The theory of Xingyiquan is concise, clear, & well-developed. Previous generations of practitioners have refined the lessons of their teachers, distilling them into a set of principles & methods that are as tightly knit as the exercise patterns. Among these methods are the aptly named “Eight Essentials/八要 – Ba Yao,” a short list of points outlining the Standing Neigong of the style. though a mainstay of the early 20th century publications on Hebei Xingyiquan, the Eight Essentials have received less attention in recent years. Is this due to the natural tendency of teaching methods to change over time, or the general decline in the study of theory that accompanies all booms in popularity? In either case, a valuable document that outlines a systematic training progression remains hidden in plain sight. Let’s examine this treasure left by our predecessors, & reveal one of Xingyiquan’s special features.
“Thus I say, ‘Clarity is Best’ ” – Zhuangzi
Neigong exists in all Chinese martial arts, despite what the classification schemes in use today may imply. On the simpler end of the spectrum, it may consist of little more than proper breathing & weight distribution. On the more complex end it can encompass elaborate systems of medical & cosmological correspondences that promise phenomenal power, if mastered. Xingyiquan’s Neigong doesn’t go so far as to promise cosmic unity, preferring direct, simple & practical methods focused on results. From the time Li Luoneng took Che Yizhai as his first student in Taigu, Shanxi in 1856, Xingyiquan has had a reputation for being direct & efficient in everything it does.
The core of the Eight Essentials are eight short statements that read as follows:
八要者何? 一. 內心要提 ; 二. 三心要并 ; 三. 三意要連 ; 四. 五行要順 ; 五. 四梢要齊 ; 六. 心要暇 ; 七.三尖要對 ; 八. 眼要毒也。
What are the “Eight Essentials?” 1. Internally, the Center must rise. 2. The Three Centers must merge. 3. The Three Intentions must link. 4. The Five Phases must be smooth. 5. The Four Tips must be even. 6. The Xin must be relaxed. 7. The Three Tips must match. 8. The Eyes must be poisonous.
The major differences in the versions available appear in the explanatory comments for each of these statements, & are usually limited to variations of emphasis. For example, the majority of comments consider the fourth Essential to refer to the correct performance of the Five Fists. But if, as at least one explanation that I’ve read proposes, the Eight Essentials are viewed as exclusively referring to the Neigong aspect of San Ti Shi practice then the Fourth would refer to proper Qi flow in the Five Viscera. I am inclined to agree with this opinion, as this view also highlights the connection between modern Xingyiquan & the Xinyiquan described in Yue Fei’s 10 Thesis.
When seen as a Neigong regimen for Post Standing the Eight Essentials make the most sense. The training begins with the all important connecting of the Dantian to the Governing & Conception Vessels. Next, the newly established flow is strengthened by “threading” the Qi to the major cavities on the extremities: the crown of the head, the hands, & the feet. once Qi is consistently felt in these three places it is necessary to develop its full integration with the Intention. This not only improves the quality of the Qi itself, it also strengthens the Xin’s ability to perceive Qi & improves the overall integration of the body. This bodily integration, the state of being ” Threaded into One,” is further developed by first smoothing out of the flow within the body’s core, then expanding the quantity of Qi to evenly fill the extremities. After the body has been connected & filled with Qi, the meditative aspect of this regimen consolidates everything previous. The added benefit is the feedback loop generated by this meditative practice deepens & enhances both the foundation of the practice as well as the actual practice itself. The end result of one complete run through of the training cycle as outlined is the “poisonous” look in the eyes.
At first glance, deliberately developed aggression or intimidation may seem at odds with meditative practice, especially so in light of the sixth Essential’s insistence on a relaxed Xin. the contradiction is resolved by keeping certain things in mind about Xingyiquan’s general methodology. The aggression of the style is always tactical, never emotional. One should take the initiative at the first opportunity & avoid becoming consumed by emotion. Furthermore, the Poisonous Eyes indicate a strong intention to win quickly, held within a calm mind with a strong & concentrated spirit. One of the unique points of Xingyiquan’s Neigong & meditation theory is the requirement for unrestrained emotion, as weakening or suppressing the emotions slows the pace of the spirit’s growth. A strong, robust spirit is the key to exhibiting Xingyiquan’s ideal of ignoring all mistakes, failures, & set backs. just as with fighting, you should press forward continuously, learning from mistakes without over dramatizing the effects. For this reason, the seventh Essential is placed second-to-last to emphasize the calm, concentrated alignment of the physical body.
A Few Techniques, Deeply Refined, Trump 1000 Shallow Techniques
Ultimately, the feedback loop generated by following the Eight Essentials program to its conclusion & continuously restarting, at a qualitatively more refined level, allows the true benefits of San Ti Shi Standing as Neigong regimen to emerge. Deep familiarity, developed over long period of repeated practice, then continuously refined over an even longer period, is the root of Xingyiquan’s Neigong. When you’ve experienced this, when you’ve gained first hand “body knowledge,” of this, you will understand the praise heaped on post standing practice in general, & San Ti Shi in particular, by the masters of the early 20th century.