The small town of Taigu in Shanxi province holds a special place in xingyiquan circles as the home of the founders of both Song and Che styles of xingyi. Even today, there are still many xingyi masters teaching in Taigu and the surrounding area. For xingyi enthusiasts planning a visit, Taigu can be reached from Taiyuan either by coach or by train. The 65km journey usually takes about an hour. Taigu itself is a small, dusty county town.
Finding xingyi in Taigu is not a matter of walking up to a xingyi school, as far as I know there are no commercial schools teaching xingyi in Taigu. The vast majority of xingyi teachers there still teach and practice in the traditional way, wherein on the one hand, the art is taught for free, but on the other the teacher could pick and choose who he taught, so it was actually quite difficult to be accepted as a student. Additionally, in Shanxi xingyi was traditionally practiced behind closed doors, in the thick-walled compounds common in that province.
Song Guanghua, who learnt his art from his father, Song Tielin (Song Shide’s son and Song Shirong’s nephew), is no exception. He teaches his family’s style of xingyi, which is known for its distinctive short, shaking power (dou jue jin), from his home near the centre of Taigu.
Notice the long spear (da qiang), over 3m long, leaning up against the wall. Even this spear was dwarfed by the long staff on the other side of the courtyard, used in ‘dou da gan’ (pole shaking) practice, which was close to 4m long!
M Song was kind of enough to take some time out of his day to sit down and talk with me about his family’s art. I was intrigued to find out that the Song xingyi system includes ‘jing gong’ (lit. ‘still work’), which normally refers to seated or lying forms of qigong. During the course of the conversation, M Song also mentioned the importance of finding ‘zheng heng’ (balance of forces) wherein one should have or feel forces going in the major directions (up/down, front/back and left/right), in all xingyi postures. This reminded me of Yiquan’s concept of opposing force pairs (zheng li). Of course, a detailed comparison would require a far greater knowledge of both arts than I currently possess, so I’ll leave that to the experts.
Another interesting comment that M Song made is that the 5 element fists can be practiced in different ways depending on the context. Specifically, he stated that, for each element, there is a performance version, a training version and a combative version. Thus, when comparing the performance of the 5 elements across styles, one must know which version you are seeing, otherwise the comparison is meaningless.
I would like to thank M Song for his time, and encourage anyone with an interest in this distinctive branch of xingyi to make a trip to Taigu to see what the fuss is all about.