Hsing-I is a very old battlefield martial art that originated in North China during the middle ages. Its creation is traditionally attributed to the Sung Dynasty hero Marshal Yueh Fei (1103-1142) who trained and led the most successful army of the time. Marshal Yueh’s army was never defeated in battle and it was said that “It is easier to knock down a mountain than to withstand the army of Yueh Fei”. However, corruption was rife in China at that time, and he was unjustly imprisoned and subsequently poisoned by corrupt politicians on his own side. In allowing himself to be sent to prison Yueh Fei took a decision not to use his formidable military strength against his own countrymen and thus avoided the bloodshed that civil war in China would have otherwise caused (he was easily in a position to challenge the government because of the extreme loyalty of his men). Thus he is considered to be a martyr. Unlike many attributed founders of martial arts, Yueh Fei is not a mythical figure - his grave exists to this day in Hangzhou City and his life is the subject of extensive historical documentation. In the Sung Dynasty the primary weapons in use were spears and swords, and this emphasis is mirrored in Hsing-I down to the present- all unarmed fighting methods in Hsing-I can also be done with weapons and vice versa.
After the death of Yueh Fei, his senior generals fled to various remote parts of the country in order to escape a similar fate. One such area was Zhongnan Mountain in what is now Huxian County, where they established a tradition known as Yue Chia Quan (Yue Family Martial Arts). This was handed down through the generations at Zhongnan and, although it was obscure, it did come to be sought out by great fighters, particularly spear men. One such was General Tung En Zhan, a senior commander in the Ming Army, who recommended it to his best spearman, a non commissioned officer by the name of Ji Long Feng. Following the death of Tung En Zhan, who suffered a very similar fate to Yueh Fei, Ji travelled to Zhongnan in order to learn Marshal Yueh’s tradition. Ji studied at Zhongnan for many years and found that the essence of the art was found in nature, particularly in the characteristics of wild animals. Each animal had a “shape” or “character” (Hsing) that enabled it to survive and be successful in relation to the particular kinds of challenges that it met in its life. The idea of the art was to allow the Hsing to colour the mind/spirit (I) so that it might adapt spontaneously to different difficulties and situations. Thus Ji came to call the art Hsing-I.
Our school of Hsing-I has been handed down to us through three different lines, for example: Ji Long Feng taught Cao Ji Wu, who taught Dai Long Bang, who taught Li Neng Ran, who taught Guo Yun Shen, who taught Liu Chi Lan, who taught Li Cun Yi, who taught Hao En Guang, who taught Luo Da Cheng, who taught Zhu Guang, who taught Damon Smith (our senior Hsing-I instructor). All three of these lines pass through the person of Guo Yun Shen (1839-1911). In earlier life, Master Guo ran a company that guarded traveling merchants against bandits and other kinds of threats that were prevalent in China at that time, so he was, like his forebears, heavily combat experienced, including fighting with weapons, not just unarmed. Later he became a successful prize fighter, remaining undefeated throughout his career. Later still he taught some of China’s most famous martial artists, including Master Sun Lu Tang, founder of the Sun Style of Tai Chi Chuan, and Master Wang Xiang Zhai, founder of Da Cheng Chuan/Yi Chuan. He was also a close friend of Master Dong Hai Chuan, the modern founder of Bagua Zhang.
Today, Hsing-I exists in two main types, the Five Elements Hsing-I, which is a relatively simple, though subtle, way of fighting based on the Five Elements of Chinese philosophy, and Animals Hsing-I (the literal translation is “Shapes Hsing-I”). We study both types - Five Elements Hsing-I is a relatively quick way to learn self defence, while Animals Hsing-I presents a subtle and sophisticated long-term challenge to the experienced practitioner. In the Yongquan Hsing-I Group we study twelve different animals: Bear-Eagle, Snake, Tiger, Dragon, Chicken, Horse, Swallow, Crocodile, Goshawk, Flycatcher, Monkey and Turtle.
Hsing-I is primarily a combat art. While there are health benefits to be had by practicing the Hsing-I basics, such as the famous Three Body Posture and Five Elements Fists, it is difficult to progress far with it without being exposed to the combative nature of the art. Therefore it is not really possible to study Hsing-I “non martially” in the same way that this is possible in Tai Chi Chuan for instance. Hsing-I is well known as a “bridging art” for experienced external/hard style martial artists who want to learn more about the internal arts, and is definitely good for this purpose. This does not mean however that it is a “hard/soft style” - it is a true internal (“soft style”) martial art.