Hsing-I’s Five Elements As They Relate To Health

by Jim Dees

Much has been written about the five-element theory and traditional Chinese medicine. While I am not a physician, I have spent some time researching and training in the Art of Hsing-I Chuan with an emphasis on how it was practiced in the 17th century, which was the first 100 years of the art. Just about every Hsing-I system refers to the wu xing: the cycle of creation and destruction, and the five-element theory. But, I have yet to find an adequate written explanation as to how the five fists of Hsing-I relate to the five yin organs. With that in mind, I wanted to share what I have learned in my research and experience with those interested not only in traditional internal Chinese martial arts, but in chi kung as well.

For those not familiar with the five-element theory, I shall briefly explain. Each of the five yin organs are associated with a fist, or combative movement, in Hsing-i. Metal or pi is associated with the lung. Water or tsuan is associated with the kidney. Wood or beng is associated with the liver. Fire or pao is associated with the heart. Earth or hung is associated with the spleen. Within the Chinese medical profession, these elements are all interrelated and have effects on each other is a predictable fashion. The focus of my article will not be to address the interrelationships, rather to explain how the five fists of Hsing-I affect the organ systems.

The primary method of opening the meridians of the body and sinking chi in the art of Hsing-I is standing in the san ti posture. Once sufficient jing has been produced we can address the chi aspect of this training. Without this foundation, it would not be prudent for anyone to continue since it would eventually lead to an internal imbalance. Specifically, if there is a deficiency in jing there will not be sufficient fuel to produce chi. This will result in an internal burning up of some organ systems and illness.

During the beginning of all of the five fists we have a sinking of chi. Classically, this is referred to as bear. To properly examine this system, we must rely on the fundamentals of Hsing-I as it was practiced during its first 100 years. This period focused on two things, bear and eagle. This is not the animal form rather the concepts and structural requirements of the art. Briefly, bear refers to the internal sinking aspect of the initial movement wherein specific relationships within the body are maintained to allow the chi to sink. This is the storage of energy and defense in preparation for the attack and subsequent issuance of power. In terms of the internal arts, in order to store energy, ones meridians should already be open through previous training in standing methods and or a combination of chi kung training. Without this, the chi cannot be sunk and the dan tien will not have accumulated enough chi in storage. Proceeding with the assumption that ones meridians are sufficiently open, the structure and alignment of ones body becomes crucial. Regardless of the specific technique or way in which you move, certain structural requirements must be fulfilled.

How do you do those things? In brief summation, you must relax specific acupuncture points on your body to allow the meridians to open and the chi to flow. Without this, the chi will be stuck and the whole body will not be united as one. The results of this failure, in terms of martial arts, would be the segmentation of the body and a loss of power as well as an opportunity for your structure to be destroyed if your opponent's body is better connected than yours. To that end, the following points must be relaxed: bai hui (top of head), jian jing (between shoulder and neck), qu chi (near elbow), zhong fu (on chest below clavicle), qi men (on chest below nipple), zhang men (base of ribs), qi chong (by pelvis, each side), qi hai (by dan tian). By relaxing these points, the chi can travel down into the dan tian to be stored and the body becomes connected to from the bai hui to the yong quan (bubbling well of the foot).

The ability to relax the aforementioned points from top to bottom causes the body to collapse into itself and the chi to be gathered in the dan tian. Here the body prepares both internally and externally for defense as a prelude to attack and the issuance of power.

As the chi sinks, the lower body actually acts as a pump to circulate chi. I will use the analogy of a long water balloon. Imagine that if you squeeze the top, the bottom will swell. This simple analogy shows what happens inside the body as the practitioner sinks his chi. Special emphasis will be placed on the squeezing, or stimulation of certain acupuncture points based on the particular fist/element. As the form progresses from bear to eagle the chi is pumped and surges through the body. In my analogy, this would be when the top of the water balloon is released and the contents would return to the top of the balloon. It is at this time that a stretching or stimulation of a certain acupuncture point is made to charge a specific organ system depending on the fist/element. This repetitive squeezing and stretching of points serves as the catalyst to charge the specific organ system with chi.

Let’s now look at each fist/element and see exactly how it works for the five yin organs.
Pi or metal helps the lung. The point or area to be emphasized during squeezing and expansion is zhong fu (LU1).

Tsuan is for the kidney. During the bear portion the contraction focuses on the mingmen (GV4). This lies on the du meridian (governor vessel). This is the pre-heaven source of jing, which is a building block of chi. This is one half of the small heavenly circle.

Beng aids the circulation of chi in the liver system. During the movement the zhangmen (LR 13 is emphasized)

Pao is to help the heart meridian. This fist emphasizes the initial and final movement of the jiquan (HT1).

Hung stimulates the spleen system. It is the guanyuan (CV4) that is emphasized. This lies on the ren meridian (conception vessel). This is the post heaven chi that nourishes the meridians and composes the other half of the small heavenly circle.

As you read the explanation, you can see that one the surface that the theory behind Hsing-I’s five element chi kung is pretty straightforward. But, like the art itself, it requires a qualified teacher to guide the student. The details involved in changing the body from the inside are many. This information is provided for educational purposes only. For anyone serious about this type of training, please do so only under the guidance of a qualified teacher. This advice applies to any chi kung training program. The benefits are great, but there are many sad stories about people training on their own or under the guidance of an unqualified person who suffered serious injury.


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