the age of over seventy.

Mr. Li Kui-Yuan’s Explanation:

Part I

Mr. Li Kui-Yuan said: the real meaning of Xing Yi Quan was exactly the primary nature of the human beings. In terms of the heaven and earth, it refers to the Earth. Earth is the primary nature of Heaven and Earth, and Earth is the primary nature of human beings. Earth refers to the nature of human beings and to the transverse (Heng) in the boxing skills – ie: a pre-heaven sufficient and harmonious qi, which includes the four forms of Pi (splitting), Beng (bursting), Zuan (Drilling) and Pao (Cannon), and the true intention. Xing Yi refers to the whole body and the movements of the four limbs.

In terms of rules and guidelines, it is necessary to follow one’s own nature – externally not to be clever in the forms, and internally not to be contrary to the shen qi [1]. The external forms and patterns follow the internal shen qi and the external forms and patterns correctly harmonize with internal intention. Therefore, from the outside, one can know the inside. Inside and outside together are one. Ancient sages said: once one thing is attained, all things can be understood. This is the significance of form and intention in Xing Yi.

In meditation it is said that motion rises from extreme tranquility. Motion in the Dantian area is a motion of the external qi and a motion of the intention. Once yin is exhausted, yang comes again. Extreme tranquility gives rise to motion. It was said in the book of Dan: that one’s true nature is tranquility, that motion is intention and that marvelous application is spirit (shen). Without tranquility, real intention cannot arise. If true intention cannot arise, how can there be marvelous application?

Therefore, the tranquility is the true intention. In training martial arts to the utmost perfection, there must be tranquility. True intention brings about movement and the marvelous expression of spirit. As for motion arising from extreme tranquility in meditation, like hard or soft in firing clay [2], like the wheel of transmigration – rising and falling, and returning to the beginning – there is motion of the intention from extreme tranquility and marvelous application of the spirit [3].

Notes to Part I:

[1] 神氣 Shen Qi: Literally “Spirit Qi” (can mean expression or spirit)

[2] This can also refer to tender or overcooked in cooking, or the firing times in Daoist Alchemy.

[3] The Buddhist wheel of Transmigration – represented by the  Dharmachakra symbol, which is represented as a chariot wheel with eight or more spokes. The ”turnings” of the wheel are the path of Dharma. 

Part II

In training the ming jin [1] of the first level of Xing Yi Quan, one must let down the shoulder and elbow and sink the waist, just like pressing down the brush in the gong fu of calligraphy. In training the hidden energy of the second level one must have song jin [2], with an outward opening jin and contracting, shrinking jin, with jin everywhere like lifting the writing brush in calligraphy – uplift the neck and press the foot downward, so that there is a lifting tendency within pressing action and vice versa. The third level of training is the hua jin [3]. This is the highest level of jin. It exists without conscious perception and can only be sensed through its marvelous application and subtle effects, simply following the intention as in cursive-hand calligraphy [4]. In boxing, the methods and regulation of the shen qi in the changes and forms, are like the theories of Qian and Kun diagrams, calligraphy, protocol and music, described in the Analects of Confucius.

Notes to Part II:

[1] 明勁 Ming (bright; open; obvious; overt) Jin, (strength; energy, spirit; effort; power) is the power and quality  associated with the first stage of training in Xing Yi Quan.

[2] 鬆勁 Song (loose; slack; relaxed) Jin

[3] 化勁 Hua (transforming; dissolving) Jin

[4] 草书 Cao Shu: literally “grass writing” or cursive hand in which the brush strokes are executed swiftly with the final stroke of one character often merging into the first stroke of the next.

