Li Jian Qiu (李劍秋) was a disciple of Li Cun Yi. Li Jian Qiu is the author of Xing Yi Quan Shu (形意拳術) – “The Art of Xing Yi Boxing” – written in 1919 during China’s Republican Period. In the following excerpt, Li discusses footwork and stepping in Xing Yi Quan.
From your five senses to the hundred bones (the whole body) movement is governed by stepping. Stepping is the foundation of the body and the axis, the center, of movement. When fighting with an opponent all depends on the body, but the body’s power depends on the steps. Changing according to the changing circumstances depends on the hands, but the capacity of the hands to move and transform depends on the steps. Advancing and retreating, turning and moving to the side, how can they occur without stepping? Rising and falling, expanding and contracting, how can they change and transform without the steps? Stratagems and adaptation depend on the eye and Heart-Mind. Therefore twisting, turning, one thousand changes, and myriad transformations to avoid danger are impossible without the steps as the commander. However this cannot be forced. Movement proceeds from an empty Heart-Mind; it arises without sensing it (unconsciously). When the body wants to move, the step advances and turns. When the hand moves forward the steps hastens and urges it. This happens suddenly and without expectation. It is not the body and yet it is the body. When we say the upper body moves and the lower body follows, this is the meaning.
Steps are divided into front and rear, fixed and unfixed. When the front foot advances and the rear foot follows they are fixed steps, although even when fixed, they are not fixed. When the front foot becomes the rear foot and the rear foot becomes the foot either due to the rear foot advancing or the front foot retreating, the front and rear switching their positions, the steps are unfixed. In boxing theory is crucial to understand and grasp the importance of stepping. Being lively or not lively depends on the steps. Being quick or not quick also depends on the steps. Stepping is very important
Step with an inch between your feet, and third of a meter in length. When splitting (Pi) his face, simply enter with the right foot and follow by advancing the left foot. This is the method of advancing. Entering against an opponent requires advancing the body. Body and hand must work together. Understanding the principles of usage it seems divine. The hawk flies among the tress without its wings touching; an eagle seizes its prey with its body balanced and even. To be victorious the four tips must be unified. You cannot win if you allow him to strike your center. One’s strategy must be executed with the ability to adapt. Jing Shen is like a thunderbolt; to be vicious is the best policy. Quick hands and eyes will gain victory.
What is meant by dodging (evading); what is meant by advancing (entering)? Advancing is an evading and evading is an advancing. One should not think about this too much. What are attacking and defending? Defending is attacking (striking) and attacking (striking) is defending. Just send out your hand. The Heart-Mind is like gunpowder and the fist like a bullet. The fist is quick like a bird in flight. The body is like a bow and the hand like an arrow, with the thrum of the bowstring, the bird falls as if by magic. The hand rises like lightening. When lightening flashes there is no time to close your eyes. Strike the opponent like a thunderclap. When thunder sounds there is no time to cover your ears.
The five methods (Five Element Fists) are five barriers (passes). The opponent cannot guard against them. The left hand guards the left cheek, and the right hand goes out. The right hand guards the right cheek, and the left hand goes out. Both hands control and tie up, receive and go out. The five passes and gates are tightly closed. The fist goes out from the heart center to hit the nose, while underneath the foot lifts and steps quickly to the center like fire blazing. There are five elements metal, wood, water, fire, and earth; fire blazes upward and water flows downward. We each possess a heart, a liver, a spleen, lungs, and kidneys. The five elements push each other without any error.