Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Xingyi Quan - Shang Yun-Xiang Style Xingyi Quan - Book Review

Shang Yun-Xiang Style Xingyiquan: The Foundations and Subtleties of Xingyiquan Training by Li Wen-Bin, translated by Lu Mei-Hui, is one of the few books in English on some of the deeper points of theory, practice and usage of Xingyi Quan (shape and mind boxing) Kung Fu available today. Shang Yun-Xiang was a student of famed master Li Cun Yi and founder of the Shang school of Xingyi Quan. His indoor students, Li Wen-Bin, Shang’s daughter Shang Zhi-Rong and Li’s son, Li Hong, have produced a very interesting book that lives up to its title “The Foundations and Subtleties of Xingyi Quan Training” by touching on, and adding depth too, a number of theoretical and practical areas of Xingyi practice. 

The opening section is about the history of Xingyi Quan and the meaning of the Xingyi Quan “classics” for the modern practitioner. An excellent high level overview of the history of Xingyi is included without the usual silliness about General Yue Fe, caves and lost scrolls. Perpetuating mythology is okay but it needs to be labeled as such, the facts are loose enough surrounding the origins and the players involved in the formation of Xingyi that increasing the confusion by adding mythological or non-related historical figures does not add to the art, or our understanding of it, in any way. By understanding the context and time these “classics” were written in and how and why their meaning has changed as Xingyi has matured and why they are still relevant are all addressed. The discussion of the Xingyi classics, their permutations over the centuries and their roll in modern Xingyi Quan alone is worth the price of the book.
The next section focuses on the stance requirements of the Shang Style. Shang style Xingyi Quan is a type of Hebei Xingyi Quan and, at a high level, uses many of the same training methods and requirements as other Hebei schools. The fascinating thing about this book is its discussion of the details specific to the Shang style discussed by high level, indoor, Shang style practitioners. Discussions of standing, weight distribution, hand position, internal power and their relation to the classics within the context of the Shang style are all touched on.
There are also a number of special topics or sections that may be of use to anyone practicing Hebei Xingyi Quan, a Li Cun Yi or Shang Yun-Xiang style, by discussing a number of variations of the five fists, weapons, Tuo Xing and Tai Xing from the Twelve Animals and San Ti Shi – Three Harmonies Postures to name a few.  The last third of the book covers the Wu Xing Quan (5 Elements Fist) and the Xingyi weapons, these sections provide less depth and detail and focus more on the forms illustrated in the book. This is where, if any where, this book falls short. I am not a fan of reproducing forms via pictures in books. That was useful in the 80’s and 90’s but I logged onto You Tube and in about five minutes I was watching Ms. Shang demonstrate the Wu Xing making the pictures less useful or necessary.
This is not a book for someone looking for a high level or general overview of Chinese Internal Martial Arts or Kung Fu. This book is targeted at an audience who has some connection, be it practical or academic, to Xingyi Quan in particular or Internal Martial Arts in general. That being said, this book is well worth the price, go buy it. 

Owen Schilling is a 20 year practitioner and teacher of Xingyi Quan, Bagua Zhang and Tai Chi Quan, a lineage holder in the Yi Zong School and the lead instructor at Boulder Internal Arts in Boulder, CO.

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