Yiquan’s Training Steps :
Why is it called “Yiquan”?
“Yi” or intent is necessary before one can initiate an action. Yiquan, therefore, emphasizes the training of “yi”, by first strengthening the training of intent, through which one can improve the condition of, and the ability to control the body’s contraction and relaxation capabilities. Of course, Yiquan is more than just relaxing and tightening; it also involves the application of intent to direct the practice of other Yiquan training procedures as well.
a. Standing Meditation :
Between 1920 and 1930, Mr. Wang popularized the teaching of Xingyiquan’s secret practice-standing meditation. While many martial artists (from other systems) claimed it to be “qigong” or “internal qigong”, Mr. Wang said it was only his school’s method of “altering” force. He did not want to “mythologize” the training because he already rejected the notion that qigong can be applied to martial arts. Later on, some schools also began to incorporate standing meditation into their basic internal and external work.
Standing meditation training – There are two directions one can take with Yiquan training: for health, or for self-defense. One must, therefore, decide if health and longevity is his end goal, or it is only an intermediate stop on his way to martial arts proficiency. In our system, one can practice while walking, standing, sitting or lying down, depending on the student’s aim and his level of physical readiness. In training, students usually perform a series of calisthenics before standing meditation practice begins, but standing meditation can also be done as a stand-alone exercise.
Standing (for health) – while doing standing meditation, it is important to be mentally focused, and to stay calm and collected; all the muscles and tendons in the body are to be relaxed; one must be able to stay “loose but not really loose, relax but not limp, tight but not rigid”. The posture must also be properly balanced. It is important to practice daily (and diligently), anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. At a more advanced level, it is best to train continually while adding force testing to the mix.
Standing (for Combat training) – Initial training is essentially identical to standing for health. Focusing on calisthenics and health stances for a period of time makes it possible for one to experience and to physically benefit from standing meditation. It is, however, important to remember that standing meditation is more than just good for health and longevity; it is also the secret teaching of the Xingyiquan school.
Force is known as “power” in the martial arts, but power is more versatile than force. Standing meditation is intended to change the “impure” force into the “unified” force or simply, power. Starting from “searching” for power in one direction, one ends up “searching” for the so-called “universal power” through standing meditation.
After a period of time doing the health stances, additional stances are added, such as the one foot stance, hugging a tree stance, conquering the dragon stance, subjugating the tiger stance…etc. In fact, many, many movements from martial arts can be used for standing meditation.
b. Testing the force (including testing the sound) :
After a period of time doing the combat stances with directionality, one must then mentally perform physical actions as though one is actually doing them. Viewed externally, the student is not moving at all. This then, is force testing with no movement. Next, one needs to learn to make small movements, and finally large movements while maintaining exactly the same physical and psychological “sensations” as in no movement.
Testing the sound : This is a special training procedure of Yiquan. Sound testing is intended to supplement the minor deficiencies of force release. The idea is to combine force release with sound training as one during training The expectation is to be able to generate both sound and force at the same instant-intent, force, and sound all “arrived” at the same moment in time. Testing the sound training initially involves the production of two syllables. Next step is to “blend” the two sounds together until they become one powerful short burst of air. Finally, one moves on to the advanced level of training – by “pulling back” the sound instead of releasing it.
c. Yiquan’s footwork :
All derived from the very basic “friction steps”. Both in training methodology and in form it is similar to Baqua’s “mud-dragging steps”. Although the intent used duringtraining is not exactly that of Baqua, Yiquan nonetheless uses intention to guide the movements of the body and feet in order to learn to move properly. In the beginning, one must make sure the movements are slow, and the entire body from head to foot is used to “experience” the resistance of the surrounding air current. Then, one must learn to use a similar amount of force to oppose or resist it. After a period of training, one can gradually increase the speed, and add more advanced steps into the mix.
d. Force Release :
Once a certain level of proficiency has been reached, a practitioner can move freely without losing bodily co-ordination or unity. For combat or self-defense purposes, however, this is still not sufficient; one must learn to apply this force onto others before that goal can be reached. In other words, after a period of training with standing meditation, testing the force, footwork, etc., one has accomplished bodily unity; the next step is to learn how to “express” this unity in one split instant in time. This is known as “releasing the force”.
