On the Values of Yiquan – a Second Discussion
By Master Han Jingchen
I, as a successor of Yiquan, began to learn this art from my personal attachment to it. Then I tried to understand it perceptually and then to know it rationally. Through practice and verification, after reconsidering what I have done, I have one question for myself, which is also what Yiquan raises to everybody, that is, “who are you.” What makes Yiquan different? What improvements it has made to the traditional theoretical and training systems of martial arts? As a latecomer, I can never just say it is good solely from my personal attachment or in the general rational or perceptual senses, or on account of the glorious past of my forefathers. Instead, Yiquan should be evaluated from broader, deeper and more scientific perspectives and in an objective way. Only through the rediscovery process can I be sure of its benefits and improve myself. This is the true inheritance and development that is tangible, scientific, with good grounds and trustworthy. Otherwise, it will definitely turn out to be empty talk, harming both myself and the audience. As Laozi said, “To return is how Dao works its way”. I myself shall start to do it now.
Existence Precedes Essence
Yiquan first comes to the concept of originality by advocating that “martial arts are intended to develop one’s good (natural) abilities.” Good abilities are attributes that are inherent and primitive in human beings. However, these primitive attributes have been weakened, degraded or lost in the evolutionary process. The practicing of the art means to stimulate or wake up and give full play to these primitive attributes through specific forms or approaches. It is diametrically opposed to the kung fu that blindly adheres to unique techniques, tricks or skills. It is the “natural force” that everybody is born with, which is materially different from the force that is acquired postnatally or as a habit. It fully exemplifies the naïve naturalism of the Chinese nation. Thus, it uproots the kung fu idea that “technique is everything.” Formally, it avoids an embarrassing phenomenon that one cannot use what he has learnt.
I would like everybody to expressly understand that existence is primary and technique is secondary. That is why the martial art is said to be “a minimal Dao or skill.” Here it is necessary for me to define the term “good abilities.” They are the primitive attributes of human beings and should never be mixed up with the more popular term “potential abilities.” Today the term “potential abilities” has come to be enveloped in strong and profound mystery. That has always been opposed to by Yiquan. Such things as to beat people using one’s ideas, Qi, or internal kung fu are all totally nonsense.
The Spirit of Practice
The circle of martial arts has been filled up with metaphysics, particularly in the recent years. With their streams of consciousness or sensation, people try to show others how profound they are or what a high level they have reached. Knowingly or not, they have elevated the Yi or Feel to a supernatural level. They think they have developed very good feelings. However, in fact, they have indulged themselves in the bad habits of scholar-bureaucrats. I call such a phenomenon as good feelings that are gone when one tries to use them in a real fight.
The cure is the “concrete experience” of abstract theories. The so-called “concrete experience” is not what you think you are, but the practice at different levels. In Yiquan, the guideline states expressly that “the force is generated from standing posts, is known to you through testing and becomes yours when you can use it [in the combat].” It tells the specific ways of training and practicing. Here, I sincerely want to warn every learner of Yiquan: never get stuck in the trap that “standing posts contain everything you need” or the fostering of “good feelings.”
In Western philosophies, it is said that feelings often cheat us and are not true. In Buddhism, it is said that all mortal beings take the branch for the root, the black for the white, without knowing that they have done it. As everybody has his good feelings, Master Wang Xiangzhai regretted that “confirmed habits are hard to get rid of” and that “only the battle-seasoned can possibly know the three flavors[i] of Yiquan.” So the learner must go verify it; otherwise, they will go off the track.
Yiquan understands the concept of Constant Change in new ways. The concept means more than that “immovability is relative and movability is constant.” It means more how to use the dynamic features to serve the martial. Finally it should be understood that it would never be right if one keeps pursing the Constant Change forms. When you have this movement, I will have another movement to deal with you. When you have a yin movement, I will have a yang movement to control you. The rest can be made by analogy. No arguments can stand to reason, and no winning is achievable.
To deal with this, Yiquan provides the only effective method that “The martial are the principles and rules, and never mean any specific movement or beating one or two guys.” As a principle, Constant Change is the nexus of the martial art. “It pivots on the cycle and works in endless ways.” The statement is from the Taoist idea that “Things that are defined by Yin and Yang are in tens, hundreds or millions, but all of them are keyed on one essential point.” Therefore, in practicing the martial art, one should not treat it as his goal or build on how many movements he has learned. In society, there are numerous people who pride themselves for knowing something of every martial art. But they will pick up their heels as soon as the actual combat is touched upon. Instead, one should practice and experience it with the aim to understand the martial principles, to know the pivot and work in numerous ways. As Laozi said, “One learns by increasing every day. One practices Dao by reducing every day.” As Master Wang said, “your spirit becomes full as your movement becomes minute.” This is what “experience” truly means in Yiquan.
