I got the following question from a very experienced and intelligent reader, who after going over all my stuff, has recently been inspired to delve into Xingyi training:
Q: [From reading your books and blog and videos] I'm beginning to realize that I need to learn Xingyi, which will be very interesting after many years (on and off, mainly off) of Yiquan, given than Yiquan evolved from Xingyi, no? From what I've learned of Yiquan I can recognize similarities, e.g. in Zhan Zhuang, Shili, and Mocabu, in both, though Xingyi seems to have more attention to detail from what I can see, which I have to admit
does appeal to my rational mind. Do you know of any Xingyi teachers in [my area]?
A: Thank you for interesting and excellent 'trigger' question, offering this meat for me to riff on what might be a surprising answer. But the preface is that of course everybody should learn everything about anything, learn as much as we can in our very brief possession of a human body. So I hope you won't be freaked out by my possibly surprising answer about starting up a Xingyi training program. This is NOT 'the' answer, this is 'my' (weirdo) answer.
First of all, there are many great Xingyi teachers everywhere now. Unlike when I began the art there are fine teachers in every major USA metro area, no problem with searching those out. But here's the thing: clarify your goals before beginning any such program. Once you find a teacher and a school you'll be drawn into their program (NOT a bad thing, but stick with me here). You'll be interacting with the teacher, you'll meet your new classmates, you'll go to a studio of some kind, there'll be weapons on the wall, maybe a uniform or at least a t-shirt :)
You'll start to learn lots of new stances, movements, drill, techniques, two-man patterns, maybe use some kind of equipment like pads or bags or mitts or dummies could be almost anything these days. You'll learn Five Fists and Twelve (or more!) Animals and also linking forms, maybe warmups and stretching or supplemental conditioning calisthenics, probably some additional Qi Gong and breathwork will be thrown into the mix. You'll also be making friends, getting together after class, maybe organizing demonstrations for events or helping your teacher make videos, etc.
There is totally absolutely nothing wrong with all the above! In fact, it's good. The more learning the better. The only reason I'm making a thing out of this is to ask you to clarify your goals before beginning. Because you have asked me me me this question, coming from your interest my stuff.
I will tell you straight out that virtually no professional teacher of Xingyi (or Tai Chi for that matter) will talk about the arts the way that I do. Of course nobody is ever identical to anybody else and that's fine, but I'm making a practical point here, which is that you need to decide what your real interest is. My stuff is 1000% energy-centric. It seems like a subtle or maybe meaningless distinction, because after all, every teacher will mention the qi or internal power and kind of imply that it's out there somewhere or as we say in Ashtanga yoga "Practice and All is Coming". But it's vague and distant. You aren't quite ready to think about such things yet, Grasshopper - that's the unspoken vibe.
I repeat there's nothing at all wrong with that! Every teacher should do things his own way, that is their right and their responsibility. I am NOT trying by this post to gouge anybody's income or slam down their school. I wish everybody the best. But again, you have asked me. So here's the thing: all that above great stuff that I listed as what you'll be learning in your new Xingyi school is a distraction.
I keep my eyes on the prize at all times. This is going to vary with every individual. My goal is the universal energy and power. Nothing else. I care nothing, zero, zip, nada about any style or art or culture or practice. The conventional shapes the training takes mean absolutely totally less than zero to me. I pick up only the bare minimum of what I, after extensive experimentation with deep learning of dozens of arts and styles and teachers, bring on the juice. Nothing else means anything to me.
That of course does necessarily apply to you! So that's why I said you need to clarify your training goals. If you ask my absolutely unvarnished opinion, then I say that unless the reincarnation of Li Luoneng is offering private lessons in your area, then you should train on your own to the point of at least beginning to seriously feel the power in the ways I have described, using the extremely simple straight-forward practices I have provided in books and films.
I know that sounds so freaking arrogant and narrow and proprietary and everything. All the bad qualities that I constantly rave against. But again, you have asked me and this is my answer. The reason I say it is not because other programs offer too little. It's because they offer too much. There is basically no other teacher available to you who will talk about the energy as I do. It doesn't make me the best fighter or performer or Xingyi wizard, not by a long shot. But it does means that my stuff focuses you on yourself. On your own experience rather than outward to the art or some shape or movement or culture coming from outside. My stuff is radically internal to the bone in the deep sense of working with the sole and entire goal of getting you to feel, control and intensify your own power, within yourself.