Part III

The art of Xing Yi Quan must not be restricted by the forms and patterns and must not focus on the forms and patterns either, for neither of these is the correct way. My teacher said: the methods and rules of the art can be passed on by the teacher, but the subtle principles must be realized by oneself. Therefore, in the boxing art, one should not practice strange and unusual forms and patterns, because the body movements will be restricted. Furthermore, one should not train boxing skills in a disorderly and unsystematic way, or it will not be possible to attain true understanding. Therefore, in order to learn the art of boxing, it is essential to find open-mined teachers and good friends, with true understanding of the body and forms, and to practice everyday without pause in order to make some achievement. If one does not do this, one will be mixed up and confused, unable to obtain any understanding.

It is said: nothing in the world is difficult for one who sets his mind to it. Everyone says that it is not easy to seek the profound theory in the boxing skills. In fact, it is not true. The Doctrine of The Mean says: the Way is not far from mankind, but that those following the Way are far from mankind. Between Heaven and Earth, the principles of all living things are distributed everywhere, and human beings are a microcosm of the interaction of Heaven and Earth. Therefore, yin and yang in the body are the yin and yang of Heaven and Earth. The principles of all living things are also the principles of the body. Scholars have noted that although heart is inside and things are outside, the principles of outside things exist in the heart. The Yi Jing (Book of Changes) says: Far away existing outside, are the six directions and close by, inside, is the body. Accounting for everything far away and everything inside the body. Heaven and Earth, the six directions and the whole world. The principles of all things are inside the body.

Boxing starts from the same principle – in Xing Yi Quan as in Tai Ji – San Ti Shi is the starting point [1]. It extends into all things – yin and yang, five elements, twelve forms and the other various forms. When combined into one theory, the theories of the various forms, exterior and interior the six harmonies [2], the extension and stretching of the body forms, the opening and release of shen qi inside so that it is full and nowhere lacking, reaching up to Heaven and even beyond the six directions [3] withdrawing to gather and hide in the Dantian.

In the sense of knowing things that are distant [4], for instance, the snake coils and twists coming and going freely like the wind. In terms of knowing things internally inside the body, in practicing the snake form one must research its forms in the five element boxing skills – Pi, Beng, Zuan, Pao and Heng  – and [understand] how the forms give birth to jin. Jin refers to the smooth [5] shen qi internally. One must observe the movements of this form, of the head, tail and body, and the expanding, contracting and coiling of the three sections, as well as the qi without striving too rigidly and forcefully. Its nature is to be gentle [supple] within firmness and to be firm within gentleness [6]. Suppleness is like a silk belt. Firmness is like entangling something in steel wire. Understand the form and the movements, the principles of nimbleness, flexibility, firmness and suppleness, spontaneously sensing them, their force and effect, in your own body.

After long practice, these aspects of the form can be achieved naturally and can be combined with the characteristics of the practitioner. Once the features of a [single] form are understood, the theories of other the twelve forms can also be understood. Consequently, the theories of ten thousand forms can be understood after just by observing and sensing only one movement or a moment of tranquility. If what is felt  coincides with the basic laws inside your body reproduce and utilize the movements

Therefore, students of boxing should ask suitable questions modestly and not praise themselves. In the past I was defeated in competition with the spear and in boxing. Even if defeated by the opponent, I borrowed his method of victory to understand the principle of my own training. Therefore the art of boxing is in the principles [7] and principles are the art of boxing. All the myriad things in nature cannot but result from principle. Everyone in the world can be my teacher and friend.

In my youth, when I trained in boxing, I was very headstrong and always felt superior to others. After I took Master Guo Yun-Shen as my teacher in Xing Yi Quan, I started to understand the gateway [8] to the boxing skill. Through my teacher’s patient and systematic guidance and through my own unceasing efforts and the assistance of friends, personal training day and night and assistance of my friends, I suddenly understood clearly and my heart was as expansive as an ocean. In looking back on my earlier training, I feel ashamed, regretful and fearful.

From then on, I began to understand the ancient saying: that men may ask the virtuous sages but their success depends upon the will of Heaven. In practicing boxing students understand life’s fortunes and misfortunes. Henceforth, I did not dare to mention my advantages nor the weak points of others, for I understood that the way was infinite and inexhaustible. The proverb says that among the strong there is always one who is stronger, and behind every able person there is always one more able – the heart and mind struggle with fear and trepidation. One should adhere to this principle for one’s whole life and not be self-important or haughty.

