Hsing-I, What Is It?

Hsing-I, pronounced sheeng-ee, is a branch of martial arts based off of Tai Chi, or Taijichuan, and is thus considered a form of internal martial arts. As a form of internal martial arts, Hsing-I is focused on proper body mechanics above all, yet is not above applying extra power into its strikes.

*The Five Elements:

Hsing-I's movements are largely linear and best suited to situations where engaging your opponent directly and head-on is the best approach. Hsing-I centers around five basic strikes, called the "five elements," all of which are relatively simple movements meant to be practiced over and over again to quickly build proficiency using those five strikes. Advanced forms combining these elements together do exist, primarily for application purposes, yet the emphasis on the five elements follows the line of reasoning that if there are fewer strikes there also exists many more opportunities to practice them and build your skill in delivering them.

The quote, I cannot recall where I first heard it, "if you can only practice one thing, do that one thing very, very well," applies here. In comparison to many other forms of martial arts, Hsing-I's five strikes are far fewer in number so it should naturally be that they will become very proficient in a relatively smaller amount of time. By combining this with internal principles, which are more slowly learned, Hsing-I's five elements can be a force to be reckoned with:

*Pi Chuan (Pee-Chwan): Consisting of an upwards-reaching punch and a momentum-powered open palm strike, Pi Chuan is a powerful strike that can either take your opponent by surprise with the punch or deflect an incoming limb with the rising and falling palm. Pi Chuan carries the capabilities of disrupting your opponent's standing structure, unbalancing their weight distribution therefore causing a delay in their follow-up, or being able to plow through their attack in order to deliver your own.

*Tsuan Chuan (Soowan-Chwan):  Tsuan Chuan utilizes a motion that ideally drags an opponent towards the ground and into your center before delivering a strike upwards and towards the head. It's not advisable to punch someone in the head as it's very easy to injure yourself in this attempt, yet if the opportunity presents itself as favorable, such a course of action can be pursued. By trapping a hand through a feint or other means, straightening the grabbed arm until it's pulled taught without any slack and then by dropping the hips, and then striking with the free hand to the chin, one can control the opponent to a certain degree as long as the opponent's arm and chin are being forced in opposing directions.

*Beng Chuan (Bung-Chwan): Known widely as the bread-and-butter strike of Hsing-I, Beng Chuan sees the most use as it is a forward punch that possesses additional structural soundness and momentum provided through the grounding of the back heel while pushing the body forward. In a way, it is a whole-body punch rather than a punch that only uses the strength of the muscles in the arms. Depending on how Beng Chuan lands, it can be the setup for joint locks, and throws.

*Pao Chuan (Pow-Chwan): Pao Chuan is one of the two elements of Hsing-I that break the pattern of being purely linear in its practice. Pao Chuan instead opts to be practiced in a forward-and-flanking type of motion whose intent is both deflect an incoming strike and offer a followup strike occurring a mere instant after the parry. Pao Chuan explicitly and quite profoundly utilizes storing tension within the tendons and ligaments to store and consequently release the built-up force to add to the devastation that Pao Chuan is capable of delivering.

*Heng Chuan (Hung-Chwan): Similar to Pao Chuan, Heng Chuan disregards the standard linear practice of the five elements for a forward-and-flanking motion that delivers a spiralling, grounded punch that is capable of positioning the Hsing-I practitioner in an advantageous position in order to continue his or her engagement. It can be helpful to think that while Pao Chuan is capable of blocking and deflecting and then following up with a strike, Heng Chuan is a simultaneous evasion and strike. Heng Chuan is the highest regarded of the five elements as its snake-like movement path is capable of winding and weaving within the opponent's space, leaving many opportunities for that opponent to lose sight of the Hsing-I practitioner during the engagement, presenting more opportunities for the practitioner to gain advantage against his or her opponent.

Videos for each of these elements can be found in the 'Study' section of southwestfloridaima.com.

*Body Rotation:

Each of these five elements of Hsing-I employ whole-body mechanics in order to deliver as much force as possible in as short of a flight as is possible. A major contributor to this lies in utilization of hip rotation. Any Hsing-I strike should include a 90 degree rotation in the hips. If you picture a large X dividing your body into four equal portions with the lines of that X not falling directly in front of, behind you, perfectly to your right, and perfectly to your left, but rather falling diagonally so that each line extends from your center to your front-right, front-left, rear-left, and rear-right, the center of your torso should rotate from the front-right line to the front-left line and from the front-left line to the front-right line. Developing this range of motion requires regular practice and intentional relaxing of your muscles in your midsection, yet it leads directly to the kind of power that Hsing-I utilizes to deliver its powerful strikes.

