Wang Jiwu on hidden power

September 4, 2009

Many xingyi practitioners will be familiar with the ’3 stages of development’ codified by Guo Yunshen, dividing the power generated by a xingyi practitioner into ming jin [obvious power], an jin [hidden power] and the highest level, hua jin [changing power]. However, what is less often discussed is what these various stages feel like and and how to train them. Below is an extract from an article (taken from here)  by a grandstudent of Wang Jiwu, discussing those very concepts:

“I still remember going to Grass Factory Qi Alley in Beijing with my shifu, Wang Lianyi, to see my shiye, Wang Jiwu. [1] When we got there, shiye Wang instructed my kungfu uncles and brothers to demonstrate ming jin (obvious power) for me. Present were: (WJW’s disciples) Zhang Baoyang & Pan Zhiyuan, as well as my shixiong Wang Hongchang, Sun Guangli, Du Fukun, Su Jingsheng and Ma Wenxuan. The performances of my shixiong were vigorous and full of ming gang jin [obvious hard power], which both surprised and captivated me. Then Zhang Baoyang and Pan Zhiyuan proceeded to demonstrate.

Pan Zhiyuan

Wang Jiwu with one of his grandstudents, Wang Deming

Their demonstrations were also of hard power, but were different from those of my shixiong. My teacher explained that they were displaying hidden hard power. At the time, I did not understand what was meant by ‘hidden’ hard power. Later through my own practice and insight, I came to realise that regardless of whether one is at the obvious, hidden or huajin stages, one should manifest hard power, as this is the ‘soul’ or root of xingyi.

On the subject of huajin, my teacher confided that my shiye himself had reached anjin but never reached the level of huajin. Thus, my teacher said that we would probably only reach, at best, anjin, as we were unlikely to put in as much time and effort as the old-timers had. According to Li Cunyi, huajin is not a result of any special training methods but merely a result of taking anjin to its conclusion. Wang Jiwu said that, of the older generation of xingyi masters that he had met, Wang Fuyuan, Song Huchen, Song Tielin, Li Fuzhen and Li Cunyi had all reached the stage of huajin. From his own generation, his two shixiong Peng Yingxi and Peng Tingjun, Shang Yunxiang and Sun Lutang had all also reached huajin. Even amongst those who had reached huajin, there were still slight differences: for example, Sun Lutang was generally acknowledged to be a ‘grandmaster’ (da shi) of xingyi, but he wasn’t invincible. There were other masters who had reached a similar level, but these masters all had a great respect for each other’s gongfu and reputation. These masters did not need to knock down or launch an opponent to gauge his skill: sometimes, merely a word here and there or simply touching hands would be enough. True masters are always looking for someone on the same or higher level to exchange skills with. Sun Lutang ‘crossed hands’ with a number of high level masters who were famous at the time but are practically forgotten now. Wang Jiwu’s shixiong, Peng Yingxi was one such. Wang Jiwu said that Sun Lutang’s xingyi was agile [lingdong]; his ‘monkey’ shape in particular was superb. Peng Yingxi had once crossed hands with Sun, and found that he [Peng] was the more powerful of the two.

I had thought that xingyi enthusiasts nowadays wouldn’t be able to see huajin: if even our own shifu and shiye say that they have not reached huajin, where would we go looking for it? Luckily fortune smiles on us, for last year I bought a VCD on Dai style xinyi by Guo Jin-gang. I invited my shifu to watch it with me; as we were watching it, he remarked that he was surprised at how different Guo’s xinyi was from our xingyi. As we watched on, my shifu was full of praise, saying that Guo’s xinyi was real Xinyi Liuhequan, and that if his father had still been alive he would have been delighted. Perhaps Wang Jiwu may even have seen something of his shixiong in Guo’s movements, for Wang Jiwu’s shixiong Peng Tingjun learnt the 3 fists, 3 staffs and 4 seizes (Si Ba) from Dai Kui. Later on Peng assimilated what he had learnt from Dai into his xingyi and taught it to Wang Jiwu. My shifu solemnly declared that this was the stage of Hua Jing, and that Guo’s xinyi was orthodox Dai style. If you’re interested, I suggest you take a look at videos or VCDs of Guo. There’s no need to look at his fists, just looking at his steps is a shock: his steps are extremely light, as if walking on ice, he can either step noiselessly or stamp hard enough to split a brick. This must be the result of decades of unremitting practice.

