Pi Chuan
by Jim Dees

A few years ago in Shanghai, China a foreign martial arts team came to compete and test their skills against different Chinese martial artists. The leader of the foreign team wanted to try his skill against the art of Hsing-i chuan. A local Hsing-i Master obliged him. The challenger was told to punch the Hsing-i Master. He tried but was sent back through the air several meters when the Hsing-i master touched him with his arm to apparently block the punch. This event was seen by many and recorded in the Shanghai paper. What could have caused the challenging martial artist to be sent several meters back by what appeared to be a mere touch? The answer is Hsing-i. The Hsing-i master countered the incoming blow with Pi chuan, or splitting fist.

This is the second in a series of articles that shall examine the fundamental principles of Hsing- I Chuan as taught to me by Mr. Gaofei Yan. This is the Shang Yun Xian /Hebei method. Now that the foundation has been laid in the first article where wuji and san ti were discussed as well as their requirements, I will present the first of the five fists and explain more about the principles that are required in Hsing-i Chuan movement.

The first of the five fists is Pi Chuan. It is referred to as the element metal. It's characteristic is splitting and it is associated with the lungs. With Pi chuan the chi rises and falls. But, before I go further into Pi chuan, I need to explain some of the requirements that all of the fists have in common when in motion. And remember, the standing requirements of chicken leg, dragon body, bear shoulder, and tiger embrace are still present. To these requirements we add closing , wrapping, pouncing, stepping, and shaking.

The aforementioned new requirements, or characteristics, are all a part of the bear/eagle concept I explained in my first article of this series. As you may recall, the bear is defensive in nature and saves energy. The eagle is offensive and releases the energy. To this end, closing and wrapping are associated with bear. Pouncing and stepping are associated with eagle. Shaking is a characteristic of application. Closing refers to the legs and hip and the fact that they close in toward the center as you save energy. Wrapping refers to the arm and torso as it wraps into the center to save energy. These actions occur simultaneously and in harmony with one another. Together they are bear in motion. Eagle is shown through pouncing and stepping. As the energy is released and you move forward in attack, the bear flows into eagle. Pouncing is what the body does. It is not unlike a cat pouncing on a mouse, quick, agile and ready to change. The stepping is characteristically very quick and deep. By deep I mean that you will be very close to your opponent. This type of stepping helps you uproot your opponent by placing your body, which has good structure, into him. Shaking is the natural result of what happens when a relaxed, unified body moves quickly within the principles of the internal martial arts. The tan tien is the origin on the shaking not unlike the handle of a bull whip; shaking begins here and is transmitted throughout the body. Shaking is seen throughout the form, not only at the moment of application. Once you have properly positioned yourself through the closing, wrapping, pouncing and stepping it is time to release energy into your opponent's center. As you strike you will return your body into the postural requirements of standing practice. Specifically chicken leg, dragon body, bear shoulder and tiger embrace. Your posture will be vertical without leaning in any direction. In terms of application, the shaking takes place as the chicken leg is set and you go into dragon body. Obviously, this is all done very quickly and smoothly. The power comes from the movement of the whole body with the assistance of the ground not from any particular part of the body that may physically touch the opponent. When shaking relaxation of the whole body is the key point. A relaxed body is much quicker and more powerful that a tense body.

With this in mind, I would like to share with you a rough translation of an old san xi Hsing-i classic concerning Pi chuan:

    Pi chuan looks like an axe and it belongs to the element of metal
    Practice long and well and the chi will go throughout the lungs
    This is the first of the five element fists
    It creates water and counters wood, this cycle is wonderful

This classic gives some insight into the nature of Pi chuan. The reference to the axe tells us that Pi chuan appears to be up and down like the swinging of an axe. Pi chuan is the splitting fist. The Pi chuan is the chi rising and falling. All of the fists are associated with an element. Pi chuan's is metal. The reference to the lung gives testimony to the health benefits of Hsing-i. Pi chuan is associated with the health of the lungs. The internal arts are all good for the health. But, why is a certain fist in Hsing-i associated with a particular element? Of course, the improved circulation resulting form the standing practice is good for overall health, but the specific movements of the various fists help internally massage and stimulate specific organs. This is why after a long period of time a specific organ will benefit from a particular fist. There are five fists in Hsing-i and Pi chuan is the first. The last line of the classic refers to the wu xing. Here we can see that all of the fists act in harmony each creating and destroying another. This is not unlike the child's game of paper, scissors and rock. Pi chuan creates water refers to tsuan chuan or the drilling fist. Pi chuan counters wood refers to Peng chuan or the crushing fist.

