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Xiantian Quanshu

By Yun-Choi Yeung

 

Xiantian is a concept in Ancient Chinese Philosophy of Science, which have been developed by Taoists and later adopted in Chinese Martial Arts. Actually Xiantian is two Chinese words, Xian means before and Tian means day or heaven. But the term is used to denote congenital, such as congenital deficiency for example. This term is also use in conjunction with Houtian. Hou means after, and the term denote what is acquired or learnt after birth or literally means the day after. Xiantian is what we are at birth and Houtian is what we acquired after birth. Quanshu means the art of fist fighting or pugilism. This is also formed by two Chinese words; Quan means fist and Shu means method, skill, art, or tactics. A more accurate translation for Xiantian Quanshu should be congenital pugilism.

The basic concept is that the shortening of muscles or concentric contraction of muscles to generate strength is something we learn after birth, and is not the natural strength that we have at birth. A method was developed to stretch relaxed muscles to produce strength and muscle elasticity to replace the shortening of muscles. Chinese Martial Artists have developed this concept to enhance performances in various pugilistic techniques over hundreds of years, which in a way provided a very comprehensive set of bodily movements. Furthermore, the developed strength and skills were found to be well maintained by elderly.

The problems with Xiantian Quanshu techniques are that they are very complex and mixed due to the long period of development associated with many different schools of Chinese Martial Arts. The claim of the earliest form of Xiantian Quanshu is Xinyuliuhebafaquan (heart mind six harmony eight method boxing) developed by the Taoist Chen Po (? - A.D.989). From the Taoist link, there are the developments of Taijiquan and Bagaquan. There are also similar developments in Xingyuquan and Yongchunquan (Wing Chun Quan) utilizing these concepts. Taijiquan, Bagaquan and Yongchunquan have similar development in the rotation of joints to give an extra stretch on muscles to generate greater strength and recoil of muscles, and the use adherent and following techniques. This in a way created a new kind of adherent pugilistic skills in Chinese Martial Arts. It is not easy to learn and to master these arts, as it takes years of learning and training. However, it is like other interests or hobbies in life with endless development and pursuits. Well, it is really a question of time, money, energy and opportunities in any serious pursuit. Like any exercise for good health, Xiantian Quanshu involves the training for improving flexibility; strength and oxygen up take; except it has the unique feature of not using any Houtian strength.

Master Lai Shen-hong, a retired lecturer of anatomy of the Guangzhou Collage of Medicine has studied the impact of various movements of Taijiquan, Xingyiquan, Baguaquan, and different Qigong exercises on the spine. He developed the concept of self-stretching of the spine and related exercises. The concepts of moving the spine to issue power, the movements of the torso initiate the movements of the limbs, and the ability of the torso to follow the movement of the limbs are well defined and practiced in Chinese Martial Arts. He and the writer have broken down the complex martial movements into individual simple stretching movements, and worked out Xiantian movements to replace Houtian movements. They have combined these movements to form some simple exercise sets for everyone. This enables everyone to gain the benefits of Xiantian movements without learning the complex martial art routines.

The argument for not using any Houtian strength is that it is developed from fear induced concentric muscle contraction, as it is very common that people under stress have stiff muscles. Stretching exercise is a good remedy but stretching produces muscle power is a phenomenon. In more recent studies of work physiology, it is demonstrated that this is the case in terms of eccentric contraction of muscles and elasticity of muscles. Studies of movements in weightless conditions also confirmed this possibility. It is not the intension of this article to go into scientific details of eccentric muscle contraction but a summary of the latest discoveries is very important to validatethe use of pure eccentric movements in Xiantian exercises.

Scientists have found that eccentric muscle contraction leads to high force per muscle fiber, untrained muscle suffers micro-damage, enzyme release and Delay Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS), stiffness and decreased capacity. But the advocate of Xiantian exercise is to stretch muscles slowly to build up strength and speed seems to have avoided the problem of DOMS all together. Scientists also have found that eccentric muscle contraction increases potential energy, has protective function on bones and joints, less stressful on heart and other bodily metabolic compared to concentric muscle contraction, and less effected by age. There might be many other benefits and questions but the objective of exercise is to be stronger and more flexible for people to enhance their daily activities.

Xiantian Quanshu techniques are very comprehensive in dealing with the mechanics of the body in stretching and rotating various joints, the impact on breathings, putting pressure on the internal organs, transferring weight between the legs and utilizing the major muscle groups for power. The assumption is that the Xiantian way is correct, and the Houtian way is not correct. Therefore, people can have immediate improvement once they learn how to do it correctly. Most people can learn it easily and accept it quite easily. The difficulty is the psychology of fear, as most people are just unable to relax under stress, as old habits die hard, and it is not easy to change. The method of self stretching is a proactive one, as people are shown, the two ends of each muscle or group of muscles, and then pull or twisted in opposite directions instead of asking them to relax. Stiff muscles will slowly loosen up and became more flexible. Furthermore, people can make use of the additional energy and large muscle groups to do extra work to meet their needs.

It is recommended that a program of Xiantian Quanshu exercises should include the followings:

  1. A series of isolated self stretching exercises

  2. Introduction to four basic breathing techniques

  3. Movements of the torso to form various circular motions

  4. Eight sets of combined stretching exercises

  5. A set of basic Xingyiquan routine involves punching, kicking, stepping and turning

  6. Two sets of basic Baguaquan routines involve walking in faster pace combined with various torso movements

  7. The application of congenital strength in pushing, pulling, lifting, and squatting

  8. Some basic applications of muscle elasticity

This program sounds a little complex but in fact it is very simple once the learner mastered the concept of stretch relaxed muscles slowly to build up strength. For people take a fancy in martial arts can go on with adherent pugilistic techniques in Taijiquan, Yongchunquan, and Baguaquan.