Yiquan says that “you are wrong as soon as you want to use your strength.” The saying has been subject to reproach or ridicule. As one may not know, this is a shining point of Yiquan. It goes further from the phenomenon to the origin of force, or the “inherent power.” In other words, it elevates the study on the confrontation between bigger and smaller forces, the choosing of best paths or landing points or the transmission of the force between different parts to the study on what affects the working of the inherent power.
I try to summarize this new study into a new concept, that is, the highest realm of martial arts depends on whether you can express yourself 100%. In other words, even if I only have a force of 10Kg (the inherent power), the highest realm can ensure that this 10Kg force entirely works on the opponent and leads to an effect of 10Kg. This is one of the characteristics of Yiquan, and one of the rules or purposes of Yiquan training. Fundamentally it solves the problem that we are unable to use our own force or the way we use it is less than effective. From another perspective, it also solves the internal friction problem when the force is being used. I wish practitioners could ruminate over it. If they could do that, they would definitely benefit a lot. That “Yi (feel) is the marshal of force, and force is the army of Yi” is not yet deep enough.
Unison of Opposites
The unison of opposites is commonplace and unavoidable in Chinese marital arts. Every school or sect has done their efforts on this issue. Unfortunately, they usually interpret it in theory or form, but seldom comprehend it basically, let alone solving the issue. I have studied it for many years and I think I have found a reasonable interpretation and solution. Generally we mostly combine representations. Take for example the combination of relative movements, or the combination of relative elements in a single movement, or the combination of relative concepts, and so one and so forth. Often it may sound reasonable in theory, but the combination is simply impossible in practice. There have been no methods containing reasonable theories and feasible practices.
Each and every thing, or each and every single element in a thing, including the working of the mind, exists for the sake of their independence. They each have their respective and specific purposes. For example, hardness or softness, void or solid, or hitting or protection is independent or exclusive from each other. They each contain features that can never be mixed up with the others. Each intention, movement or purpose cannot sustain unless it contains such features. To some extent, a thing is compatible only with things that contain similar qualities, and incompatible with things that contain dissimilar qualifies. Therefore, it is a waste of efforts when one tries to unite two or more things with different qualities. Even if he succeeds, the unison will be superficial and fail finally.
For example, we cannot say that one’s performance is both good and bad when he deals with a thing. Similarly, a single martial movement cannot run both up and down or hit and protect simultaneously. There are a good many far-fetched theories that cannot be practiced, leaving a laughing stock for all. Many people interpret their single movements as both void and solid. At the very outside, they make out a good case for themselves by talking only. But, when it comes to a fight, they will do the void OR the solid separately. They never dare to play the trick of being both void and solid. They will strain every muscle and hope to eradicate the opponent spiritually and physically with just one punch. This is the true expression of independent elements. Nothing is falsified here. The true case is that one will exert every ounce of energy to beat a tiger as well as a cat. As stated above, things with independent qualities cannot develop an affinity between themselves. Then, how do we unite them? This forms a contradiction. Finally the affinity depends upon a common quality to integrate them. The affinity must be on the basis of an identical element, that is (to combine) independent things must contain identical elements. The identical element is the nexus between independent things. This nexus does not interfere with the independent qualifies of independent things, which means it is not compromise. This constitutes the perfect, rational, with each component playing their proper role and working and being effective. This is the only proper course to take. From it, all opposites can be united in a fair, just and rational manner.
Though very simple today, it has taken me a lot of painstaking efforts to really know it, which can hardly be expressed in words. Please do forgive me as I am just an ordinary man and have to reserve to myself the specific ways to practice. Take for example the several cooperative actions between the Kuomintang Party and the Communist Party in the history. The cooperation for the war against Japanese invaders (1931~1945) and against the northern warlords (1926~1928) was quite effective, in that both parties had growth. It is a good example for successful cooperation. However, the cooperation in other periods was failure, with brutal results, in that each party won their respective independence at the cost of blood and fire. This is also true for economic cooperation. This is as far as I can tell. The wise should already know it. Master Wang was right to say that “hooking, crossing, wrapping and filing come together.” On the busy street, a worn hat can hardly work to conceal one’s being hungry and poor.
The fate of a family is bound to that of the nation. The same apply to the growth of martial arts. There have been highs and lows in the spreading of Yiquan and its research results. Since the policy of reform and opening up was implemented in 1980s, especially after the development of Sanda, the seeking for the truth has become the mainstream of the martial art circle. Academic exchange becomes more frequent between different schools. The principles and practicality of Yiquan becomes more and more the favor of martial fans. There are even a few new schools that emerge by building on Yiquan principles. It is now a great era of fair competition and mutual infiltration. Only those who fall behind will be afraid of being infiltrated by others. As Laozi said, “beautiful things will come out finally to be recognized by all.” As Master Wang said, “I hope that each of our people can have a Yiquan book, so that the qualities of our people can be improved. The martial Daoism is essential to the spirit and root of the Chinese nation. Only those martial arts that complete the mission can be counted as martial arts; otherwise, they are just heterodoxies.” The care from martial enthusiasts and the infiltration by other schools prove the value and vitality of Yiquan. I favor infiltration more than consummation. I hope that those who are ambitious in martial arts can have more exchanges and infiltrations. Only in that way can the Chinese martial arts have hope.
