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The Practice of San Ti Shi in Xing Yi Quan: Part 2

Liu Wen Hua: Eight Key Points for San Ti Shi

When holding San Ti Shi, one initially mentally reviews the Eight Necessities in order to train the form and the Qi correctly. Liu Wen Hua then summarizes the most important requirements for correct standing. These Eight requirements for San Ti Shi are easy to remember and connect with the Eight Necessities and the Eight Word Song.

  1. The Head Presses Up
  2. Erect the Neck
  3. Drop (Hang) the Shoulders
  4. The Kua Embrace
  5. The Forearms Wrap the Elbow
  6. Lift the Knee
  7. Lift the Anus
  8. The Hand Hearts Draw Inward


1. The Head Presses Up 頭頂 (Tou Ding)

Tou: head; hair; top end

Ding: top; carry on the head; gore or butt; push from below

2. Erect the Neck 項竪 (Xiang Shu)

Xiang refers to the nape of the neck

Shu: vertical; perpendicular; upright

Because erecting the neck forcefully can cause unwanted tension which blocks Qi, many boxers describes this as imagining the nape of your neck touches an imaginary collar. When the neck is vertical or Ting, (erecting upward), then the head is correctly lifted (Ding), and Jing Qi penetrated upward.

3. Drop (Hang) the Shoulders 肩垂 (Jian Chui)

Chui: hang down; droop; let fall

The shoulders are part of the Three Drops or Three Droops (San Chui)

  1. Qi Chui
  2. Shoulders Chui
  3. Elbows Chui

When Qi Chui, then it descends to Dantian and the body is stable. When the shoulders Chui, then the arms are long and lively and the shoulders can push the elbows.When the elbows Chui, then the forearms will naturally drop and protect the ribs.

4. The Kua Embrace 抱胯 (Bao Kua)

Bao: embrace; wrap

Kua: refers to the inguinal area in the front of the pelvis and all the internal and external structures in that area, including blood, Qi and fluids passing through the area.

When the Kua embrace, the Three Embraces (San Bao 三抱) naturally engage

  1. Dantian Bao
  2. Heart Qi Bao
  3. Ribs Bao

The Dantian embraces Qi. When the Heart Qi is Bao, then one does not panic in adverse situations or upon meeting an opponent. This is sometimes described as(胸拔背Han Xiong Ba Bei):Contain (hold in) the chest; draw up the back” Containing in the chest is gentle, like holding something in your mouth. Embracing with the ribs allows the ribs to freely open and close. The Nei Gong Zhen Chuan says that the ribs are like a “fish gill.” They open and close so Qi can ascend and descend. When they [the ribs] are closed, Qi goes to assist the Dantian downward and the two kidneys backward. Once they open, like thunder coming to the ground and flying into the sky, Qi can flow upward automatically. [7]

5. The Forearms Wrap the Elbow 前膊裹肘 (Qian Bo Guo Zhou)

Guo: bind; wrap; bundle

This is related to three Curves or Bends (San Qu三曲):

  1. Forearms are Qu
  2. Knees are Qu
  3. Wrists are Qu

The three bends allow the Jin-Li of the body to be substantial and integrated

6. Lift the Knee 提膝 (Ti Xi)

Ti: lift; raise; promote; put forward – in this case it means that although the knees are externally bent, internally they have a quality of extending upward. This also relates to the San Ting(三挺), the three Erects or Uprights

  1. The Neck is Ting
  2. The Yao is Ting
  3. The Knees are Ting

When the knees are Ting, then the Qi will be harmonious and the spirit confortable and smooth, like a tree creating roots. When the Yao is Ting, strength will reach the four extremities and Qi will swell through the whole body.

7. Lift the Anus 提肛 (Ti Gang)

This connects with “Upholding Internally” – one of the eight Necessities. If the tongue props up the roof of the mouth, if the head and neck are erect ad if the tail sinks downward so the buttocks are smooth, then lifting or gathering the anus occurs almost automatically, without muscular effort or internal tension.

8. The Hand Hearts Draw Inward 手心回縮 (Shou Xin Hui Suo)

Shou: hand

Xin: heart; center

Shou Xin: can refer to the palm cetner or “Palm Heart”

Hui: return; come back; circle; wind

Suo: contract; shrink; withdraw

This is relates to the Three Roudnings (San Yuan三圆):

  1. Back is Yuan
  2. Chest is Yuan
  3. Hu Kou is Yuan

When the back is Yuan power pushes from the body, the Sacral Gate (Wei Lu) is aligned, and Jing and Qi to pnenetrate and go upward to transform inot Shen. When the Chest is Yuan, the strength of the two elbows is full, the heart is calm and respiration is smooth. Rounding the back and chest help Hu Kou to be naturally round. This creates a feeling of the palm center turning back and drawing inward, so that the hands and fingers have an extending and embracing power.

