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Fundamental Moving Patterns of Xingyiquan

by Liang, Shou-Yu, Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming, December 6, 2010

We will begin this discussion by introducing the most basic stationary posture of Xingyiquan, the three body posture (San Ti Shi). This posture is also commonly called the three power posture (San Cai Shi) or Taiji posture (Taiji Shi). The main purpose of this stationary stance is to build up your physical strength and to train beginners in correct standing posture.

It helps the beginner to understand the basic requirements of Xingyiquan, such as the three external unifications and the three internal unifications. This posture is also used for bringing the mind into a peaceful, calm, and natural state. Only when you feel natural and comfortable in this stance will you be able to move smoothly and naturally.

Five Fists—Wu Quan

After you feel comfortable in the three body posture, you should then learn the five basic movements. Since they correspond to the Five Phases (Wu Xing), they are therefore called "Wu Xing" or "five phases movements." They are also commonly called "Wu Quan,” which means "the five fists." These five fists are Pi Quan, Zuan Quan, Beng Quan, Pao Quan, and Heng Quan.

Each fist is related to the Qi circulation in one of the five viscera. Qi is Yin in comparison to the physical body, which is Yang. When Yin is smooth, the Yang will be strong and healthy. Yin is the foundation of Yang, and Yang is the manifestation of Yin.

Training these five basic movements teaches the beginner how to unify the internal Qi and the external physical movements. Before learning these movements, you should first learn these important points and precautions:

  1. The best time to practice Xingyiquan is at dawn when the environmental and bodily Qi is changing from Yin to Yang.
  2. One hour of practice each time is adequate; longer than one hour and you will lose your concentration and the feeling for the exercises. In addition, you will become tired and will start to lose the coordination between your body and mind.
  3. Do not practice right after a meal. Instead, wait a few hours.
  4. Do not practice when you are hungry.
  5. Practice five minutes and rest for five minutes until the body and the mind return to their original state. When you rest, do not sit down. Simply walk around slowly.
  6. Right after practice, do not expose your body to the wind. You may catch cold.
  7. The air should be fresh and circulating in the practice area.
  8. Do not practice right after drinking alcohol. Do not smoke or eat during the practice session.
  9. Do not practice when you are upset, because your mind will be disturbed and Qi circulation will not be smooth.

The Three Body Postures (San Ti Shi)

Refer to the four figures for The Three Body Posture (San Ti Shi). You should train standing in this posture for at least ten minutes to half-an-hour each time. This is necessary to build up the strength of your legs and arms so that the posture can be natural and comfortable, and also to train your mind to be calm and peaceful and unified with the posture.

Fundamental Moving Patterns of Xingyiquan
  1. Stand straight with your arms dropped naturally to your sides, look forward, and keep your mind in the Wuji state. Your tongue should touch the roof of your mouth (Figure 1).
  2. Keep the left foot in place and turn your whole body and right foot 45 degrees to the right (Figure 2).
  3. Raise both arms to the level of your chest, with the right hand on top of the left hand, and bend your knees slightly. The right index finger is lined up with the left middle finger (Figure 3).
  4. Push your left hand upward and forward as you bring the right hand down to your abdomen, bending your wrists so that the fingers point up, and at the same time step forward with your left leg (Figure 4). The fingers are open, the back of the hands are round, and the tiger mouths (Hu Kou) (space between thumb and index finger) are also round. The hands, the front foot, and the nose should line up. The eyes are concentrating and staring forward, and the Qi is sunk. Your weight is 60 percent on the rear leg. Having one hand touch your abdomen in front of the Dan Tian helps you to focus and accumulate your Qi there.

Pi Quan

Pi in Chinese has the meaning of splitting, rending, or cleaving. However, none of these words expresses the actual meaning (action and feeling) completely. Some of these words lack the feeling of the actual action (attacking), while others miss the feeling of tearing apart. When doing Pi, the front hand is formed like an ax and chops down on something. However, in the actual movement, the chopping force is not exactly downward; instead, it is forward and downward. While the front hand is making this motion, the rear hand is drawing in to the abdomen. This gives the feeling of using both hands to rend or tear something apart.

