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 ~

Friday, June 28, 2013

English Translations of Chinese Martial Arts Manuals

At Brennan Translation blog, the author translates classic Chinese martial arts manuals and posts the results. The long and short of it is that there is a lot of valuable information there which may be had for FREE.

Below is an excerpt from Boxing Concepts Explained Authentically by Sun Lu Tang. The whole translation may be read here.

夫道者。陰陽之根。萬物之體也。其道未發。懸於太虛之內。其道已發。流行於萬物之中。 夫道一而已矣。在天曰命。在人曰性。在物曰理。在拳術曰內勁。所以內家拳術。有形意。八卦。太極。三派。形式不同。其極還虛之道則一也。易曰。一陰一陽之 謂道。若偏陰偏陽皆謂之病。夫人之一生。飲食之不調。氣血之不和。精神之不振。皆陰陽不和之故也。故古人。創內家拳術。使人潜心玩味。以思其理。身體力 行。以合其道。則能復其本來之性體。然吾國拳術。門派頗多。形式不一。運用亦異。畢生不能窮其數。歷世不能盡其法。余自幼年好習拳術。性與形意。八卦。太 極。三派之拳術相近。研究五十餘年。得其槪要。曾著形意八卦太極拳學已刊行世。今又以昔年所聞先輩之言。述之於書。俾學者得知其真意焉。三派拳術。形式不 同。其理則同。用法不一。其制人之中心。而取勝於人者則一也。按一派拳術之中。諸位先生之言論形式。亦有不同者。蓋其運用。或有異耳。三派拳術之道。始於 一理。中分為三派。末復合為一理。其一理者。三派亦各有所得也。形意拳之誠一也。八卦拳之萬法歸一也。太極拳之抱元守一也。古人云。天得一以清。地得一以 寧。人得一以靈。得其一而萬事畢也。三派之理。皆是以虛無而始。以虛無而終。所以三派諸位先生所練拳術之道。能與釋儒道三家。誠中。虛中。空中之妙理。合 而為一者也。余深恐諸位先生之苦心精詣。久而淹没。故述之以公同好。惟自愧學術譾陋。無文。或未能發揮諸位先生之妙旨。望諸同志。隨時增補之。以發明其道 可也。
The Way is the root source of the passive and active aspects, and is the essence of all things. When the Way was not yet expressed, it was suspended in the Void, and since the Way was expressed, it has been flowing within all things. [from Mengzi, chapter 3a:] “The Way is One, and that is all.” In Nature it is called fate. In people is called nature. In things it is called principle. In boxing arts it is called internal power, hence the “internal” schools of boxing arts, in which there are the three systems of Xingyi, Bagua, and Taiji.
     Their postures are different, but at their limit is the Way of returning to emptiness, and in this way they are the same. The Book of Changes says: “The Way is the passive AND the active.” To incline toward the passive OR the active is wrong. Throughout your life, if your eating and drinking are not regulated, your energy and blood not harmonized, or your essence and spirit not roused, all these will put your passive and active aspects out of balance as a result. Therefore people long ago created the internal schools of boxing arts to get you to concentrate and ponder upon the theory and to get your body’s movements to conform with the Way, thus enabling you to return to your original essence.
     In our nation’s boxing arts, there are so many schools, and their postures and applications are so varied. In a whole lifetime, you would not be able to even count them all, and even if given all the time in the world, we would not be able to exhaustively examine their methodologies. When I was young, I was fond of practicing boxing arts, and my disposition is toward the three systems of Xingyi, Bagua, and Taiji. I have studied for more than fifty years and have obtained their essentials. I have written books for each, which have already been published. Now I am also taking what I have been told over the years by previous generations of teachers and putting it all into a book so that students may obtain their authentic ideas.
     The postures of the three boxing arts are different, but their theory is the same. Their applications may be different, yet they have controlling the opponent as their core, and so they defeat opponents in the same way. Within a single system of boxing, everyone’s explanations and postures are not identical, owing either to how they use them or just to differences from one person to another.
     The methods of these three boxing systems begin with the principle of oneness, divide from there into the three distinct branches, then end up united again in the principle of oneness. Each of the three systems has its own way of oneness: Xingyi Boxing’s sincerity is a pure oneness, Bagua Boxing’s infinity of techniques is a returning to oneness, and Taiji Boxing’s embracing of original nature is a maintaining of oneness. It was said by men long ago [Laozi – Daodejing, chapter 39 / Zhuangzi, chapter 12]: “The sky obtains oneness by being clear. The ground obtains oneness by being firm. Man obtains oneness by being smart.” / “Obtaining the One, all things are accomplished.” The principle of the three systems is always to begin in emptiness and to end in emptiness. Therefore the way the teachers of the three boxing arts practiced can be equivalent to the three schools of Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism – with their special theories of sincerity, undifferentiation, and non-identity – merging to become one.
     I deeply fear that all the effort those teachers put into perfecting these things will be wasted with the passing of time. Thus I transmit it to share with those who will appreciate it. However, I am ashamed of my own learning, how shallow, ignorant, and illiterate I am, and that I cannot give full expression to their wonderful ideas. It would be good if their methods can be further elaborated upon, and so I hope my comrades will make more information available as it comes to light.
    – written by Sun Fuquan of Wan county, Hebei, 1923

