Styles of Xing Yi (Hsing-I)

Xing Yi in Cornwall, Devon and Somerset

Xing Yi

“Styles” are not a very important concept in Xing Yi (also written Hsing-I), and probably wouldn't be discussed at all if it wasn't for the influence that other martial arts have had on Xing Yi in relatively modern times. Westerners are often culturally obsessed with categorisation, so styles tend to get discussed more in the West than they do in China. This is because Xing Yi is based upon a fairly finite set of basic principles, so to a certain extent one is either doing Xing Yi or not, irrespective of style. In the our Xing Yi for example, we combine together three different styles or branches of the Xing Yi family tree into one, and experience virtually no difficulty in doing so. Some of these common principles, such as the famous “Chicken Leg” footwork, are found in few other martial arts, and so serve to maintain a clear distinction between Xing Yi and other arts.

In manifestation and range of teaching and practice methods, however, Xing Yi can be an extensive discipline in which different groups specialise in different aspects. This, combined with the influence of more popular arts like Tai Chi Chuan and the inevitable "branding" of styles so that one group can be compared to or promoted over others, has led to people talking in terms of styles of Xing Yi. The following list gives some of the more common style names used today:

  • Che Style was founded by Che Ti Zhai (a.k.a. Che Yong Hong), and is one of the Shanxi styles.
  • Dai Style was founded by Dai Lin Bang and Dai Long Bang.
  • Guo Style is the style descended from Guo Yun Shen. Once “Hebei Style” and “Guo Style” were synonymous, but not today. The Yongquan Association’s Xing Yi is inherited from three different branches of the Guo Style.
  • Hebei Style means different things to different people. Firstly, the original Hebei Style was founded by Guo Yun Shen and his teacher Master Li Neng Ran, but it has subsequently split into several branches that are often dissimilar in superficial appearance. Secondly, it is a collective name for the styles practiced or originating in Hebei province. Thirdly, modern Wushu practitioners in China are unfortunately heard to refer to their “Xing Yi forms” as Hebei Style. The range of use of the term “Hebei Style” today means it is almost impossible to make generalised comments about it. Real Hebei style is characterised by its emphasis on the use of the piercing “dark jin” combative power - the inability of Modern Wushu practitioners to produce this jin serves as a useful point of distinction.
  • Henan Style was founded by Ma Xue Li, and now refers collectively to the styles of Henan province. It is within this style that the term Xin Yi, as opposed to Xing Yi is more widely used.
  • Ji Style founded by Ji Long Feng (a.k.a. Ji Ji Ke) is the progenitor style of most of the well known styles taught today.
  • Kuoshu - the national martial arts of Taiwan, which include Xing Yi (usually written Hsing-I in Taiwan).
  • Luoyang Style is another name for the Ma style.
  • Lushan Style is another name for the Mai style.
  • Ma Style was founded by Ma Xing, and is one of the Henan styles.
  • Mai Style was founded by Zhang Zhi Cheng, and is one of the Henan styles.
  • Modern Wushu - so-called “Xing Yi forms" are practiced within modern wushu.
  • Old Hebei Style is a term used by some practitioners of the Hebei branches in order to distance themselves from Modern Wushu (which makes claims about being “Hebei Style”).
  • Shanxi Style is a collective name for the several styles taught or originating in Shanxi province.
  • Song Style was founded by Song Shi Pong, and is one of the Shanxi styles.
  • Sun Style founded by Sun Lu Tang, better known as the founder of Sun style Tai Chi. Sun Lu Tang has been very influential on other branches of the Hebei style, many of whom have adopted his ("for health") version of Xing Yi's famous Three Body Posture.
  • Yi Chuan/Yiquan or Da Cheng Chuan is a derivative of Xing Yi created by Guo Yun Shen's student Wang Xiang Zhai.
  • Yue Chia Chuan - a synonym for Yue Fei Chuan.
  • Yue Fei Chuan (in tradition) founded by Marshall Yue Fei. A name given to the original style (whatever it was). The name is also given to several diverse styles of martial arts in modern China and in Chinese communities elsewhere that are substantially different both from Hsing-I and from each other. The commonality that is seen between Hsing-I styles today is probably as much the result of the innovations of Master Ji Long Feng during the late 1600s as of those precursor arts that he learned, and may in some respects explain the differences between Hsing-I and modern arts that have some type of genuine pedigree from the original Yue Fei Chuan. Since everyone is now an equal, and very long, distance in time from the source it is impossible to know for sure what the original Yue Fei Chuan was like.

Note on confusion around the name "Hebei Style"

Hebei Style Xing Yi refers to Hebei Province (河北省) in the North East of China. This is the province that contains Beijing.

Guo Style was the style of Master Guo Yun Shen, which heavily emphasised customisation to the individual characters of his students, resulting in several of them founding their own martial arts. Originally, Guo Style was the same thing as Hebei Style as Master Guo was from Hebei province. However, the original style was modified/simplified/altered/dumbed-down a lot in a process that started from a time when the nationalist Chinese government (the Guomindang) wanted to simplify and unify the martial arts of China for political purposes, which eventually led to the founding of the famous Central Kuoshu Institute, from which much of what is called Hebei Style Xing Yi today ultimately originates. At around the same time, the famous Tai Chi master Sun Lu Tang took an interest in Xing Yi and studied briefly under Guo Yun Shen. This was towards the end of Guo's life. Sun Lu Tang was a respected master of martial arts, but Xing Yi was not his main thing. However, his great fame in the much more popular art of Tai Chi Chuan had an influence on Xing Yi beyond what his experience might have otherwise merited. He was also prominent in the martial arts unification process being promoted by the Guomindang (who later became the government of modern Taiwan). Master Sun Lu Tang modified Xing Yi extensively for health purposes. Some of his reasoning behind the modification is described in this book on Xing Yi.

After the Guomindang were defeated in mainland China by the communist party, martial arts were heavily suppressed for a time, following which further, even more extensive changes were made by the communist martial arts movement (known as "modern Wushu"). Once again these changes were motivated by the desire for political unity, and the policy of customisation to individual student traits that Master Guo had promoted was further eroded. The Guomindang fled to Taiwan, where their semi-unified martial arts portfolio became known as "Kuoshu". Thus, the majority of "Hebei-style" Xing Yi found today is really either heavily dumbed-down "modern Wushu" or simplified Kuoshu. The two cases of unification are not the same however, because the Kuoshu people do retain some martial ability, while the "modern Wushu" people generally have none.

The Kuoshu and modern Wushu branches are relatively popular, and constitute the majority of what is referred to as “Hebei Style” today, but they are quite different from the original Guo style. In particular, they promote the idea that there is "one way" to do everything and do not encourage individual adaptation (virtually the opposite of Master Guo's attitude). To make the distinction between us and them we sometimes call our style “Old Hebei Style”. Actually Old Hebei Style is a lot closer to the Shanxi style, Che Style, Song Style and the Henan styles than it is to modern wushu’s "Hebei Style". In mainland China in very recent times tourist activity has driven a change in direction for many masters of Modern Wushu - the tourists want to learn "traditional martial arts", rather than modern martial arts, so many of them have made modifications to make modern Wushu look more traditional. Western kickboxing has also been introduced in some branches in order to redress the loss of martial relevance.