Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Xingyi Quan - Shang Yun Xiang - The Faded Martial World - Book

Li Zhong Xuan was a Xingyi practitioner that trained under 3 famous masters, Tang Wei Lu, Shang Yun Xiang and Xue Dian.  His book, 逝去的武林 The Faded Martial World (my translated title) is a fantastically down to earth diary of his martial journey.  It is a day to day description of what transpired and shows how old school martial artists trained.  While it isn’t meant to be a guide to teach anyone Xingyi, it contained many great gems that are considered secrets in many schools.  I have not seen any English translations and the following are tidbits I translated as an exercise years ago.  Philip D
Xingyi Master - Shang Yun Xiang
English Translation: Section 1
Shang style Xingyi
Training Xingyi at Night
The 86-year old [Li Zhong Xuan] (李仲軒) is one of the [later disciples]?? of famous Xingyi master, [Shang Yun Xiang] (尚雲祥). Shang Yun Xiang’s [Xingyi] (形意 or 形意拳) is referred to as [Shang style Xingyi] (尚式形意) by later generations. Its maxim is to use Xingyi as a method of cultivation.
Shang had a student that could not overcome the anxiety of duels, who queried Shang after hearing about the [ability to "enter into stillness"] (定力) in Buddhism. Shang told him that such ability is the result of cultivation. He explained that martial practice requires [a relaxed mind] (神閒氣定), which leads to [emotional calmness] (心安) and higher wisdom. [Liveliness] () is the key to martial practice. Your [movement/fist] () must become more lively, as well as your mind/heart. You must practice without any [malicious intent] (殺氣) , as fighting skills need to arise naturally when facing an enemy. Training by purposely evoking the intent to kill or maim would hinder liveliness.
Prior to becoming Shang Yun Xiang ‘s disciple, Li Zhong Xuan studied under Shang Yun Xiang’s [junior classmate] (師弟), [Tang Wei Lu] (唐維祿). Tang Wei Lu did not receive a high level of formal education but was very [cultured] (文雅). He had a mild and leisurely manner, often spending the entire day strolling around with a teapot in hand. He adhered to the old ways of teaching: teaching was only conducted where no others are around. A forest would be insufficient. There must be walls all around, completely isolated from the outside and without a third pair of eyes around to watch. Such an isolated courtyard was not easy to find. In the end Li Zhong Xuan felt that the ancestral shrine was the only appropriate location as it was fairly desolate, so the teaching took place there. For a period of time, both the master and the disciple lived in the shrine. He was only allowed to train alone and at night, even the master was not allowed to watch. Only when he had a question could he demonstrate to the teacher and request for guidance. Tang Wei Lu said, “If you want to show off in front of others, you have to suffer in an inconspicuous corner.” Later Tang Wei Lu’s earlier disciples started to come to the shrine regularly, which irritated Tang Wei Lu’s family and led Tang Wei Lu to stop going to the shrine. Tang Wei Lu’s home was located in a farming village with some distance from the town of [Ninghe] (寧河). Li Zhong Xuan always rushed to Tang Wei Lu’s home to learn. Sometimes he felt the trip, a distance of more than 10 li (, probably 1/2km = 1), was too short as he felt more and more invigorated from the walk. He discussed this feeling with Tang Wei Lu and Tang Wei Lu said “Xingyi is also called ['The Fist of Travel and Intent'] (行意拳). Its name contains the word ‘travel’, which means the [kung fu] (功夫) is embodied in the legs.” Tang Wei Lu later told him a story. Tang Wei Lu’s master was [Li Cun Yi] (李存義). While Li Cun Yi was acting as the head of the martial art academy (probably referring to the [Nanking Central Kuoshu Academy] ??), one day a man came carrying a large iron wok/pot. He dropped it on the