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

8th Anniversary of Cook Ding's Kitchen

Today is the 8th anniversary of Cook Ding's Kitchen.

I began this blog in 2005 and it is still going strong. The most popular post, The Pugilist at Rest, has been viewed almost 3800 times.

For myself, my mind is clear, my health is good and my practice is stong.

Before writing about Cook Ding's Kitchen, I wanted to bring to your attention a brief post at Tai Chi Nomad. The original post may be read here. As it is brief, I will also post the whole thing below.

Training days are sacred days

It took a few days of haze to let the mind know how sacred a training day can be. It’s true what they say:

you don’t know it till you lose it.
The weather has been plagued by a deep shroud of ash, making breathing difficult, not to mention training. Any rigorous activities outdoors are highly inadvisable. Yet, it is during these days that I realize how sacred it is to be able to train on any single day.

The excuse of “there is always tomorrow” or “I will train more tomorrow” does not hold water anymore. If today is a good day, you train. In fact, the haze suddenly makes me realize that everyday is a good day.

Treasure your training days. You may not have a choice of when is a good day, so make everyday a good day.

Our training days are indeed sacred. There is a saying that goes something like this: the years of training are made up of days. If we lose the days, we lose the years. It is so difficult cultivate a good habit, like training regularly; and so easy to lose the habit.

On the one hand, there are times when you simply can't train. Just set your training aside for a while and don't torture yourself about it. Maybe your work has seasonal peaks which just require your full attention, like tax season for an accountant. For myself, between focusing on my family, aging parents and a career, I set my training aside for over a decade and don't regret one minute of it.

On the other, when you do have more time don't be lazy and waste your opportunities. They may not come your way again.

Zen Master Dogen said something like "that time is so fleeting should be motivation enough to practice as though your hair were on fire."

Some days, you just have to take off. You certainly don't want your training to overshadow your "regular" life (the tail wagging the dog), but you also don't want to look back at a long string of missed opportunities to have trained.

Every day, do something to move the ball forward, even if only an inch.

Recent readers may not be familiar with the name Cook Ding. Cook Ding was the name of a character is a famous story from the Inner Chapters of Zhuang Zi (Chuang Tzu). To me, he is the epitome of someone practicing Daoism in everyday life, someone we can aspire to be like.

  His cook was cutting up an ox for the ruler Wen Hui. Whenever he applied his hand, leaned forward with his shoulder, planted his foot, and employed the pressure of his knee, in the audible ripping off of the skin, and slicing operation of the knife, the sounds were all in regular cadence. 
Movements and sounds proceeded as in the dance of 'the Mulberry Forest' and the blended notes of the King Shou.'

The ruler said, 'Ah! Admirable! That your art should have become so perfect!'

(Having finished his operation), the cook laid down his knife, and replied to the remark, 'What your servant loves is the method of the Dao, something in advance of any art.

When I first began to cut up an ox, I saw nothing but the (entire) carcass. After three years I ceased to see it as a whole. Now I deal with it in a spirit-like manner, and do not look at it with my eyes. The use of my senses is discarded, and my spirit acts as it wills. Observing the natural lines, (my knife) slips through the great crevices and slides through the great cavities, taking advantage of the facilities thus presented. My art avoids the membranous ligatures, and much more the great bones.

A good cook changes his knife every year; (it may have been injured) in cutting - an ordinary cook changes his every month - (it may have been) broken. Now my knife has been in use for nineteen years; it has cut up several thousand oxen, and yet its edge is as sharp as if it had newly come from the whetstone.

