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By: Wang Xiangzhai

The Correct Path of Yiquan


By Wang Xiangzhai

(Originally published 1929. Brennan Translations, 2016, 25 pages)




Review by Christopher Dow




When you read a title like the one for this book, you have to wonder if the book really does aim the reader on the correct path to the art in question. With this book, you don’t have to wonder. The author, Wang Zianghai (Wang Xiangzhai, 1885-1963), is the one who created Yiquan—or perhaps a better way to say it is that he distilled Yiquan following several decades of intensive practice, study, and research of the martial arts--not to mention practical fighting experience.


Wang began his martial arts career as a child under the famous Xingyi master, Guo Yunshen, who was a friend of Wang’s family, proving it’s nice to have family friends like that. As a young adult, Wang joined the military, then later at age 33, he traveled the length and breadth of China, studying martial arts with masters of Xingyi, Southern White Crane, and Tai Chi, among many others. At the conclusion of his journey, he publicly declared, “I have traveled across the country in research, engaging over a thousand people in martial combat. There have been only 2.5 people I could not defeat.” Presumably he lost to two and the .5 was a draw.


Wang moved to Beijing, where he established himself among the famous masters there and in Tianjin and Shanghai. In Beijing, he became friends with many notable masters of diverse styles, and more importantly, he began teaching his own distillation of the Chinese martial arts, which he named Yiquan. It has since also been called Dachengquan, which means “Great Achievement Boxing.” He also is notable as one of the first teachers to publicly teach the chi kung called, among other names, Standing Post, Standing Tree, or Pole Standing. This was the first exercise taught to him by Master Guo, who made him hold the posture for hours.


Yiquan is sometimes termed a non-style fighting style. The name means Intent Boxing, with the “Yi/intent” part meaning exactly the same as the “Yi” in Xingyi. In the mid 1920, Wang came to the conclusion that Xingyi movements were too complex, turning the art more toward the external than the internal. To remedy that, he taught Xingyiquan without the Xing, or form—thus, Yiquan.


To describe his art, Wang wrote:


In silence there must be movement, and in motion, there must be silence.

A small movement is better than a big, no movement is better than a small, and silence is all movement’s mother.

In movement, you should be like a dragon or a tiger.

In non-movement, you should be like a Buddha.


Originally, Yiquan had a sort of form that was soon whittled down to eight basic postures. These remain the basis of the art, but Wang continued refining his personal expression of Yiquan until he was teaching only one posture, claiming that only those who can grasp the one state, and keep it, can adequately move with it. This is much like Aikido master Koichi Tohei’s “single point concentration.” Wang’s own teachings eventually became so abstruse that few could understand them. (Tohei, like Wang, believed his art had become too physical, losing the internal energy that gave it power. He, too, broke away from his art’s parent organization to establish his own school in an effort to reinstate the importance of internal energy to the martial arts.)


This from the Wikipedia article on Yiquan:


Yiquan is essentially formless, containing no fixed sets of fighting movements or techniques. Instead, focus is put on developing one’s natural movement and fighting abilities through a system of training methods and concepts, working to improve the perception of one’s body, its movement, and of force. Yiquan is also set apart from other Eastern martial art in that traditional concepts like qi, meridians, dantien, etc., are omitted, the reason being that understanding one’s true nature happens in the present, and that preconceptions of any sort block this process.


Reading Wang's book, it’s easy to see that Yiquan was developed primarily from Xingyi, yet aside from certain aspects, the book could equally be a Tai Chi manual since many of the precepts are similar. Indeed, watching Yiquan in action, it seems to be mostly a combination of Xingyi and a small Tai Chi style, such as Wu Family or Northern Wu, because the applications tend to be short, highly focused, and jolting.


However, unlike either Xingyi or Tai Chi, Yiquan doesn’t rely on forms, as note above. Instead, the main practice is Standing Post, which is done in various configurations, with several other more complex stances (Bow Stance, for example) fleshing in things. The stance training is garnished with several light martial movements done repeatedly. Throughout, however, it is not the physical training that counts but the mental aspect of learning how to settle the body in such a way that it can be launched in any direction with full and focused force.


