Chinese Martial Arts by Miss Rose Li

Superficially, Chinese Wu-Shu is classified into two systems, namely Wai-Chia 外家 The External School and Nei-Chia 内家 The Internal School. The former emphasises more or less the perfection of the acrobatic movements, and the latter, the effectiveness of the martial quality. Yi 意 The Mind, is at the centre of the Internal School, and Ch'i 氣 Breathing, is the vital pursuit of the External School. Both embody martial techniques, but differ in execution.

The Internal School has three main streams: Hsing-Yi 形意, Ba-Kua 八卦 and Tai-Chi 太極. Three in one make the system complete. Meanwhile, the External School has branched out in many sub-systems, under numerous titles; one cannot possibly name them all. However, there are really only five of them and these are called the External Main Streams: Ch'a-Ch'uan 查拳, Hung-Ch'uan 洪拳, Hua-Ch’uan 華拳, Pao-Ch'uan 炮拳 and Ch'ang-Ch'uan 長拳. The last one, Ch’ang-Ch’uan has been quite widespread in the last century in China, especially in the North. Due to its graceful gymnastic movements and postures it earned renown and prestige, particularly since Ch'ang-Ch'uan forms have been adopted by many other Ch'uan schools of different names.

The External System

I select Ch'ang-Ch'uan as a representative of the External School here.

Ch'ang-Ch'uan: "ch'ang" 長 means "long''. Long in the sense of Chinese martial arts, means "many forms". Originally, there were twenty-four sets of forms. It was too long for any one to be able to complete learning it. So gradually, the fourth set became popular. The rest of the sets have either been lost or have deteriorated or have been modified to an unrecognisable extent, and other titles are given. Some of them to me sound absurd and weird, indeed! The one which we see nowadays in practice is also a modified Ch'ang-Ch'uan, as the traditional parts of rolling and tumbling are no longer included. The graceful leg techniques, such as Double Swinging – Er ti chiao 二踢脚 and Tornado Sweeping – Hsuan fung twei 旋風腿 still remain in the set. (I used to watch my uncle do them, in my childhood, with awesome admiration). These movements display the most delightful acrobatic agility, and they are very attractive and much appreciated by observers. I saw a group of youngsters demonstrating this set in a film recently made in China — Peking Wu-Shu Institute, I believe — which earned favourable comments from the audience in the West. This demonstration helps me to explain to the West that even in the so called Chinese External School of Wu-Shu (or kung-fu if you prefer so to call it), one does not find any violent punching, kicking or shouting; and the fierce and painful facial expressions most definitely are inconsistent with the principle of Wu 武 Martial because one’s vigour or courage is one's inward reservoir! Stamina and agility are both expressed in a dignified, calm and graceful way. Sometimes, it looks like dancing in the observer's eyes. Finally, I would like to repeat what I said in this article before, that Chinese Wu-Shu is classified into two systems Wai-Chia and Nei-Chia, superficially. Actually these two are one; they are interrelated. Kung-fu 功夫 (in Chinese concept) is one, but it is expressed in various forms. The real masters see one's kung-fu whatever the forms are. If we prefer to think of Chinese martial arts as self-defence instead of merely health-builders, then "self-defence'' means to protect, to avoid from being attacked or injured, but not to attack or injure others. Real Chinese martial arts are not violent, dangerous sports.

The Internal System

Ba-Kua 八卦, T'ai-Chi 太極 and Hsing-Yi 形意 are the Chinese Nei-Chia Ch'uan. Hsing-Yi is the one here to be introduced.

The first step in studying Hsing-Yi is to learn to calm one's mind. The Yi 意 Mind, is the inward motive force and Hsing 形 Form is the outward expression. If one can relax and control the body in total and in minute sensitivity, then one can use one's will rather than one's physical power to move the body, and move with flexibility and in good co-ordination. One's central nervous system therefore functions harmoniously and efficiently.

Fa 法 Method or Technique: We are all biologically limited and any specific movement can be described by mechanical natural laws, yet, without good mental control one would never be able to effect rapid changes. These rapid changes are obtained only by Shu 術 The Art developing sensitivity to an infinite degree. It takes time and determined practice, with intelligence, to mature.

The Forms 形 Hsing of Hsing-Yi are incredibly simple, yet the Yi 意 is most complex. Honestly speaking, there are no illustrations, no photo-pictures to be able to show the readers the Yi 意 which is the important part of Hsing-Yi. Because of the extreme simplicity of the movements, one can not afford the slightest misinterpretation (any misinformation or wrong instruction only causes harm to the learners). My late teacher, Teng, used to tell us, many years ago, in Peking: "You say, you know Hsing-Yi, do it, show me—If it's Hsing-Yi, I will say it is. If it isn't, it isn't, don't argue!” Because it is so simple, it has the chance to remain unspoiled, and can continue developing toward the right direction, and can never actually deteriorate. Many "masters" in the West, I heard, have already been teaching Hsing-Yi, they call it "Hsing-Yi" — let them call it! I have seen many practising… Since the forms are so simple to the observer, only the trained eye can see the grandeur of the technique of Hsing-Yi. The correct training is very difficult but challenging, and it requires much care and attention, discipline and perseverance. Minute precision is important. During practice, the two unseen forces of mind and will are very active.

The Exercise 功夫: Only solo exercise cultivates kung-fu. If it is done effectively, it mobilises all parts of the body. Indeed an integral person is involved! Many competent athletic persons cannot do Nei-Chia, because their mind and will are not there. Breathing and will must be under strict control and care. The daily task of practice strengthens one's character and the physical power is the last thing of concern!

Precision, timing, stamina and speed, in total plays a major role in Hsing-Yi. An accomplished master of Hsing-Yi, even after a long hour of practising (very strenuous indeed to the observer) shows no sign of exhaustion, but on the contrary, he radiates vitality and tranquility and fitness. When body and mind can function in such a rhythmical harmony this is kung-fu, a term which Chinese people with a Chinese cultural background (born and raised in China) use to measure the students' achievement in martial arts. It is the harmonisation of Form–Hsing 形 (精), Will–Yi 意 (氣) and Mind–Hsin 心 (神) which must be attained after years of intelligent practice and interpretation, and above all sound instruction and guidance, before one can react instantaneously to any kind of attack, without any effort and in perfect ease. This is so called "self-defence" in Chinese martial arts. When two people play (or fight) it is sport. Hsing-Yi is not a sport.

Finally, I hope the recent visit of the Chinese Wu-Shu Troupe from Peking in the United States, has helped to dispel some of the mystification and myth surrounding Chinese martial arts in the West. Let us share the Chinese ancient arts with sincerity and generosity and promote the arts for art’s sake. Let us not abuse them for any personal gain, or ego or power, please! Those who do not have a genuine interest and love for these arts should leave them alone. Because to mislead only invites disaster to the arts. So, the first requirement for a good Hsing-Yi candidate is that he is of sound, integral character.