There are the interstices of the joints, and the edge of the knife has no (appreciable) thickness; when that which is so thin enters where the interstice is, how easily it moves along! The blade has more than room enough. Nevertheless, whenever I come to a complicated joint, and see that there will be some difficulty, I proceed anxiously and with caution, not allowing my eyes to wander from the place, and moving my hand slowly. Then by a very slight movement of the knife, the part is quickly separated, and drops like (a clod of) earth to the ground. Then standing up with the knife in my hand, I look all round, and in a leisurely manner, with an air of satisfaction, wipe it clean, and put it in its sheath.'

The ruler Wen Hui said, 'Excellent! I have heard the words of my cook, and learned from them the nourishment of (our) life.'
-    Zhuang Zi, The Inner Chapters
-    Trans. James Legge     

Below is an excerpt from my first eBook, A Kung Fu Carry Out. I had hoped to be able to annouce the second eBook today, but that egg is just not quite ready to hatch.

To celebrate Cook Ding's anniversary, I am making A Kung Fu Carry Out FREE for five days (maxium allowed by Amazon). If you don't have a Kindle, you can also download the FREE Kindle Reading App.

Chapter 4 – The Master Mover

The practical Daoism of Cook Ding is found in the everyday things. Heavy things. Heavy things like pianos.

Have you ever moved a piano? It’s awful.

The late Edward Gong moved pianos. By his estimation, he moved over 7000 of them. He moved them with the ease that Cook Ding butchered oxen. In his own way, Edward Gong was a modern Daoist master.

Below is an excerpt from an article about Edward Gong. The full article may be read here.

Edward Gong, who moved 7,000 pianos, dies
Nanette Asimov, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, November 6, 2011

Legendary for his moving piano technique, Edward Gong of Berkeley was admired not for how he interpreted Mozart or played a concerto, but for how he moved pianos. Literally.

He did it single-handedly, although he sometimes called upon his astonished clients to roll a dolly or grip a corner.

"Almost everyone I know in Berkeley has used him or knows about him," wrote "Rinky N." on Yelp's urban legends section. "Years ago he moved a roommate's piano using the three of us weaklings as pivot points. It's like watching Superman or an optical illusion!"

"It's physics," Mr. Gong, who had a degree in that subject from UC Berkeley, would explain.

Mr. Gong died at 85 at the Veterans Home of Yountville, where he'd gone to live last year. He moved pianos until age 80 - more than 7,000 of them over 45 years - said his niece Miko Lee.

"He was the epitome of the word eccentric," she said, fondly recalling the man with the "serious giggle" she called Unc.

On the Berkeley Parents Network site, "Nicole" wrote: "He arrives with a little pickup truck and an amazing stair contraption, and uses brains and leverage to move these amazingly heavy and awkward objects. He's goofy as heck, and he chats a mile a minute ... but always manages to get the piano where it needs to go."

His piano-moving outfit consisted of checkered polyester shorts, gum-sole shoes and the bulging muscles he'd hone for hours, bench-pressing at the gym. When not working, Mr. Gong favored bedroom slippers, once showing up in snowy Munich carrying luggage filled with books but no shoes besides the pantofles on his feet.

He had gone to Europe for the World's Fair because he adored fairs, often hanging out for hours to watch a calf being born. He also danced ballet, sang opera, played instruments and studied Mandarin and drawing, making up in enthusiasm what he lacked in skill, Lee said with a laugh.

And despite limited funds, Mr. Gong attended stellar performances - often inviting his young relatives - by serving as an usher at the ballet, opera and Cal Performances.

Born Aug. 9, 1926, Mr. Gong was one of 11 children whose parents ran a laundry in Madera. An Army private in World War II, he served as a medical aide and chauffeur at Presidio Hospital in San Francisco.

Mr. Gong joined his family in Berkeley in 1947, where they opened the Victory Market at 1443 San Pablo Ave. to pay tuition at Cal for Mr. Gong and his siblings. His brothers and sisters raised families, went into business or became professors, scientists or teachers.

Mr. Gong did his own version of those things, too.

In 1988, The Chronicle followed Mr. Gong, then 62, as he maneuvered - in five minutes - a 400-pound upright piano from the rear room of a house into his pickup using a dolly, a wood box wrapped in an old rug, and an iron tube he'd laid across the truck bed.

For his second move, the story said Mr. Gong "stood on a stone step with 500 pounds of piano in his thick arms while three men half his age tried clumsily to wedge the dolly under the other end" as he schooled them in tilt and torque.

"He lived a remarkable life," said Harry Yoon, a Los Angeles film editor who shot an 11-minute short, "7,000 Pianos," about Mr. Gong at 75 in 2002.

Saturday, June 22, 2013


Several years ago, I co authored an article at Jade Dragon magazine, which was introduction to the martial art of Yiquan.

