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Overview of Hsing I Ch'uan (Xingyiquan)

Overview of Hsing I Ch'uan page 2: The Twelve Animals of Hebei Style Hsing I Chuan (Xingyiquan)

Animated picture: Xingyiquan Dragon Application (Take Down) Jiang Rong Qiao system. More applications appear as links later in this page.


by Gerald A. Sharp and webmaster Dave

(Xingyiquan and Hsing I Ch'uan are different English translation schemes for the same "Form and Will Fist" martial art.) Also see:


The Basic Approach of 12 Animals Style Hsing I Ch'uan (Xingyiquan)

5elementsThe foundation of Hsing I Ch'uan (Xing Yi Quan) is the parsing of all actions into five groups which are called the Five Elements (or Five Phases). The basic actions are taught in Hsing I Ch'uan as Five Fists, first as simple individual forms and later linked together. There are a variety of associations with each of the Five Elements, but it is a dual progression that drives the utility of the groupings. In this picture, the name Five Phases seems better capture the concept - but it is less commonly used than "Five Elements." The tactical perspective of the Five Elements is built on destructive and creative progressions and the association of the actions with the five groups:

In Hsing I Ch'uan (Xingyiquan) practice, applications of the destuctive progression (or cycle) of the Five Elements is the foundation when training to deal with an attack:

  • Pounding (Fire) intercepts Splitting (Metal) with it's angular parrying raised arm combined with a "pounding" striking fist;
  • Drilling (Water) intercepts Pounding's (Fire) strike with a circular parry, followed by a downward deflection combined with a "drilling" uppercut;
  • Crossing (Earth) intercepts Drilling's (Water) uppercut with a lateral, "crossing" parry and a hooking strike;
  • Bursting (Wood) intercepts Crossing's (Earth) hooking strike with a linear pull combined with a divergent, "bursting" straight-on strike;
  • Splitting (Metal) splits Bursting (Wood) with a straight down parry followed closely by a chopping, "splitting" strike; and so on cyclically.

The Twelve Animals are, in essence, a more sophisticated way to utilize the Five Elements of Hsing I Chuan. However, that said, the Twelve Animals have their own constellations and shapes which provide additional influence on the application and healing practices of Hsing I Chuan. Beyond the Twelve Animals though, there is that argument/question as to which came first: The Ten Animals or the Twelve Animals? While it isn't something that is "make or break" for ardent practitioners, it is, in my opinion, something worth considering, as both camps have something to learn from one another.

1. Ten Animal Style (Henan) and Twelve Animal Style (Hebei) Hsing I Ch'uan (Xingyiquan)

The 10 Animals and 12 Animals styles of Hsing I developed later in Hsing I’s history than the Five Elements. There is an argument concerning which was first: the Ten Animals Style or the Twelve Animals Style.

The Ten Animals is usually referred to as the Henan (or Muslim style) and the 12 Animals are referred to as the Hebei Style. The names refer to Henan and Hebei provinces (respectively) where these two styles were popularized. The debate is often over- simplified in this debate, and the true differences between the two styles is often buried. The arguments about which style was first are strong on both sides.

xingyi Tai

Hsing I (Xingyiquan) T'ai (Roc) take down (Jiang Rong Qiao style).

Despite the variety of explanations that exist throughout many schools of Hsing I concerning the T'ai, i.e. ostrich, teradactyle, Archaeopteryx, or even the reference to a camel, it is possible, for example, to envision something like the now extinct flightless Moa (from New Zealand) and related large birds.

2. Origin of the Ten Animals Style Hsing I Ch'uan

While we have started our discussion of Hsing I Ch'uan with the Five Elements, this touches on a key difference between the 10 Animals and 12 Animals styles. While Ten Animals stylists often place the Five Elements as an aspect of their 10 Animals system, the actual implementation of the 10 Animals style rests the Ten Celestial Stems. The theory of the Ten Celestial Stems is built on the mutual and destructive cycles of the Five Elements.

On the one hand, the Ten Celestial Stems seems to be the oldest of the Chinese cyclic signs, and its documented history dates back to at least 1400 BC where it is featured on some oracle inscriptions. (The Ten Celestial Stems is one also theory for the emergence of the cyclic diagrams of Post-Heaven Pa Kua trigrams - based on the dual aspects of the Four Heraldic Animals of the Ten Celestial Stems.

On the other hand, we are really looking at an astrological system based on 22 constellations divided up between ten constellations associated with the lunar calender and 12 constellations in the Chinese zodiac. The Chinese have traditionally used a lunar calander, so tracking the moon through the constellations associated with the Ten Celestial Stems develops on this path. It is possible to parse the five elements onto this system without resorting to much complexity.

Whatever the initial motivation there was for considering the Five Elements cycle and the Eight Trigrams together, the pervasive and persistent combination of these two schemes is rooted in the underlying mathematics.

3. Origin of the Twelve Animals Style

Some 12 Animals practitioners argue that the 12 Animals style developed from the Five Fists. On the other hand, the Twelve Animals seems to have originally been derived from the Twelve Celestial Branches, which was a method of using the stars, sun, and the moon to designate the twelve hours of the day, the twelve months of the year, and the twelve years of the Jupiter cycle. Research conducted in the 1970's points to the use of both the 10 Celestial Stems and the 12 Celestial Branches as early as the Hsia Dynasty (2203-1766 B.C. It is not at all clear which system is more ancient.

The reason for thinking that the lunar and solar astrologies had to develop together is clear. Even though the Chinese used a lunar calander, the Earth's seasons are tied to the sun. To reconcile the lunar and calender and solar cycle of seasons, a 60 year period emerges. This was developed in terms of a system of 12 years (each associated with a Zodiac animal) and an additional characterization (each associated with one of the five elements).

