Listen up, People! Today I'm honored to present a guest post from Aaron Thompson, a police officer/LEO, state of North Carolina. This is an excellent counter-point to my constant denial of the combative utility of Xingyiquan as a martial inventory of actual mechanics, techniques, etc.
Can I check you guys for wires now? I'm going to say something highly incriminating: I'm actually more in agreement with his points below than I let on. ONE reason (not the only one) that I constantly downplay the combative aspect of Xingyi is that I don't want to field constant low-level little challenges and 'what would you do if I were to X you' type of stuff. I've done plenty of that in general, in my MA career but I really wanted to move the emphasis off that and give myself a break. So while I don't back down from my assertions, I'm very pleased to have this defense of that aspect of Xingyi, far more thoroughly and emphatically argued than I ever could do.
So anyway, it's a rare occasion, snowflake's holiday in hell when I invite any guest poster to this NUTSO Tabby Cat forum... he actually deserves a higher-end venue and better LZ for this high quality work. Anyway revel in it and enjoy.
Re-Consideration of Combative Xingyiquan
Aaron Thompson (private email to firstname.lastname@example.org, reprinted with permission)
I'm a cop in North Carolina and had the good fortune of studying with Mr. R.W. Smith briefly. I also have a M.A. in philosophy but don't let that deceive you into thinking I'm any kind of book smart. Let me first say I'm a big fan of your writing. Juice was recommended to me by a tai chi chuan senior who I hold in high regard (a senior student of Mr. Liu Hsi-Heng). In fact, one estimable tai chi chuan old-timer (a student of Prof. Cheng's NYC days), even suggested to me that you are a savant of the internal. I have also found your writing on Sagawa, and now Hsing-I, most interesting too. Your work has been quite intriguing.
As a student of Mr. Smith, I learned to be critical of what I read about Chinese boxing. To quote him, “I'm as biased as a scream from a dentist's chair,” when it comes to discussions of nei chia. I have been reading your recent posts and article on hsing-i chuan with much interest, and find myself (for what it's worth) agreeing with just about everything you've written. Thank you by the way, for sharing freely with us nei chia junkies.
Early on (April 1, 2014) in your discussion of hsing-i chuan on your blog , you made the following points:
“Under more realistic conditions of street self-defense, and also sport fighting, where a strong, experienced adversary is free to move aggressively, the limitations of Xingyiquan technique, when viewed from a purely mechanical viewpoint, become obvious....
Q: Is Xingyiquan, as a technique inventory, useful for street or sport fighting? A: The answer is a flat no....from a combative standpoint, the physics of Xingyiquan are little more than theatrical display.”
On the efficacy of hsing-i as a fighting art, Mr. Smith's considered opinion differed radically from yours, and I'd like to point out why. Now before the obligatory YAWN, please don't think I'm writing to tell you I have all my eggs in one basket of hsing-i combative brilliance, because I'm not. I just want to correct what seems to me to be a mischaracterization of the art as I know it and as Mr. Smith taught it, using historical evidence and documentation available. I do recognize that you suggest in your writing that hsing-i has some combative efficacy when it is used properly for energy cultivation. I'm totally open to that. I also want to suggest though, that in contrast to your stated opinion, hsing-i on a more mundane mechanical-physical level, when practiced in accord with its stated principles, is in fact an exceptionally effective method of self-defense. Why, you might ask, should I even care about doing so? Well if only to stand up for the art as I know Mr. Smith would have, and as he did in his writings over the years.