The distinction between mingjin and anjin is a feature of Hebei xingyi, Che style doesn’t really emphasise the difference. As Wang Fuyuan first studied under Liu Qilan and then later moved to Taigu, where he studied with Che Yizhai, a lot of the xingyi passed on by Wang is almost identical to Che style. I have seen some footage of some disciples of Lu Xuelong (a disciple of Che Yizhai): it was like watching my own shifu when he was teaching me, they were demonstrating xingyi’s anjin. In our branch, we first train mingjin: that is, we practice the fists according to the 6 harmonies (liu he), each step is a stamp, each punch should generate noise. One should train in this way for about 5 years before ‘converting’ to anjin. A lot of people (including some of my own kungfu brothers) are ‘stuck’ in the mingjin stage, because anjin is trained in a completely different way. It’s not like taiji’s fang song, it’s more like motionless resistance against a pair of forces. For instance, in training anjin one needs to ‘open the shoulder’, by which we mean to relax the shoulderblade. However, merely relaxing it is not enough, you need to visualise expanding whilst simultaneously ‘sucking’ them inwards. The kua also needs to be first relaxed and then ‘wrapped’ internally. In fact, the same process applies to the knees, elbows and feet as well – this is the external aspect of practice. The internal requirements are even more important: the baihui point [on the top of the head] must be ‘sucked’  down; the hand forms a ‘roof tile’ shape, the laogong point [on the palm] is ‘sucked’ in; the soles of the feet should be ‘empty’, with the toes gripping the floor and the yongquan point must be ‘sucked’ upwards. All of this is done to concentrate qi in the dantian. Now, when you practice zhan zhuang, it’s not about strengthening your leg muscles, but rather about cultivating internal power and inner qi. At this stage, we stand in low postures, but it’s not good to stand for too long. When you first start a few minutes is enough – my shifu only holds the posture for 100 breaths. You can switch legs if you want, the important thing is not to get stiff. In this way, even though you only stand for a short time, you develop power. In standing, the arms can move around slightly, but the legs should be steady. The waist (dantian) and shoulders should turn as you feel the flow of internal power [nei li]. At the same time, you need to couple the practice with visualisations. The best time to practice is when there is no noise and no people around: my shifu practices at 4am, whilst I practice between 10pm and midnight – it’s down to your personal preference.

After you have ‘changed power’ [2], you go back to practicing the fists (i.e. the 5 elements), but the way you train it is different. You want to bring the ‘quality’ of the zhan zhuang into your forms. To do this, you have to do the forms slowly, you can’t do them fast. After you have developed some neijin, the hands should feel as if they are ripping cotton, or drawing a bow. When stepping, as you step out you should ‘hold back’ the jin, and then express ‘nian’ [crushing] and ‘zhan’ [expanding] power as you lay down the foot. The elbow should hang down, but at the same time ‘wrap’ inwards. As my shifu said, you want to ‘draw’ the elbow back, firstly to experience ‘wrapping’ [chan guo] power, but also to defend against the opponent grabbing your tendons, or sealing blood vessels (拿脉). At the same time, the lead arm must go forward as if pulled by a string, while the lagging arm is visualised as being pulled backwards. It should be as if there is a tug-of-war between the two hands: but this kind of visualisation shouldn’t be too forced, it should mainly remain at the level of ‘intent’. This is why xingyi is easy to practice but hard to master: at this stage, we work on the mental aspect, not power. Apart from training hard, you have to analyse and examine your art. When I reached this stage I went back to the 5 fists and 12 animals to re-evalutate them, to discover the ‘internal side’ to the forms. By then, just practicing the 5 elements was enough – in fact, sometimes I just practiced Pi [splitting] and Beng [crushing]. The main concern at this stage is to practice neigong, to cultivate the dantian’s inner qi [nei qi].