Below is an excerpt. My partner on this project has recently updated the article andd reposted it here. Please pay a visit.

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 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 okay. 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.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The 300 Tang Dynasty Poems, #49: A Lute Song

The Tang Dynasty was a high point of culture in ancient China. Especially esteemed were poems. 

Some of the best poems of that period have been collected into an anthology known as The 300 Tang Dynasty Poems. A online version of the anthology may be found here.

Li Qi


Our host, providing abundant wine to make the night mellow,
Asks his guest from Yangzhou to play for us on the lute.
Toward the moon that whitens the city-wall, black crows are flying,
Frost is on ten thousand trees, and the wind blows through our clothes;
But a copper stove has added its light to that of flowery candles,
And the lute plays The Green Water, and then The Queen of Chu.
Once it has begun to play, there is no other sound:
A spell is on the banquet, while the stars grow thin....
But three hundred miles from here, in Huai, official duties await him,
And so it's farewell, and the road again, under cloudy mountains.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The World of Martial Arts That Has Long Since Passed

Frequent contributor Jonathan Bluestein has another translation for us. This time is it from the Xingyiquan book written by Li Zhongxuan,

The World of Martial Arts That Has Long Since Passed

By:  Li Zhongxuan
Translation by:  Nitzan Oren and Jonathan Bluestein

Forward by Nitzan Oren

Li Zhongxuan, the author of this book, was born in Ninghe village, in the general area of Tianjin, China. He had been the student of Tang Weilu, Shang Yunxiang and Xue Dian (all three were, in turn, student of Li Cunyi). His parents came from a respectable family of government officials from the Tianjin and Beijing areas. Li Zhongxuan chose to abide by an old rule in Chinese society, which forbade people from martial arts circles to serve as government officials, and had therefore given up the opportunity to be in that line of work, even though through his family connections this was relatively easy for him to achieve. At the age of 34 he withdrew from martial arts circles, but continued to train. During the later years he had worked as a guard at the entrance of an electronics store, in the Shidan area in Beijing. Because of an oath he made to one of his teachers, Shang Yunxiang, he never taught anyone his martial arts.            

Someone had once recommended this book to me, and I could not lay it down once I began reading it… Among the dozens of Xing Yi Quan related books written by Chinese authors thus far, this book is the only one written in first person, depicting the experiences of the author throughout life and under the tutelage of some of the greatest teachers of his era. His stories reflect the traditions and customs of his day, discuss disciple-teacher relations, and are generally fascinating and full of colourful descriptions of the Xing Yi Quan he had been taught by his teachers. The stories provide an extra dimension to the life and personalities of those people. The book was dictated to an editor in conversations with master Li, and printed without further editing – which is why the text reads like a conversation.
Previously, one chapter of the book (probably the first one) had been translated by Jon Nicklin, and published on his excellent blog, at the following links:

Myself, I have translated two additional chapters back in 2006, which were further translated into English by my student, Jonathan Bluestein, under my supervision. Chronologically, the reader might be better off first reading the chapter translated by Mr. Nicklin, and then read the translations presented here.


Preliminary remarks by Nitzan, meant to provide some cultural background to some of the contents:        
In the Chinese traditional family, it is the custom to honor greatly those family members who are ‘ranked higher’ on the family tree. Also, the young should respect their elders. The relationship between student and teacher in the traditional Chinese martial arts are the same as the relations within the Chinese family. Students who had studied under the same teacher are considered ‘brothers’, and the teacher is the head of the ‘family’. When a teacher of an advanced age accepts a young student, that student might be of the age of his grand-students, or even his great-grand students. This results in the new young student being considered to be the ‘uncle’ of the teacher’s grand-students, even though he might be of their age group or younger. The grand-students are bound to respect him as an ‘uncle’ nonetheless, even though common sense has it that it should be the opposite. Because of this reason, many teachers refused to accept new students when they were older. Others solved the problem in the following way – they’d accept a young student and teach him, but he’d be listed as their grand-student under another teacher…

The first chapter, which had been translated by Nitzan and Jonathan

My teacher Tang Weilu liked to wear a white overcoat. One day he was wearing it while holding a bowl of noodle soup and explaining to us about the martial arts. We, his students, like to pull of acts of mischief, and at one point we ceased the opportunity and clashed into him, hoping his soup will spill on his shirt and ruin it. Without using his hands or feet, he simply turned around, and we were thrown to the floor, while the bowl stayed steady in his hand. Tang said: “In Xing Yi, that is what’s called:  shoulder hits, hip hits, buttocks hit”. The way you use this sort of attack is different from issuing a punch – one little ‘rub’, and it’s over. Shaking your waist, protruding your shoulder or pushing out your buttocks look really ridiculous (are the wrong way to do it). The attack should commence very close to the body, and be swift like a dragonfly touching the water.