Practicing San Ti Shi

The word Shi (式) in San Ti Shi Shi means posture or pattern. Thinking of San Ti Shi as a pattern of interconnected and interacting body alignments is more useful than thinking of standing in San Ti Shi as merely an external posture that is held for period of time. Understanding San Ti Shi Shi as a “body pattern” is a great aid in performing San Ti Shi Shi correctly. The “Pattern,” in the context of Xing Yi Quan, includes an interweaving of the external body alignments, the internal “alignments of the organs, the intention, Qi, Jin and Spirit. These alignments are described by the Eight Necessities, and the Eight Word Song. Once the body pattern is understood, it can be monitored without conscious effort.

Holding a fixed posture builds strength and develops unified whole-body power. However, it also teaches one to embrace inner stillness and feel the stirrings of movement with the stillness. Typically, Xing Yi teachers advise students to stand in San Ti Shi for one hour. This teaches the body to relax and the Heart-Mind to sense inside. Once you can hold the pattern for a period of time without discomfort, you can engage with what is happening inside.

San Ti Shi should be performed in a natural posture that is not too long or wide. The weight should be almost even between the two feet.

Mai Ming Chun, a disciple of Master Li Gui Chang quotes Master Li’s remarks on San Ti Shi:

San Ti was also called San Cai in the ancient times. San Ti refers to the heaven, earth and human beings. In Xing Yi Quan, it refers to the upper, middle and lower Dantian areas, and refers to the head, hand and foot externally. Before, many people training Xing Yi Quan injured their legs. This is a fact. The reason is that they did not stand in San Ti correctly. There are basically two reasons: In practicing San Ti, one must practice standing for a long time – from 6 months to three years. Many people stood in San Ti without inquiring about its principle, just standing there with strength. The second reason is that most people stand in thirty percent and seventy percent weighting. People do not understand that the thirty percent and seventy percent weighting is a single weighting method, a method for practical application of the attacking and defending techniques. It should not be adopted in the beginning of training. In the beginning, it is necessary to stand in a balanced position with a slightly bigger step, namely, equal strength in both legs and the same sensation in both soles. The purpose of this is to train the balance of the body and the balance of internal qi and blood. Without balance of qi and blood, there will be no health. If there is no balance in the body, how could it be possible to change? Therefore, it is necessary to seek balance before looking for changes. Balance is necessary for there to be single weighting. Then success will be possible with single weighting. [8]

It is interesting to note that all the Masters pictured in both parts of this article stand in a balanced and relaxed posture.

Xing Yi Master Song Zhi Yong, a disciple of Master Li Gui Chang, advises one to stand and merely sense. His advice: don’t think about sinking Qi to Dantian; don’t think about power; just sense what is actually happening inside. When I asked Master Song how to improve in Pushing Hands practice, he advised me to practice more San Ti Shi and embrace inner listening and inner sensing while standing.

Robert Smith, author of Hsing –I: Chinese Mind-Body Boxing, expands on this idea:

The internal requires quiet, stillness. But this stillness is not simply the absence of sound. It is a total presence or attentiveness, which must be part of the discipline if excellence is to emerge. I believe that the silences a man must live with in training in the internal themselves produce part of the skill that ultimately comes. When the silence releases its new energy, a quiet mind is produced, and when this happens the whole being becomes truly active. [9]

When standing, the body is apparently still externally, but internally there is motion. Once stillness is understood as stillness; then motion is also stillness. Once motion is understood as motion. Then stillness is also motion. [10] From stillness one can understand motion. Once motion is understood then one can perceive stillness within movement. This may seem abstract, but the experience of a student who practiced Zhan Zhuang (Standing) can aid understanding. He had previously practiced Aiki and Jiujitsu. After practicing Zhan Zhuang for 6 months he returned to practicing grappling with some friends. They were amazed that he seemed to know what they were going to do before they did it. He explained that by understanding what was his own internal movement, he then knew what was not his own internal movement, but came from outside. He could then detect the very beginnings of their movements and changes – the intention of moving before it became manifest.

