Xing Yi Quan evolved from Xin Yi Quan (Heart and Intention Boxing) otherwise known as Liu He Xin Yi Quan (6 Harmonies Heart and Intention Boxing). Any discussion of the origins of Xing Yi Quan should start with a look at the origins of Liu He Xin Yi Quan.
There are several theories as to the origins of Xin Yi Quan and scholars are unable to agree on one theory. Here we will try to bring some clarity to the various theories.
The Origin of Xin Yi Quan
Theory 1 : The Bodiharma from India created Xin Yi Quan
In 527 AD the Bodiharma came to China from India. He went to the Shaolin Temple at Songshan and meditated facing a wall for nine years. In the years after his death, a number of martial arts techniques were attributed to the Bodiharma, including Xin Yi Quan. Evidence of this can be seen in “The Origins of Xing Yi Quan” by Ling Shan Qing (1928), in which he stated that “In the time of the six dynasties, the Bodiharma came to China to spread the Martial Arts of the Western regions (i.e. India)…the styles he taught included Xin Yi Quan”.
Ling Shan Qing’s view was the accepted theory with contemporary scholars until 1930 when Xu Zhe Dong presented his “A brief account of Chinese Martial Arts” and Tang Hao produced his “An investigation of Shaolin and Wudang”. They suggested that Chinese Martial Arts had nothing to do with the Bodiharma and claims that he created styles were “counterfeit”. They also proposed that claims that Zhang San Feng practiced Xing Yi Quan were equally false.
None of the ancient books recounting the life of the Bodiharma mention him creating Xin Yi Quan. And none of the ancient texts of Xin Yi Quan even mention the name of the Bodiharma. In terms of the actual nature of Xin Yi Quan, a close look at the basic philosophy behind it reveals that it is firmly based on traditional Chinese philosophy. The principles of Internal Kung Fu are based on “The Book of Changes” from the Zhou Dynasty (1027-777B.C.). The 5 Elements Fists are based on the theories of yin and yang and the 5 elements, which are again theories from the Zhou dynasty, while the existence in the Chinese psyche of the 12 animals, e.g. dragon, tiger, snake, horse, monkey, chicken etc., can be traced back to the ceremonies of early tribal societies. Considering that the Bodiharma “came to China to spread the Martial Arts of the Western regions” it is strange that the Arts do not contain any Indian characteristics and are so undeniably Chinese in nature. And considering the short amount of time the Bodiharma was in China, is it possible that he would be able to take the essence of ancient Chinese culture and create a Martial Art with wholly Chinese characteristics? It is also important to remember that the Boddiharma was facing a wall meditating for the majority of his stay in China, so he did not have the time to create a complex Martial Arts system which incorporated aspects of ancient Chinese philosophy. The issue of time is a very important aspect in the investigation of the origins of Chinese martial arts styles. Without ample time, it is not possible for someone to be able to invent a complex style.
Theory 2 : General Yue Fei created Xin Yi Quan
Even today, people still propagate the theory that General Yue Fei of the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD) created Xin Yi Quan and Xing Yi Quan. This fallacy has can be traced back several hundred years where texts attribute the invention of Xin Yi Quan to Yue Fei. It was not, however, until the years of the Chinese Republic that scholars, led by Xu Zhe Dong, started to question the viability of this theory.
Study of the ancient text “The Complete Works on Yue Fei” offers a description of the martial arts study of Yue Fei, revealing that his martial ability was attained before he was 19 years old. Historical evidence states that the following 19 years of Yue Fei’s life, before his death at 36, were full of tension and war. Wushu scholars argue that Yue Fei would not have been able to create a complex Martial Art before he was 19, and the war filled years that made up the second year of his life would not have left Yue Fei with enough time or energy to develop a complex Martial Art. Another point made by scholars is that it is surprising that none of the soldiers under Yue Fei’s command learnt Xin Yi, and it did not resurface until 500 years later.
When considering the position that Yue Fei holds in the heart of the Chinese people, even today, it is easy to understand why people want to attribute the invention of Kung Fu styles to one of the great heroes of Chinese history. For one, it makes the style seem more important – who wants to learn a style created by an everyday guy, when you can learn the style of a heroic general idealized in a romantic tradition?
However, the evidence suggests that Xin Yi Quan was indeed created by an everyday guy. The inventor of Xin Yi Quan himself was aware of the difficulty in getting people to take a new style seriously, and actually was the first person to say it was the creation of Yue Fei.