ground, jumped on the edge of the wok/pot and performed a set of martial movements. Obviously his footwork was fast and his leg skills were impressive. After the performance, he challenged Li Cun Yi to demonstrate the same skills. Li Cun Yi said that the skill was similar to that of performance tricks, which required specialized training. Instead Li Cun Yi asked the man if he was confident enough in his own leg skills to compete in a race. The two agreed that with a distance of two zhang () between them, Li Cun Yi had to catch up to the challenger within ten steps after they both started to run or otherwise he would be the loser. Surprisingly, the instant the challenger started running, he was knocked down by Li Cun Yi as if the two were close to each other. The same thing happened after repeated tries and in the end the challenger carried away his wok/pot in shame. The challenger never left a name. He was around thirty at the time and the students at the academy called him [Old Kid] (老小夥子). After this incident, students at the academy learned the power of Xingyi’s leg skills and became receptive to the standing practice (站樁). Tang Wei Lu said “you walked a long way here to learn martial art; walking is also training.” Li Zhong Xuan walked even more frequently to Tang Wei Lu’s home afterwards. Sometimes even when Tang Wei Lu didn’t teach much, he felt the comfortable feeling from the round trip was worth it. Sometimes Li Zhong Xuan would meet Tang Wei Lu in Ning He Town by chance when Tang Wei Lu came over to teach. The two would talk while they walked about town and Tang Wei Lu would go back after just a brief chat. To Tang Wei Lu, a distance of more than 10 li is no different from the distance to his next door neighbor.
After Li Zhong Xuan became Shang Yun Xiang’s disciple, he asked Shang Yun Xiang “Teacher Tang (唐老師) doesn’t allow others to watch me practice, saying it’s the old way. What’s the reason for this?” Shang Yun Xiang answered, “There’s no reason. It’s just that if the rules aren’t so strict, you young kids wouldn’t train diligently.” Like most young people, Li Zhong Xuan liked [exotic things] (神秘), and he felt that training Xingyi this way was like walking blind; it doesn’t just train the arms and legs, but the whole body. It was much easier to feel this training at night. One time Shang Yun Xiang brought Li Zhong Xuan to visit a friend that ran a [martial art studio] (武館, I assume it’s not very big but I have no basis). Li Zhong Xuan saw many students training and asked Shang Yun Xiang in a hushed voice “They can’t get any kung fu by training like this, right?” Shang Yun Xiang gave Li Zhong Xuan a harsh glare and after leaving the studio, Shang Yun Xiang explained “Although there was a whole group of people practicing together, a few real disciples were mixed in there.” Li Zhong Xuan thought none of them were practicing seriously and asked how could Shang Yun Xiang tell? Shang Yun Xiang said “When training during the day, the eyes must have a [target] (準星). Xingyi always [binds then seizes] ?? (一束一捉). The index finger and the pinkie continuously turn over back and forth, with the eyes never leaving the index finger or the pinkie. Training during daytime requires total focus.” From this Li Zhong Xuan realized that training methods differ drastically between daytime and nighttime. During daytime you train the eyes, during nighttime you cultivate/rest the eyes. Both are methods to [raise spirits/maintain alertness] (提神). The keys to Xingyi are [spirit and temperament]?? (神氣, this is probably not too accurate because the Chinese term is very vague). Those who practice martial arts like to watch people train but it may not necessarily involve any deep rumination. Much like how practitioners of Chinese calligraphy also like to watch other people write. Even if it’s just watching children write, seeing the ink flowing across the paper is an enjoyment.