Master Sun Lu Tang equates San Ti Shi with the Qi of emptiness. The One Qi arises from emptiness and Yin and Yang are produced from the One Qi. Yin and Yang combine to become the San Cai, the Trinity of Heaven, Earth and Human Beings. Heaven and Earth are the root, while Yin and Yang (within us) are the ancestors. Their interaction and harmony create the Golden Pill (Jin Dan 金丹), the Daoist Pill of immortality. The Golden Pill is a metaphor for the inner transformation that occurs through the practice of Xing Yi Quan – particularly San Ti Shi and Pi Quan (Splitting Fist). The Golden Pill corresponds with Nei Jin (internal strength) in Xing Yi Quan. The changes of Yin and Yang produce internal strength and skill in Xing Yi Quan. Pi Quan is the one Qi. Circulating Qi through the practice of Pi Quan (and San Ti Shi) allows things to come into being and to transform. The One Qi of Pi Quan generates all the other energies and forms in Xing Yi. [11]

Master Cheng Qun Gong, a disciple of Li Gui Chang, elaborates on movement within stillness:

Thus, after training Zhan Zhuang for some time, changes will take place in the body, naturally giving birth to some phenomena. Master Li described: ‘In winter, the insects drill into the ground like they are dead, and when the spring comes and vitality rises in the ground, the insects will live again. In the Zhan Zhuang posture, [we] want to stand so that this vitality arises, like the insects recovering and revitalizing, so that the body possesses refined strength.Master Li also said: ‘[After training] Zhan Zhuang for a while, naturally (one) cultivates and senses a flowing sensation, smooth and unhindered in some areas of the body and unusual in some areas. Then gradually [you] turn and shift or perhaps tremble and shake, until the whole body is smooth and unobstructed. In this way the outside body form regulates the internal (intrinsic) functions.’ Master Li described that in Zhan Zhuang, this phenomenon occurs naturally and spontaneously in the body, and this insect-creeping and flowing sensation is instinctive, not produced by imagination. In Zhan Zhuang, [one] must to stand so that the creeping, sensation comes naturally. It is only natural that the initial period of Zhan Zhuang is painful and arduous. The type of suffering varies from person to person. Older people feel more pain and those in young age feel less pain – more painful if the muscles appear obvious [12] and less painful if the muscles are not obvious. But, this pain will decrease gradually and is periodical. After going through this period, (you) will feel comfortable, and then (you) have a beginning and finally (you) will enjoy Zhan Zhuang a great deal and will walk lightly and freely.

Master Li said: ‘In Zhan Zhuang there is one important point, often tremble and shake the whole body. It is said that bears in hibernation in the winter, will spontaneously shake and tremble all over every few days. Otherwise, the body is stagnant and does not move, and a problem will occur. Similarly, why are [you] unable to maintain (hold) the standing posture? It is precisely because this shaking is lacking. By shaking the body delicately and slightly, (you) can enjoy the standing gong and nourish life. [13] In fact, when issuing force [14] during a martial contest, it is also this type of shaking.’ The truth of this ‘shaking’ is to relax your body, when any problem occurs during in Zhan Zhuang. [15]

After standing in San Ti Shi, Li Gui Chang’s disciples advocate taking a stroll for 5-10 minutes. Walking helps the body to relax and harmonize. It is the “final settling” [16] that completes and integrates the practice. Walk briskly, moving from Ming men. Do not talk, just sense inside the body.

Liu Wen Hua sums up by saying that one must train diligently so that the tendons and bones have ample Qi and blood, both internally and externally. Then they become strong. Qi and power share the same root. If Qi is sufficient, strength can manifest. In talking about the relationship between the power and posture, it is said that one must first seek to have sufficient Qi in order to train the posture and that you must also pay attention to the posture in training Qi, for both Qi and posture are inter-dependent. The difference is that posture is shown externally and can be seen and Qi flows deeply and internally and cannot be observed. Thus students who pay attention [only] to the postures neglect the flow of Qi. [17]

Training this way creates an ever-changing adaptive ability that allows for fluid application in accordance with the actual circumstances. Liu then goes on to say that one must train diligently, rather than sitting in meditation praying to the immortals. [18]


[7] 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. . 57.

[8] My Apprenticeship with Li Gui Chang. Mao Ming Chu. Translated by Huang Guo-Qi.

[9] Hsing –I: Chinese Mind-Body Boxing. Robert Smith (Tokyo and New York: Kodansha International, 1974) p. 22.

[10] Nei Gong: The Authentic Classic – A translation of the Nei Gong Zhen Chuan. p. 75.

[11] A Study of Xing Yi Boxing (形意拳学). Sun Lu Tang (Sun Fu Quan), May 1915

[12] Are well-defined

[13] 养生Yang Sheng: “nourishing life.” A term used to refer to many types of Nei Gong and Qi Gong practices. The implication is that these practices help to improve health and prolong life.

[14] 发力 Fa Li: literally “emitting strength” or “issuing force.” Often used interchangeably with Fa Jin 发劲

[15]Master Chen Quan Gong on Xing Yi Quan Theory and Training – Part 2 (Posted on November 22, 2016)

[16] 归宿 Gui Su: “returning home”; “ final settling.”

[17] 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

[18] Ibid.