Authentic force release training is done first without movement, then in combination with footwork to become force release in motion. During the release, one must transition from a relaxed state (entire body) to extreme tightness. It is also important to note that while the body is relaxed, it is not limp; the mind is “tight”, but not tense. When performing the power release, the body in its entirety is “activated”. This is necessary for one to deliver the force completely and explosively.
e. Push Hand :
After a practitioner is able to perform all of the above properly, he is ready to train with a partner (the final step of Yiquan training is to spar). Because Yiquan’s goal is to “incapacitate” one’s opponent to protect oneself, a strike in training can cause unintended but still serious damage, making it difficult for students to train without fear of doing harm. To get around this difficulty, push hand was invented by past martial artists to allow combat training without risk of serious injury. Training includes single hand pushhand, two hand pushhand, stationary pushhand, and free style pushhand. Yiquan’s pushhand training is not exactly the same as that of Tai Chi, but it is not very different either. Without the structured “techniques” of Tai Chi, Yiquan pushhand is aimed at controlling, releasing or striking an opponent. Like Tai Chi., it also emphasizes the ability to “listen” for the strength and direction of the opponent’s forces.
f. Free Sparring :
After training for a period of time in pushhand, one must then progress to the final stage of Yiquan practice – free sparring. It is a training method designed to teach one to do battle with an opponent for survival and without pre-condition. It helps to develop one’s courage, the ability to react spontaneously to attack, and to maintain mental discipline, toughness and stability in the face of danger For any martial art practitioner hoping to have real “substance”, this type of training is obligatory. If one only focuses on form training, ten, twenty, or even thirty years would not be sufficient for one to become proficient !
(Yiquan practitioners of the past have also devised a type of reflex training called “battle of intent”, to be practiced before sparring training ensues).
g. Yiquan for health :
In his later years, the founder discovered standing meditation to be highly effective in treating chronic illnesses. It relaxes the cerebral cortex, calms the central nervous system, improves blood circulation, increases oxygen intake, and strengthens bodily functions (i.e., helps in the development of strong bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons and internal organs). While the term “qigong” has been used to describe standing meditation by outside sources, it has never been recognized as such by Yiquan practitioners.
In summary, one can say that Yiquan is a simple and powerful system of therapeutic exercises and combat training. Its devastating power comes from its specialized training methods combined with simple core techniques and strategies of combat. The art is complete yet devoid of superficialities, making it possible for a serious student to learn the essence of the Chinese internal arts quickly and efficiently.
The founder believed the purpose of martial arts training can be divided into three categories- health maintenance, self-defense, and personal development. He advocated the use of relaxation (in contrast to muscle tension) in training. Wang thought unnecessary muscle tension is not only unhealthy but also makes one rigid and unresponsive. He strongly pushed the concept that intent is force, and that the training of intent is the way to unleash the body’s natural power and should be the cornerstone of our training.
To achieve that goal, Yiquan began with “quiet standing” as a way to “fine tune” the nervous system and to monitor bodily functions such as muscular tension and blood flow. This method allows the muscles and tendons to “train without training”, and the nervous system to “rest without resting”. This stabilization of bodily equilibrium helps to build a strong and healthy body, and the physical structures learned in meditation paved the way for combat training.
Force testing is then used to examine the proper mechanics behind force production by verifying the correctness of the physical postures, learned from standing meditation, through motion. It also helps to develop the different forces of Yiquan and to deepen one’s comprehension of the art’s combat strategies.
Next is force release, which is build upon the basic training methods mentioned above. It is carried out methodically, in a way that does not go against the basic principles and tenets of the art, and which incorporates friction steps, sound testing, push-hand, and free sparring.
For those interested in health benefits, Yiquan can be tailored to one’s specific requirements. By combining standing meditation and other training techniques, one can greatly improve one’s health and sense of well-being. It has been used successfully to help treat ailments such as hepatitis, high blood pressure and other chronic illnesses.