One day a cart tied to a horse blocked master Tang’s way. The carter, himself a martial artist, banged his arm against an iron ring which was part of the bars on the wagon, and the ring bent. He spoke to master Tang, challenging him: “Master Tang, could you straighten the ring back with a blow?”. Master Tang replied: “Your arm is harder than iron. Therefore, instead of hitting the ring, I will hit your arm”. As soon as the arms banged together, the carter shouted in pain, and gaze in amazement at master Tang’s arm. Tang said: “At the moment my arm hit your arm, I twisted my arm”. It is therefore
incorrect to say that our arms ‘hit’ – it’d be more accurate to say that I stroke your arm. Later, master Tang explained to his students that this torqueing is necessary to manifest not only in the arm, but with the whole body; coiling and uncoiling, to helped issue force. Releasing force in Xing Yi is not done in a straight line.

Master Tang taught me the arts in the traditional way, with a lot of rules:  “One must train in a yard that is surrounded by a wall, so there wouldn’t be another pair of eyes around. Additionally, one should train at night”. The reason for the latter requirement, besides secrecy, is to energize (enliven?) the spirit (Shen), which is reflected through the eyes. I thought to myself, that only the ancestral temple that was located at my mother’s house would be suitable for such requirements, and therefore I made an arrangement with master Tang that he would move in and live there. There were times in which other students came to train at the temple, so it was a very happy place.

In this place, I have made a life-and-death tie with a younger gongfu brother of mine, whose name is Ding Zhitao. Because he could eat more than any other person, I nicknamed him a ‘food tank’. I do not look like a person who trains in martial arts, but he did looks quite like one – tall of stature, with raging eyes and a momentum that made people shake with fear. Through each day, from morning to evening, he could not resist his addiction of competing with other people in fighting. Yet, he was a man of good temper, and was always honest towards me. Therefore we became blood brother; I gave up other matches that were made for me, and married his younger sister instead. Unfortunately, brother Ding was inclined to extreme shifts of mood and temper, and following a disaster, he passed away.

My father, a self-centered spiritual man, was fond of arranging groups of like-minded men, go with them on trips to nature, to Nanjing and to Shanghai, and once they got at their destination, they would stay for long periods of time. He spent very little time at home. One day after he returned home, my father went pale-faced after he realized that the ancestral temple was full of people. Afterwards and because of it, master Tang stopped arriving at the temple. This had caused a great split between my father and I, because I liked studying martial arts so much. There was even a period at which we two were on bad terms. Such is the temper of those who were of a higher education. At that time I could no longer stand staying in Ninghe. Master Tang believed that all the troubles were brought about by himself, and because of this decided to send me to study martial arts from Shang Yunxiang in Beijing. At least that way, he figured, I would also have a place to stay.       
Because the age difference between myself and master Shang was too great, he was not willing to accept me as his disciple, saying that: “An old master with a young disciple is something that would confuse the social order”. Master Tang insisted, and claimed in my favour that I was “an educated kid and a good guy”. Afterwards, he also explained my person situation. Master Shang decided that I had courage, and therefore finally decided to accept me as a disciple. We immediately arranged for a Bai Shi ceremony, at which I was sworn I would never teach anyone else.             
Later in life I had the opportunity to test for a governmental clerical position, but master Tang forbade me to do this, as by the ancient traditions and rules, a martial artist with a clerical job cannot be included in the social circles of martial artists.

There is a saying in the martial arts folklore, which states: “He who trains in Gong does not train in Quan”. The meaning of this is that, supposedly, he who trains in Zhan Zhuang does not train in fighting. This thinking is a mistake made by beginners.      
The important point in Zhan Zhuang training is ‘to learn from a worm’. During the winter, the worm borrows itself into the ground, and there it remains motionless, as if it was dead. The moment springtime arrives, and the earth is revived, the worm comes to life. While training in Zhan Zhuang, one should reach the same level of ‘liveliness’ – like that of the worm making its first movements in springtime, as if it had come back to life. As a result, the entire body is filled with energy. Zhan Zhuang are infinitely useful, because they are Gong Training. In fact, training fighting is also Gong 

Training. In Xing Yi Quan, one should train the Jing (Essence) to be transmuted into Qi, the Qi to be transformed into the Shen (Spirit), and the Shen to return to emptiness.    