Shang Yun Xiang really likes to watch his disciples practice, regardless of whether they’re training correctly or not. He doesn’t give pointers either; he’s just happy with watching it. He never trains in front of others, but like a (Beijing style) opera buff, he especially loved watching others practice [Tai Chi] (太極拳) and [Bagua] (八卦掌). When he was young he received personal teaching from the famous Bagua master, Cheng Ting Hua (程廷華), but he could still easily spend half a day watching a beginner practice it. One time when Shang Yun Xiang saw Li Zhong Xuan practice, he was in a particularly good mood and said “Actually, common sayings contain the true keys to martial practice.” He said within the [martial community] (武林) there’s a common saying making fun of the postures of Xingyi, Taichi and Bagua, “Tai chi is like groping for fish in the water, bagua is like turning a millstone and xingyi is like snatching shrimps…” At this point Shang Yun Xiang started smiling (or laughing) and gave his explanation:
Tai Chi training is like groping for fish in the water, because your hands have to reach into the water and move slowly. Just like when you are groping for fish, you must ‘listen’ with your hands. When you train you must maintain such fish-groping jin (
); if you can maintain such intention, you can develop kung fu. Bagua is like turning a millstone. You not only have to push forward, you must also push down using grinding/rolling jin (碾勁, think pavement roller vehicles used to smooth out asphalt). Every Bagua step contains 2 sets of jins, ready to transform at any time. Understanding the principle of the two jins means you can understand why Bagua movements could change infinitely…
When it came time to talk about Xingyi, Shang Yun Xiang stopped talking. A few days later, during his training, Li Zhong Xuan was issuing hard [fajin] (發力) repeatedly because he had just had some new understanding of the statement written in the Xingyi classic, “Information is dependent on the back foot’s stomping.” (消息全憑後腳蹬, I suspect it means “back foot’s stomping telegraphs intention,” but I’m keeping the translation more literal here since I’m not sure). As such he was testing ways to develop whole body fajin. Shang Yun Xiang saw him and interrupted his practice, saying that, “It’s all right to fight like this, but not during training.” He said that training Xingyi should be like snatching shrimps; you reach your hand out fast and light, but when you pull back your hand must carry ‘something’ back. “Going out light and coming back heavy” (輕出重收) is an important training [aphorism] (口訣).
One time as Shang Yun Xiang got into a good mood while watching someone train, he [held his hands on his forehead]?? (兩手抱在額前) and rocked his entire body left and right with a rhythm as if he was sparring the practitioner. Li Zhong Xuan asked him, “Teacher, what are you doing?” Shang Yun Xiang answered, “Practicing the bear form!” Xingyi has twelve forms based on the [essence of the forms/movements] (象形取意) of the animals. The forms are very simplistic, each form has only one or two movements. Besides the twelve forms, there is an additional form called the ["Bear-eagle combination form."] (熊鷹合形). All Xingyi movements originated from this form, but it’s often the last thing to be taught. Usually the teacher would only say to link the [prone and supine] (一俯一仰, basically movements related to bending forward and leaning back, the Chinese original is very vague as to the extent) movements of ["Eagles dive and bears stand upright"] (老鷹俯衝,狗熊人立) together. Individual teachers would have their own bear form and eagle form and the forms would differ somewhat from the combined form. Li Zhong Xuan asked, “This is also a bear form?” Shang Yun Xiang smiled and said, “My bear form is unique. It’s like a bear leaning its back against a tree to scratch an itch.” Shang Yun Xiang saw the confused look on Li Zhong Xuan’s face, then said, “Don’t you like to fajin? Only when your kung fu has reached your back can you execute real fajin. When someone [sneakily]?? attacks a bear, the bear can just shake his whole body as if scratching an itch and knock the opponent away (knock down).” Just like Tang Wei Lu, Shang Yun Xiang could also spend a whole day just strolling around, but he prefers bustling, flourishing areas. Li Zhong Xuan told Shang Yun Xiang that, “Teacher Tang prefers to go where there are trees and grass.” Shang Yun Xiang said, “I have my own reasons.” There are many people on the street and everyone walks in a different direction. It’s great for training to [pay attention to your surroundings] (眼觀六路). Furthermore, once your field of view is enlarged, your mindset will correspondingly open up. After Shang Yun Xiang walks around a busy market, he feels relaxed instead.
