Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Shang Yun-xiang’s Xingyi Quan pt1

Note: I looked for the original translations and website of this material and they are gone. I think the information contained in the article is interesting, it is part of a series that i will post over the next few days. It was translated by Tomabey.

Master Li Zhong-xuan discusses the essence of Shang's Style.
Narrated by Li Zhong-xuan
Recorded by Xu Hao-feng
First Published by the October, 2001 issue of Wuhun, Copyright

I studied Xingyi from Shang Yun-xiang when I was young. Many years later, I heard people referring his martial arts as the "Shang's Style of xingyi" in respect. Recently a visiting martial arts enthusiast asked me why his Xingyi was so different from others that it was named as "the Shang's Style" . I could not come up with a concise answer at the moment, because back then I was only looking for self improvement when I studied martial arts; I had never thought about this issue. I have chatted with my teacher often, but I don't recall him comparing his martial art with others.

How people at the present day are distinguishing Shang's Xingyi with other Xingyi is beyond me. For decades I was an ordinary man and was busy making a living, I had never got involved with any of such discussion. Based on my experience in being with my teacher, the xing(posture, form) and yi(intent, "heart") in the Shang's style of Xingyi can only be taught by a teacher in person, in order for the student to get a gut feeling about it. If I have to describe it with words, then I have to say that his "form" means "no form" and his "intent" means "no intent". This is not some old monks making useless zen speech, it is a fact in martial arts training.

Take the issue with xing, for example. Some martial arts enthusiasts would automatically believe that its postures must be dramatically different from others, once they hear the term "The Shang's Style of Xingyi". They got stuck with arguments such as whether the front foot is pointing straight or at an angle, or the rear hand is held in front of one's waist or behind the front elbow. Certainly, one of the reasons for calling it "the Shang's Style" must be that it has some unique forms, but that is not the essence. They were the habit Teacher Shang formed in his many years of practice, they were not there because he was trying to create his own school and made them up for the sake of being different. Being able to balance and coordinate is an inherited ability of the human body. Even if you drastically change the old postures, with consistent practice you can make it look like the real thing. If you so claim to have created a new style, surely must you be joking?

Teacher Shang’s famous saying was, “Do train on the power but not the form, do use Jing but not the force.” If all one sees is the postures but does not study the principles behind them, he is “marking the boat for the sword [1]”. Some analyze the Shang’s form from the point of mechanics, they believe the reason for the change is for a better power release; or they consider Shang’s body shape, believe that the form was changed to make it more suitable for short and heavy people, which perhaps has some true in it. Unfortunately, because Shang’s Xingyi uses Jing rather than force, to analyze it with mechanics is to start with the wrong foot.

If you study it from the point of application, take Sparrow, for example, you may see that other styles utilize the shoulders, whereas Shang’s style uses the foot. Since the targets are different, the postures are certainly not the same. The fact of the matter is that if Shang’s Sparrow comes out using the shoulders, what’s wrong with that? It’s not boxing, whose downward hook is only for the chin and a straight jab is aiming the face. Once you put out a posture, you can attack people with any part of your body. When a posture is as good as one hundred postures, only then it is Xingyi. Otherwise with only the few postures in Five Elements and Twelve Animals, how could it become one of the three major Neijing systems

More over, every posture in Xingyi can be manifested in three different ways: training, application, and demonstration, depending on the purpose. Books don’t talk about these. Only after you become a disciple, you may know them all. The so-called sets in the books are often a random mix of application, training methods and demonstration. If you use the sets to compare the difference and similarity between the Shang’s Style and others, how can you figure it out? For example, some styles start Piquan with the rear hand rubbing the inside of the front forearm. Because the forearm is covered with Jing Luo, or meridians, the rubbing motion has health benefits. Therefore it’s one of the training methods. Another example, some have the front arm extending high and level, and the two hands coming back slowly - they are for health considerations, no good in a fight. In order for comparison to work, we have to compare the three categories one-on-one. A rather complicated work it is, so we won’t delve into the details in the article.

Using Jing is like wrapping a pile of loose mandarin oranges (human body) with a net and throwing the whole thing out. Doing it this way the body weight will not be devalued, instead, it can take advantage of acceleration to project a force that’s larger than the body weight. Knowing such creative solution, Shang’s Xingyi certainly “uses Jing but not the force.”