The problem with most presentations of hsing-i are that the proponents do not adhere to the prescribed principles of the art. On the surface it seems no different than any other standup art such as Shaolin, karate, or taekowndo. It’s deceptively simple, but functionally profound. Just watching most adherents, you can see that they lean over, do not sink their weight, are stiff and not relaxed, fail to follow-step with vigor (due to not understanding the purpose of the step as a counter-grappling measure), do not cross-substantiate (failing to understand double-weighted-ness and power generation), and do not understand that it is supposed to be a standing grappling art emphasizing grabbing, rooting, yielding, softness, listening, and kuzushi. These principles are outlined in the interview of Mr. Smith and in his two books on Hsing-I Chuan cited below. As a matter of fact, as Mr. Smith taught it, hsing-i specifically addresses, through all those aforementioned principles, the very issue you mention: of how to engage a moving, countering, actively resisting target. Failure to root and grab and yield results in what Mr. Smith called “spot-punching” which is the generally unrecognized problem in most “traditional” martial arts – because they only train with passive resistance – of having to find your target, stay safe, and remain in a position of power before you can hit it.
So here are seven considerations as to why we shouldn’t doubt the efficacy of Hsing-I Chuan (sources are listed at end):
1. Its exponents won the no-holds barred full-contact tournaments popular in Republican China. They were so effective, in fact, that the first national tournament was stopped due to injuries and the Hsing I boxer was voted the winner by his peers (Draeger & Smith, 29).
2. Hsing-I greats such as Sun Lu-Tang and Wang Hsiang-Chai had documented bouts with high ranking judoka in which they were recorded as defeating them with ease. (Miller, et al. 29-30,46; Diepersloot 71-2; Cartmell 4). Additionally, Wang Hsiang-Chai defeated the European featherweight Western boxing champion in a bout in Shanghai (Diepersloot 70, confirmed by Mr. Smith).
3. Exponents Hung I-Hsiang and Wang Shu-Chin were recognized by their peers in both Taiwan and Japan as being fearsome fighters and among the best of the Chinese boxers (Nicol 47-9; Smith-CB 6, 72; Smith-MM, 88, 171-2, 184-5; Wells). Hung was awarded 9thdan by the Butokukaikan (Smith-MM 166-9).
4. Mr. R.W. Smith explained the mechanics of Hsing-I function in an interview in the Journal of Asian Martial Arts (Mason 44-46). This highly esteemed scholar of Asian fighting arts, former Western boxing coach, judo 3rd dan (from the old-school Kodokan), and U.S. Marine, even went on to say that in addition to a judoka or wrestler, he would recommend a hsing-i boxer as a good companion in the proverbial dark alley (43,46).
5. Bob Yu, former student of Hung I-Hsiang, also documented the mechanics and some history of learning in Hung’s school in Taiwan. Full contact sparring was the norm in that school as conveyed by himself and Mr. Smith (Yu-"HY"). Mr. Yu furthermore documents how he understands the large overlap of hsing-i and Western boxing (Yu-"AB").
6. Mr. R.W. Smith’s senior student, Mr. Bart Ingram, took hsing-i into the boxing ring as an experiment and won fifteen straight amateur bouts. While Mr. Ingram is an exceptional athlete and had some coaching in Western boxing from Mr. Smith also, he used hsing-i concepts and technique in the ring. Mr. Ingram has also skirmished successfully with accomplished judo competitors, and used his art in his former occupation as a law enforcement SWAT officer (Smith-MM 257 and personal conversations).
7. Sun Lu-Tang and Huang Bo-Nien were both recruited to teach the Nationalist military in China (Kennedy 232-6). Huang's hsing-i book documents the perceived efficacy of the art by the Chinese military of the time for both empty hands and weapons uses (Rovere xvii-xxxi; although, the form and function displayed by Mr. Rovere are severely lacking in his additions to the translation of and commentary on that book).
For what it's worth, I've found hsing-i to be of value in my occupation as a police officer. While I haven't had to “blitzkrieg” anyone as you describe, the spontaneous adherance to the principles of the art have saved my behind more than once. Additionally, informal and friendly comparisons of power and speed on the heavybag and pads with adherents of Western boxing, taekwondo, and wingchun have never let me down. I would also argue that while many of the same principles advocated by hsing-i in the historical literature of the art seem to have been advocated in other traditional fighting arts piecemeal and have arguably been increasingly neglected in the proliferation of Asian fighting arts in the recent past, at the same time, one can see these principles and functions occasionally rediscovered in the crucible of MMA and in “reality” combatives styles.