Shang Yun Xiang became fairly famous by the time he was [old] (晚年). He had many challengers and visitors and often could not even get a good afternoon nap. One time Li Zhong Xuang went out with Shang Yun Xiang for some errands and saw two three-year olds fighting/squabbling along the way. Shang Yun Xiang stopped and looked for a long time, even squatted down to play with the kids. After Li Zhong Xuan urged him to not waste time, Shang Yun Xiang stood up and said, “I’ve trained for my whole life and I cannot compare with these two children.” Li Zhong Xuan was really baffled by the comment. On the way home after finishing the errand, Shang Yun Xiang said, “The ancients said that martial artists bring misfortune. It is too easy for them to be involved in conflicts. It is better to not learn any martial art. Even if you learned it, it’s better to not be famous your whole life. The more famous you get, the more trouble you have. When a child wants to fight. They just fight and there are no consequences. Isn’t that something to long for?” He patted Li Zhong Xuan and said, “Looks like martial art must be trained at night so no one else will know.”
The Shang style Xingyi that I know (this is from the perspective of the transcriber/author) pt 2
I am not in the martial art community so I do not have very broad knowledge of other martial arts, therefore I cannot contrast and extrapolate what makes Shang style different from other styles of Xingyi.  I can only provide information regarding the martial method of Shang Yun Xiang.
In 1987 I bought the ["Illustrated Canon of Xingyi Five Elements"] (形意五行拳圖), published by [Zhong Hua Books] (中華書店).  It was also the same year I started learning Xingyi.  At the time I was only a middle schooler.  My martial art teacher was called Li Zhong Xuan.  He was already 71 and he knew pressure point striking and massaging.  I had asked whether teacher Li trained [Wudang] (武當) or [Shaolin] (少林) styles and he said “The Xingyi of Shang Yun Xiang.”  Teacher Li watched a store in [Xidan] (西單) every night, so he brought me over and taught me martial art in the empty lot of an appliance store.  Training don’t often take place during daytime and only on Sunday noon times at [Yiwu] (宜武) park.  In reality he rarely taught me anything new when we met, mainly he just watched me train.  I would sometimes [feel wronged] (賭氣) and said “If you don’t teach me, what’s the difference between this and practicing at home by myself?”  He always smiled without answering.  He later told me that the young people then were more frail than those in his generation.  Their bones were not yet solidified at 16, so it was better not to train too hard or the body may be hurt.  He said that, “Those that train [Tongzi Kung] (童子功) at 7 or 8 are training for Chinese opera.”

Teacher Li said when he was a teenager he liked (singing) Chinese opera the most, followed by martial art training.  At the time his home was located in Ninghe and he had hired a martial art teacher to teach in the ancestral shrine.  One time after training he felt completely refreshed and started singing Beijing opera out of sheer joy.  He was reprimanded harshly by the teacher.  The teacher said that one should not even talk after martial training, as otherwise [vital essence] (元氣) would gush out and the person would grow weaker and die early, let alone sing.  The martial teacher’s name is Tang Wei Lu.  When Xue Dian (薛顛) first became head of the martial art academy (likely the Nanking Central Kuoshu Academy), there were some challengers that he couldn’t face himself due to him having to [give face/respect to his seniors]?? (輩份情面) so Tang Wei Lu fought in his place a few times.  Tang Wei Lu was famous for his leg skills and Shang Yun Xiang was the person he respected the most.  The Beng quan (崩拳) passed down by Shang Yun Xiang has a jumping movement similar to the Dragon form (龍形).  One time when Tang Wei Lu and Shang Yun Xiang went to watch Chinese opera and were somewhat late, they chose to traverse the empty alleys so they could use their leg skills.  Tang Wei Lu was tall and had long legs, he [walked speedily] (疾走, maybe he was running) and ended up with a lead.  Shang Yun Xiang was short and fat and had fallen behind a few steps, but he caught up with a leap from a Beng quan.  Tang Wei Lu had received a medical prescription from Li Cun Yi called ["Five Element Paste"] (五行膏), used for after suffering life-threatening injuries from duels.  There were few within the Xingyi Gate (形意門, refers to the school/lineage of Xingyi) that received this prescription.  Tang Wei Lu had passed the prescription to Li Zhong Xuan and let Li Zhong Xuan [inherit his entire teaching] (受了自己的全部傳承).  However, Tang Wei Lu considered himself to be just a no-name rural martial artist, and in order to further his disciple’s development, he asked Shang Yun Xiang to accept him as a disciple.  At the time Shang Yun Xiang was already advanced in age, his disciples already had disciples and his lineage has already spanned two-three generations, while Li Zhong Xuan was not even twenty.  With regard to Tang Wei Lu’s request, Shang Yun Xiang said that he could accept Li Zhong Xuan as a disciple, but Li Zhong Xuan must not accept disciples in the future, as otherwise the [seniority] (年齡與輩份) in his gate/lineage will be in disorder.