This makes me wonder how Yiquan folks stay in physically good shape. I did see one Youtube video of a Yiquan exponent teaching the well-known external chi kung known as the Eight Pieces of Brocade, but doing that’s not going to keep you physically in shape, either. Maybe Yiquan practitioners simply do other exercises to take care of what Yiquan does not. Tai Chi people have to do the same thing, but to a much lesser extent due to the physical exercise inherently built into the Tai Chi forms.


The Correct Path of Yiquan begins with a preface in which the author give the historical background and philosophical reasoning behind the martial arts. An intelligent, well-read, and much traveled man, Wang also waxes eloquent on the failings of martial artists in what also could be a general indictment of negative human proclivities.


[People] are no longer willing to use such wisdom [of knowledge gained] to seek what is truly great, and it has unfortunately become customary in recent years to incline toward what is inferior. Instead of striving for real life, they pursue empty fads. They pursue personal gain rather than self-knowledge. In imitation of corrupt literature, they seek power in order to get ahead, pages full of nonsense tricking them with illusions.


The first chapter covers, naturally, Standing Post, since this is the foundation of the art.


In the beginning of the training, there are numerous standing methods, such as Descending Dragon Stance, Crouching Tiger Stance, Pointer Stance, Three-Realms Stance, and so on. The complexity gives way to simplicity as you take the strong points of each stance and merge them into one, called Primordial Stance. It is helpful for generating power and useful for actual fighting. It is training for mastery of both attack and defense, and for energy circulation. After just ten days of training, it will naturally produce results so marvelous that words cannot describe them.


The next chapter concerns training the sinews and bones. This section does not try to teach a method. Instead, it is primarily a catalog of Yiquan precepts along with a few pointers to improve technique. Here are just a few of examples among many:


Extending the sinews of your neck wrists, and ankles, the muscles of your whole body are thus opened up.


The six centers (the heart of the palms, the Bubbling Wells in the soles of the feet, the solar plexus, and the crown of the head) match each other.


Your joints are like the curve of a bow. Your sinews stretch like bowstrings. Wielding energy is like the tautness of the bowstrings. Send your hand out as though loosing an arrow.


Applying power is the subject of the next chapter. Wang begins this with:


Effectiveness in martial arts depends on having power. Methods of applying power do not go beyond hardness and softness, squareness and roundness. Hardness is straightness. Softness is lively Straightness is extended long, having a force of attack and defense. Softness has a shorter range, having a force that is sudden and elastic. Hard power seems to have a squareness. Soft power is externally square but internally round.


 In other words, seek the straight in the curved and the curved in the straight.


Wang then describes several permutations of how these aspects combine and specific ways to produce martial effect.


The author then goes into “training and cultivating the energy.” Since the concept and energy of chi do not apply in Yiquan, I’m at a loss what to make of this chapter, since the energy Wang seeks to cultivate is powered by correct breathing and is concentrated in the “field of elixir,” or the tantien, just as chi is powered and stored. But maybe the following will clarify matters a little. Tai Chi folks—and practitioners of other internal martial arts—are familiar with the concept of fa jin, or the sudden release of internal energy, either as a surging force or as a sharp and penetrating strike. Yiquan’s complementary concept is fa li, or the sudden release of external strength.


In the following chapter, Wang delves into the Five Elements theory of Chinese philosophy. This is particularly germane since, just as Tai Chi takes its psycho-physical basis from the taijitu (tai chi symbol), Xingyi takes its from the Five Elements theory. According to this theory, each of the five elements (Water, Wood, Metal, Fire, and Earth) destroys one of the other elements and is, in turn, created by another. Water beats Fire, Fire beats Wood, and so forth, with each of the elements being tied in one way or another to specific Xingyi movements or techniques. But Wang’s not having it, saying that locking a fighting style into a specific set of call-and-response movements hampers that style by making it rigid and unable to respond to factors outside its usual set of stimuli. He was, after all, an early exponent of mixed martial arts and using what works, no matter what style it comes from.


But Wang’s criticism of the Five Elements as applied to fighting doesn’t mean that he doesn't find value in it. The way he takes it is that each of the Five Elements displays a particular strength that, working together with the others, produces the best and broadest range of martial force and agility.