Once you've at least begun to run the juice, on your own, in yourself, for yourself - then you will be in the best position to put your head up and put out your antenna and decide what kind of additional training program can help you to use, shape and direct this incredible energy toward your own specific application goal. Such application goal could be virtually anything, such as combative work of a huge variety of purposes, or healing self or others, or esoteric exploration of the higher non-physical realms, arts of motion or visual creativity such as calligraphy and painting, or just soaking in this amazing power like your own personal portable hot tub. Anything is possible.
But why cramp, and hobble yourself at the starting gate? As I said, every teacher will make some vague noises about Qi, but no other teacher is going to throw you back onto your own self, your own experience, your own reactions and perceptions, as my stuff does. That's just baked into the reality of present day life, their systems are and must be Procrustean Beds, in that they are forced by external pressures to work with the goal of conforming you to their system rather than nourishing and bringing out your own power to shine. It's not that they are 'evil' in any way, but the structure of our current economy and society makes it so. And the good news is: that's not bad at all. It's wonderful to have such a vast and colorful variety of training options.
All I'm saying here is two things:
(1) Clarify your actual goals. If you are primarily interested in the internal power, if you're ready to be truly energy centric at least for the moment, then see (2) below.
(2) Put off joining any Xingyi group or teacher or school just for now - until you have truly begun to experience the power from the very simple and focused drills, based on the simple energy model, that I have provided. Once you've at least gotten a taste of that you'll be in a far better position to choose a 'real' teacher, school, or program for yourself. Maybe not even Xingyi, maybe something totally different, or maybe a return to your prior system or program but seeing it with totally new eyes.
It's like somebody who has no actual operational experience of math, but the person hears about "calculus" and that just sounds cool to the ears, doesn't it? Calculus... such a power word. So the person gets all excited to learn "calculus". But what you realize later is that in practice, calculus operations are just 99% doing algebra. If you have no operational experience and proficiency with algebra, it's totally meaningless to think about calculus. The calculus is a particular application of algebra, it's a kind of organizing principle or coherent framework for thinking about certain kinds of problems and applying algebra to them in a creative way. But it's meaningless to try to get into calculus without having the power of algebra at your fingertips.
Most so-called internal martial arts training can be compared to a calculus teacher who, teaching a roomful of beginner students with no training at all in algebra, trig, or analytic geometry, might mention algebra once or twice in the introductory lecture, but the class time was actually filled with having you copy over and over and over the symbols for differentiation and integration and copying the fundamental theorem of the calculus over and over again and you never understand what the power is that animates the operations - that makes them come alive.
In the same way, it's meaningless to learn a big deal "style" of practice without having at least some command of the power. Though the style itself is usually advertised as being the means of developing that power in the first place, in practice it just doesn't work that way any more. Not because there's too little training offered but because there's too much offered. It's all just a big distraction, done for other purposes.
Li Luneng trained with the Dai brothers for years, practicing just a couple moves before they finally taught him the "full" art. At that point it wouldn't have mattered, as he got the essence from the initial bare bones work.
Frankly the very last or worst effect I would wish my books to have is to inspire a reader to jump right into any training program, before they have tasted the power for themselves and in themselves. Any conventional training program is working to produce something like this, through hobbling and forcing and clipping and binding:
When you understand and work the power in yourself, for yourself, it's more like this:
Some guidance but a whole different spirit.
There is nothing super magic in Xingyi per se, as a system. My energy model and principles are just using the drills and movements as a tempoary expedient vehicle. All conventional structure, any fixed pattern, is a limitation. I have quoted Ramana Maharish many times in my books: Walking in the jungle, if you get a thorn in your heel, you use another thorn to dig it out - then throw both away.
The spirit and purpose of my training is beautifully stated in the quote from Xingyi supermaster Zhe Yizhai, which can be read as the header panel in my Facebook group here.
That's all any particular style or pattern can ever be. Water has no prescribed shape, only certain aspects of its nature that enable it to do cool things. Be water.