An Introduction to the 5 Elements of Xingyiquan
Presentation by Yun Choi Yeung BA MBA MEd MSc
Fellow of the Institute of Martial and Science
Fellow of the Institute for Learning
Senior Instructor of the International Pankration Federation
Instructor of the British Council of Chinese Martial
Member of the Federation of Holistic Therapists
Xingyiquan should be the oldest of the three commonly known Internal Martial Arts, and also has a long history for military training. It is very powerful and yet does not use brute force (concentric contraction of muscles). There are lots of similarity between Wing Chun and Xingyiquan, and the postulation is that Wing Chun is a possible further development of Xingyiquan in the South of China. The classical writings of Xingyiquan formed the basis of many concepts in Taijiquan such as spine issues the forces, step follows torso movement, one moves all moves, one stops all stops, every joint links through, seeking straight in curves, conserve and then issue, and there is no breakage, from the writings of Wu Yuxiang (1812-1880). The ability to utilize the gluteal muscles or buttocks formed the basis of the very powerful steps and rotations and strikes in Baguaquan.
The combine learning of Xingyiquan and Taijiquan and Baguaquan started with Sun Lu Tang (1860-1933) and his younger colleague and close friend Fu Zhen Song (1872-1953). They both well versed in all three arts and were the head instructors of the Central Martial Arts Academy established by the Nationalist Government in 1927. These three arts share a common theoretical basis in non-concentric movements but remain very distinct in terms of philosophy, training aim, training method and techniques up to now.
Xingyiquan has a very special development in relating the 5 elements to the organs of the body. This concept comes from the Yellow Emperor's Inner Canon, the most important book in Traditional Chinese Medicine. This work is generally dated by scholars to be created between the late Warring States period (475-221 BC) and the early Han period (206 BCE–220 CE).However, these 5 elements are not the same as the ideas in the Book of Change with its origin trace back to the 3rd to the 2nd millennium BC. Actually these are two systems with Xingyiquan focuses on the elements of gold, wood, water, fire and earth. And the other system is much more elementary with sky, ground, water, fire and their unity which is similar to the Greek and Indian concepts of 4 or 5 elements. Xingyiquan follows the philosophy of gold produces water, water produces wood, wood produces fire, fire produce earth, earth produces gold, gold suppresses wood, wood suppresses earth, earth suppresses water, water suppresses fire, fire suppresses gold. Its forms are also following in similar lines of continuity, retaliation, mixed and interrelated.
The three entity posture (sky, ground, man) is fundamental in Xingyiquan, and it is not the same as standing meditation. It is concentration, and practitioners will experience some external Qi energy but that is only a byproduct when the whole body is under tensions and conscious manipulation. In recent years, Xingyiquan with the help of medical practitioners has developed a set of 5 health exercises but do not confuse it with the traditional 5 animal play exercise.