Beating a Path

The superintendant was cross with me.

The lawn was generally quite lovely, but I saw him there often — standing over a strip of bare ground along the side wall, shaking his head. I would wave and smile, and appear as pleasant, as oblivious as possible. He was a nice man. We must all of us carry some burden for the sake of higher culture.... 

I practised Xingyiquan there. The Five Elements, five fists, up and down, a straight line every day.

Sun Lu Tang, whose style of Xingyiquan I studied.

Sun Lu Tang, whose style of Xingyiquan I studied.

Xingyiquan means, translated loosely, “Mind and Form Boxing”. It is not the style in which I have the most experience, but it has a special place in my heart. It is a short- to mid-range system of combat. There’s nothing flashy about it. Derived from the use of the spear, it favours the center line, defends and attacks all at once, and delivers staggering power. Its structure is solid, and its aims are pragmatic: yi beng kan xue — “one hit, see blood". Xingyiquan is steeped in lore, tradition and lineage, but remains impressively down to earth. It is scientific, and vicious.

It may come as a surprise, then, that Xingyi is one of the three “internal” Chinese martial arts, along with Taijiquan and Baguazhang. While these styles may seem at face value so dissimilar, an internal martial art shouldn’t be confused for gentle. It relies on body mechanics, the cumulative effect of many small adjustments, to achieve great results. It is heavy in theory and hard to master. “External” styles use large movements — and expenditure of energy — for victory.

Xingyiquan is the perfect answer to the Big Question, which must occur to anyone learning about martial arts: it seems so devoted to violence… isn’t this all just barbaric tradition to train attack dogs?

Nothing could be further from the truth. The martial arts are imbued with philosophies of service, and civility. In Chinese martial arts, there are the principles of Wu De: “Martial Virtue”, guidelines for fighting and civil conduct. The word, Samurai is a derivation of “saburau” — it means “to serve” or “be in attendance” to the upper class.

While we may confuse the cultivation of power for some service to the ego, the martial arts are meant for knowledge, and as a function of community. While many chase wealth and glory, the martial artist can be found outside, beating a path — figuratively and literally — for self-perfection.

A demonstration of the Eight Posture Routine by Yang Hai, from whom I learned Taiji in Montreal.

Yang Hai has trained in Xingyi since childhood.

"You should do the most hard work with calmness of mind, instead of showing off or boasting of your skills. The virtue of martial art should always be the first in your mind, keeping yourself respectful, modest, and with no quarrels with others. Self-control is the basic training for the boxing exercises."

— Sun Lu Tang


Glen Peters is a one-time web developer, martial arts coach, student of world religions and of classical guitar. He attends Algonquin College, and wants to write.

 The Journal of Asian Martial ArtsMartial