If someone put you on the spot & demanded that you summarize yourself in only six words, would you be able to do it? All of your strengths, talents, tendencies, & habits, boiled down to a mere half a dozen words. Seems like a pretty daunting challenge. But it’s actually quite common in the World of Martial Arts. Many Northern Chinese Styles summarize their primary features & overall strategy in six key terms. The following is an examination of Xingyiquan’s Six Character Outline.
Thus there are six parts to the method. What are the six? They are Skill, Following, Courage, Quickness, Vicious, & Straight. Skill is clever. Following is natural. Courage is decisive. Quickness is swift. Vicious is hateful, furious rage, i.e. movement that cannot tolerate a feeling, the entire core shakes & the Internal Jin issues. Straight is straightforwardly issuing what’s in your heart to see its truth & change the difficulties. Understand the Six Parts then the Superior Method & Advancing Method will be complete.
工/Gong – Skillful
The first character is Skill. You should train the Single Techniques until you can use them skillfully, in a natural & spontaneous way. Xingyiquan places great value on practicality, realistic application, & efficiency. “Flowery Fists & Embroidered Legs” are unacceptable, to the point of warranting mockery & derision. What you can “pull off” is meaningless; only what you can “do” in a real fight matters.
順/Shun – Following
The second character is Following. In this case, “following” means natural, as in “following the natural course of things.” Your movements should obey the principles of efficiency, using only the required amount of force to execute a motion or technique. Simple, bio-mechanically correct movements will conserve energy & maximize your stamina. Even if you’re the type of person who is naturally athletic, this emphasis on conservation of energy & efficient use of strength is preferable in a fight.
勇/Yong – Courageous
The third character is Courageous. You should be brave when confronted with the need to fight, decisive in the execution of your techniques, & fearless in the face of your opponent’s strength. Win or lose, you shouldn’t be overly concerned with the outcome: focus on the task at hand. Stand up for yourself, for your belief, for those who depend on you. Again, winning or losing is irrelevant: what matters is that you face your challenges with a strong, undaunted Spirit.
疾/Ji – Quick
The third character is Quick. As it says in one of my favorite books, The Nine Laws by Ivan Throne, “Quick beats Fast.” This seemingly odd statement illustrates the difference between raw, contextually unspecified “Speed,” & grounded, contextually relevant “Quickness.” The crux of the distinction lies in acceleration: “speed” refers to the velocity of an already object in motion, while “quickness” refers to the amount of time needed for an object to attain a given velocity. Because of its preference for mid to short range fighting & emphasis on simple, natural, & efficient movements, Xingyiquan has devastatingly effective Quickness. From the opponent’s perspective, it’s a matter of “don’t blink, or you’ll end up on your back.”
狠/Hen – Vicious
The fifth character is Vicious. Xingyiquan is often referred to as a “Military Style,” due to its legendary creation with illustrious Song Dynasty Marshall Yue Fei. This military connection expresses itself as a ruthless commitment to total victory, not unlike the stereotypical portrayal of soldiers as “kill ’em all & let God sort ’em out” types. Another common saying in Xingyiquan is “the Eyes are Vicious.” This is not a call for reckless, brutal violence, but an indication of the effect a stable, centered Spirit has on opponents. “The eyes are the windows of the soul,” & with that in mind, a concentrated Spirit intent on winning will show in the eyes as a cruel, predatory focus. It must be remembered, a fight is a contest for survival between two or more parties. The only way to guarantee your own safety & survival is to obliterate the opponent by fighting to win from the very start. After all, “Compassion is a luxury only the Strong can afford.”
直/Zhi – Straight
The sixth character is Straight. It is often said, “The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.” This true when talking about a certain scale. As stated above, Xingyiquan is a mid to short range Style of fighting. This means that the old saying about straight lines applies perfectly for our purposes. The emphasis on efficiency & realism, also mentioned previously, requires short, direct motions, especially in the Footwork. “Straight in, & straight out,’ is a common phrase in the Xingyi Manual. “Straight” also carries the implication of direct, as in “directly striking your enemy in the center of his face.” Be straightforward in your strategy by attacking targets on your opponent’s body that will end the fight in the shortest time possible. Punch him in the dead center of his face, blast him in his solar plexus, smash him in the crotch, or cave his goddamn chest in: whatever you have to do to win, do it.