In addition to torso rotation, understanding that while certain muscles expand while others contract in very specific manners is another important factor for developing Hsing-I's power. Perhaps the best example of how Hsing-I muscles expand and contract is to think about a car's differential system. When a car makes a turn, if the inner tire were to rotate at the same speed as the outer tire, that car would be unable to turn effectively and it would not be a smooth motion by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, that inner tire would bounce off the road regularly in order to maintain that intended turning radius. Hsing-I works in a similar way, expanding certain muscles while contracting others leads to a smooth motion that is precise to its intent and leads not only to a powerful strike, but also to increasing its energy efficiency while reducing stress and strain on your own muscles.

*Tendon Involvement:

There are many exercises to develop the range of motion needed to get the most out of your Hsing-I dollar. Using the most immediately obvious muscles to extend a limb and deliver a strike seems the most intuitive way to defend oneself, yet there are ways to do so that, once trained thoroughly, are capable of suddenly and powerfully delivering that strike that is also capable of penetrating incoming strikes, leveraging your opponent into a position of imbalance, and making yourself ready to immediately follow up with your next move. Of course, achieving these principles are possible with other methods, yet following this plan makes the most efficient use of your energy, ensuring that you will be able to continue defending yourself for a longer period of time or you will have the stamina to leave your attacker behind in the dirt should you have to opportunity to escape without sustaining further injuries.

This particular method of body movement involves using the binding strength of the tendons and ligaments to store and release force generated in the muscles. Using this method is advantageous in that the process of building tension in your tendons can occur subtlely and without gaining the attention of your attacker. Additionally, the force released through the tendons tends to be rapid and doesn't require your intentions to be placed on display for your opponent to read.

To illustrate this concept, while holding your arm up and your hand  at eye-level, clench your right hand into a fist and turn it inwards, towards the thumb, until you feel a pull in your forearm. Once this is achieved, allow your forearm to drop. You should notice that you have tension in both your forearm and the portion of your arm with the bicep muscle. This progressing tension is an important concept of Internal Martial Arts and provides the basis of power that issues forth from your tendons. Tai Chi, Hsing-I, and Bagua all use this concept to generate power in a way that can be hard to notice to the untrained eye, yet it is undeniably powerful.

One of the Hsing-I elements that utilizes this concept in the most explicit manner is Pao Chuan. Pao Chuan uses this force to execute both a forward-flying deflection and a followup strike with the palm of the other hand. In order to learn the essence of Pao Chuan, place both hands in front of you, one forearm pointing up and the other lying sideways with the fist of your horizontal arm touching the elbow of the vertical arm. Twisting your arms in the same way as illustrated in the previous paragraph, only in the direction of your pinky fingers, move your arms towards the armpit of your horizontal arm while maintaining the L-shape formed from your horizontal and vertical arms. Keeping your shoulders down, continue to store this tension until you cannot store anymore, point the foot on the same side of your vertical arm in the direction you wish to strike, usually at a 45-degree angle from where your legs line up, move your weight over the leg on the same side as your horizontal arm, and finally, let that vertical arm fly forward from the release of that tension with the intention of deflecting an incoming blow, while your horizontal arm is the striking arm.

Each of the five elements rightly uses this concept of utilizing the tendons to simultaneously maximize force delivered and to make each strike as energy-efficient as possible.

Once all five of the basic elements' movements are understood, one should seek to practice them extensively and once a certain mastery of each one is achieved, the student can move forward to learn forms which combine the five elements to make practice less monotonous and have experience executing each of the five elements from new starting points to make you more capable of adapting to new combat circumstances.

Beyond the five elements lie the twelve animal forms, Dragon, Tiger, Monkey, Water Lizard, Snake, Horse, Swallow, Rooster, Hawk, Thai Bird, Eagle, and Bear. Descriptions and breakdowns of these forms will come in a later post. For now, this is an appropriate amount of information to look over and consider for what is likely either the first or at the very least an early introduction into the internal martial art that is Hsing-I. Until next time, practice well.


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