Theory 3 : Ji Ji Ke created Xin Yi Quan
Over the last 20 years, this theory has become the most widely accepted theory in the Xin Yi/Xing Yi Quan world. History states that Ji Ji Ke (also known as Ji Long Feng) started his Martial Arts training at the age of 13. Aged 20 he went to Shaolin to study for 10 years. The story goes that Shaolin offered Ji Ji Ke a teaching position, but at the same time, many figures who were fighting against the newly instated Manchu Qing dynasty gathered at Shaolin during their flight from the Qing armies. Ji Ji Ke was then roused by the spirit to reinstate the defeated Han Ming dynasty and committed himself to the rebel cause, thus leaving Shaolin to start his journeys around China. However, this vision of Ji Ji Ke as the patriotic rebel who invented a style to fight the oppressive Qing dynasty again might be fiction intended by his followers to romanticize Ji Ji Ke and to ensure that people took more notice of the style. Ji Ji Ke recounted the story of how he invented Xin Yi Quan in his book “The techniques of Ji Ji Ke”:
“I was going through very hard times. I had nowhere to live so I found an abandoned courtyard in the countryside and made one of the rooms habitable. At night I was often woken by the sound of an animal calling in the darkness. One night I was prepared to kill the wild animal, when I noticed a light shining from out of the other rooms in the courtyard. I climbed in through the window, and, on lighting an oil lamp, saw that the room was covered in a thick layer of dust. There was a light shining from a gap in the dust, and when I brushed it away, I found a sword and a box. I pulled the sword from its sheath, and saw that the inscription read “Yue Fei of Tang Yin”, but the sword itself did not have a name. I thus knew the owner of the sword. Inside the box I found a scroll, titled “Liu He Quan” (Six Harmonies Fists). The scroll explained the principles of the Five Elements, Yin and Yang, emptiness and form, advance and retreat, and I knew I was looking at a highly valuable description of a unique Martial Art. I practiced the art described in the scroll for 10 years, and realized that technique lies in the Six Harmonies, attack and defense lie with the 5 elements and the 10 animals (Xin Yi Quan only has 10 animals), and the movement of the mind (Xin) is called Intention (Yi) and Intention controls movement.”
So at the start of Xin Yi Quan’s life, even its own creator was saying that it was the work of Yue Fei.
Ji Ji Ke was already proficient at Martial Arts before he went to Shaolin to study. By the end of his stay at Shaolin he had already reached a very high level. At Shaolin he would have come into contact with various elements of Chinese philosophy, including yin and yang, the Five Elements, the Six Harmonies and so on. Shaolin also had five styles of animal fist play, created by Bai Yu Feng back in the Yuan Dynasty (1280-1368 AD); Dragon, Tiger, Leopard, Snake and Crane. On the basis of his experience, Ji Ji Ke was able to create the Five Elements Fists and the 10 animals. It is also important to note here the large role Shaolin Kung Fu played in the invention of Xin Yi Quan. If you trace the origins of Xing Yi Quan back to the source, you will find yourself at Shaolin. As the saying goes “Shaolin is the home of all martial arts”.
As we said before, the creation of a Martial Art requires considerable time and effort. Ji Ji Ke’s experience can be split into three sections: his time practicing Kung Fu at home, his study at Shaolin, and his journeys around China. It was only in the later stage that Ji Ji Ke’s technique would have been mature enough for him to be able to develop his own style, and it was fortunate that he had time to focus so much on his martial arts. Without sufficient time, Ji Ji Ke would not have been able to create a new style of martial art.
The first recorded acknowledgement of Xin Yi Quan is seen in “A Query of the Origins of Fist Styles” written by Wang Zi Cheng in 1735. “There are many styles of fist play, and the creators of them are largely unknown, but we do know that Liu He Quan originated in Shan Xi province and was taught by two members of the Ji family, Ji Long and Ji Feng, at the end of the Ming dynasty…” The author obviously made a mistake when he recorded Ji Ji Ke’s other name, Ji Long Feng, as ‘Ji Long’, but this is the first evidence in writing that Ji Ji Ke created Xin Yi Quan.
The Evolution of Xing Yi Quan from Xin Yi Quan
In order to understand how Xin Yi Quan evolved into Xing Yi Quan, it is necessary to look at the students of Ji Ji Ke and the roles they played in Xin Yi Quan’s development.
Cao Ji Wu
In 1750, Dai Long Bang, in “The Six Harmonies Fists” stated “Ji Ji Ke, also known as Ji Long Feng, born at the end of the Ming Dynasty, discovered the text of Yue Fei, and taught Cao Ji Wu in Qiu Pu”. From this text we have confirmation that Cao Ji Wu was the first student of Ji Ji Ke.
Cao Ji Wu was born in 1665 and studied with Ji Ji Ke for 12 years. In Chi Zhou, Cao Ji Wu taught Dai Long Bang, author of the statement above.
Dai Long Bang and his creation of two new animal forms
Dao Long Bang studied what Ji Ji Ke had passed on to Cao Ji Wu, and received some of the works of Ji Ji Ke including “Fighting theory – a Summary of the 10 Techniques” and “The Techniques of Ji Ji Ke”. In Chi Zhou, Dai Long Bang often practiced by the Yang Zi river. It was here he observed the “Tuo” (Chinese alligator) using its front and back legs to power through the water. This gave rise to “Tuo Xing”. Today it is still unclear as to what a “Tuo“ is, because some claim that it alligators did not exist. Some believe that a “Tuo” was a water boatman insect, skating on the water’s surface, so the movement imitates the insects coordinated movement of its front and back legs. Dai Long Bang also observed the movements of a “Tai” (a type of fish).