So I implore you to throw a bone to hsing-i hounds everywhere and post a corrigenda on your blog. I believe it is mistaken to say that hsing-i chuan is ineffective or only equally effective as other Asian fighting arts. In fact, there is good reason to believe that hsing-i chuan ranks among the most effective of traditional fighting arts, and should even be considered to be among the ranks of contemporary sporting combatives in its efficacy. I'm not asking you to say hsing-i chuan is the greatest kick-ass martial art of all time, but just to give it it's rightful place in the pantheon of martial dances and fighting sports. Nei chia has taken enough of a hit as it is in its current devolution.
You've certainly reinvigorated tai chi chuan practice for myself and others that I know, including the highly regarded tai chi exponents mentioned above, so I can't wait to learn what more you will graciously share on hsing-i. In the meantime, let's be true to history and the conveyed experiences of our esteemed predecessors in budo and Chinese boxing. I welcome any corrigenda, and thank you again for posting your discoveries!
Aaron Thompson, Brevard, N.C.
Cartmell, Tim, “Martial Arts Revolutionary: Wang Xiang Zhai, Part I.” Wu Gong Journal of Chinese Martial Arts, Vol.3, No.14, March-April 1998. Clearwater, FL.
Diepersloot, Jan, The Tao of YiQuan: The Method of Awareness in the Martial Arts. 1999. Center for Healing and the Arts, Walnut Creek, CA.
Draeger, Donn F. & Smith, Robert W., Comprehensive Asian Fighting Arts. 1969/1980. Kodansha International. NY.
Kennedy, Brian & Guo, Elizabeth, Chinese Martial Arts Training Manuals: A Historical Survey. 2005. North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA.
Mason, Russ, “Fifty Years in the Fighting Arts: An Interview with Robert W. Smith.” Journal of Asian Martial Arts, Vol. 10, No. 1, 2001. Via Media Publishing Co., Erie, PA.
Miller, Dan; Liu, Albert, & Sun, Lu Tang, Xing Yi Quan Xue: The Study of Form-Mind Boxing. 1993. Unique Publications, Orange, CA.
Nicol, C.W., Moving Zen: Karate as a Way to Gentleness. 1975/1982. Quill/Morrow. NY.
Rovere, Dennis & Chow, Hon Huen, The Xingyi Quan of the Chinese Army: Huang Bo Nien's Xingyi Fist and Weapon Instruction. 2008. Blue Snake Books, Berkeley, CA.
Smith, Robert W., Chinese Boxing: Masters and Methods. 1974/1990. North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA.
Smith, Robert W., Hsing-I: Chinese Mind-Body Boxing. 1974/2003. North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA.
Smith, Robert W., Martial Musings: A Portrayal of Martial Arts in the 20th Century. 1999. Via Media Publishing Co., Erie, PA.
Smith, Robert W. & Pittman, Allen, Hsing-I: Chinese Internal Boxing. 1989. Charles E. Tuttle Company, Inc., Rutland, VT.
Wells, Marnix, “Ba Gua Lineages: Wang Shu Jin or Chen Pan Ling?” n.d. http://apittman.com/blog/east/ba-gua/articles/ba-gua-lineages.
Yu, Robert Lin-yi, “American Boxing and Chinese Xingyi: A Comparison.” Journal of Asian Martial Arts, Vol.10, No.3, 2001. Via Media Publishing Co., Erie, PA.
Yu, Robert Lin-yi, “Hong Yixiang and Five Fists Xingyi Boxing in Old Taipei.” Journal of Asian Martial Arts, Vol.11, No.3, 2002. Via Media Publishing Co., Erie, PA.