Hsing I Chuan (also known as Hsing-yi or Xingyichuan) is one of China's three main "internal," or Taoist, styles. Unlike its sister arts Pa Kua Chuan (pp. 187-188) and T'ai Chi Chuan (pp. 200-201), Hsing I Chuan is linear and direct. Modern research traces its origins to a teacher in mid-17th century Shanghai, who developed it from spear techniques. However, legend attributes its invention to General Yue Fei in the Song Dynasty (960-1127), who created it as a style for army officers. Supposedly, masters passed down the art in secret until the mid-1600s, when it became widespread.
Hsing I Chuan is organized around five "fists" (strikes) and 12 animal styles. The fists are named for the five traditional Taoist elements and the type of strike used: water ("drilling"), wood ("penetrating"), earth ("crossing"), metal ("splitting"), and fire ("pounding"). This focus on strikes makes Hsing I Chuan unusual for an "internal" style. The style is linear and depends on very firm stances; Hsing I Chuan fighters are famously hard to budge. The stylist relaxes his body until the last instant, when he tenses to strike, defend, or throw. In training, forms are less common than two-person drills aimed at teaching the proper feel for combat.
External vs. Internal, Hard vs. Soft
Martial artists often distinguish between "external" and "internal" styles. External arts stress physical achievement and strong attacks. Internal ones emphasize spiritual development, and sometimes have deep philosophical underpinnings (e.g., in Taoism or Buddhism). This distinction originated in China, which traditionally sorted the martial arts into the Wudong schools (Taoism-based styles such as Hsing I Chuan, Pa Kua Chuan, and T'ai Chi Chuan), which were deemed "internal," and the Shaolin schools (all other Chinese styles), which were identified as "external."
Another common way of classifying the martial arts is to dub them either "hard" or "soft." Hard styles are those that meet force with force in an effort to overwhelm the opponent, while soft ones are those that yield to aggression and attempt to redirect the enemy's force. Faced with an attacker, a hard school defends and then counterattacks - or even seizes the initiative and attempts to defeat the foe before he can attack. A soft stylist seeks to avoid confrontation, and responds with a throw, trip, or lock if attacked.
The "external vs. internal" split is more legendary than actual. An external style might counsel spiritual development; for instance, Nito Ryu Kenjutsu (pp. 174-175) is solidly external but its creator wrote a deeply philosophical work on the martial arts: A Book of Five Rings. The "hard vs. soft" dichotomy is similarly idealized; few "hard" styles lack "soft" parries and retreats. And while external styles tend to be hard and internal ones tend to be soft, this isn't universal. Hsing I Chuan (see below) is hard and internal, while Judo (p. 166) and Wrestling (pp. 204-206) are soft and external. A single art might have elements from each of these four categories!
Today, these terms describe a style's methodology more than anything else. "Hard" is another way of saying that the art makes heavy use of striking (Boxing, Brawling, Karate, and Melee Weapon skills), as exemplified by Boxing (pp. 152-153), Jeet Kune Do (pp. 164-165), Karate (pp. 169-172), Wing Chun (pp. 203-204), and most armed styles. "Soft" suggests a preference for grappling (Judo, Sumo Wrestling, and Wrestling skills); Aikido (p. 149), Chin Na (p. 154), Pa Kua Chuan (pp. 187-188), and T'ai Chi Chuan (pp. 200-201) are good examples. "External" and "internal" are used the same way by everyone but purists.
Hsing I Chuan is an offensive-minded martial art. Its normal stance is compact, faces the foe, and keeps the hands up to defend the vitals and face. Practitioners seek to attack first. If this is impossible, the stylist attempts to avoid his enemy's attack and then launch an overwhelming counterattack into his assailant's motion. The most common methods of doing so are the Counterattack technique and the Riposte option (pp. 124-125). Typical follow-ups to parries include Exotic Hand Strike (usually aimed at the torso), Sweep, and Arm Lock.
Hsing I Chuan makes more use of the hands than the feet, and kicks are uncommon. The style also favors crippling and killing attacks over throws and merely painful locks. After injuring a foe with a lock, a Hsing I Chuan stylist releases his grip in order to free both hands for defense. Practitioners tend to favor a single, powerful attack over multiple strikes; a straightforward Attack or Committed Attack (Strong) is common, only rarely with the Rapid Strike option.
Hsing I Chuan formerly used many weapons, including the spear, staff, various edged swords, the hook sword, and the halberd. Modern schools often omit weapons training. Advanced students sometimes still learn these traditional weapons, though.
Cinematic Hsing I Chuan masters are said to be unmov-able after settling into a stance, capable of defeating foes with a shout, and able to sense danger as it approaches. They often perfect Power Blow in order to deliver body-shattering strikes.
Hsing I Chuan and Pa Kua Chuan share a history. Past masters of these arts befriended one another and exchanged techniques and forms. Students of one style often train in the other, and some forms of each school are amalgamations of both. Hsing I Chuan schools aren't common, but there are instructors worldwide.
Skills: Judo; Karate.
Techniques: Arm Lock; Counterattack (Karate); Exotic Hand Strike; Sweep (Judo or Karate); Trip.
Cinematic Skills: Breaking Blow; Immovable Stance; Kiai; Mental Strength; Power Blow; Pressure Points; Pressure Secrets; Sensitivity.
Cinematic Techniques: Lethal Strike; Pressure-Point Strike; Springing Attack; Timed Defense.
Perks: Style Adaptation (Pa Kua Chuan); Technique Adaptation (Counterattack).
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