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What is Xingyiquan?

By Henry Gaudet
Updated May 23, 2024
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Xingyiquan, also known as xing yi quan or hsing yi ch'uan, is a Chinese martial art that is distinctive for its aggressive, linear style. It is a relatively simple system, without the flashy kicks or maneuvers of some other martial arts, and it focuses instead on subduing an opponent quickly and decisively. This martial art is primarily a form of unarmed combat, but it is built around principles similar to those of spear fighting, and xingyiquan can be used with a weapon such as a sword, spear or staff.

Certain features make xingyiquan distinct as a martial art form. The word xingyiquan translates roughly as “form and will boxing,” meaning that the form or stance that the body takes is dependent on the will or intent. The style is linear, with limbs kept close to the body and strikes moving forward.

It uses few kicks and holds, emphasizing quick, powerful and efficient attacks. Practitioners walk forward as they attack, using this forward momentum for additional power. Offense and defense are simultaneous.

Rather than a form of self-defense, xingyiquan is more accurately described as an aggressive form of attack. The system does not favor redirection, deflection or other defensive postures. Instead, practitioners combine defense with offense and strike quickly to end the confrontation efficiently, making this an especially brutal martial art.

This fighting style has the unique distinction of being proved effective in fighting on a large scale. By focusing on dropping opponents quickly without losing time grappling, seeking out weak points or evading, practitioners of xingyiquan have used their skills in open battle. Even when facing armed opponents, soldiers using this martial art have been useful on the battlefield and often can strike before weapons can be brought to bear.

The origins of this martial art are unknown. The creation of xingyiquan is popularly attributed to the 12th century general Yue Fei, but there is no evidence to support this claim. The first historical references to the fighting style date to the Ming Dynasty in the early 17th century, when Ji Long Feng is named as the first to teach the style.

A number of techniques of xingyiquan are practiced, each falling into one of two styles: the Ten Animals and the Five Elements. The Ten Animals refers to the spirits of the Tiger, Monkey, Dragon, Hawk, Horse, Snake Bear, Chicken, Swallow and Eagle, with maneuvers and techniques modeled after each animal. Five Elements is based instead on the forms Splitting, Drilling, Crushing, Pounding and Crossing.

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