UPPER TIGER in Xingyiquan Shi’erxing
October 13, 2014
Normally, Tiger (most Xingyi people limit themselves to Upper Tiger alone, though there are over five variations of Xingyi Tiger strike) is done as a kind of double-palm Pi Quan, which often devolves into a macho, muscle-powered shove. That’s natural because there is something about Tiger (maybe the tough guy image of the animal itself?) that brings out a lot of over-aggression. Maybe part of that roughness is a misreading of Guo Yunshen, who apparently trained this technique hard under tough prison conditions when his wrist shackles allowed him little other freedom of movement.
But Tiger is a pure energy workout exactly like everything else in Xingyi. Well, not exactly like – it’s actually one of the very best if done correctly. If you’re not careful though, Tiger will devolve into a type of physical road-rage or barroom shove even more easily than all the rest of Xingyi.
I have said (in my book Animal Strike Power: Advanced Xingyi Energetics) that every animal style has two sub-phases: Load and Fire. For Tiger, these are further articulated. Here there are three energetic phases: the Load phase is broken down into Clawback and Setup, and the Fire phrase is a kind of Shoot where you extend your claws as you strike.
SHOOT: The Shoot and the subsequent Clawback are the two primary gestures of the Upper Tiger and they are not independent. The Upper Tiger strike is a total release of all tension and energy in an "extension" gesture, the release of outgoing, free shooting energy from the hands and fingers blasting out, like a tiger suddenly extending his claws. The Shoot must be absolutely free, dynamic, and relaxed. Although your arms are moving forward, the energy of the shoot is happening from wrist to fingers. It’s like shaking water off your hands or flicking water onto somebody. It’s not a rough, heavy palm bash as most practitioners make it out to be. Or at least it better not be that, if you ever want to feel the real Xingyi energy. Rather than thinking of the Tiger attacking with the full weight and physical power of his forelegs, shoulders, and body, think of him just suddenly shooting out his claws alone, fully and sharply. That will help your mind.
The quality of the Shoot will affect the quality of the immediately subsequent Clawback, which is actually the key energy dynamic of Upper Tiger – more so than the strike itself. The more your Shoot was fully extended, fully relaxed, and sharply flicking, and the more it was rooted in the wrist, the more sharply you can instantly re-engage the energy with the following Clawback, as described below. Try to feel the mutually complementary nature, of the alternating Shoot and Clawback, back and forth, as a pure energy deployment.
In the Tiger technique, people love to focus on the main “hit” gesture. But look at the traditional sequence: it begins with the Clawback (from Santishi). That’s a clue that, energetically speaking, the real key and goal of the technique is actually the Clawback, more so than the strike itself.
Master Guo Yunshen said the following about the Load phase in general, and it certainly applies to the Clawback of Tiger:
Both hands retract with power, as though pulling something in toward you. This is internal compressive power, not muscle. It’s as though you are pulling in a wire thread from a spool with both hands powerfully drawing inward, from front to rear.
The Clawback is a re-gripping of the energy. You focus with serious mental intent on creating a perfect clawing gesture which ends with soft fists - but incorporates no tension in hands, arms, shoulders. As you begin the Clawback, you mind and energy to the first knuckle of each finger. You begin the Clawback from the fingertips. Shoot your ‘claws’ fully, but then immediately catch the energy and flow it backwards again. Include your thumb in the curling Clawback motion. The trick here is to mentally create that perfect Clawback hand shape yet with no excess physical tension.
You need the feeling of a tiger, having sunk his claws into something, trying to both grip his claws in deeper, and also simultaneously drag the prey back towards himself. These big prey animals, at least tiger, are not really trying to “hit” their prey like the GnP (Ground and Pound) of a UFC fighter. They aren’t punching the prey away. Rather, they are trying to drag the prey in, toward themselves.
If you do that, eventually you’ll notice that at the instant you engage those first finger joints to begin the Clawback motion, your energy immediately and very palpably “compresses” or “engages” all along your forearm, between those first finger joints and your elbows. It’s a very specific and amazing feeling. Your whole CAU region will instantly light up at the moment you re-engage your fingers into the Clawback immediately following the Shoot phase.