The Qi which is inhaled and exhaled is called breath. Pi Quan exercises breath – not in terms of fighting usage, but in the way it is practiced. When one first learns Pi Quan, one should find an open and wide training space. When a man climbs a high mountain, once his field of vision opens he feels like he just has to make a long exhalation. In a spacious place it is easier to breath freely.           
The posture of Pi Quan is with the hand movement going forwards and back again, like the motions of inhalation and exhalation. One should practice for 400-500 meters in each direction. Breathing becomes long and prolonged, deeper, and the energy storages are refueled. The movement of the hands stimulate the whole body, and one starts to slowly feel that the breath expands, and all of the skin’s pores across the entire body open up.          
Xue Dian once said: “People who practice martial arts needs to learn to breath from the body”. The sophistication of breathing through the body one learns whilst practicing Pi Quan. Many people have hidden diseases, which Pi Quan practice can completely eliminate. Additionally, once one gets older, the body reaches a state wherein it lacks Qi. The practice of breathing will replenish the Qi storages. Fullness of breath and the Qi is the basis of martial arts practice, and this is the reason that Pi Quan is the first thing to be taught in Xing Yi. To begin with, Pi Quan already contains within it the posture of Zuan, and after training in Pi Quan, the learning of Zuan Quan is relatively easy. This is exactly what’s called ‘Metal giving birth to Water’ (a part of the Wu Xing theory). Pi Quan belongs to Metal, and Zuan belongs to Water. Trying to learn a brand new fist posture, like Beng, is more difficult.          
Pi Quan nourishes the lungs. The arms affect the lungs directly. When children go through some physical exercise, such as engaging in an action that expands the chest, stretching, etc, the movement of the arms is used to train the breath, and as a result the lungs get stronger. The legs, on the other hand, relate to the kidneys. In case someone suffers from sexual impotence, we (in Chinese Medicine) call it ‘the water in the kidneys are insufficient’. From examining the martial aspect of Zuan Quan, we may see that this fist is meant to train the elbows and finger joints. But from the health perspective, this exercise, through the training of the legs, treats the kidneys. This is why the stepping in Zuan is not directly straight, backwards and forwards, but is advancing in a spiral. By so doing it enables the legs to have an open space (between them?), and as a result the Qi of the lungs and the water in the kidneys are sufficient. It is only when the upper and lower halves of the body synchronized that one can advance. This is why Zuan Quan is trained after Pi Quan.

 (Jonathan: The point Li Zhongxuan makes about the movement of Zuan being a spiral one is very important. Beginners are taught to practice Zuan on a straight line. But later, the more advanced level is drawing a continuous spiral along the straight path – first crudely with the body leading it, and later in a more refined fashion, with the Dantian. This skill is unfortunately omitted from most Xing Yi schools is modern times)

At the stage of training Pi Quan, everyone mat reach a state in which they feel as the skin is thick like an elephant’s. One may also feel that the fingers of the hands become thick like carrot, and as if there is a ‘vortex’ at the palms of the hands, which draws the fingers to close of themselves and ‘wish’ to remain close. All of these are false sensations. This is caused when the Qi within the body becomes satisfactory, and one’s mood is hyperactive, like a child who jumps from one thing to another and in whatever he indulges in, he has lots of interest. This is a stage that one must go through; if you discover that you have become like this, this means that your gongfu is developing in the right direction.              
At this point, there is no longer a need to go to a broad open space to train. In Xing Yi, ever since ancient times, it was commonly said that: “Martial training – (should be able to take place) in an area a cow can lie on”. Wherein there is a little room for stepping, that place can be practiced at. To go to broad open spaces to train is only a way to aid one to easily enter at this style’s door.

Our Xing Yi Quan was passed unto us from Li Cunyi. The goal of it is to defend our country, and not to cause trouble. 

Master Tang said: “(When) you’re cruel, I’m afraid. (But if) You’re afraid – I am even more afraid. That is how my student should be”. Courage and talent should be used for the benefit of the country. As far as personal disputes are concerned, it is best to present oneself as lacking in ability. When training Pi Quan, one should not practice in a place that is full of people. One should not take other people’s place (Jonathan: probably refers to avoiding territorial disputes over occupying public spaces for teaching and business). If there’s trouble with people, you should not cross hands and fight. 

One should learn to subdue with the intellect and win with morality. One should leave time for training in the martial arts, and not get into trouble and waste time.

In the picture:  Li Cunyi (李存, 1847 – 1927).