Now, to actually perform the physical movements of the splitting fist, let's start from the san ti and take it from there. From the san ti the right arm begins its wrapping by screwing the fist up and along the center line. The lead hand is drawn back slightly and rotates inward to cover center. The body is relaxed as energy is saved and the center line protected. The screwing fist follows center and drills up and along side the other arm. While all of this was happening the rear leg and hip were simultaneously closing to save energy also. The rear leg comes into the center and saves energy as it protects the groin. The body remains straight and does not lean heavily forward or to either side. This is bear in Pi chuan. The rear leg now leaves center and steps out into the center of the opponent (visualize if only doing the form). The screwing arm now rises, overturns and falls into the target thereby splitting its center. As the rear hand has now become the lead, the lead has now become the rear. You will end up in the san ti posture again. This is the eagle. An outside observer's perception will end here. I must, however, go into more detail to explain the details of what happened in terms of requirements and structure so that you can appreciate what many would dismiss. As the rear leg goes forward it is in conjunction with the screwing, rising, overturning, and falling of the hand. As the lead had falls to split, power and balance is maintained by the rear hand as it pulls back to maintain tigers embrace and aid in the dragon body. Needless to say, for proper structure, as the lead foot steps and lands quickly one must establish a sound chicken leg and open the inner thigh. Only then can you issue power by establishing the dragon body. The requirements for bear shoulder and tiger embrace must also be fulfilled prior to the issuance of power. If any of these things are missing that I detailed in the first article of this series, then you will be unable to establish a sound structure and therefore be unable to issue internal power. You will be force to rely on physical strength. You will notice as I land and issue power my lead hand goes forward. Be careful not to allow the body to lean forward with the shoulder to make the lead arm go forward. The forward motion of the lead hand is generated by the sinking of the body and the dropping of the lead elbow as the dragon body is put in place. You should read the last sentence again. This is a very common mistake. I know this from personal experience. When you look at the photographs and read the explanation try to focus on the requirements and not so much the actual technical movements. There are several ways to do Pi chuan and the other fists. The important factor to consider is whether or not the movement is in harmony with the requirements. In the previous articles I have gone into very minute detail in terms of how the body should move when executing a particular fist or animal. Here I have purposely spared you from that type of reading and shall let the emphasis rest on the requirements and principles that I have already provided you with in this series of articles. I realize that this forces the reader to think a bit more. I hope that this burden will stimulate your thought processes. I find that that is how I learn the best.