Notes to Part III:

[1] 三 體 式 San Ti Shi: Three Body Form or Pattern, the basic standing posture of the splitting fist. San Ti: refers to Heaven, Earth and Human Beings.

[2] 六合 Liu He: Often used to refer to “The Six Harmonies” in Xing Yi Quan, but can also refer to the six directions: Front, Back, Right, Left, Up and Down

[3] See previous footnote.

[4] ie: outside

[5] 贯通 Guan Tong: thread; link up; connected

[6] 柔 Rou (soft; gentle, supple) 剛Gang (firm, strong)

[7] 道理 Dao (path; way) Li (principle; theory)

[8]) 門 Men (gate; doorway 徑 Jing (path)

Part IV

In Xing Yi Quan training, there are innumerable torturous steps and levels and also many mysteries and great confusion. If not detected, numerous problems will emerge. Therefore, in training the heart must be empty and open, and to harmonize spirit and qi with the waist as the governor, Dantian as the root, San Ti Shi as the foundation, the rules of the nine necessities as a model [1] and the five elements and twelve forms as the substance of the boxing. As a result, qi that emits and is dispersed can be drawn back to return to the Dantian, refined by respiration, but not through the nose and mouth [2]. One must employ the true breath in Dantian breathing, touching the upper plate with the tongue, the mouth seeming to be open but not open, constantly inhaling and exhaling naturally, without even the slightest bit of effort or force. At the same time, in training Xing Yi Quan remove the three harms – sticking out the chest, lifting the abdomen and angry qi – [they] will cause great evil and illness.

Perhaps the student does not know the rules of the training method, yet feels smooth and natural in the body postures and also in the heart and mind. But, after training for several years, there is no achievement. Those who understand observe that [this problem] is related to indulgence of conventional enforcement [3]. Perhaps when training, the movements in the hands and feet are orderly and the internal and external qi are coordinated and the whole body also looks and feels strong and powerful. Yet, in contending freely with others, when power is employed it does not seem powerful. Those who know say: that one suffers from the evil of restriction and binding. The cause is that the two shoulders and the inside of the two kua [4] do not stretch and extend and that opening internally and closing externally are not understood. If one trains this way for one’s entire life, the body will not be light as a feather or agile and quick.

Additionally, [it can happen that] for a time in training, the body forms seem harmonious and the heart and mind are also comfortable and relaxed. But suddenly, one day, the body forms do not feel correct and inside one does not feel harmonious. Moreover the rising, falling, advancing and retreating actions do not feel right and the heart and mind feel heavy and stuffy. Those who know say: one has arrived at the maze of uncertainty [5]. In fact, the practitioner has really made progress. In this moment, the practitioner should not stop training and not be hindered by millions of doubts. Ask the teacher for a detailed explanation before further training. In a single day everything will be seen in a clear light and all aspects of the boxing skill cannot fail to be understood. At this moment, all the devils (ie: doubts) are gone and there is no further hindrance. Ancestor Qiu said: once confusion [6] is experienced, a level of powerful good fortune is built up.

Notes to Part IV:

[1] This may refer to eight necessities and eight words – that summarize the rules of practice for Xing Yi Quan.

[2] This refers to the breath moving internally as in Daoist alchemy rather than normal breathing through h the nose and mouth.

[3] Influenced too much by convention: ie: just following the rules without sensing inside the body.

[4] The text references the shoulders and the hips (kua) as the root (根 gen) of the upper and lower limb.

[5] 疑團Yi Tuan literally means “doubt ball or doubt lump,” but also translated as “maze of doubts” or “maze of uncertainty.”

[6] The text is 魔亂 Mo Luan: literally “evil chaos” or “demon of confusion.”