Tuesday, August 16, 2011

How To Train Xingyi Quan For Fighting

By Mike Patterson
(First printed in Inside Kung Fu Magazine - August 1997)

Working with fighters is more a process than a recipe. Consequently, the methods I employ today may, by my own perspectives, be insufficient and obsolete tomorrow. There are, however, certain basic components which will always remain the cornerstones of my regimen.

These building blocks served me successfully first as a fighter and now as a coach. If tradition holds true, they also should serve you very well.

Mind (Psychology of the Fighter)

Early in the training season, I sit my new fighters down and say, "You gotta love it." If you don't really enjoy fighting, if you're not willing to endure the rigors of full-contact Lei Tai-style training, you will never be successful. There's just too much work and dedication involved.

Many times, a fighter needs to be taught the nature of fighting in general.
Most people tend to view fighting as an "adversarial" relationship. This is fundamentally wrong. If viewed from and adversarial perspective, the practitioner will make two fundamental errors which may lead to his defeat. One, he will "lock up" his body so that, two, he may keep his opponent "out". This is an error in viewpoint of the encounter.

Fighting should be viewed as a "complementary" relationship. There is going to be an "exchange", and exchange of technique, strategy and energy.

For example, let's look at the most demanding scenario in the engagement -- "bridging". This is the most difficult skill in combat, because it places the combatant at the greatest risk. When you attempt to "bridge" into range you have left your guard and exposed numerous counterattack points. Meanwhile, your opponent is still in his guard, and if skilled, had the upper hand in counter-offense.

My question is, why keep your opponent away from you? Since bridging is the most critical and difficult of all combative ranges, if your opponent wants to do it for you, let him!

Emotional Content

New fighters always ask me, "What should my emotional state be when I am fighting?" The answer is ... there should be NONE! No emotion. Flat.

Most are confused by my response. People often think they need to cultivate anger to fight well. Not true. Anger clouds the mind. The mind must be clear to perform at optimum levels. Anger is very powerful, but undisciplined, and hence, unusable for a fighter. So, too, are the emotions of hate, rage, and vengeance. All powerful states of mind, and all are unusable because of occlusion of the mind.

I teach my fighters to cultivate a "predatorial" mind state. Consider an eagle and a rattlesnake. Both are predators in their own right. In the wild, an eagle will swoop down on a snake, catch it in its talons, climb high up into the sky and drop it on the rocks to dash its brains. Both could be killed in the encounter. The rattler can surely bite and poison the eagle for its trouble, although it probably would not have a chance to eat it. So both are equally dangerous to the other in this encounter, not unlike competitors in a full contact encounter.

But, what about the emotions of these enemies? Does the eagle hate or feel anger toward the snake? No. To the eagle, the snake is food. It does not hate the snake. Nor does the snake hate the eagle. It is simply the day-to-day dance of survival, predator and prey doing their part in the endless food chain of life.

A fighter must learn to look at fighting in a detached, business-like manner. There is simply no room for emotion here. The mind must be pristine calm, ready to evaluate and act. The fighter must not act from emotion, but out of necessity.


Training in my school for lei tai fighting is a year-round process. There is much to learn, so I believe in constant involvement.

We divide the training education into several main areas. Many of the methods I use have been taken directly from my classical training in Hsing-I, Pa-Kua and Chen Tai-Chi. I believe a practitioner should be able to adapt his style to fit the rules of the particular competition.

Also, Hsing-I, Pa-Kua and Tai-Chi hold within their structure superior strategy and application of power for actual fighting. The kinetic potential contained within the internal arts is simply phenomenal if correctly understood and applied by a fighter.

Aerobic Conditioning

Circuit training is the cornerstone of my aerobic conditioning program. A properly designed circuit should include stations which enhance speed, balance, timing, power and any specialized skills the fighter is trying to develop.
Classical form should not be underrated when discussing a fighter's training regimen. Those who disagree probably have not been properly introduced to Hsing-I as a fighting discipline. Within Hsing-I are the 12 animal and five element hsings as well as the keys to unlock tremendous kinetic potential. It also thoroughly trains the key muscle/tendon structures of the body and conditions the bones for impact stress.

Classical two-person form, at least in the Hsing-I and Pa-Kua systems I teach, is an excellent tool for teaching new fighters the theory aspects of combat. Two-person form allows the practitioner to interact in a live action scenario with a partner at full power and speed, with virtually no chance of injury. It teaches the new fighter proper distance and timing in execution of classical technique, and perhaps more importantly, outlines the possibilities in a given exchange.