Only when one lets’ go of the force will his training produce Jing, that’s because Jing is associated with the entire body. Once you use force, you are stuck with segments: you may gain sesames but you loose a watermelon. Some martial art enthusiasts read the sentence from boxing chronicles: “Xingyi has Ming (clear) Jing, An (hidden) Jing, and Hua (dissolved) Jing”, then reckon they must show some power at the beginning of their training. So they do a lot of Fali (power release) right away and go some obvious results, they can fight really well. They heard the cliché “A Xingyi student can kill somebody within a year” and believed they were on the right track. If that’s the truth, then how is it different from a boxer hitting sandbags? You can kill somebody after a year of boxing training. A good boxer’s punch can be 70 pounds. With that 70 pounds hitting one’s chest, of course it can kill him.

The fact is that the character “Ming” as Ming Jing in the boxing chronicles not only means clarity, but also means comprehension. You have to “observe the Jing within your own body”. Your punches will naturally become stronger in this stage. The word “An Jing” means a transition from clear to hidden, from awareness to subconsciousness: let go of your observations, let the Jing become an automatic reaction. Hua Jing is a state where you can switch between awareness and subconsciousness at will.
Since An Jing and Hua Jing are difficult to describe, I will only try to talk about Ming Jing. There’s a trick in Ming Jing training: look for it at the turning points. The Five Elements are not about techniques, but rather trainings on five different Jing. Therefore the turns are different for each element, the turning postures are designed to express their particular Jing. So work on your turns more often, it may help you figuring things out.

Legend used to say that whenever Sun Lu-tang run into difficulty in explaining Jing to his students, he would compare the Jings in Xingyi with those in Taiji to give them more inspiration. After a while he found it amusing himself so he created the Sun Style Taiji. Not sure about the accuracy of this story, but there were Xingyi people who made a lot of discoveries after seeing Sun Style Taiji.

In the process of practicing Jing, naturally you will run into the feeling of Shen-Qi, or the spirit. This is not the place for such discussion, only the practitioners know it themselves. If you study it from Fali (Power Explosion)’s point of view, there must be a posture that’s better than the others. Regardless, Shang’s Xingyi uses Jing, once you have the Jing, one posture is no good or worst than the others, therefore it is pointless to discuss the Xing, or the appearance.

Speaking of Yi, there are people who artificially introduce thoughts and imaging. The damages are beyond measure. In the old days some martial artists had no proper education. Before they had received quality instruction, they read the adjectives in the boxing chronicles and took them as secretes. For example, when they read the phrase “Four Ounces Moving A Thousand Pounds”, they started thinking about tricks in mechanics. Once they think like a thief and want to take shortcuts, they would never get the real Kungfu. These days some martial artists are influenced by Qigong, they add lots of thoughts and imaging into their practice, such as “holding up the entire ocean with your hands” while doing standing. How much does the ocean weight? Thoughts like this will create mental tension for no good reason. Doing it all the time will only shorten your life.

Another example, some read the line in a poem: “Enemy encountered, my body was like on fire”. They don’t understand “body on fire” is merely an analogym instead of the actually physical condition. Imagining your body catching fire when you go to a fight, you will ruin your reaction. You will loose for sure.

So really what does “Yi” refer to? A little girl in the gymnastics team doesn’t take much effort to do a somersault, she doesn’t need much thinking either; she only relies on her trained body feelings. When her feeling comes she will complete a somersault. The Yi in Xingyi is similar. It’s not some imagined pictures in your brain, so Yi means not thinking (translator: the original text says, “Yi equals no Yi”).

Master Shang always encouraged his students to get more education. He said people with education could pick up martial arts faster. A martial artist is a true martial artist only when he looks more like a scholar than a scholar. Most top generals in the ancient books had the portrait of a scholar. Same for people who study martial arts: if you spend the whole day looking angry, as if you are always playing with your swords and drawing bows with arrows, you won’t get the highest Kungfu. That’s because a lot of the stuff on the boxing chronicles were written between the lines. While scholars may get it in a second, martial artists can easily be confused. And so Master Shang himself was very easy going. His face had a creamy look; his skin was very soft. He didn’t have the look of frowning or staring like a typical martial artist. Only when people walked behind him, he might turn and cast a glance, which was quit frightening.

The Yi of Xingyi is like the casual creation of a painter. The composition and strokes are not arranged ahead of time, yet once the brush hits the paper everything becomes alive – only that is the real feeling. It comes before your movement, before your imagination, as if before a rain, the moisture carried by the breeze, it's here and there. Grasp this feeling and you may start to train in Shang’s style of Xingyi.

The Xing and Yi, the form and the heart of Shang’s style of Xingyi can be summarized by a poem, “Such subtlety, clear and pure, how many people will understand?”

(The End)

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