When you make the Pi movement, and, in fact, when you do any of the five movements, one hand pulls in to the abdomen. This balances the physical movement of the other arm, but it also helps you to draw Qi into your Lower Dan Tian and accumulate it there. Since it causes you to continually pay attention to your Lower Dan Tian, it also helps you to make all of your movements start from it, and draw their energy from it.

Pi and each of the other four fists are different patterns of movement for expressing Jin, instead of a specific action. Pi can be any one of several movements, but it must always have its characteristic pattern or feeling through which the Jin is manifested.

Pi Quan Movement

Pi Quan belongs to Metal and is the rising and falling of "One Qi." Pi, because the movement of its hand is like an ax chopping, therefore, belongs to Metal in the theory of the Five Phases. Its shape is like an ax, and belongs to the lungs in the body and (manifests) in the fist as Pi (chopping). (When) its Jin is smooth, the lungs' Qi will be harmonious, and (if) the Jin is incorrect, then the lungs' Qi will be weird. A man is mastered with Qi, and when Qi is harmonious, then the body is strong, and when Qi is weird, then the body is weak. Therefore, Pi Quan is used as the first (training) in Xingyiquan, it is considering that Yang Qi (nourishing Qi) is the most important.

Pi Quan corresponds to the lungs in the Five Phases and therefore belongs to Metal. When Metal is cold, it is able to cool down the Fire Qi, and when it is hot, it is able to raise up the Qi. When you perform Pi Quan, your hand is like an ax which is chopping down on something. From the Qigong point of view, the movement of Pi Quan is able to expand and compress the lungs. Therefore, when Pi Quan is performed smoothly both internally (i.e., Qi) and externally (movements), the lung Qi will be smooth. In this case, you will be able to absorb the oxygen (air essence) and convert it into Qi to nourish your body.

Pi Quan – Shape of an Ax

The shape of Pi Quan is like an ax and belongs to Metal in the Five Phases. Therefore it is the leader of the Five Phases. When it is applied to the theory of mutual production, Pi Quan is able to produce Zuan Quan, (because) Metal is able to produce Water. When it is applied in the theory of mutual conquest, Pi Quan is able to conquer Beng Quan, (because) Metal is able to conquer Wood. If we discuss how it is hidden in the Five Phases, the lungs belong to Metal and when it is manifested externally, the nose is connected to the lungs. This is the theory of mutual production and conquest in the Five Phases, and it is also the theory of Pi Quan. Therefore, in Xingyiquan, Pi Quan is used as the first for those who begin to learn.

Metal is the first of the Five Phases. Therefore, Pi Quan is also considered the most basic and most important of the Five Fists. As a Xingyiquan beginner, you should first practice how to regulate your lungs. Only when the lungs can inhale and exhale smoothly and the lung Qi can circulate smoothly can the other four Jins be effectively manifested. Correct breathing is one of the most important keys in Qigong training.

Liang, Shou-Yu was born on June 28, 1943 in the city of Chongqian, Sichuan Province, China. When he was six he began his training in Qigong, the art of breathing and internal energy control, under the tutelage of his renowned grandfather, the late Liang, Zhi-Xiang. Mr. Liang was taught the esoteric skills of the Emei Mountain sect, including Da Peng Qigong. When he was eight, his grandfather made special arrangements for him to begin training Emei Wushu (martial arts).

Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming, is a renowned author and teacher of Chinese martial arts and Qigong. Born in Taiwan, he has trained and taught Taijiquan, Qigong and Chinese martial arts for over forty-five years. He is the author of over thirty books, and was elected by Inside Kung Fu magazine as one of the 10 people who has "made the greatest impact on martial arts in the past 100 years." Dr. Yang lives in Northern California.