So, how is this splitting fist different than just taking a big bolo swing at somebody and cracking him over the head. Well, there are two ways it is different. As I previously mentioned, there is the health aspect of the structure which promotes and facilitates the flow of chi through out the body to improve ones health. I know this sounds somewhat mystical but it is something the you can actually feel. I have felt it personally. It is nothing special or secret. It is just a matter of realigning and relaxing your body to do what it is supposed to do. Chi is real and can easily be felt with proper instruction. Now, on a more combative side, Pi chuan differs from a regular blow in that upon touching the opponent we are able to read where the opponent's center is and immediately cut his root and unbalance him. The term fist as it is used in Hsing-i is somewhat of a misnomer. In the Kai Sai Lien Huan method of Hsing-i as taught to me by Prof. Cravens, we referred to elements rather than fists to emphasize the over all energy of the action. Classically, however, the term fist is more common. With that in mind, do not limit yourself to the actual physical fist itself. In this method of Hsing-i Pi chuan strikes contact the opponent anywhere from the hand to the elbow. This area is often referred to as the eagle claw. Now, what happens when you touch the opponent. Remember, Pi chuan is chi rise and fall. Actually, it is a bit more complicated than that when one uses the Art combatively. Pi chuan has two vectors of force when applied to an opponent. One is to go forward and the other is to go down. The actual vector the force will follow is a combination of the two and depends on the opponent entirely. This is the area of "touch" that Chen Tai chi people call silk reeling and Hsing-i people call Moso Jing. For example if I feel that my opponent's energy is rising I will follow him and allow my structure to push him back. I will go more forward and only slightly down after his root is cut. If I were to go down immediately this would be fighting his force which is something the internal martial artist wishes to avoid. If I touch my opponent and I feel that his energy is going down, I will follow him down and push forward only slightly once his root is cut. But, what is it that makes me go forward and what makes me go down.? The forward movement of my arm is generated from the rotation of my body as the dragon body is set. The downward motion comes from a relaxing of the hip/inner groin and a dropping of the elbow. Bear in mind, the lead hand must maintain good structure. If it goes limp the chi will not go to the end of the finger and the body will lose power. Keep in mind that forward and downward energy can be provided by a difference in size between you and your opponent. If he is much taller his energy may naturally be downward. If he is much shorter, his energy may be rising. No matter what the situation, just follow and avoid resisting his force. His body will determine what ratio of forward to down that you should use. If you and your opponent are of equal size, the moment of touch shall determine the direction you must follow and the resulting force you will use. Unless the two of you are perfectly balanced, he will give you energy to work with. If you are in perfect balance it will be a question of changeability and the skill you each have in hiding center. As you can see there is an infinite combination of forward and down depending on the action of the opponent. If I were to just try to split him down the middle with no consideration for his movement and energy, I would be relying on nothing more than my physical strength. As you can now see, this is why Hsing-i is so powerful. We do not project force until the opponent's root is cut and he is off balance. Then, our strong structure moves into his center and the results are devastating. Imagine how little force is required to knock down a man who has already lost his balance. Now, imagine the same man beginning to fall when he is hit by a car. That is Hsing-i.

When the Art of Hsing-i is used combatively, the term eagle claw is used not only to refer to the area from the hand to the elbow but it is sometimes used to refer to "touch" like moso jing. The application of eagle claw, in terms of touch, relies heavily on a screwing action that takes place on three levels. Actually, one could say that the entire body is screwing. Remember the chicken leg? It screws into the ground for stability and power. The torso screws and rotates around the tan tien as the dragon body forms for centeredness and power. However, some people may miss the fact that the arms also screw and rotate not only during the form but upon physical contact with the opponent. The rotation of the arm helps hide our center and to feel the exact location of our opponent's center. The screwing also assists us in yielding to the opponent's force and seizing his center by following his force. If we do not rotate the entire body, including the arm, it is extremely difficult to yield to his force. From a defensive point of view, imagine your body to be a ball floating in a pool. As your opponent tries to strike your center, the natural rotation of the ball in water conceals the center thereby protecting it from the projection. Offensively, the rotation provides a constant updating of information as to the opponent's intensity, direction and center. With this type of information, the opponent is unable to hide his intention and his root is easily cut while ours is protected.

Another term used when discussing Hsing-i is thunder sound. As we strike, we exhale and send chi to the extremities to add power to the movement. This sending of the chi to the extremities is sometimes referred to as thunder sound because of the noise that one makes when exhaling. This rushing of the chi to the extremities adds much power and can only be accomplished after the body is able to reach a high level of relaxation. Also, the body must be united as one unit and the meridians must be open to accept the flow of chi. Here is where the standing practice really pays off. As I mentioned in the first article of this series, standing practice will comprise a very large percentage of your training. For me it is about 60 %. The standing really increases ones ability to relax and, once the body is properly aligned, the chi will flow freely and naturally.

Clearly, you can see by now that the focus of my presentation of this Art relies heavily on principles and structure as opposed to techniques and form. The form is where we put the principles and structural requirements in place and in motion. The bear/eagle concept will continue with each of the other four fists. The closing, wrapping, stepping, pouncing will be seen throughout the Art as will eagle claw and thunder sound. Remember that bear is protecting the center and saving energy. Eagle is offensive and projecting energy. All of the action comes from the mind and the requirements are found in the san ti. This is why san ti is practice is emphasized so much. The requirements must be second nature so that you can implement them immediately as required. And, the special way of following and cutting the root of your opponent prior to issuing power is a great secret that one must develop through contact with as many people as possible. This is called Moso Jing and merits a life time of study. The next article will examine Peng chuan, the crushing fist.

   Previous article: "An examination of principles" Next article: "Tsuann Chuan"   


© JimDees.com All Right Reserved