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Xing Yi Quan’s Oral Tradition: The Eight Word Song and the Eight Necessities

Like Ba Gua Zhang, Xing Yi Quan employs rhymed verses and mnemonics in order to help the student remember the key body alignments and points for attention in practicing the forms and movements and understanding their function as a Nei Gong practice and as a method of self-defense.

This first installment of Xing Yi’s oral tradition presents two short mnemonics for remembering the body alignments and body patterns of San Ti Shi and the five fists.

Ba Zi Jue 八字诀: The Eight Word Song

San Ti Shi is a composite of certain alignments. These alignments are generally described by Xing Yi practitioners as the Eight Word Song (Ba Zi Jue).

三顶 The Three Uplifts, Prop-ups or Outthrusts (San Ding)

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

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

三圆 The Three Circles or Roundings (San Yuan)

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

三敏 The Three Sensitivities or Perceptivities (San Min)

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

三抱 The Three Holdings or Embraces (San Bao)

  1. Embrace Dantian
  2. Embrace heart qi
  3. Embrace the ribs

三屈 The Three Bends or Curves (San Qu)

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

三垂 The Three Sinks or Drops (San Chui)

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

三挺 The Three Erectings or Extendings (San Ting)

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

Eight Necessities

In his book, A Detailed Collection of Xing Yi Boxing Skill, Liu Wen Hua summarizes many of these key points in the Eight Necessities. These eight points elaborate on the alignments outlined in the Eight Word Song.

Without strength, form and postures are useless. Qi is the foundation of strength. To train qi is the central attainment of martial arts. The eight necessities are the key to training form and qi. What are the eight necessities?

  1. To uphold internally
  2. To combine the three centers
  3. To link the three intentions
  4. To be smooth in the five elements
  5. To be orderly in the four extremities
  6. To be calm in the heart
  7. To have the three tips in a straight line
  8. To be sharp in the eyes

Uphold Internally

Uphold the grain duct (perineum) in order to raise qi up to the Dantian, and from the Dantian to the vertex, in order to circulate qi freely. This is also called: “gather the anus and uphold the qi internally.”

Combine the Three Centers

The three centers are the vertex, the hands and the soles of the feet. Integration of the three centers means to integrate the vertex and the soles so that the qi in the upper body can descend to enter Dantian, and so the Qi of the lower body can ascend to Dantian. The hands must also integrate, so that qi from the extremities can draw inward to Dantian. Once these three are integrated, qi can move outward and inward freely.

Link the Three Intentions

The three intentions are the intentions of heart (xin), qi and force (li). These three, also known as the “three internal harmonies,” must unite. The heart is the commander, the qi is the marshal and the power or force are the soldiers. Qi is the connecting link between intention and power and between strategy and application of force.

Smooth in the Five Elements

The Five Elements refer to Xing Yi’s five fists. Once qi is sufficient, once it gathers in the Dantian and flows to the four limbs, the postures, changes and movements of splitting, bursting, drilling, pounding and crossing will flow smoothly and the five Zang organs (kidneys; liver; heart; spleen; lungs)  will be strengthened as qi flows seamlessly through them.

Orderly in the Four Extremities

The tongue is the extremity of the muscles; the fingernails and toenails are the extremities of the tendons; the head hair and body hair are the extremity of the blood; the teeth are the extremity of the bones. Touch the tongue to the upper palate to settle the qi so it can descend to Dantian and make the muscles strong. Curve the fingers and toes inward slightly so that qi pours into the nails and tendons. When the hair stands up all over the body, and on the head like pushing up a hat, there is courage and the whole body is strengthened. Gently clamping or touching the teeth together enables qi to flow into the bone marrow. To be orderly in the extremities means that in every movement and posture these four are present and interconnected. If one is lacking, qi will disperse and strength will be weak.

Calm in the Heart

In boxing skills, one must be neither too fearful nor too hasty. Fear saps confidence in one’s skills while haste disperses the qi. Remaining calm or “leisurely” in the heart is critical in both training and application.

Three Tips in a Line

The tips of the nose, hands and feet must be in a line. When these three are in a line, the strength of the whole body unites and the qi can gather and flow smoothly.

Sharp in the Eyes

If the Zhenqi is sufficient, then the eyes are quick and nimble. Qi transforms to spirit which then shines out from the eyes so that the eyes are lustrous and clear.

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