Later on, you will work on spatial extension of that instant of engagement. By that I mean getting it beyond the CAU/elbow zone. At first it will be limited to the CAU area. Then, you feel exactly that same energetic lock-in from fingertips to lower abdomen – immediately, just as you initiate the Clawback. Then still later on, especially if you begin with thin-soled slippers on a hard floor, you’ll feel exactly that same energetic engagement from fingertips to sole of your rear foot, as described below.
In other words, whether it’s based at the elbow, the dantian, or the rear foot, in that first instant of Clawback the entire body of energy is somehow firmed and locked. Locked doesn’t mean tense. It’s a feeling of instantaneous absolute engagement and connection between feet and fingertips, just as you begin the Clawback.
The intensity of this amazing phenomenon is dependent on two things:
(i) Degree of relaxation in the immediately preceding Shoot gesture
(ii) The degree to which you have initiated the Clawback strictly with the first joints of the fingertips, without any unnecessary physical tension.
At first, it’s easiest to feel the Clawback energy engagement from your fingertips (the beginning of the claw shape as described above) and the elbow. This is the cestus region described in RXE, where I referred to it as CAU (Cestus Accumulator Unit). So when beginning to train the Clawback, you need to concentrate on the span between the first joint of the fingers and the elbow. The energy will blast through every component of this unit (fingers, palms, back of hands, wrists, forearms and elbow), instantly, as you initiate the Clawback. This is an incredible sensation when you first begin to feel it.
The next step in understanding the Clawback is to take it further down. It begins with the same outer extension point (the first curl of the first fingers joints) but the docking point on the other side eventually becomes your rear foot (the power leg of the strike you just completed).
This is an even more amazing thing to feel. You will feel the energy surging backwards (from the Clawback fingers) straight through your thighs, the quadriceps. Do not be misled into interpreting this as a physical phenomenon. Just because I mentioned an anatomical term (quadriceps) don’t go getting all physically excited again. There’s always that temptation, but this is a purely energetic thing. You’ll know it when you first feel it. You’re more likely to get the claw-to-foot connection at first if you practice Tiger in flat, thin-soled Kung Fu type cloth slippers, on a firm flat surface (not grass, sand, or carpet). Later it won’t matter what you wear or where you practice.
Of all the Animals, it’s probably easiest to learn to feel and control the energy of the ‘Load’ phase by working with Upper Tiger. This Animal is also the most straightforward for understanding the absolute reality of the energetic (as opposed to physical) interpretation and experience of the Load phase in general, for all the Animals.
SETUP: The Setup is everything that happens between the Clawback described above and the next upcoming Shoot. That includes finishing the full Clawback gesture, forming soft fists near the waist, turning the waist while raising the soft fists, and beginning to step forward with both fists rising with palms turning forward to get ready for the next Shoot. In this phase, the important thing is just to feel the fully engaged energy between feet and fists that was snapped into place by the Clawback you just initiated. Keep the fists soft and yet well formed, and keep a constant distance between your wrists throughout the Clawback, lowering, waist turn, and raising of hands. It’s in this Setup dynamic that it may help you to keep in mind the image of Guo Yunshen with shackled wrists, forcing him to keep that invariant distance of separation between the forearms
In the Clawback, we have the goal of extending the space of energetic engagement – first the short span from fingers (the ‘claws’) down to elbows, then from fingers down to dantian, then from fingers down to the power foot. In this Setup phase, we try to extend the energetic engagement in time. When you first begin to experience the energetic Clawback engagement described above, it may be just a brief instant. Then as you fully draw back your arms into fists and begin the turn, you may lose the engagement, and revert to ordinary physical motion again.
But over time, you will figure out how to sustain the energetic engagement longer and longer, further and further into the Setup. You will feel that you can ‘hold the charge’ in your relaxed fists, arms and even whole body while you conduct the mechanics of preparing for the next Shoot. Being able to maintain the engagement and the charge all the way through the Setup prep, all the way through to the next strike, will make your Shoots fantastically more intense. And that in turn intensifies the subsequent next Clawback that immediately follows the Shoot. So it all feeds on itself. Feels great too.