Jiang Rong Qiao's Nei Jia Kung Fu
A: A common thread has emerged in the teachings of Zou Shuxian and Cheng Jie Feng with the Wu style teachings of Ma Yueh Liang. Even though they are intended to be internal styles, the nature of Pa Kua and Hsing I are such that it is possible to perform them as external martial arts. That is, it is possible to place less of an emphasis on the characteristics of internal martial arts and still be at least somewhat effective with Pa Kua and Hsing I. This approach simply will not be effective with T'ai C'hi Ch'uan. (This is why some T'ai Chi masters have said that Pa Kua and Hsing I are external arts... or at least not completely internal martial arts.) Yet to make any of these internal arts into external arts - or even to give them external aspects - discards their fundamental properties and makes them into something else - something that is far more limited. The Jiang Rong Qiao system provides a path to develop the internal martial arts of Hsing I Ch'uan (Xingyiquan) and Pa Kua Chang (Baguazhang) without violating the same internal principles that are central to T'ai Chi. (Not everyone will follow this path.)
Q: Why this style of Pa Kua and Hsing I instead of other styles?
On "internal" practice in Hsing I Ch'uan
Q: You state in your article "Introduction to Xingyiquan or Hsing-I Chuan" that Hsing-I uses softness. As far as martial arts are concerned, I define softness as using an opponent's force against himself. The five elemental fists seem to be just force against force: using a punch to block force. Is my understanding incorrect? If so, what do the five elemental fists do if not to use a punch to block force? In other words, to use force against force?
A: Nei Jia Kung Fu, which generally includes Pa Kua and T'ai Chi as well as Hsing I, are different from other martial arts in that they train the body to react with lightness and precision. The lightness is often the outer shell of a steel like hardness within. In the beginning, Hsing I is usually trained using more hardness and the fists are seen as only fists meeting other forms of aggression. The learning progress continues through the exploring use of techniques and subtle angles that allow an opponent's force to be used against them. This is called the obvious stage of training. This obvious stage should not be dismissed because of the name "obvious" since it takes a great deal of time and diligence to master. The second stage, known as the hidden power stage, builds on the obvious foundation and begins to employ more sophistication in application. At this stage, a punch doesn't only just block a punch with brute force. The punch can be intercepted with a movement that appears to have the form of a punch but it employs softness on the outside and lightness in the interception movement. The opponent cannot fully sense what the defender is doing and is often a bit confused. The opponent is often deceived by a Hsing I player employing something hidden that cannot be detected on the surface. The movement appears to be the same shape or form the beginner used in the obvious stage, but by progressing to using softness and lightness there is something more. That is why training the Hsing I forms slowly and focusing on the "soft aspect" or hidden at some point (if not in the beginning) is so crucial for development. For example, Beng Chuan is usually perceived as a straight blow to the midsection but the other retreating hand is drawn back to waist. For the Hsing I practitioner employing softness, this retreating hand can be used to pull the opponent off balance powerfully. This is especially true if it is drawn directly back to waist with precision and exactness.
When the practitioner begins to understand the value of softness in practice, then they are able to enter the transformational stage of practice. This stage places the practitioner at a level at which they no longer rely on any force whatsoever. Instead, these high level Hsing I masters can use soft relaxed structure and will to overcome all forms of aggression. This doesn't mean they are a doormat, or a new age flower employing wimpy movements and hoping for some magic blow that will take the other guy off their feet. Definitely not. This stage requires that the practitioner has spent years understanding the hardness and shape or form of what they're doing, and now because of their training and their ability to use lightness to breakdown incoming force. Instead of applying brute force, they are able to commit to lightness. They don't need to rely on opportunities to employ this technique or that one. Instead, they flow with whatever is given and use it immediately without reservation. By moving in this way, lightly and with focus, the Hsing I master breaks down the opponent's will as well as their shape to deal with aggression.
I've met and studied Nei Jia Arts with many people from all over the world who have reached a level of transformation. According to them, it is this model (or ones similar) which separate the Internal Arts from the External. All the Nei Jia Arts are designed to eventually move the practice towards a level of softness and sophistication. It is sad to see that this approach to Hsing-I is not usually the one that is taught.
Q: Should I consider the mother eight palms as primarily a Qigong form that is practiced or should I look at it in terms of martial applications as well. Where the old eight palms have distinct "applications" the "fixed" position does not outwardly lend themselves to applications if taken within the context of circle walking. Of course, if we remove them from the circle and examine each position by itself or in direct conjunction with another palm we can begin to formulate applications.