wang jiwu neigong pics

Wang Jiwu practicing neigong

The training method is not actually that complicated, it’s called Bodhidharma Innate Qigong [达摩先天功], and includes both sitting and lying postures, and even ‘sleep qigong’, which involves falling asleep naturally whilst practicing the aforementioned postures. The key is to keep practicing every day for 100 days and to keep sex to a minimum. If you can’t rein in your sex drive, there’s just no way you can train anjin. The idea is that after you have ‘filled up’ the dantian, you can project it to the rest of the body. After the body is full of true qi [zhen qi], the body naturally becomes as light and agile as a swallow. If you practice late at night or early in the morning, you will feel that it’s not you practicing xingyi, but rather the movements of your body are driven by the inner chi (neiqi), spontaneous and automatic, and not reliant on your own will. I believe that if we persist in our training, we too can reach the stage of ‘no-mind is the true mind’ [wu yi zhi zhong shi zhen yi] talked about by older generations. The upside of practicing at night is that you don’t rely so much on your eyes, you’re forced to use your other senses. Of course, this can also be practiced during the day by closing your eyes. Then, if someone attacks  you by surprise, your reaction will be natural, reflexive, without being mediated by the brain. This is what grandmasters of the art mean when they talk about ‘whilst waiting, motionless; if the enemy suddenly attacks, you respond naturally to his actions without meaning to hit him’ .

Grabbing clay jars

Grabbing clay jars

Those who have reached the anjin stage need to strengthen their external power [wai li], especially of the arms and fingers. Training methods included grabbing sandbags and grabbing clay jars. This strengthening is needed becase in the anjin phase, the joints of your body have opened up and your muscles are naturally relaxed. At this point, you should train to make the arm muscles tight [jin] but subconsciously relax in your practice. This helps to avoid the problem of ‘full legs, light top’ (xia shi er shang qing), because the anjin of xingyi is ‘hard hidden power’, not the relaxation of taiji. Xingyi’s hidden hard power is like steel wire on a reel, or a rotating iron ball. The outside looks soft, but the inside is actually hard. Li Cunyi once discussed the issue of soft & hard hidden power most incisively.

Even at the age of 90, Wang Jiwu still did press-ups either with only two fingers or with a closed fist (in Shaolin gongfu, this is called Iron Ox plows the earth]. As a result of this, even in his later years Wang Jiwu could send people flying out the door using only two fingers.

My teacher, Wang Lianyi, is 80 this year and is approachable and modest: he always says that he has only reached the anjin stage, not huajin. However, I have observed that for Wang Lianyi, xingyi has already seeped into everything he does. For example, when M Wang used to live on the first floor, there would be lots of flies buzzing around in the hallway in summer. M Wang, as a hygienic man, would grab a rolled-up newspaper and swat the flies out the air. I couldn’t help noticing that he used the ‘monkey’ shape from the 12 animals to swat the flies. As I was sweeping up the fallen flies, I noticed that, to my surprise, the flies had not been smashed to bits, but had only had their wings knocked off or had been knocked senseless. It was only then that I realised what control shifu must have over his power.

When practicing shi li, shifu could launch me into the air to land on a bed or a chair several steps away, but it would never hurt. This is not some kind of ‘speciali ability’, simply the result of hard practice when he was younger. In training, shifu and his shixiong would throw sandbags weighing tens of pounds between each other like kids playing. Even in his mid-sixties, shifu could still carry a bag weighing more than 50 kg on his shoulders up 6 flights of stairs without getting out of breath. Hence, I believe that anjin is not some kind of ‘mysterious’ ability: as long as we can avoid temptation, practice hard and think deeply about our art, we too can reach the heights scaled by previous generations.

[1] Wang Lianyi is Wang Jiwu’s son and disciple.

[2] This term (换劲, huan jin) refers to the process of changing the way you use your body, the way you generate power – in this case, from obvious to hidden.

‘Iron Arm’ Wang Fuyuan

August 29, 2009

Flicking through Dan Miller and Tim Cartmell’s excellent book ‘Xingyi Neigong” (pictured below) the other day, I was curious about the master Wang Jiwu, whose exercises are profiled therein.

  xingyi neigong


It turns out Wang’s branch of xingyi is an interesting mixture of Shanxi and Hebei xingyi with some Dai xinyi influences.  Below is a profile of Wang’s teacher, Wang Fuyuan, translated from here :

‘Iron Arm’ Wang Fuyuan was one of Liu Qilan’s most accomplished disciples. He was Liu Qilan’s ‘shu tong’ [1] and from his youth practiced xingyi morning and night under Liu’s tutelage for over a decade. He mastered the essence of Liu’s xingyi. He never married, and hence kept his ‘tong zi gong’ [2] and his iron arm was as hard as steel.

