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The Practice of San Ti Shi in Xing Yi Quan: Part 1

Xing Yi Quan & San Ti Shi

Standing in San Ti Shi is one of the most important parts of foundational training (Ji Ben Gong) of Xing Yi Quan. In Xing Yi Quan there are three key elements that must simultaneously cultivated and integrated – Spirit, Qi and Form. Without Qi form is empty, and without form Qi cannot be employed. Qi and form are the root. Without spirit, Qi and form have no guidance and the forms can not be transcended.

In the Transported Spirit Classic of the Nei Gong Zhen Chuan it says:

Training Xing (Form), one becomes firm;

Training the Jing (Essence), one reaches fullness.

Training the Qi, one becomes strong;

Training the Shen (Spirit) one is capable of flight (ie: one is transported). [1]

Xing Yi Quan focuses on the simultaneous cultivation of the interior and exterior, and the integration of Spirit, Qi and body forms or patterns. Internally, Qi moves upward and downward, inward and outward, and externally there are constant changes in potentiated power – Jin (refined power) rises and falls, and moves vertically and transversely, inward and outwards, with an interplay of suppleness and firmness. Xing Yi Quan’s seeming magical results with regards to martial techniques and nourishing life (Yang Sheng) can only be realized when these elements are combined. San Ti Shi (Three Body Posture) is the one of the most important methods of training the various aspects of Qi, form and Jin and Shen.

San Ti Shi is a method of Zhan Zhuang (“Stake Standing”) in which one must stand relatively motionless, while holding the Splitting Fist (Pi Quan) posture. San Ti Shi is also known as Three Powers (San Cai 三才桩) Standing. It is the fundamental training of Xing Yi Quan. The martial abilities of the senior masters were mostly achieved by standing in San Ti Shi. There is a famous saying that, Three Splitting Fists are not as good as a one standing (三劈不如一站). Traditionally, students were supposed to stand in San Ti Shi for three years before learning the other boxing forms and methods.

Dantian, Qi & Form

Liu Qi Lan was one of the great Xing Yi boxers from Hebei Province. A direct disciple of Li Neng Ran (also known as Li Luo Neng), who organized Xing Yi Quan as we know it today, Liu Qi Lan went on to train many famous disciples. Liu Qi Lan’s son, Liu Wen Hua (also known as Liu Dan Chen), was also a skilled Xing Yi practitioner. Liu Wen Hua wrote the Detailed Collection of the Art of Xing Yi Quan, which today remains one of the best single books on the correct practice of Xing Yi Quan.

In the Detailed Collection of the Art of Xing Yi Quan, Liu Wen Hua goes into great detail about training Dantian, Qi and Form:

The so-called saying that the Dantian area must be drilled first if one desires to be proficient the martial techniques, means that Qi is not enough if one is deficient in the Dantian area, and strength is not enough if Qi is not sufficient. This leads to empty postures and forms in the five fists and twelve animal forms. In terms of the defending method it is like guarding an empty city. In terms of the striking method, it is similar a soldier riding a weak and feeble horse into battle.

When confronting an enemy, there must be an accumulation of firm strength around the umbilicus in the abdomen, flowing naturally from the waist upward to the back, neck and vertex, so that the eyes are able to look around first like a general to respond with the drilling, turning, crossing, erecting, rising and falling movements, applying the dragon, tiger, monkey, horse, eagle and bear styles in constant changes, so as to win the victory in a single moment. Because there is fullness in the Dantian area, the martial techniques can be proficient. [2]

Liu then discusses how to create fullness in Dantian:

First, it is necessary to accumulate Qi. Secondly, it is necessary to circulate Qi. Accumulation of the Qi is exactly what it is mentioned in the Eight Necessities, namely, the methods of touching the roof with the tongue, knocking the teeth, lifting the anus and integrating three central parts. Also, it is necessary [for Qi] to flow through the diaphragm and the five layers of the heart, liver, spleen, lung and kidney one by one without any blockage. It is what is meant by “the five elements should be smooth.” If Qi flows like this for a long time, Qi is able to be complete and gather in the Dantian area. If Qi is unable to flow smoothly, it is not possible to develop unique skills. Therefore, it is necessary to guide the accumulated energy in the Dantian area to flow from the back to the chest cavity to fill the abdominal cavity and internal organs and then to gather in the two hypochondriac regions and finally to gush into the vertex.

Training of Dantian, Qi and Form occurs through correct training of San Ti Shi

The Eight Necessities

Liu goes on to say the starting point for training Qi is the Eight Necessities, or Eight Musts. The Eight Necessities are trained in San Ti Shi.

The Eight Necessities are:

  1. Uphold Internally 內要提 (Nei Yao Ti)
  2. Combine the Three Centers 三心要並 (San Xin Yao Bing)
  3. Link the Three Intentions 三意要連 (San Yi Yao Lian)
  4. The Five Elements Should be Smooth 五行要順 (Wu Xing Yao Shun)
  5. The Four Extremities are Orderly 四梢要齊 (Si Shao Yao Qi)
  6. The Heart is Calm 心要暇 (Xin Yao Xia)
  7. The Three Tips are Lined Up 三尖要對 (San Jian Yao Dui)
  8. The Eyes are Venomous 眼要毒 (Yan Yao Du)

1. Uphold Internally

Uphold the anus in order to uplift Qi so it gathers in the Dantian area. Then Qi will circulate as it accumulates in Dantian – it circulates upward through the Du channel to the vertex at Du 20. This is known as gather the anus and uphold Qi internally.

