Friday, April 6, 2012

The first steps down the Xingyi path

The First Steps on the Xingyi Path.

I have talked a lot about how Xingyi should be trained and now I think I should explain how I teach the first levels of Xingyi.  I feel that this method sets the student on a solid path to understanding the Internal Arts and being able to fully express all the different methods and techniques available in Xingyi.  This level is not centered around what is considered the traditional Xingyi first level of the Elements and Linking form, but instead we work on developing a "Kung Fu Body" and teaching the student the most basic techniques.  Also trained are basic applications and the idea of efficient movement is stressed.  This throughly prepares the student to begin practicing the 5 Elements and Linking Set and gives them enough knowledge to speak with any practioner and have a basic understanding in a conversation.
FIrst we start all our workouts with a stretching and warm-up routine called Si Ba.  It is 4 sets of movements that release tension and prepare the student for moving.  This is one of the MOST important parts of training, as I feel that many of the common aches and pains that people have could be dealt with by a good stretch when first getting up in the morning.  The Si Ba set stretches the whole body and also helps to understand opening and closing of the body.  It is a moving stretching set, the movements could be compared to Qi Gong,  After the muscles are warm and loose, then we stretch and open all the major joints, like the elbows, knees, ankles, etc.
After the body is loose and warm, we start out physical training from the ground up.  First comes the 7 stances most commonly used in forms and training, and we emphasize these for leg strength not combat.  In our school we understand there is a big difference between the two, but each has its place in a well rounded training program.  The 7 stances are Horse, Bow, Cat, Kneeling, Raised, Low Bow and Dragon Step, the same posture as the Dragon animal form.  These are arranged into line forms with hands involved to create a deeper stretch and build solid power.  When these have been trained and the legs are pre-exhausted, then we practice Tan Tui.  Tan Tui means springing legs and is a great way to build leg strength.   When Tan Tui    is finished, we practice our kicks.  Our style of XIngyi only focuses on 5 kicks based on practicality.  We don't say that other styles are wrong if they have more, but we only use the most basic and lower kicks.  These kicks are Front, Side, Shovel Kick (Toe turned out), Back Kick, and what is called a Mantis kick which is similar to the leg position in the Seven Star Stance from Mantis.
This process exhausts the legs, and places the focus of training first on the legs, since they are often neglected by novice students.  The second part of our sessions train the upper body starting with interceptions.  Many schools train hard, Karate style blocks which I'm sure are effective, but when the intent is to intercept and deflect the incoming attack, less energy is used and it allows for a seamless transition to attacking.  We use 5 basic Interceptions in our school.  A straight or piercing movement, Inside and Outside, Low and High of each.  This seems overly simple but they are all the new student needs to start learning applications and begin using a logical approach to self defense.  We don't believe that every attack has its own unique counter, rather that there are basic counters, and they can be applied to almost all attacks.  This reduces the amount that must be memorized and lets the student have a great variety of uses for each thing they learn.
Now the fun part!  We start our striking training here, and this is also where the student first begins to strike bags after they have learned the no contact training for each punch.  We use the Full Punch, Standing Punch, Palm, Spear Hand, Backfist and Uppercut.  These are not all the strikes we have but they are enough to provide a solid base.  This is also where we begin to learn applications against each of these punches.  We start to combine the stepping, blocks, kicking and punching together to tie everything together in a nice package for the student.  This also shows them that there is a method to the teaching, in case any get lost or discouraged, that everything is taught for a reason and it all is used as one.  I think its a good lesson, to be working on various things, then suddenly realize its all part of the same whole.  It makes the students look for connections between movements in the future.
 The last part of the physical exercise we do is forms.  I place a low priority on them at this stage, feeling that they are merely distractions and more fun that real value.  Later on they will have greater value, but for right now most students just like the fancy movements and don't know what the true purpose is for forms training.  We teach two forms here, one is Wu Bu, or 5 Stances, which combines stance work with strikes.  Next is La Ma Cho, a form from a Northern Shaolin friend of mine that works deep stances and moving between them.   I have contemplated adding more forms to this level, but it would only happen if they served a clear and simple purpose to this stage of training.
Now that the body is totally spent and relaxed from training, we begin our internal work.  We have a simple moving Qi Gong set and our Post stance training.  These are the foundation of good internal work and introduce the student to feelings of Qi and structural connectivity that they probably have never felt before.
This level lasts for about 6 months or longer until the student shows enough progress and understanding to move on.  If enough time isn't spent here, then no real strength has been built, and it would have just been an exercise in memorization.
I hope that this has shed some light on how I like to train and maybe there are other schools who do the same thing or similar.  I don't think that other ways are wrong, but in my experience this creates a strong student who is physically and mentally ready for the rigorous training to come in the second level.

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This is a blog devoted to the Chinese Internal martial arts. Our school is located in Vancouver, WA and currently accepting students for group classes, and limited private sessions.