As a young man, Wang Fuyuan once eliminated a local head of the ’3 Emperors’ gang  on his shifu’s orders. In order to evade the local authorities, Wang sought shelter with his shishu [3] Che Yizhai and lived in his home. In the evenings, Che, his disciple Li Fuzhen and Wang all practiced xingyi together. Che, seeing that Li wanted to ‘cross hands’ with Wang, ‘Changyou [Li Fuzhen's nickname], why don’t we watch Fuyuan’s xingyi?’ To which Wang replied ‘Shishu, what would you like to see?’ Che replied with ‘Whatever you like!’ In reply, Wang said ‘I guess I’ll do a bit of Pan Gen walking then.’ So saying, Wang went into a San Ti stance, sank his qi to the dantian, and started doing Pan Gen, with the steps directing the body, like a swimming dragon. The rotations and changes of directions made Wang’s movements hard to make out. By this point, Wang was moving so fast that his queue [4] was stretched out horizontally behind him. After Wang had finished, Che was full of praise. Che treated Wang as if he was his own indoor disciple, teaching him painstakingly. Wang also became fast friends with Li Fuzhen. Later on, Che recommended Wang for a job guarding a household in nearby Yuci county.

In Yuci, Wang also often met and sought instruction from some of his other xingyi uncles like Song Shirong, Li Taihe, Li Guangheng, Liu Yuanheng and He Yunheng. Hence, Wang’s xingyi can be said to combine the essence of various branches of Hebei and Shanxi xingyi. What’s more, even though at that time the Dai family still kept to their tradition of not teaching outsiders, Wang had contact with the Dai family, which is how Wang’s xingyi came to contain neigong concepts such as the ‘reverse bow’ [反弓一粒精] as well as the Dai family’s 3 fists (Drilling, Wrapping and Stomping ) as well as the 3 staffs (Peng, Pao, Fan Bei). Wang commonly carried with him a paired weapon called ‘bodyguard needles’, which were the same as the ‘iron chopsticks’ used by the Dai family. When Wang guarded convoys, he would carry these needles on his person in case of emergencies. Wang’s needles, 3 staffs and dragon sword (long xing jian) were taught to Peng Yingxi, who taught Wang Jiwu, who passed it on to his son, my teacher Wang Lianyi. For a period, Wang Fuyuan ran a caravan-guarding agency [biao ju] called Xing Yuan in Sanchahe in Inner Mongolia. During the years running Xing Yuan, his caravans were never successfully raided.

Both shiye and shifu emphasised to me that our branch is called Xinyi Liuhe quan – this emphasises that the contents of our branch come from the methods of the Dai family. In Wang Lianyi’s 1986 book, ‘Amazing Art’ (神功) he also calls our art Xinyi Liuhe quan. In this article I will refer to it as Xingyiquan to avoid confusion with the Xinyi Liuhe quan practiced in Henan.

Wang Fuyuan was famous in his lifetime and taught many students in the Yuci and Yangqu areas of Shanxi. From Yuci, there were Peng Yingxi, Wang Zhen-gang, Wang Jiwu, Zheng Zigang and Bo Zhanmei; from Yangqu, there were Mu Xiuyi, Peng Tingjun, Liu Shirong, Qi Zhenlin, and others. Amongst these, the most oustanding were Peng Yingxi, Peng Tingjun and Mu Xiuyi.