Teacher Li Zhong Xuan (author has switched to his perspective) did not train with Shang Yun Xiang for a long time, just intermittently for two years.  According to him, [prior to achieving adequate skills] (拳術未成時, adequate here may actually mean mastery because Chinese traditionally value modesty), he went to Shanghai to look for a job and had been very busy.  After Shang Yun Xiang passed away, he gradually lost contact with the martial community.  He told me that the reason he taught me martial art was because he felt my passion for martial art would not last long, so he might as well try it for a bit.  As I recall, he was really dispirited and lonely in his old age.  He probably just wanted to find some joy in life by teaching a child.

The Xingyi book I bought, “Illustrated Canon of Xingyi Five Elements” was written by [Jin Yun Ting] (靳雲亭), who was also Shang Yun Xiang’s student.  However, the [frame] (拳架) of teacher Li’s movements differ greatly from the postures shown in the book.  It primarily lacked Jin Yun Ting’s [left-right expanding] (左右撐開) and [top-down wrapping]?? (上下兜裹) [Heng jin] (橫勁).  Teacher Li said originally Tang Wei Lu also taught this type of Heng jin.  Tang Wei Lu once said, “If you’re competing in arm-banging against another person, and you turn your arm when he strikes straight, he would cry out in pain.”  This corresponds to the principles of physics, because this is no longer a collision.  It’s a parabolic strike against the opponent’s arm.  Once you’re capable of using this parabolic curve, the whole body is a fist.  This parabolic curve that covers the entire body is Xingyi’s Heng jin.  Regarding this point, Jin Yun Ting’s photos are textbook examples.  An experienced person can tell he has kung fu by a simple glance.  Of the five elements, [Heng quan] (橫拳) is the hardest one to learn.  Tang Wei Lu had Li Zhong Xuan try to grasp the feel of it by practicing Zuan quan (鑽拳) and the [snake form] (蛇形) and Li Zhong Xuan was gradually able to perform Heng quan.  It in turn led to understanding of Xingyi’s close-range shoulder, hip, elbow, and knee strikes.  Afterwards when learning the twelve (animal) forms, the essence of the forms can be understood without instructions.  Learning of high-level martial arts must follow orders, these sequences are the path to [developing new knowledge based on existing knowledge] (一通百通).  According to Tang Wei Lu, Xue Dian normally trains the [monkey form] (猴形), he can change his movements at an unbelievable level.  He could interchange [fighting methods] (打法) for hands, feet, shoulders, and hips.  This incredible skill could only be obtained after thoroughly mastering Heng jin.  From this one could see that Heng jin is the foundation for delving deeply into the Xingyi system, as stated in the Xingyi classic, “Five elements are the mother of Xingyi and Heng is the mother of the five elements.”

When teacher Li started learning from Shang Yun Xiang, the first thing Shang Yun Xiang made him change was the Heng jin in his body.  He had to [limit] (收斂, I guess to make more subtle) the amount of [expansion and wrapping]?? (撐兜滾裹, this requires better Xingyi understanding to translate properly) and just trained simple back and forth stepping and extension and retraction of the hands.  Further, he had to turn his ankles awkwardly open by 180 degrees, which felt as if being stuffed in a pocket, impossible to exert jin in any part of the body.  If he tries to use jin he would end up falling, let alone standing upright with a straight back.  After training with Shang Yun Xiang for a while, his whole body felt awkward and every movement became difficult, like a kid having to relearn how to walk.  Gradually his walking posture changed to become very soft and lazy, very much like Shang Yun Xiang.  At this point, [training the forms]?? (行拳) felt very empty, loose and natural.  This difference between the frame taught by teacher Li and the Illustrated Canon of Xingyi Five Elements may be due to Shang Yun Xiang emphasizing different aspects of training based on the individual student’s foundations.