People can - and have - made it more complicated than this. For example, another origin theory that has emerged relates in detail the names the Twelve Animals of the 12 Animals Hsing I (Xingyi) system with the cyclic represenation known as the Tiangan Celestial Stems. Within this system there are Twenty Eight Animals Constellations in the night sky. This cyclical relationship (like the Post-Heaven theory of Bagua) involves both the Five Elements and the behaviors of these animal constellations during the different seasons. The system attempts to explain astronomical cycles (e.g. the effects on tidal movements) and astrological patterns (e.g. human behavior) by relating them with the Phases of the Moon, the hours of the day in different seasons from shadows of the Sun and so forth.

4. Mysticism and Mathematics

The twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac are not the Twelve Animals in Heibei style of Hsing I Ch'uan.

The Twelve Animals represent different kinds of animals that come from both heaven and earth, as well as their characteristics of movement and appearance and disappearance throughout the seasons. Even now, mankind's continued existance depends on a variety of cycles. Over time more mathematical descriptions have emerged and our attempts to understand the cycles observed in nature have improved.

The Twelve Animals that were more closely related to the seasonal changes, as well as lunar and solar changes, are the twelve animals of Hsing I Ch'uan. Some of Hsing I's Twelve Animals (along with others from the Twenty Eight Animal Constellations) emerged to describe the Twelve Year Cycle of the Chinese Zodiac. As with other sorts of astrology, the Twelve Animals of the Chinese Zodiac were used to explain human behavior but it also led to the development of astronomy and mathematics.

The basic application of the Twelve Animals of Hsing I Ch'uan is to provide a system of groupings with a cyclic chartacter that can be used organize relationships. There has certainly been a lot of mysticism in many of the associations that have been made with these groupings, but the there is also a mathematical foundation that you can use in other ways. You get a system of groups that can be developed. This view of the relationships can enable a less subjective and more balanced assessment of both our relative situation and ourselves.

5. 12 Animal Style Hsing I Ch'uan

The Twenty Eight constellations from which the Twelve Animals of Hsing I are derived from Four Sectors (linked to compass directions) as follows:

  • 1) An Eastern section of the sky whose sector is shaped like a Dragon and colored with a blue hue (later referred to as Azure);
  • 2) A Northern section of the sky that's shaped like a Turtle with a dark, black hue;
  • 3) A Western section that’s shaped like a Tiger with a white hue; and,
  • 4) A Southern section of the sky whose sector is shaped like a Red Phoenix.

Within these four sectors are the animal constellations (and the lunar and solar positions) whose behaviors and patterns are linked to the behaviors of the stars of the Five Elements. Their characteristics and cyclic changes led to the development of the Twelve Animals of Hsing I Ch’uan. (It should be noted that these Twelve Animal Constellations were related to the Five Elements not by their location, but by their cyclic behaviors -movements, and positions during the various seasons.)

6. The 12 Animals

The Twelve Animals of Hsing I Ch'uan are explained as follows:

  1. Dragon: Two types: Earth Dragon (related to Wood), Sky Dragon (related to Metal). Eastern Azure Dragon.
  2. Tiger (related to Fire) Eastern Azure Dragon.
  3. Monkey (related to Fire) Western White Tiger.
  4. Horse (related to the Sun and a combination of all Five Elements) Red Phoenix.
  5. Alligator - also sometimes called Water Lizard or Crocodile (related to Wood), Eastern Azure Dragon.
  6. Fighting Chicken ( related to the Sun and a combination of all Five Elements dominated by Fire) Western White Tiger.
  7. Falcon: related to the Phases of the Moon and a combination of all Five Elements dominated by Water, located in the Western White Tiger Sector.
  8. Swallow ( related to the Phases of the Moon and a combination of all Five Elements dominated by Water) Northern Black Turtle.
  9. Snake: related to Fire and located in the Red Phoenix Sector.
  10. T’ai -also sometimes called Roc (related to Earth) Western White Tiger.
  11. and 12. Combined Eagle/Bear ( related to both Fire and Water) Northern Black Turtle.
7. Comments About the 12 Animals

Observe the central position of the Fighting Chicken and the Falcon (and followed closely by Swallow) which are combinations of all Five Elements. They are dominated by Fire and Water Elements.

The Two Dragons crop up in the form of the Earth Dragon (“Cat Goes Up and Down the Tree” form in the Five Elements Linking Form) and the Sky Dragon as the first animal of the Twelve Animals. While there are minor differences in the two, there are great similarities.

The Alligator demonstrates its relationship to Wood in the Five Elements Linking Form when it joins like “branches” the Five Single Fists to the “Cat Goes Up and Down the Tree” (Earth Dragon).

Traditionally the Twelve Animals training follows the training of the Five Fists, and the Sky Dragon (related to Fire) leads the way in the practice of the Twelve Animals of Hsing I Ch'uan.

12 Animals Apps

12 Animals Application Examples

8. Five Teachers

Jiang Ron Qiao and Four other Xingyi Teachers

The photo above shows my Hsing-I (and Pa Kua) teacher, top row left, Zou Shuxian. Top from right is Ji Yuan Song and Yang Bantai. Bottom left is Sha Guozhen and bottom right is the legendary Nei Jia Kung Fu Teacher, Jiang Rong Qiao.

We are quite proud of our Hsing I Chuan (Xingyiquan) Instructional Video Set on sale at our store site. Other sometimes hard to find material can also be obtained there.

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