Before I begin my review on Han Shi Yi Quan (HSYQ), I want to give a brief background of myself so the readers will know who I am. I am at my fifth year of studying martial arts. Wing Chun was the first style I studied, following with Fo Shan Wing Chun, Pak Mei, and Yi Quan. When I am using the term Yi Quan, I am not referring to HSYQ as the Han family Yi Quan is very different compared with the Yi Quan I have encountered. Before I met Master Han Jing Chen, Wing Chun was my focus as it was very practical and it was easily applicable. In terms of the system, it was very simple. It consists of three-forms, a dummy set, and two weapons set. I was sparring and applying the techniques from the forms within six months and it gave me the confidence I needed if I ever needed to use it. The theories were simple and straightforward. When I started studying Yi Quan, it introduced me to the concept of Qi energy. I was captured by the style when I first saw someone practicing throw another student across the room effortlessly. I was told that was the result of Qi channeling out of your body in the direction of your opponent and thus, the bouncing phenomenon occurs. I gave Yi Quan about two years time, but I felt I was not making any improvements as the concepts related to Qi were filled with clouds of mysteries. I could never conclude what it really was and nobody really understood it with a solid foundation. It was not until I first heard of Master Han that my Kung Fu brothers told me about that he was different. They said that this Yi Quan is different as he intentionally separates himself with his family name. At that time, I did not know who he was as I just assumed he was another practitioner of Wang Xiangzhai’s Yi Quan. Later, I did some research on his family name in the Yi Quan community and discovered that his father, Han Xing Qiao and his uncle, Han Xing Yuen were extremely well known in the Yi Quan community. I have attended multiple classes taught by Master Han, and I am confident to say that HSYQ is nothing like any style I ever encountered because Master Han reveals the truth to what we consider as treasured secrets to martial arts.
As for the style, it is even more simple and straightforward than Wing Chun. The foundation of the style is based on natural principles. It teaches us to be natural instead of doing learned movements. The movements in HSYQ do not require strength. Moreover, the movements do not even require you to think about it. In contrast to other styles, if you think about the movement or resort to strength, it is not consider HSYQ. This is a paradox I encountered with HSYQ; the style is so simple and easy that it is so difficult. The reason I say this is because, Master Han is seeking the purest natural movement within us and our logical mind filled with conventional ideas are preventing it. In my honest opinion, those who are seeking HSYQ are looking to unlearn everything in their lifetime so their true natural self can be reveal.
The concepts and theories of HSYQ go against the majority of our conventional thinking. For example, most people will use strength from the contraction of their muscles when they encounter resistance or have intent to strike their opponent. However, in HSYQ Master Han explains to us that the same phenomenon can occur without using strength from the tension of our muscles. Instead, he introduces to us what he calls the Natural State. As long as you have the Natural State, any movement becomes a martial movement, thus we do not have forms. In addition, he emphasized that movements from the Natural State are separate from learned movements. He calls these movements technical movements as they are learned and are desires manifested by the human mind to constantly seek improvements. Lastly, he states that natural movements are not learned and they are a result of your body’s structure and function.
In one of the classes I attended, he said that your body’s structure and function would determine its natural ability. I was completely lost with my classmates when he said that because we had no idea what he meant. However, as I listened to him continue on, I realized that he literally meant what he said and there were no mysterious descriptions behind it. When he said that, he asked me a question, “How do you naturally drink water?” I lifted my hand as if I was holding a cup and held it towards my mouth as if I was drinking water out of an invisible cup. Surprisingly, he said I was wrong and I was speechless. He continued and said that people naturally drink water by forming a scoop with their hand so they can scoop up the water to their mouth. He said that a cup is a product of the human mind and my hand is not. It is naturally grown like that and that is why the structure of the hand and the function of the hand allow us to scoop water to quench our thirst. This is what he meant by our natural ability. Lastly, he constantly emphasized the intangible component, the Natural State, because it is the foundation of our natural ability. Not once, have I ever heard of any martial art instructor even touch on any relevant subject close to this topic he discussed.