For example, when performed as a circle walking exercise the focus might be Qigong and physical development including posture and form. When we take it out of the circling walking and begin to examine the "Heaven Palm" and the "Thunder Palm" we might investigate the interaction of these two palms as technique X or technique Y.
If we further break down the positions as being a balance of yin and yang (in regards to working both sides) we equally need to investigate the palm positions as a working pair as well as the specific hand positions for the right and left hand and how they can be combined with the other gua. The yin and yang concept in conjunction with the gua makes us understand the quantity of permutations possible.
Given this basic approach, from the Mother Eight Palms we can explore "Large elbow wrap" from Dr. Yang's Analysis of Shaolin Chin Na as a transition from "Yang Palm" to "Fu Palm" with appropriate footwork using a splitting expression of energy. In a similar approach the "Yang palm" or "Shu palm" with the appropriate footwork from Bagua can explore the cutting throw from Liang's Chinese Fast Wrestling. An arm break or an upward press against the elbow might be examined as a use of the "Yang Palm" or "Loushan Palm" with drilling energy. Various "Holding the waist" throws from Liang's book can be explored as applications of the "Thunder Palm" form in isolation or in conjunction with the other palms.
In a similar fashion to the Hsing-I five elements, the forms provide fixed models for the basic hand positions (palms) used in the various techniques; provide training drills for strengthening the upper body, lower body and spine; provide general health benefits based on the forms ability to remove obstructions in the meridians. The Old Eight Palms provide distinct examples and combinations which can be explored at ones leisure.
A.: The Bagua Chi Kung is similar to the Mother Palms but is a separate gig. Some of the techniques of the Mother Palms are in the Chi Kung, but the Chi Kung incorporates more standing, some fa jing training, parts of the old eight palms, and one set of steps not included in the other practices. Each palm has standing method and a moving method(s). These moving methods are from a fixed position (Mostly Horse Stance -- except Mountain which is in an empty stance or on one leg) except the Earth palm gong. Some of the palms practice fa jing -- especially wind palm gong. The Earth Palm Gong, uses a yin yang stepping method that's quite fascinating. You can perceive of the Mother palms, Old Eight Palms, Leg Form, Sword, Axes, etc. as chi kung. The Old Eight Palms as well as the leg form were designed to advance both the polar and cyclic concepts, and move the practice of Baguazhang to 64 methods (at least) from the eight. In other words from Trigrams to Hexagrams. This is especially true in the leg form, sword, axe, and rou shou. However, everything you practice even with others should be Chi Kung. (e.g. It develops life force or breath and energy training through acquired skill and talent.) Your other thoughts on application, combinations, are absolutely appropriate -- you've been bitten by the endless, and never ending bug of Baguazhang -- that's not a bad thing, and welcome to the club.
Q: I have a technique related question. I was once again, re-watching the Xingyi Mother Fists series and the way you perform the pao quan fist differs slightly than the way it is described in the Mother Fists text by Jiang Rong Jiao. I am not concerned about the fact that there is a difference, but more about the theory & application of it. The difference that I am making refernce to is that (say for a right fist, as you perform it) the left comes up straight along the side of the head and the heart of the fist faces toward the left ear as the right fist shoots out. However, as Jiang Rong Jiao perfoms it and describes it, the left fist comes up (slightly higher?) and then turns so that the heart faces outwards in front of the forehead and the right fist shoots out. And of course the corresponding vice versa for the left fist as well. I am very interested in the theory and appllication behind this difference.
A: Actually on the first Xingyi series I did I turned the fist out as Jiang describes in his book. However, as I studied more with my teachers, I noticed more and more that they didn't turn the fist out at all times. When I learned the fist drills with the Fire Fist, I began to see that the fist wasn't turned out whatsoever. In clarifying my questions, I was told that as Jiang went on in his practice and before his passing he both altered and varied
particulars in his practice. He did this because as time went by he began to relax more within, and minimalize what he was doing for efficiency and immediacy. You got to take into consideration that the book was written by Jiang in 1929 when he was 39 years old, and he passed on in 1974--a span of 45 years.
This is not a unique approach. Sun Lutang did similar things. Like Sun, Jiang began straightening his fingers up when doing Pi Quan and not turning the fist back in Pao Quan. Furthermore, Jiang varied his Beng Quan with four types, and stepped into the center to do Heng Quan. By doing Heng Quan in this way, he actually curved the footwork with an arch more profoundly. This was what I have been able to verify with three different teachers of Jiang's school, including Zou Shuxian, Jiang's daughter.
I like these kinds of questions. They give me the opportunity to reflect on my practice and help me grow as well.