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Starting Xing Yi P1: What is Xing Yi Quan?

Updated: Apr 13, 2020

Xing Yi Quan (Heart Intention Boxing but often called Five Elements Boxing in the West) is a living military martial art designed for the professional military class of China. Stories of Xing Yi's origin place it in the late Song Dynasty (1127–1279) although modern scholarship disputes this mythological origin story. Nevertheless, Xing Yi is practiced by the Chinese military (in Taiwan) alongside non military masters to this day.

The practice of Xing Yi is disciplined, demmanding and confident. The body (physical muscles, aerobic capacity, bones and tendons), and mind (intent/yi, energy/qi and force/jing) are both trained equally rigorously. Xing Yi is not an easy martial art to learn, the training combines the disciplined military mindset (no nonsense, high repetition, some high risk to reward training, killer instinct & authoritarian) with deep internal practices (training the mind, long periods of standing practice, deep and complex internal theory, qi gong and meditation). The unique mix of both aspects places very contrasting demands on the student of Xing Yi. Excessively external martial artists (like kickboxers and wrestlers) are often unable to commit to the internal development work and long periods of standing meditation, while excessively internal and soft internal martial artists (like many tai chi and akido practitioners) are often unable to endure the heavy contact free fighting, military like structure and long grueling stance and conditioning work. As a result the subset of people willing to take on training this art is particularly small. Traditionally this was the martial art of educated commissioned military professionals who would lead heavy infantry units in battle in order to defeat and kill other similarly armed and armored units.

San ti posture is the main standing posture of Xing Yi Chuan. A static pose held for long periods of time to develop the mind as well as the body.
Mark Standing in San Ti Posture

In the modern age the purpose of junior commissioned officers is not to lead groups of spear wielding heavy infantry into a charge and as such the art has declined and shifted its focus. The spear (so called the “king of weapons” in ancient China) has not been the dominant weapon on the battlefield for many hundreds of years. As military technology and strategy evolved Xing Yi adapted. Spear techniques adapted for use with a rifle and fixed bayonet and a heavier focus on unarmed and knife techniques. The traditional dao (Chinese curved battle sword) was discarded in the late 1900's as the sidearm of choice and replaced with the Western military saber. As such, Xing Yi adapted its dao forms into saber forms. Xing Yi is not an empty relic to be wheeled out by men in silk pajamas using weapons hundreds of years old, but a useful practical art that was still being taught with modern military weapons by the central military committee of the Komintang before the flight of the Chinese republic and the rise of the communism in China.

Xing Yi is not an art for health, well-being and personal development. It is a military martial art designed for killing first and foremost. It also has number of important side benefits; it strengthens the body, clears the mind and improves stamina, posture and coordination. Xing Yi forges practitioners into officers that other soldiers can respect. Long periods of standing meditation improve posture, sharpen the mind and allow a man to remain focused during a long watch. The no nonsense attitude and focus on mental development improve rapid decision making under stress and help deal with the associated yang emotions and stress involved in combat. The physical development improves striking power, grants strong root in the legs, trains the user to squat and jump with heavy load such as armour, gear and potentially wounded comrades. Xing Yi is trained efficiently but also collectively in a group or squad, marching in lines, building teamwork, camaraderie and a no solider left behind attitude. It is also trained intensively compared to many other internal martial arts like tai chi, with a high volume of repetition of a small number of techniques, heavy contact sparring and drills and at full speed and power to the point of fatigue or failure. Injures were common and accepted as part of the practice with those unable to keep up being removed from the program.

In this way Xing Yi has more in common with military martial arts like Systema and Krav Maga. It does have many Chinese features, it does have internal mind and intent training and it is a soft or internal style (admittedly the most Yang of any soft style). But it is first and foremost a practical military striking based martial art.

Interested in giving Xing Yi Quan a try? Get in touch to find out more.

Part of this material is drawn from Sifu Dr Mark Stevenson's upcoming book: Xing Yi for Fighting (and personal development). Please email Mark at if you interersted in pre ordering this comprehensive guide and training companion to the art of Xing Yi.

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