The Natural State (Zhuang Tai) is the core of HSYQ. In every class, I can guarantee you will hear it more than 10 times because it is a significant component. Master Han states that the Natural State is a feeling of readiness for the unknown. All natural life has it because they will encounter the unknown. Unfortunately for humans, we have created a society where we strive to rule out the unknown so we can feel safe. According to Master Han, that is the moment we lose our Natural State as we are under the illusion that the unknown is ruled out. To obtain it back, one must go though the Zhan Zhuang postures. He calls this the restoration of the Natural State. These postures are very simple. However, doing them naturally is extremely difficult.
In addition, Master Han teaches these postures directly through feeling in class so each individual can experience something different, as everyone’s body is different.
In each class, Master Han will have a lecture component. I believe the lecture part is critical since this style is so different from anything else. I find this lectures fascinating because he reveals the truth behind the many mysterious of traditional Chinese martial arts such as Qi, Dan Tian, Jing, and many more. He discusses what they actually meant before it was interpreted differently from its original meaning. In addition, his explanations of these cryptic concepts are backed up by the way the Chinese characters are written in ancient times. In one example, he explained how the meaning of Qi has changed throughout history. He wrote the character, Qi in three different ways from ancient times, traditional form, and simplified form and explained how the meaning were derived and altered from the way the characters were written. He stresses that many interpretations presently are derived from the current characters. He states that to understand the real meaning behind these concepts, one would have to study the characters of ancient times to see what it actually meant in its original form. Never had I had a martial art instructor with such an in depth understanding and analysis of the style’s theoretical component. I have only seen such a degree of analysis at a university level when I was an undergraduate student.
In addition to lectures, Master Han also has a hands-on component that is part of his three-hour class. This section of the class is very straightforward. He usually has the students go through the Zhan Zhuang a couple of times. He states that this process is very simple and straightforward. To simply put it, you grasp the Natural State and move your own body.
There are two main components to the hands-on section, Zhan Zhuang and Shi Li. He emphasized that these are the two most critical components of HSYQ. During Zhan Zhuang, he would test you and tell you whether you are in the Natural State or not. Also, he would let you feel him when he is holding the Natural State. There were multiple times when he was explaining the martial aspects to it and had to use me for demonstration. When he would demonstrate, he would sometimes strike you so you have an idea what it feels like to be hit by someone who is not using strength. In one walking exercise we were practicing, it looked like you held your hands up and would walk like a penguin. The movement itself did not look martial or intimidating at all. However, during the demonstration, he walked into me a couple steps while holding his form. His fists made contact with my chest three times and it felt like someone took a sledgehammer and slammed it three times on my chest. I will never forget that moment because I felt it for three days and the pain radiated throughout my upper and lower back the next day. Afterward, he would tell the story of how his father, Han Xing Qiao would describe the phenomenon. His father said that you are a car and you just drive yourself through an object, but you do not use strength. It was just that simple. At that time, the idea of not using strength was still very counterintuitive to me because I always asked myself how I could not use strength to move an object. It was simple physics and something we do on our daily life. For a long time, I thought about this question and could not reach a conclusion. This mystery became like an adventure where I was determine to find the answer to that question.
As I studied HSYQ more and attended more of Master Han’s classes, I started to understand a bit more about this concept of not using strength. I realized it in the Zhan Zhuang. It is a feeling where I cannot put into words as nothing on my mind can describe the feeling. The feeling itself just makes you want to move. Master Han calls this vitality. Any more description of the feeling will only dilute the truth behind it. Only though direct transmission from Master Han, one can really understand it just because one just needs to experience it.
The unique learning style is among one of the many reasons I decided to pursue HSYQ and leave my previous styles behind. In the past, I was given something tangible whether it was forms, movements, techniques, or vague phrases that holds the key to a certain technique. In contrast, HSYQ gave me something real, something I can feel myself to see whether it was the truth. It opened doors for me that I did not know even existed. It not only led me understand my natural self, but allowed me experienced what I am like and what it was like to move the way my body wants it to move. In other styles, you practice to become another product of society because you are constantly learning forms, techniques, movements, which are derivatives of the human desire to constantly want to be better. However, in HSYQ, you practice to become your true natural self. There are no forms and there are no techniques, it is just you.
© Derek Xie 7-10-2015