I am very disturbed and disapointed by this post. I was coming here looking for info on traditional Xinyquan, but according to this article, if your at a party, a restaurant, or a bar, where most fights break out, and you been drinking, or you ate a big meal and are attacked, you cannot fight. :s I have been taught to practice after eating, while drunk, high, when you first wake up, whatever inebriation might be possible, just so we know we can defend ourselves no matter what the situation. You train how you fight, and you fight how you train. We are also taught, to have proficient power, it is necessary to be able to stand in San Ti Shi for at least 1 hour. so does that mean if you practice standing stake you cant practice Xinyi?
taiji1983 – July 3, 2011, 11:12 pm
I suppose if you're drunk and have a full belly all the time, then you need to train like that...otherwise, maybe it's better to follow a healthier lifestyle while training, which I think was the original point.
Anonymous – July 4, 2011, 8:35 pm
well the point is not that. I rarely drink or do drugs, but I eat ever day. You never know when something is going to happen. You train how you fight. If your not ready to fight in that situation then your out of luck when you have to. If your point in xinyiquan is purely for health, you picked the wrong martial art. Xinyiquan is to kill. It didnt get popular in China because a lot of students would be killed, or kill thier masters during training. The point is if the enemy doesnt die from your strikes, than you truly have not mastered Xinyiquan.
taiji1983 – July 6, 2011, 2:54 am
You are thinking with a child's simple mind. The aphorism "You train how you fight, and you fight how you train" is not intended to be taken as literal dogma. It is simply an easy to remember (mnemonic) phrase pointing to a good idea that you should keep in mind as you train. But stop and think about it for a moment; why practice forms? Why work heavy bags? Surely you realize that there are many important and necessary differences between training and an actual real-world fight? If I want to fight with a calm mind and determination to give 100%, then I should train with a calm mind and a determination to give 100%. It doesn't mean I should react to an actual attack by slowly and carefully warming up for 30 minutes! When introducing Taijiquan to a new group of students I always joke about how it takes many years of dedicated practice to effectively employ Taijiquan as a fighting technique, by claiming that I could kick the ass of anyone in a rowdy biker bar- as long as they move really, really slowly! Until you've conquered your own monkey-mind, obsessing about how to conquer fantasized enemies at a party is a waste of spirit.
Scott Stroot – July 8, 2011, 9:19 pm
The article talks about "pracicing" the martial arts. If you slam a few beers before every training session in the long run it will affect your performance. It is not meant to say that you cannot fight when you've had a few drinks or after you ahve eaten. the training and the chi development are the issues.
Jason – July 25, 2011, 5:14 am
All the article is talking about is the traditional way of training Internal Martial Arts. Read any book by any of the masters from the past and you will get the same 9 important points and precautions.

As for santi shi, again “Traditionally” you stood in Santi Shi 1 to 2 hours a day and there are many today that will still tell you if you do not at least stand in Santi 20 minutes per side per day (total 40 minutes) you are not a beginner yet. However the reality of the 21st century is that we do not generally have 1 to 2 hours a day to stand in Santi shi. If you stand 30 minutes it is better than 20 and 20 is better than 10 and 10 is better than 5 and 5 is better than 2 and 2 minutes is better than nothing.

The basis of Xingyiquan is Santi shi and without it you are not doing Xingyiquan. However different styles (Shanxi, Hebei, Henan) put different emphasis on Santi as to importance and also do Santi slightly different.

As to being able to fight no matter what your condition I would agree. However I do not think I would train when I was inebriated or my ability was impaired or when I was Ill. However I have been told that they train when sick in Systema so what do I know

And lastly I like the article, thanks for posting it
Didge – August 18, 2011, 10:30 am
Xingyiquan is one of the best for chi and martial development. Take a look at Wang Shu Jin. His main arts were xingyi and bagua. He was overweight, but undefeated. He was challenged often, so my opinion is that san ti trains the mind to always be on guard. You have to integrate the mind with the stance. So you stand there in san ti and the mind wanders. Then someone reaches for you to say hello as you are practicing your posture and your hand is already raised to meet their hand. I think this is the idea. Traing the hand to automatically be on guard as well as the mind to be more observant. I would not want to give up my xingyi training for any other martial art. It has made me stronger and more alert to my environment. It should be trained along with other martial arts as a base art indefinitely. People these days are computer oriented and don't want to put in the work. They just want to click the mouse and there it is. Life is not this way. All of these statements are my opinion, but these ideas that come from traditional martial arts have worked for me in sparring against even mixed martial arts.
knight – October 15, 2011, 10:54 am
I liked that, I had not thought about santi shi that way but I do agree.

And for the record, I'm not giving up Xingyiquan either :)

Didge – November 7, 2011, 12:08 pm

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