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Che style xingyiquan, and professor Che Xiangqian, have been very ably introduced by Jarek Szymanski in his article here.
Below is a translation of an article written by Prof Che on a Chinese martial arts forum (www.wushu2008.cn) which puts forward some interesting viewpoints on some common xingyi issues.
“The 8 Prohibitions of Che style Xingyi by Prof Che Xiangqian
1. The restrictive ‘5 elements theory’ that each fist corresponds to an internal organ and a sense organ and that the 5 element fists mutually create and destroy each other seems to have become a ‘classic’ of xingyi. For example crushing fist is actually found in all other martial arts, where it is called a straight jab. It’s also the most common and practical move used when people fight. Guo Yunshen’s crushing fist shook the MA community, out of all the fists crushing is most worth researching. Whoever heard of another move that ‘beat allcomers and was without peer’ (da bian tian xia wu dui shou). The previous generations explained crushing’s characteristics as: fast, simple, and straightforward, but capable of change and chain-punching. However, some books introduce crushing like so: “Bengquan [crushing fist] is wood. Wood creates fire and destroys earth, Beng creates Pao and destroys Heng”;”Metal destroys wood, Pi destroys Beng”;”Internally, Beng is connected to the liver, and externally to the eyes”;”should be performed facing east”;”the corresponding trigram is ‘zhen’ [shaking]”;”this fist is specifically for training the liver”. The explanations of Drilling, Pounding, Splitting and Crossing are also explained in this fashion. In Che style, we don’t believe in these connections, because application has shown that these theories do not hold true in practice and that there is not necessarily any connection between Crushing fist and, say, the eyes. Such theories only serve to hold people back.
2. We don’t believe in applications of Daoist alchemy without first seeing hard proof. I started learning xingyi in 1950, but it was only in the 80s that I heard of another ‘classic’, talking of ‘3 ways of practicing’, ‘3 steps of gongfu’, ‘3 layers of meaning’ and the ‘3 levels of breathing’. Pronouncements such as “ming jin [obvious power] is in the hands, change in the bones, turning jing into qi, breathing through the nose and mouth”; “an jin [hidden power] is in the elbows, changing the sinews, turning qi into spirit, dantian breathing”; “hua jin [neutralising power] is in the body, changing the marrow, returning to the void, breathing through the skin”. In the 90s I heard of an even higher level, to become all-seeing, all-powerful and at one with the Tao, a level which had only been reached by one person in the entire history of Chinese martial arts. The previous generations of Che xingyi in Taigu did not talk about this, nor did Guo Yunshen’s inheritors in Shenzhou (in Hebei province), nor did the inheritors of Zhao Zhenyao (Geng Jishan’s disciple)’s xingyi such as Professor Yang Shaoyu in Beijing, or Zhang Hui’an-Yu Chonglin in Wuhan. These terms come from Daoist alchemy. Not a single living person has displayed any of these phenomena through practice of xingyi. This is because there are no real martial artists in whom obvious and neutralising powers, or hitting and neutralising powers are separated; because the internal and external changes together in people who pracice xingyi in a scientific manner; nor is there any way of proving that someone has ‘returned to the void’ or ‘become one with the Dao’; nor can any of these ‘Grandmasters’ stop up their mouth and nose and breathe through their skin or dantian. That’s why Che style teachers don’t talk about it, and students don’t believe in it.
3. We don’t practice neigong that ignores the external. There is a phrase popular in xingyi circles, saying that xingyi is ‘neigong boxing’ which mainly trains intention, spirit and qi . The ‘4 treatises on neigong’ (namely the Neigong, Nagua [Na Trigram?], Shenyun [divine movement], Dilong [ground dragon] classics) have also become ‘classics’. Che style xingyi does not talk about this. Our forebears were of the opinion that the internal and external should be trained together, at the same time. Training in a scientific manner measurably strengthens all the organs and systems of the body. If someone sweats, shakes and becomes breathless after ten minutes of sparring, that means there’s a problem with their organs and systems. This is something that both the practitioner and observers can see and is measurable with instruments. The internal of Che style xingyi is closely linked with the external, it’s specific. For so many years, we have heard a lot of talk of ‘stress the internal, dismiss the external’ and ‘abandon the form, stress intention’. The older generation of masters warned students that ignoring the external shape in favour of practicing neigong cannot produce a master, nor will it lead to health and longevity; instead, it can easily lead to monkhood. There is factual proof of this.
4.We don’t pursue ‘superpowers’. In martial arts tales and books, there are many training methods that can enable the practitioner to withstand sword cuts, lift great weights, vault over walls, even to move objects with the mind or eternal youth, etc..Our forebears were always dismissive of these kinds of claims. Historically, after Li Luoneng returned to Hebei province, Che Yonghong [Che Yizhai] was number 1 and Li Fuzhen number 2 in the xingyi community.
Che Yonghong (aka Che Yizhai), the founding father of Che style xingyiquan
The older generation saw all kinds of martial artists in their time, but they never encountered anyone with ‘superpowers’. The old tale of M Che ‘hanging the painting’ refers to his ability to launch people into the air, not to some ability to ‘stick’ to a wall. Are there superpowers? Maybe; but if there are, they’re like emperors – each country has only one. If everyone wanted to gain superpowers, it would be like everyone wanting to be an emperor, it would lead to utter chaos. Better to practice Che style xingyi instead.