In the history of Yiquan, a striking phenomenon is that the fight often ends with just one contact. This has caused Yiquan learners to be very proud or complacent about it. As a result, they go to study the “one-contact” skills. Although seemingly they are looking for the truth, the tendency actually greatly prevents their learning and progressing. The so-called “one contact” comes from a Xingyi saying to “force your opponent to engage in the fight instead of sheltering from him.” In society, the saying is often understood as describing a relentless strike or the collision between some special movements or tricks. Such understanding is entirely contrary to the true origin of the one-contact phenomenon.
The phenomenon can never occur with just one relentless strike or any special movement or skill. Theoretically it is rooted in the idea of Hunyuan in the traditional Chinese culture. The so-called Hunyuan means to include all related elements of a specific thing. It is never any vague or ambiguous feeling that is pretended or created, as described by those who do not really understand it. It builds on a solid other than created experience.
For this sake, Yiquan emphasizes that every force and each of its related components must be verified with all one’s heart and soul, to really experience what an abstract saying tries to tell you. When this basic condition is satisfied, one’s movements tend to perfect and achieve the state of the “completion of forces” or Hunyuan. In the state, whatever movement the opponent uses, one will respond with a corresponding movement spontaneously and as soon as practicable. This inductive process leads to the prestigious one-contact phenomenon. It indicates that Yiquan has advanced from the realm of contingency to the highest realm of necessity. I felt terrified when I first knew it. The martial never mean any trick or movement, or beating one or two guys. The martial are when each and every movement counts to meet all possibilities.
Even today, the martial force is described as transmitting from the ground reaction force, through to the legs, hips and waists, shoulders, arms and finally hands. After years of study and exploration, I have made a big progress in the transmission of force in Yiquan. It builds on the pursuit of wholeness and returns a totally new result, drawing a full stop to the transmission issue left from the past.
The wholeness naturally forms a relatively stable state. It already includes features that make it possible to transmit the entire force. The entire transmission feels like the transmission of electrons other than a river. When an electron comes in, the other electron will come out. The transmission is the fastest, and was described by Master Wang as “super-speed movement”. To explore it to a further step, the wholeness that contains the possibility cannot be realized in practice. It is good for nothing if one tries to use the wholeness to collide with his opponent. Thus, such hardened wholeness is hardly useful or feasible in practice. Also the opponent is not a dead thing, so that the collision cannot be made easily.
Moreover, such wholeness builds on the tensing and loosening of one’s body. As people may not know it, the tensing marks the end of one movement. To move, one has to loosen and tense his body alternatively. To move continuously, unknowingly one has to force himself to tense and loosen entirely. However, a man can never impact upon his opponent like a fixed bullet, as distortion occurs objectively in his movements.
Then, what does Yiquan do to solve the contradiction to maintain the wholeness without breaking the objective law of movement? The solution comes from a profound understanding of the wholeness. Strictly speaking, it does not pursue the wholeness that is as simple as to connect one’s body into a hard plate. Instead, it pursues the effectiveness of the wholeness. The effectiveness of the wholeness must build on the orchestration of all components of the body, with each component actively engaging its own features and participating in the expression of a single intention. Master Wang named such wholeness as the Self-Supporting Force, i.e. the whole effectiveness. Fundamentally it transcends the traditional transmission of force or the tensing and loosening game among Yiquan learners. The so-called “Self-Supporting Force” means that not only each component or even each cell tries to express its own functions, but also they complement each other by orders of magnitude. They work with each other like a nuclear reaction, and the result has no limit. This is how the saying goes “to borrow the infinite power of the universe.” However, the whole effectiveness has its objective bounds, as it finally is subject to the limits of the human body.
Three forms of transmission of force:
The flowing water form;
The electronic form; and
The nuclear fission form.
The recent articles - On the Value of Yiquan and On the Value of Yiquan, a Second Discussion – have been written on the basis of my research in the last few years. I have chosen to publish them because I believe they contain characteristic things of Yiquan or the umbrella principles. I hope that they can benefit all martial art learners. Moreover, with them, I give infinite respect and memory to Master Wang Xiangzhai, the contributor to the Chinese martial arts.
© Han Jingchen 2015
(Translated by Ren Qingtao)
“Three Flavors” were from Buddhism and later were acclimated by Chinese scholars. One interpretation is the following: the classic works (such as, those by Laozi or Confucius) taste like rice; the histories taste like fish and meat; and the works by scholars during the Spring and Autumn Period taste like a very delicious dinner. So, the “three flavors” is used to refer to the three levels of understanding in most cases.