Because Pi Quan exercises the breath, it takes a year for this gongfu to be acquired. In the beginning, it eliminates diseases, and later it strengthens the body. Through the exercising of the breath, the Qi in the body grows, and a lot of times one would get a feeling of inspiration. At this stage, the learning of martial arts can become very interesting.

The water are found at the base and flow down. Therefore, after practicing Zuan, the character becomes stable and modest, the quality of the skin improves, one’s voice turns nice to listen to, and the thoughts are cautious and attuned. In the past, my teachers were illiterate, but their character was refined and moral. Because Xing Yi is an internal martial art, it does not merely change the body of the man, but also reshapes his wills.

The gong fu which in martial arts is ‘basic gong’, requires a great effort (to be attained). The most basic thing that is required to be a good human being is reliability and modesty, which in turn require restraint. “The old must be mad and the young must be stable”. The old insist upon rules and the young find them hard to follow. Therefore, the old must be optimistic and light, while the young should accept society’s rules of mannerism and politeness. It is only in this way that harmony can prevail and the transmission of knowledge can continue.

The second chapter, which had been translated by Nitzan and Jonathan

Master Tang maintained the teaching of Xing Yi Quan by the ancient rules, and had persevered a few ‘acrobatic’ traditional moves. We nickname these ‘acrobatics’ because these are surprising fighting skills, such as Qin Na (Joint Locks). In the Xing Yi taught by master Tang, the application of a lock by with the palm of the hand is called a ‘small/big silk binding’. Using the whole arm to perform a lock is called ‘splitting the horse’s mane. Using the body to perform a lock is called ‘The Lazy Donkey Lays on the Road’. Using the whole body to perform a lock is a unique trait of Xing Yi Quan – of 10 lock (tries), 9 succeed.     
There is a common proverb which states: “A light lock does not equal a simple strike”. Meaning – it does not matter how good you are with locks – you would not be able to overcome a wild attack; but Xing Yi’s locking skills contain a knocking action within them. My gongfu brother, Ding Zhitao, is a butcher. One day master Tang took me to see him at his workplace. When brother Ding slammed a spine of a pig upon the cutting board, the spinal column softened, and the vertebrae scattered. Master Tang put his hand on my shoulder and said: “this is exactly how our Qin Na should be like”.  

My brother Ding is quicker than me in acquiring an understanding of the practice, so he immediately understood what master Tang has meant. I asked master Tang to explain, and he said as follows: “Gripping is dead (stiff and fixed). Knocking has aliveness. No gripping, only locking.”. Meaning – the key to the learning of Qin Na is the ability to continue to learn beyond the continuous methods (Jonathan: last sentence was a direct translation. I am not sure what he meant by this). Master Tang also demonstrated some hand techniques, and determined a rule: “Because Qin Na can cripple other people, we should not use it”.           
One day, a relative of mine died. After the burial ceremony was over, I took a few of my gongfu brothers to help me clean all the mess. The way in which we had done it frightened my family members. In a moment or two we were done disassembling the large flag-bearing stand. The rumor on how we did it so quickly passed through the entire area of Ninghe, until it reached master Tang. He then told us: “Did you learn Qin Na? Then, do not use it to perform any type of labour, lest it becomes a habit, and each movement could become a lock, and then you’d end up hurting your family members (accidently)”.

In ancient times, many masters used to copy Confucius in accepting students. Zi Gong helped Confucius befriend the authorities, Yan Hui helped him spread knowledge, and Zi Lu helped him manage people. When there are 3 such people in a family, this can be very interesting. One could see in the Book of Analects that when people used to ask Confucius questions, he’d answer and explain patiently, but when Zi Lu would ask him something, Confucius would subdue him to the floor with a single sentence; he did this to train him to develop the ability to pursued a large audience with a single sentence, so (in the future) he could manage the rest of the students. The teacher teaches every student in a different manner, so every student could fulfill a different purpose.                       

