Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

An Introduction to YiQuan

An Introduction to the YiQuan: A Pragmatic View into the Internal Martial Arts.
By Rick Matz

“The heart of the study of boxing is to have natural instinct resemble the dragon.”
---Wang Xiang Zhai

YiQuan is an internal Chinese martial art that does not rely on forms, techniques, or a theory of training based upon traditional Chinese medicine. YiQuan aims at the root of martial arts training: the pure expression of the practitioner’s intent.

YiQuan is often identified with its most basic exercise: standing still like a stake in the ground. The signature training method of YiQuan is the use of visualizations and imagery to train the body.

History of YiQuan

In China, during the 1920s Wang Xiang Zhai, an internal martial art master of XingYiquan became dissatisfied with the state of martial arts that was being practiced around him.
He felt that martial arts teachers and students, even his own, were more concerned with the performance of forms and development of techniques than with the emphasis of “developing one’s intent.”

Dispensing with the distracting forms and techniques, Wang Xiang Zhai developed an internal training system that worked directly at strengthening the student’s intention and ability to respond to that intention as the decisive characteristic of a martial art.

Wang Xiang Zhai taught a handful of exercises and a different way to thinking about them. The generation of teachers who followed Wang put their own emphasis on different aspects of the practice they had learned, as their disposition suited them and as their students responded. Some teachers today, for example, teach a small set of exercises and expect the student to develop and explore the variations on their own. Other teachers explicitly teach a large number of variations to deliberately lead the student through certain experiences in body movement.

Wang Xiang Zhai also taught each of his students how to discover their own unique art.

The Positives of YiQuan

YiQuan teaches the practitioner to relax regardless of the surroundings. As you become more relaxed, you accrue many common-sense health benefits. Nothing needs to be more complex than that.

The first thing you might notice is that you sleep better. When you sleep well, you feel better, are more alert, your body works better, you have more energy, and so on. You become more sensitive about what your body feels: the effects of what you eat and drink and your environment. As you relax, you have less of a need to eat to relieve stress, for example, and other nervous compulsions seem to drop away.

You create 'space' around you. In this space, the stresses of life become somewhat diffused, so you have less stress and can look at things more objectively. You become less worried about time. What is considered important becomes more refined. You will find it easier to drop things that don't add something positive to your life.

You’ll find that your reaction time becomes quicker. With the quicker reaction time and the psychological space, you can better respond to what happens around you, rather than just reacting.

A result of all of this is that you become … more relaxed and so set up a cycle of positive feedback, improving your physical and mental health.

YiQuan practice doesn’t require a special space, such as a training matt or special equipment. You can practice wherever you are. While partner practice is of huge benefit, you’ll spend most of your time training on your own so you don’t have to depend on the availability of someone else.


The YiQuan training falls into one of the following seven categories:

Standing like a stake (“zhan zhuang”)
Gathering strength (“mo jin”)
Testing strength (“shi li”)
Walking exercise (“mocabu”)
Push hands (“tui shou”)
Issuing force(“Fa jin”)
Combat (“san shou”)

The foundational root of YiQuan training can be found in its mother art, XingYiQuan, and in the other internal martial arts, BaGuaZhang and TaijiQuan. Like these other martial arts, YiQuan puts a premium on relaxation and connected, whole-body movement.

Unlike the other internal martial art systems, YiQuan does not rely on the use of the Qi theory as a basis for teaching; but in no way does it contradict that theory.

Zhan Zhuang, The Basic Exercise

The first fundamental YiQuan training exercise is stake standing or “zhan zhuang.” The principal focus of this practice is learning how to relax to promote both good health and martial ability. After a good understanding of “relax” is reached, then you can work with visualizations. Learning “how to relax” is the common first step in all internal martial arts. Once this level of relaxation has been reached, the next step is to proceed toward advanced exercises.

During this standing practice, wherever tension is felt, just let it go. It’ll probably come right back in a microsecond, but that’s ok. The tension will be noticed and you will counter by just releasing it. Let it go again and again. Eventually that tension will subside and you’ll notice tension somewhere else. Repeat the process. As long as you are alive, it will never end.

The more you train and learn to relax, the more sensitive you’ll become to noticing tension. You’ll find that you notice how poorly other people are standing. They are reflections of you, past and present. Pay attention and let the tension go throughout the day. Constantly relax and let go.

As you progress, you will be able to feel any specific tension in you body with finer resolution. You will be able to identify individual muscles. The more relaxed you become, the more you can feel and become more relaxed. It’s positive feedback. Relaxing the tension is similar to that of the action of peeling the layers of an onion.

The interesting thing about concentration on relaxation is that once you get into a very relaxed state, your structure becomes very sound. It must be sound in order you to be relaxed. When you are truly relaxed, you'll feel as though you were expanding in all directions.

Being relaxed, balanced, and so on, isn’t some fixed point. It’s a dynamic point that’s always moving. When you stand, you’re basically physically still, but because this point is always moving around, you are intent with it and you always have the possibility of movement. You could support a mountain, but if a fly landed on you, you’d be in instant motion. You have the potential to be still or move.