At the time the five elements and twelve forms of Xing are all published and openly taught in martial art studios.  What is individually taught in secret is the Bear-eagle combination form, which is said to be the most ancient posture of Xingyi, and even the five elements arose out of it.  Tang Wei Lu had taught it to Li Zhong Xuan before as a [joint-locking] (擒拿) movement where the two hands move over large distances, but Li Zhong Xuan practiced it for a long time without fully understanding it.  As such Shang Yun Xiang decided to teach it to Li Zhong Xuan, but soon as he demonstrated it Li Zhong Xuan noticed it was no different from Pi quan.  Shang Yun Xiang explained, “Pi quan is about rising and falling.  Using the trunk of the body to execute Pi quan is doing the Bear-eagle combination form.”  He then proceeded to walk a lap in the courtyard with his hands down at his sides without any obvious rising and falling.  Shang Yun Xiang then said, “You not only have to use the trunk of the body, you have to use the insides of the trunk to do Pi quan.”  Teacher Li reminisced his past training and had the deepest impression for the statement by Shang Yun Xiang, “Train kung, don’t train fists.”?? (要練功,不要練拳).  When Li Zhong Xuan was saying goodbye to Shang Yun Xiang prior to looking for a job in Shanghai, he told Shang Yun Xiang that he might not have time to train anymore once it gets busy, and training in a crowded area would be very inconvenient.  Shang Yun Xiang advised to him, “You must learn to train in your head, so when you gesticulate a bit when you’re free, you will still develop kung fu.”

Teacher Li worked as a night security guard for a shop in Xidan in his later years.  In the winter of 1998, because the coal furnace in the shop was leaking, he was poisoned by the gas.  At one point he was completely paralyzed and was unable to speak, and he was diagnosed with cerebral atrophy.  He was sent back to the old house at [Mentougou] (門頭溝) to await death.  However, after fourth months he was able to leave the bed and walk, and his speech and mind became clear again, though his constitution was obviously weakened.  It was still a miracle for a 72 year-old man to have such recovery ability.  Teacher Li said he had to thank his [masters] (師父) Shang Yun Xiang and Tang Wei Lu for giving him such a strong physical foundation when he was young.  I went to see teacher Li as soon as he was able to leave his bed.  He told me that though Shang Yun Xiang never showed his [sword skills] (劍法) outside, he was actually well-versed in it.  Sometimes he used the sword to teach bare-hand movements, because if you get stuck (mentally) in your bare-hand training, you cannot continue beyond a certain point.  Shang Yun Xiang would then let the student find understanding through the [sword methods] (劍法).  To illustrate this point, teacher Li stood by supporting himself against the table and had me attempt to stab him with a chopstick.  No matter what direction I used to thrust at him, he was always able to tap my wrist with the chopstick in his hand.  As it went on I forgot he was a patient and thrust faster and faster, but regardless of my speed he was still able to strike my wrist while moving at slow speeds.  I asked him how he was able to defeat fast movements with slow movements and he explained it was achieved by following the Xingyi principle to [take the center gate/road] (走中門、佔中路).

I only learned martial art from teacher Li for a year and had not even finished learning the twelve forms.  Later, as he predicted, my passion for martial art dwindled and I used job training as an excuse and neglected it.  I am trying my best to introduce Shang Yun Xiang’s teaching methods, though it is only bits and pieces of Shang style Xingyi.  Teacher Li is 85 today and may pass away at any time.  I wish he would take on a real martial art student and retain a piece of the martial heritage that is Shang style Xingyi.   Found: HERE

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