2. Combine the Three Hearts

Integrate the vertex with the center (heart) of the sole [of the foot] and the soles with the palm centers. This allows Qi to circulate above and below and to the interior and exterior. Once these three parts are integrated, Qi is able to return to Dantian.

3. Link the Three Intentions

The Three Intentions are also called the “Three Internal Harmonies.”

The Three Internal Harmonies are:

  1. Heart-Mind and Intention (Xin and Yi)
  2. Qi
  3. Force/Power (Jin-Li).

Qi is the connecting link between intention and power and between strategy and application of force.

4. Five Elements are Smooth

The external Five Elements refer to the Five Fists: Splitting (Pi), Bursting (Beng), Drilling (Zuan), Pounding or Cannon (Pao), and Crossing (Heng) fists. The internal Five Elements refer to five Zang organs: heart, liver, spleen, lung and kidney. If the external forms (the Five Fists – External Five Elements) are practiced correctly, power and Qi will increase in the internal organs (internal Five Elements). The great boxer Cao Ji Wu said that the Five Elements (Wu Xing) are really five passes [3] that are not guarded or blocked. Liu Wen Hua adds that these five passes can become blocked if left unguarded. By training precisely and by breaking the blockage of the five passes, Qi can to gather in the Dantian area and flow into the four limbs.

5. The Four Extremities are unified [4]

  1. Prop up the roof of the mouth with the tongue so body fluid (saliva) can concentrate, ensuring the smooth circulation of qi and blood. The Tongue is the Tip of the Flesh.
  2. Knock the teeth together so Qi can flow into the bone marrow. The Teeth are the Tip of the Bones.
  3. Hold the fingers and toes inward slightly so Qi can pour into the sinews. The Nails are the Tip of the Sinews
  4. Tightening the hair pores (so the hairs stand up) to gather and unite the Qi of the whole body. The Hair Pores are the Tip of the Blood.

 6. The Heart is Calm

When training, the heart and emotions should be calm and tranquil and the Jing Shen must be concentrated. The moment the heart-mind moves, the intention (Yi) follows it immediately. Therefore, the Heart-Mind must not be apprehensive nor hurried. When standing In San Ti Shi, the respiration should be natural, without any direct intention or deliberate management.

7. The Three Tips [5] are Lined Up

The tip of the nose, the hand and the foot are lined up. If three tips are not in a straight line, it will be difficult to train the Qi.

8. The Eyes are Venomous

The “eyes are venomous” implies that the eyes are sensitive and perceptive. As Qi concentrates, the Jing Shen [6] will become agile and one’s mental ability ample. The senses, hearing, taste and smell will be keen and in particular the eyes will be lustrous and bright in their expression. The sensitivity of the eyes relates to the San Min (), the Three Sensitivities (Perceptions; Sharpnesses):

  1. The Heart is Min
  2. The Eyes are Min
  3. The Hands are Min

When the eyes and heart are Min, one can react appropriately to every situation and the hands will act in accordance with the changing circumstances.

The Eight Word Song (Ba Zi Jue)

The Three Sensitivities are part of the Eight Word Song (Ba Zi Jue 八字诀). The Eight Word Song is another method of detailing the body configuration – the internal and external alignments – that are integrated into an organic whole when training San Ti Shi.

1. 三顶 The Three Uplifts, Prop-ups or Out-thrusts (San Ding)

  1.  The head presses upwards
  2. The tongue touches the roof of the mouth
  3. The hands press outward.

2. 三扣 The Three Hookings or Clampings (San Kou)

  1. The shoulders clamp or hook
  2. The backs of the hands and feet clamp
  3. The teeth clamp together

3. 三圆 The Three Circles or Roundings (San Yuan)

  1. The back is round
  2. The chest is round
  3. Hukou (Tiger’s Mouth) is round

4. 三敏 The Three Sensitivities or Perceptivities (San Min)

  1. The heart is sensitive
  2. The eyes are sensitive
  3. The hands are sensitive

5. 三抱 The Three Holdings or Embraces (San Bao)

  1. Embrace Dantian
  2. Embrace Heart Qi
  3. Embrace the ribs

6. 三屈 The Three Bends or Curves (San Qu)

  1. The arms are curved
  2. The knees are curved
  3. The wrists are curved

7. 三垂 The Three Sinks or Drops (San Chui)

  1. The Qi sinks
  2. The shoulders sink
  3. The elbows sink

8. 三挺 The Three Erectings or Extendings (San Ting)

  1. The neck extends
  2. The spine is extended
  3. The knees are extended


[1] Nei Gong: The Authentic Classic – A translation of the Nei Gong Zhen Chuan. Tom Bisio, Huang Guo Qi and Joshua Paynter – trans. (Denver: Outskirts Press, 2011) p. 69.

[2] Detailed Collection of the Art of Xing Yi Quan. Liu Wen Hua, (October, 1920). Translated by Tom Bisio and Huang Guo Qi (New York Internal Arts & Internal Arts International © 2013

[3] Dao Guan 道关: Dao means “path” or “road” and Guan means “barrier” or “pass.”

[4] Qi 齊: Orderly, Neat, Unified, Even; Together

[5] 對 Dui: points, tips, alignments. In this case, three points of structural body alignment.

[6] 精神 Jing Shen: Essence-Spirit. In Daoism and Chinese medicine, essence and spirit are transformed and replenished by the action of the Qi.