A short clip of Mu Xiuyi’s grandstudent, Cao Zhiqing, practicing Beng Quan can be found here

 Wang Fuyuan was born in 1856 and died in 1916 at the age of 60. According to Wang Jiwu, when he was 60, Wang caught a cold and went to a doctor. The doctor prescribed the wrong medicine, leading to Wang’s death. Wang’s passing was a great loss to the martial arts community. Wang Jiwu remembers that Wang Fuyuan was exceedingly fond of him (WJW) and treated him as an adopted son. Wang Jiwu studied with Wang Fuyuan for 6 years, learning San Ti, the 5 elements and the dragon and tiger shapes. After Wang Fuyuan’s passing, Wang Jiwu spent the next 7 years completing his studies with his shixiongs Peng Yingxi and Peng Tingjun, learning the rest of the animals, pair work and weapons. Later, Wang Jiwu went to work as a bodyguard in Li Cunyi’s caravan guarding agency, where he received further pointers from Li Cunyi himself. 

According to Wang Jiwu, the root of Wang Fuyuan’s superlative gongfu was his tongzigong, like that of the Shaolin warrior monks. This, together with his iron arm skill and Pan Gen stepping is what made him one of the most skilled masters of his era. I remember when I visited Wang Jiwu in the autumn of 1986. By that time Wang Jiwu was 94 years old. He showed me his ‘arm gongfu’ sitting on a rock bench by sticking out his arm. His arm was like a thick tree branch; in that year I was 24, and yet, try as I might, I could not move his arm an inch! After a while, I started to hang on his arm as if from a parallel bar – even then, his arm remained rock-steady. Wang himself did not consider this ‘iron arm’, it was merely a product of the practice of zhua tanzi [grabbing earthen jars] and ‘holding wooden bucket’ zhan zhuang. In his later years, Wang Jiwu’s arms were very thin – the skin was loose but the flesh was very firm, like an iron bat. Wang said that, with true ‘iron arm’, the practitioner’s arm could almost double in thickness after ‘circulating qi’ [运气], after which one would be able to break rocks and bend iron  pipes. At the time, I was not convinced. It was only after I met an anonymous master at the Wangfu Hotel who really did have this kind of iron arm ability that I believed what Wang Jiwu had said. After circulating his qi , this man’s arm doubled in thickness and turned red; he could hit his arm with a hammer without damage. He could also ‘project’ qi to heal illnesses.

Wang Jiwu told me that Wang Fuyuan, because of his iron arm and pan gen stepping, had never lost a challenge. In facing up to an opponent, he didn’t block, he just went straight on the attack, invariably ‘launching’ his opponent out. This is the pinnacle of combat in xinyi, called ‘just attacking, no looking [zhi da bu gu]‘. According to the old xinyi manuals, combat can be divided into 3 stages: ‘look first, then attack’; ‘looking & attacking together’ and ‘no looking, just attacking’. Not only that, at the peak of his powers Wang was able to sense movements within 10 steps behind him. It was then that Wang Jiwu told me of an incident that occurred in Wang Fuyuan’s later years.

One night in 1912, Wang Fuyuan was coming home on a deserted country road. On the way, he was accosted by two robbers. The two robbers, seeing that Wang was a skinny old man by himself, hid in the bushes by the side of the road. As Wang passed by, the two leapt out from either side clutching wooden staffs and attacked Wang from behind. Wang, perceiving the danger, ducked backwards through the gap between the two robbers, ending up behind them. Once behind, he hit the Fengfu point on the back of both their heads, causing the two of them to stumble. Wang then used the ‘hook back’ of Dai style Ying Zhuo [Eagle Grasp] to send the two robbers to the floor. From nowhere, Wang’s needles appeared in his hands as he barked “Why are you robbing people? If you don’t mend your ways, I’ll put an end to the both of you.” The two robbers knelt on the floor and begged for their lives; Wang, relenting, let them go.  

[1] A ‘shu tong’ [书童] , in feudal China, was a servant to a scholar, responsible for odd chores such as fetching books, grinding ink, tidying the scholar’s study, etc.. 

[2] ‘Tongzi Gong’ [童子功] refers to a set of exercises to make the body extremely supple and the joints flexible. It usually has to be practiced from early childhood to have the desired effect.  

[3] Terms of address in Chinese martial arts: shi fu = teacher, shi xiong = elder kungfu brother, shi shu = kungfu ‘uncle’, shi ye = grand-teacher

[4] The queue was the characteristic long ‘ponytail’ hairstyle imposed on Han chinese men by the Manchu emperors during the Qing dynasty.



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