The Government bans Kung Fu Practice
Due to the Han people resisting the Manchu Qing government, the government banned the practice of Kung Fu in 1727. Therefore, when Dai Long Bang returned to his home in Shanxi, he only passed on his techniques to his immediate family. In 1801, Dai Long Bang’s dying words to his son, Dai Wen Xiong, were “Xin Yi Quan cannot be passed on to outsiders”. Therefore, due to Dai Wen Xiong’s respect for his father’s dying words, Xin Yi was kept a secret for 38 years. As a result, Xin Yi also became known as “The Dai Family style” and some people have accredited the creation of Xin Yi to Dai Long Bang. However, we have proof from Dai Long Bang himself, in his book “The Six Harmonies Fists”, that he did not create Xin Yi Quan.
Li Lao Nong (Li Luo Neng)
In 1836 Li Lao Nong left his family to travel to Shanxi province to learn “The Dai Family style” from the renowned Dai Wen Xiong. The fact that Li Lao Nong left his family, traveled hundreds of miles, and stayed despite the repeated refusal of Dai Wen Xiong to accept him as his student, is testament to Li Lao Nong’s determination and the reputation that Xin Yi already had. Rather than give up and go home, Li Luo Nong found a plot of land to grow vegetables, and everyday he would deliver them to the Dai family free of charge. Dai Wen Xiong gradually saw the sincerity of Li Lao Nong, and, on his mother’s insistence, finally accepted Li Lao Nong after three years of waiting. This history is documented in Li Guang Xiang’s “The Essence of Xin Yi” (1895) and many other books document that Li Lao Nong learnt Xin Yi from Dai Wen Xiong.
After leaving Dai Wen Xiong, Li Lao Nong moved to Tai Gu to be a bodyguard at the request of the wealthy Meng Bo. It was here that Li Lao Nong met Che Yi Zhai (1833-1914), pictured left, also known as Che Er. Once he had the permission of Dai Wen Xiong, he started teaching him in 1856. Li Lao Nong also started teaching his boss, Meng Bo. In 1863, because Li Lao Nong was busy with bodyguard work, Che Er went to study from Dai Wen Xiong.
Xing Yi Quan is born
After the death of Dai Wen Xiong, Che Er, who had received the text “The Six Harmonies Fists” written by Dai Long Bang, worked with his master and ‘brothers’ including Jia Yun Xiang, and Li Guang Xiang (1845-1929), pictured right, to research and improve Xin Yi Quan.
Through their research of “Xin” (Mind) and “Xing” (Form) they came to the conclusion that “Xin” was the internal mind, while “Xing Yi” incorporated “External Form” and “Mind Intention” and was thus the unity of internal and external. It was Li Lao Nong who first suggested that the word “Xin” be changed to “Xing” as he believed it better represented the principles of “Xin Yi Quan”.
The first Xing Yi form
In 1866 Che Er created the first Xing Yi form called “The Five Elements Canon”. After Li Lao Nong returned to his old home, Che Er continued to refine Xing Yi and created a set of two-person practice routines. As Che Er created more and more, the style become more popular in Tai Gu and by the beginning of the reign of Guang Xu, Xing Yi had spread to Taiyuan, Yuci, Xu Gou, Ping Yao and other areas of Shanxi. With most of the Xing Yi masters living in Tai Gu, Tai Gu became known as the “The home of Xing Yi” and the Tai Gu masters were instrumental in ensuring that Xing Yi earned its place as one of the “Four Famous Styles” (Shaolin, Tai Ji, Ba Gua, Xing Yi)
Che Yi Zhai e Guo Yun Shen
Li Cun Yi
Li Cun Yi first went to Tai Gu in 1898 to study from Che Yi Zhai (Che Er). He returned in 1900 after the failure of the Boxer Rebellion, looking for a place to hide. Che Er even got him a job as a security guard in Meng’s household. During his stay there, Che Er taught Li Cun Yi everything he knew. Song Shi Rong passed on to him the “4 Channels Internal Kung Fu”.
In 1911 Li Cun Yi moved to Tian Jin, a major port city to the east of Beijing, where he formed “The Martial Artists’ Association of China”, spreading the teaching of Xing Yi. As the reputation of Xing Yi grew, so did the its number of students, and the practice of Xing Yi spread all over northern China, splitting into various schools such as the He Bei school, the He Nan school (which only has 10 animals) , the Shan Xi school and the Shaan Xi school. Each of these schools have their own characteristics.
Despite the continued threat to the existence of Xing Yi in the twentieth century, with war and revolution, Xing Yi was able to survive, and today Xing Yi is as alive as ever before, with martial artists researching and refining techniques. Like Ba Gua, Xing Yi is still a maturing style, and martial artists today are able to continue and add to the rich tradition of the Tai Gu forefathers.