Power Training

I am a firm believer in heavy bag and percussion training. I do not like my fighters to train on a bag that weighs less than 80 pounds. The bag should have a firmness consistent with that of softened rock. In other words, whatever the filling, the bag must be quite dense. A fighter must condition his hands, feet, elbows and knees to the shock of impact. Otherwise, all other preparations for combat become useless. When properly conditioned, a fighter has no apprehension about unloading a full-power strike on the opponent. Poor conditioning leads to a fear of injury.

Kinetics must be studied and understood intimately by the fighter. You can be the quickest tactician alive, but if you don't have anything behind your strikes, you will generally lose to the more powerful opponent.

Each type of strike must be broken down and analyzed for the fighter to understand how the maximum efficiency of the blow can be attained. I walk my fighters through movements over and over again, making adjustments to their body alignment. The implication here is that the coach must truly understand what he's doing. Guessing is best left outside the ring or platform.

Reflexive Training

Push hands is a generic term within the internal martial arts community applied to all kinds of touch/feeling/sensitivity-oriented, two-person training. There are numerous formats and styles included in this type of training. My full-contact fighters are treated to a freestyle mixture of classical Hsing-I tui shou, Tai-Chi tui shou and Pa-Kua rou shou, all done wearing Lei Tai gear.

Mirror boxing is our kung-fu family's rendition of shadowboxing. The practitioner stands in front of a full-length mirror so the entire body is visible. From an on-guard position, attacks to the "opponent" are initiated toward open zones in the mirror image's defenses.

Each time an attack is thrown, the "opponent's" position changes and a new attack zone presents itself. The object is to beat your own reflection, which is impossible. As the practice continues, however, seeing the zones open up as combat unfolds becomes easier. Awareness of targeting instinct is heightened and reflexive responses increase.

Tactical Training
The 24 stems are based on my 26 years of experience both as a fighter and a coach/trainer.

1. Distance should be such that when the combatant's hands are stretched outward, the fingers may interlace. When the wrists touch, attack!
2. Observe the nine gates of attack and learn to utilize them in combination.
3. Movement and stillness are one in the same; both are suitable defenses.
4. Never more than two complete steps in any single direction. Do not chase. A smart fighter will time the third step and use it against you.
5. There are four ranges of combat: foot, hand, trap and grapple. Know them well and be able to shift easily from one to another.
6. The best fighters always attack, even when defending. Learn to exploit your opponent's habits.
7. When given a choice between inside and outside closing, always choose outside.
8. Fold from hand to elbow to shoulder and back again.
9. Once the closing is met, stick like glue until conclusion.
10. The best time to kick is when the opponent is moving forward or back, immediately after a bridge has been attempted.
11. The limbs are usually vulnerable.
12. Pyan always at a 45-degree angle off the centerline of attack.
13. Speed should be varied with purpose to lead the opponent's mind.
14. Never telegraph - strikes must be delivered from the present position.
15. Look at the opponent's eyes (or throat) in a single match. In situations of multiple threat, look downward.
16. Strength used wisely is an asset, but be ever wary of the "trap."
17. Pain is an effective way to lead the opponent's mind.
18. When "leading the body," be alert, sensitive, and maintain your sphere.
19. While easier to employ, defense will not win the battle.
20. All true attacks initiate from the feet.
21. Box a "kicker," kick a "boxer."
22. Sweep a high stance, attack a low stance.
23. Study the double strike and the four methods of employment. It is unexpected.
24. Explore technique to grasp principle, holding principle, forget technique.

Fighting Skill Drills

I divide my training drills into two broad categories: focus mitt drills and two-person drills. Focus mitt drills are primarily designed to enhance targeting skills. The focus mitt allows the partner to create a highly mobile and rather small target zone for his partner inside the respective drill, which can be varied on the fly in a timed activity. This helps the fighter recognize and adjust to varying stimuli.

Two person drills are interactive formats designed to enhance key skills such as footwork, angle and proper distance in relation to execution of specific techniques or sequences. These are generally adjusted, added to or deleted as the particular skill is acquired and understood throughout the training year. Mastering both skill drills is paramount to a well-rounded program.

I have listed several examples of the types of drill I utilize in my own training program for fighters. This is certainly not all that we do, but it should give you a working idea. Bear in mind that the terminology of the specific drill name is based upon classical Hsing-I and Pa-Kua training so it may make little sense to many of you. Because of space considerations, they cannot all be illustrated. Suffice it to say, variety is the key.

Various focus mitt combos include: One/two drill (blend two attacks into one): slip and weave drill (develop evasive counters); box and go drill (teach "framing" on defense); low high hook drill; hook uppercut drill; iron wall and go drill (develop low-line kicking counters); front kick drill; roundkick drill; stop side kick drill (develop targeting accuracy in stop kicks); and circle and go drill (pa-kua based footwork drill for attack targeting).