5. Don’t exhaust yourself. Our forebears advocated not only not practicing when you’re tired, but also not training to the point of exhaustion. We don’t practice when our body is tired or when our spirit is fatigued (as in depressed, angry or excited). We especialy do not practice to exhaustion. Frequently practicing to exhaustion will only make the student become fed up at the mention of martial arts. Even training something like taiji too heavily over a long period of time can lead to injuries and illness. Che style xingyi is about technique and skill; you should not only get stronger, but also learn the ‘knacks’ [qiao jin] and ‘art’ of xingyi. Thus, you should use your brain as well as your body; single moves and forms are important, but sparring even more so. In short, experiencing and mastering the connection between fitness and combat comes first.
6. We don’t practice hard qigong [ying gong]. Our forebears forbade students from hitting punchbags, lifting iron locks [similar to kettlebell exercises], hitting trees and other such hard qigong training methods, because they are bad for your health and are of no use in combat.
(1) Ying gong can increase your punching power and resistance to blows, but it doesn’t raise your skill level. The crux of fighting is that ‘we can hit him, but he can’t land a blow on us’. Strength is necessary, but each person’s strength has its limits, whereas the techniques and strategy of using that strength is limitless. Like when a Spanish toreador fights a bull, a bull is stronger than a man, but the man wins with cunning. Everyone with real fighting experience knows that the more nimble the fighter, the less strength is used. As long as you can combine one’s innate strength with that derived from practicing martial arts and apply it to a single point, that’s enough. The practice of ying gong can reverse the relationship between skill and strength by luring people onto the path of ‘winning by strength’, turning fighting from a match of skills to mere trial of strength.
(2) Ying gong builds strength fast, each day’s practice builds it more. But once people reach middle age they can’t practice ying gong any more. And once you stop practicing ying gong, the strength it built starts to disappear. Martial arts training should give you skills you can use your whole life, Ying gong only builds atttributes for a relatively short period of time and is thus a waste of your time.
(3) There’s a saying that ‘the young fool can get away with sleeping on a cold kang, only because of his vigour’. Youngsters can practice ying gong because their body can still take the abuse. But the ravages of time spare no man, once you get old injuries and illness appear. How many martial artists have gained gongfu but sacrificed their health in the process?
(4) Brute force does not work against an adept, because an adept wins by skill, ‘4 ounces defeats a thousand pounds’. Moreover, if fighting with ordinary people, ying gong is liable to leave the opponent disabled, which is against martial ethics [wu de].
These are the reasons that ying gong is forbidden in Che style xingyi.
7. We do not practice ‘stillness’ [jing gong’]. ‘Stillness’ can refer to posture holding, as in zhan zhuang; it can also refer to practices where thought stops or the intention is focused on one place. Of course, zhan zhuang must be practiced; as the saying has it ‘practicing martial arts without holding postures is just but messing around’. San Ti, in particular, encapsulates the postural requirements of xingyi. ‘Of the myriad methods, none leaves San Ti’ ‘Mastering San Ti is halfway to success’. Whilst San Ti should not be held for long periods, it can be done several times a day. Each time you hold San Ti, you should only hold it for a maximum of 10 minutes, but this could be repeated two or three times a day. If you hold San Ti for an hour everytime you train, not only are you losing precious training time, it can also damage the nerves and capillaries in the legs. Overdoing zhan zhuang is one of the reasons why a lot of martial artists suffer leg and knee problems. As for your intention staying in one place, this should only happen in health qigong when your intention rests on one spot – it only needs to do so for a matter of seconds (10 or so is fine), not minutes. There is no health benefit if the intention stays in one place for a long time.
8. We don’t take the path of ‘wushu-isation’ or the ‘mystification’ of xingyi. Li Luoneng’s xingyi is characterised by its simplicity, practicality, its combination of form and intention and its suitability for young and old alike. However, there are two tendencies in the xingyi community. One is wushu-isation: the movements and names are xingyi, but the postures, coordination, power and rhythm are all ‘long-fist-ised”, meaning that the performance is neither good long fist nor good xingyi. This kind of performance becomes a San Da-style contest of force when moved into the boxing ring. The other tendency is the mystification of xingyi, where people force daoist, buddhist, confucian, or TCM concepts onto xingyi, turning xingyi into a religion, almost. This ‘mystical’ kind of xingyi I call ‘neigong-style’ xingyi. These two trends have existed have a long time, but are particularly rampant now.
Bu Xuekuan, one Che Yizhai's most famous disciples
When Che Yonghong [aka Che Yizhai], Li Fuzhen and Bu Xuekuan were alive, these two tendencies had no place or market among Che stylists. Since 1980, these two trends have flooded the xingyi community. Regarding this phenomenon, the older generation of masters impressed upon us that we must preserve Che style’s simplicity, practicality and emphasis on skill. Keeping the exhortations of our forebears firmly in mind, in Che style both our newly-compiled and traditional routines can be performed by young and old alike, they have no difficult flashy moves. The principles of our art are testable and based on concrete examples; even illiterates can understand them. Our fighting techniques are practical and based on skill: a technique learnt in the morning can be used by the afternoon. The representatives of our style maintained their abilities into their old age, and could still win in sparring into their 70s and 80s.”