(Jonathan:  see  for further elaboration on Confucius’ students. I also recommend reading the analects themselves, available at:  )

Confucius said: “Because Zi Lu is among my students, people do not dare say bad things of me. My gongfu brother, Ding Zhitao, fiercely defended the honour of master Tang, and had anyone been disrespectful towards him, that person would be in serious trouble. At that period of time, a group of actors had reached Ninghe. The martial artists among that group (who do tricks like) stand on table and perform somersaults to the ground. They heard that in Ninghe there was a certain ‘master Tang Weilu’, so they began saying bad things about him and praise themselves. The moment my brother Ding heard of this, he decided to go and settle the score with them by bearing them. I tried to convince him to give up on this and avoid ‘shutting their mouths’, saying that it was very hard for such people to earn their living on the street. That is why they try to sell themselves in this way.   
I found an old cotton jacket, tied a rope around my waist, and put on a worn-out straw hat – a dress characteristic of a beggar. I went towards the theatre, but stopped at the entrance. My family is originally from Nanzheng, and in Ninghe we were considered a respectable family. Because I arrive at the theatre often to watch shows, and am even known by the nickname ‘naïve Li’, the gatekeeper at the theatre immediately recognized me. He asked: “Why are you dressed like this today?”. I paid for the entry, entered without answering and sat in the front row. 

The show began, and it seemed that the actor/martial artist performing was distracted, with his gaze constantly shifting slightly in my direction. I remained sitting after the show was over. After a while the actor came from backstage. He spoke highly of master Tang, and even expressed his wish to invite him for a meal. Apparently, the gatekeeper told him I was master Tang’s student. 
At home, I am the second son, and after this incident many people began to call me ‘Mister Second Son’. In fact, at the
time I had merely been a 16 year old toddler. Perhaps I wanted to solve the problem in this way because I was young.

After a while, the gatekeeper sought me out. He told me that a few youngsters dressed just like I had dressed before came to the theatre. Because he thought I sent them, he let them get it although they didn’t pay. I laughed and explained that I had nothing to do with it. The young folks in Ninghe are cunning…               
Master Tang was very displeased with my behaviour, and when the actor arrived to invite him for dinner to show respect, Tang insisted to be the one who would pay. Master Tang said that had the actors believed that I was indeed only a beggar that day, I would have paid for my actions dearly, since I only know how to train, and not how to fight.

In the picture:  Li Zhongxuan.

The Xing Yi Quan classics state: “First, the body must not learn fighting”. Meaning, that before fighting one should learn the skill of the body of whipping with the hand, and changing the power of the whole body; otherwise in a fight, there is only gong fu, but there is no speed, there is no crispness (Nitzan: crispness like that of a cracker snapping in two), and you will surely lose. If the gongfu is not acquired, then the self-training in fighting without the supervision of a teacher can cause a concussion and damage the joints. That is why it is said that “First, the body must not learn fighting”.

Master Tang explained that the practice method and fighting method in Xing Yi are very different. For instance – in training, one should use the body to push the shoulder, the shoulder to push the elbow, and the elbow to push the hand, until one reaches a state in which the movement flows without interruption. Whilst in fighting, first one should crack the hand like a whip, then the elbow chases the hand, the shoulder chases the elbow, and the body chases the shoulder. When he arrived here (where? Not specified) he clapped his hands once loudly. He then said that fighting is the whipping of the body into the palm of the hand, just like one hand clapping the other. 
Taking Pi Quan as an example. In training, “Pi Quan is like pushing a mountain”. The body pushes slowly, section after section, from back to front; the more exhausting the exercise, the better – that is how gongfu is improved. Whilst in training fighting, Pi Quan is like swinging an axe. The mountaineers swing axes to chop wood just like a whip, with a sudden, clean whipping action. Otherwise, the head of the axe will jam into the wood and would not be able to cut the log in two with one strike.

Li Cunyi’s students in Ninghe included Tang Weilu, Guo Zizhang, and another fellow that went through Ninghe often, whose name I cannot recall. This guy was a policeman who would walk around and catch criminals by himself. One time, a criminal grabbed his pistol from its sheath and was already holding it in his hand. One slap on his head, and the criminal was sent down to the floor, sitting there, confused. He remained confused for a few days, and must have suffered a concussion. At another time, this gongfu uncle of mine was in Yantai, and hurt his hand while catching some criminal. In the hospital, they told him they’d have to amputate his thumb. Because he knew that Li Cunyi left his secret medical inscriptions to master Tang, he went and asked Tang for help. Master Tang made a recipe and sent me to give it to him. 

When I arrived in Yantai, I saw someone waving to me from afar. It turned out to be a student of this gongfu uncle. He told me he had recognized me at first glance: “We come from the same line, so we have the same gait”. The wound in my uncle’s palm slowly healed. In one of those times he was catching a criminal, he was shot to death. His fighting ability was of a high level. He might still have people who continue his tradition and Xing Yi.


Jonathan Bluestein is best-selling author, martial arts teacher, and head of Blue Jade Martial Arts International. For more articles by shifu Bluestein, his books and classes offered by his organization, visit his website at:

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