Two-person drill work includes: Stop hit drill (offensive interception); outside adjustment hooks drill (tactical training); multiple splitting drill (hsing-i based tactical training); iron wall and hammer drill (kick countering training); two-person circling drill (pa-kua based counter-offensive training); double leg and counter drill (training for "shooting" tactics); tussle and throw drill (throwing skills); and five-second drill (time training for Lei Tai competition).

Training Increments (For a 3-round, 3 minutes per round, fight time)

I use one-minute-per-side durations in combos or specific techniques. One of the key concepts in internal martial training is called mindfulness, or intention (yi). It is imperative that the fighter remain mindful throughout the task to develop any true skill. Rote training for the sake of rote training does not and will not work. The fighter needs to stay focused in the moment. Therefore, the task work on a specific drill or technique should not be so long as to induce boredom.

I use three-minute durations in paired free-flow activities, because the round length currently being used in kuoshu is three minutes. The fighter must intimately know what it feels like to fight for three full minutes.

I use six-to-18 minute increments for "burns" (depending on prior conditioning). A burn is a structured workout designed to hone skills already learned in a "live" coaching condition. This allows the coach to push the fighter beyond what he/she currently feels could be achieved in relation to their own conditioning level.

The final stage of my program, "burns" allows the fighter to stay sharp just prior to the competition with minimal risk of injury. They are carefully supervised motivational workout sessions.

I use 20-to-40 minute training increments for circuits (based on prior conditioning). Following is a typical training "circuit" (the numbers denote individual stations): (1) Mirror Boxing, (2) Double, Double End Bag, (3) Heavy Bag Combo #1, (4) Cobra Reflex Bag, (5) Heavy Bag Combo #2, (6) Nine Palace Boxing Training, (7) Balance Beam, (8) Cutback Training, (9) Heavy Bag Combo #3, (10) Double End Bag, (11) Heavy Bag Combo #4, (12) Uppercut Bag.

All combinations would normally be performed at one minute per side. The other stations will vary in duration form two-to-four minutes depending on the activity assigned.


There are three primary reasons a person may want to fight full contact: To prove something to himself; to prove something to others; or to make money. The bottom line here is that fighters are individuals, and a good coach needs to get inside his fighters' heads and understand what makes them tick, why they are involved. Otherwise, attempts to motivate higher and higher performance ratios from your fighters will usually fail.


A good coach must instill three main things in all fighters during the training season. First, a coach must teach self-reliance. A fighter needs to learn to coach himself. Afterall, once the competition begins, it is the fighter up on the platform; the coach is only available between rounds. He must learn to think for himself, adjust strategy on the fly during the match. If the game plan goes awry, the fighter must adapt different strategies and tactics.

One way to make this happen is by occasionally letting the fighters run their own team practice. I tell the team what to do, demonstrate the movements several times and then walk away after appointing "team leaders."

Secondly, a coach must instill confidence in his fighters. The fighter needs to feel strongly about his/her ability to succeed in competition and he/she must be taught to cultivate an expectation to win. Not overconfidence, mind you, but expectation to win. If a fighter expects to lose, then lose he shall.

I establish this attitude by breaking them in on larger, more powerful fighters. I have them tussle with people who are faster, stronger and meaner than anyone they will face in their divisions.

This is relatively easy since I have a fairly large "fighter pool" from which to draw, including some of the most successful and seasoned veterans of the international kuoshu arena. If necessary, I will even put the gear on and go a few rounds with the fighter myself, just to prove that those who teach can still do.

Thirdly, a coach must enforce discipline. Reality-based fighting is not something with which to play around. A fighter must learn early on that each mistake brings about a consequence.

This type of harsh disciplinary approach insures that fighters will take direction when they need it most. And that they will not question, but immediately act. And isn't that what fighting's all about - action and consequence?

Conclusion (by: Dave Cater)

A good coaching/training regimen should be constantly evaluated and updated based on the observances of the competitions' tendencies and the progression of your fighters.

Remain flexible enough to change, adapt or delete as new challenges present themselves. What worked yesterday may not necessarily work today. And what worked today, may not work tomorrow.

The success or failure of your program is not totally dependent on how many fighters return from a championship competition with gold medals around their necks (although you can be sure you're headed in the right direction).

Rather, you must ultimately judge your training procedures by how well you have prepared your fighters for the challenge of Lei Tai fighting. If they are physically skilled, mentally tough and ready for anything, then you have done your job. The titles will come in time.

Re-Blogged from Hsing I.Com

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