How you train is a strategy. Think about what you are doing, how you are approaching it, and why. If you are not getting results, you are doing something wrong. Back up and examine your methods; then try again.

As mentioned previously, the basic purpose of standing was to learn to relax. That is the gateway to learning how to use the visualizations.

YiQuan uses vivid imagery to train the body to respond to the mind’s intention. Once the novice practitioners have learned how to relax, they will begin to focus on specific visualizations. With each incremental sequence of specific visualization, the muscles of the body will begin to respond in the development of a coordinated frame of whole-body strength.

The essential points of this Stake Exercise are: Focus attention, relax body, and breathe naturally.

Mo Jin, Gathering Strength

The next level of stance and visualization practice is called Gathering Strength or “mo jin.”

Where previously the student used very basic stances and visualizations, during mo jin, a fighting stance is used and the imagery has to do with manipulating heavy objects at a distance. The purpose is to train the mind to project the intent away from the body.

Shi Li, Testing Strength

During the practice of both zhan zhuang and mo jin, the student remained motionless or very nearly still. Through the Shi Li exercises the student learns to move while keeping the characteristics learned during the practice of zhan zhuang and mo jin—the collective practice of whole-body movement using visualizations of “overcoming heavy springs” or “strong currents.”

The student pushes forward and pulls back against them. The goal is to have coordinated movement with no breaks or gaps. At each instant, if stopped, the position would be balanced, centered, and relaxed.


Producing a feeling with a fixed method
Giving up the method after getting the feeling
Letting the feeling follow into everything
Personal feeling leads to complete awareness

Han Jing Yu

Nothing in YiQuan training is done without a reason. YiQuan is meant to be pursued on a “scientific basis.” Practice, understand what you are practicing and why. Look at your results. If you aren’t getting the results you should be getting, examine what you are doing, your expectations, why you are doing it, and make adjustments.

There is a unity in YiQuan training. Once your practice has matured, whenever you practice any part of YiQuan, you are practicing all of it. Like a hologram, each part of YiQuan carries the image of the whole.

During the practice of any YiQuan exercise, the four words that any serious YiQuan practitioner must remember are: Song Huo Yuan Zhang. Song means Relaxation, Huo means Flexibility in movement, Yuan means Circle, and Zhang means Whole Body. This set of words encompasses the principles that define all of the exercises in Yi Quan. Any move that is executed must have these four particular(s) to be correct. Other YiQuan principles will be elaborated in future articles.

My previous YiQuan mentor used to tell me that “ … Daoism is a pragmatic way of looking at the world, but YiQuan is a pragmatic way of training one’s own being to be internal.”

A rule of thumb is that 50% of your time should be spent on the basic standing practice, known as zhan zhuang, and the other 50% on everything else. When in doubt, err on the side of spending a little more time in zhan zhuang. Standing for relatively lengthy periods regularly is helpful. If you only have a little time, invest it in zhan zhuang for most of your training.The use of visualizations is the signature of Yiquan training. With the visualizations, you can practice YiQuan virtually anytime, anywhere.


The emphasis of real internal martial arts is the attributes of centering, relaxing, sinking, and complete body alignment. Details on those attributes will covered in future articles. After each YiQuan exercise, the practitioner becomes more relaxed.

The focus of YiQuan is about releasing tension through the practice of proper internal principles and visualization. It is a good starting point for those who study other internal marital arts training. Currently, much of the internal martial arts teaching does not focus on the practice of relaxation through “still” posturing. Yi Quan is a technical return to that necessity.

From the constant practice of “Never stop relaxing”, my physical balance got better. My concentration was enhanced. My health improved dramatically. If there were other better reasons to practice Yi Quan and other internal marital arts, I do not know.

My previous Yi Quan mentor also used to remind me, “…Wherever you at. … Whatever you do, … always relax. …”

In future articles, there will be more specifics on the theory and practice of YiQuan.

References A popular source for YiQuan articles, history, links, etc.

The Way of Energy Lam Kam Chuen

The Way of Power Lam Kam Chuen

Other Favorite Internal Martial Arts Websites
English translation of XingYi and other internal martial arts system classics can be found at

Videos of YiQuan exercises can be found at “” (


Compass360 Consulting Group said...

Great Article. ... Superby piece of writing.

Compass360 Consulting Group said...

Another chance of you offering lessons on ["The Essence of YiQuan"]!?

Compass360 Consulting Group said...

Rewrite: (Take 2)
Any chance of you offering lessons on ["The Essence of YiQuan"]!?

Anonymous said...

Hi, thanks for your blog on yiquan. Where did you learn Yiquan from? Is there a chance of you writing an article of how to do zhan zhuang correctly?

Anonymous said...

Hi Rick,
Thank you for your time and effort to share some of your Yiquan experiences with us (whoever we are... virtual visitors). I enjoyed reading this blog, reminding me of some of Timo's articles and remarks in the forums (on the old website, which is now replaced by a new one, but you probably already new that -ttp:// Also, each day there are many opportunities to train, many 'hidden moments'. Hope you and your practice are both well. :-)
Kind regards,