With every action, always have these five kinds of strength. This is the method of the "five elements merging into one." Whenever you are not moving, your whole body has a consistent strength, but whenever you are moving, there is everywhere, large and small joints alike, a duality of contending strength above and below, forward and back, left and right. In this way, you can gain the combined strength of your whole body.


The “Six Unions” come next, though Wang does little more than describe them in cursory terms. 


Mind is united with the intention, the intention united with the energy, and the energy united with the power. These are the three internal unions. The hand is united with the foot, the elbow united with the knee, and the shoulder united with the hip. These are there three external unions.


Tai Chi folks will readily see from this quote what I mean by saying this is much a Tai Chi manual as it is one for Yiquan.


Next comes a chapter titled, “Poetic Instructions.” These instructions are basically one-liners that contain more precepts of Yiquan—very often applicable to other martial arts, as well. Further concentrate your mind, let sincerity course through your whole body, punches go out like meteors, and the head top is like a hanging chime are just a few of them. They’re all worthwhile to consider.


Sparring tips is the subject of the following chapter. As stated above, Yiquan does not involve itself in specific sets of attack-and-response, so obviously, Wang does not display specific techniques. That would be futile, he says. “As there are countless transformations, they are impossible to fully describe.” Instead, relaxation and going with the flow are paramount, followed by decisive strikes, throws, or joint locks.


This chapter is primarily a catalog of methods and precepts of the art. Most would be at home in a Tai Chi manual, but there are nuances here not normally encountered in martial arts literature, prompted, no doubt by the author’s extensive practical martial experience coupled with his intelligence. I’m not going to try to list them or give examples, except for this one, which seems important: “To win, all four limbs have to work in unison. To lose, all it takes is doubt.”


Yiquan’s limited repertoire of techniques are divided into two categories: Dragon and Tiger. Of the Dragon, Wang writes:


The things it can do: stretch or shrink, can be hard or soft, can ascend and descend, can disappear and appear. In stillness it is like a mountain. When moving, it is like the wind.


Of the Tiger, he says:


Adopt its nature and strive for its strength. Horizontally cross, vertically strike, climbing the mountain with both claws. Fiercely advance and fiercely retreat. Do lunging pounces and then short-range techniques. As though tearing prey, seem to shake your head, like a cat catching a mouse. Press up your head top and seize with your claws, rousing your whole body.


To sum up, [he goes on] the two methods of dragon and tiger are exercised without choreographed techniques. The posture is like a tiger running a thousand miles. The energy is like a dragon flying three times as far. The power finishes without the intention finishing. And when the intention finishes, the spirit continues.


“The Correct Path of Yiquan” is the title of the final, brief chapter, which sums up the art and gives a few more pointers.


The correct path of Yiquan is nothing more than the ‘three classical techniques’ and the two energies of dragon and tiger. While the energies of dragon and tiger are for skill building, the three techniques are for fighting. They are: stamping, drilling, and wrapping.


All three of these are types of punches that Wang describes, though not in any detail.


That’s the end of the book’s main text, but there is appended a short article Wang published in the Chinese periodical, Martial Arts United Monthly, in 1935. In it, he expounds on the need to practice martial arts, not just for the good of the body, but for the good of the body politic. But in doing so, one must approach practice correctly.


In fact, the true teaching in martial arts is simply to strive to conform to principles. The complexity or simplicity of a posture is not important. The beauty or ugliness of a movement is not important. Complex or simple, beautiful or ugly—these are not absolutes. Although a posture may appear complex, the action inside may actually be simple, and although a posture may appear simple, the action inside may actually be complex. What is within a posture is difficult to discuss because answers cannot be sought based on external appearances. What the world deems beautiful may in substance actually be ugly, and what the world deems ugly may in substance actually be beautiful.


Thanks again to translator Paul Brennan for yet another significant contribution to martial arts literature in English-language versions.





*  Facts regarding Wang Zianghai and Yiquan used in this review originated in two Wikipedia articles:


Wang Xiangzhai (


Yiquan (

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