29 May 2011

Hsing-I Quan and ITF Taekwon-Do

A recent post by another blogger made me look at the Chinese internal style Hsing-I Quan (aka Xingyiquan) 形意拳 again. There are two things that stood out to me when I looked into Hsing-I Quan today.

The first is the striking similarity (no pun intended) in movement between Hsing-I Quan and ITF Taekwon-Do. The blogger quotes Tim Cartmell who describes movement in Hsing-I Quan as “mass in motion” and “controlled falling.” This is probably the central thesis of power generation in ITF Taekwon-Do, which I described before as: "accelerate as much body mass as possible in the direction of the technique, with emphasis on strong exhalation, and without compromising your balance and posture."

Look at the two YouTube videos below. In the first we see the Hsing-I Quan practitioner (Master Hai Yang) performing the Five Elements and Linking Forms. In the second video another practitioner begins with a “water bending” sequence, followed by the Five Elements. The Five Elements Forms are the fundamental sequences in Hsing-I Quang training. If you truly understand the basic principles of movement in ITF Taekwon-Do, the similarities in movement between Hsing-I and ITF Taekwon-Do are glaringly obvious. Notice, for instance, the sense of an intermediate position in the forms. Although the intermediate positions are not as clearly paused as seen in the videos below, it is very clear that ITF Taekwon-Do and Hsing-I Quang have this in common. Also notice, especially in the second video, how the practitioner clearly accelerates his mass by turning his hip in the direction of the technique, while at the same time dropping his body weight down, similar to the motions in ITF Taekwon-Do.

A descriptive line in Wikipedia describes Hsing-I Quan as follows: “. . . xingyiquan uses coordinated movements to generate bursts of power intended to overwhelm the opponent, simultaneously attacking and defending.” ITF Taekwon-Do is all about “coordinated movements to generate bursts of power”and higher level Taekwon-Do training focus on “simultaneously attacking and defending,” as seen, for instance, in One Step Sparring. But it is that idea of “mass in motion” and “controlled falling” that I find most interesting.

This is not the first time I've noticed similarties between ITF Taekwon-Do and Chinese internal martial arts, of which the three main ones are Tai Chi Quan, Baqua Zhang and Hsing-I Quan. In a previous post I referred to the similarities between ITF Taekwon-Do and Chen style Tai Chi Quan.

"to strike or break with the fist"

The second thing I realised while looking into Hsing-I Quan regards the name. I've always assumed that the last character is Kwan (Hangeul: 관 / Hanja: 館), meaning “house” or within the context of the martial arts, “style”; thus the “Style of Hsing-I.” I thought it is the same character one sees in Moo Do Kwan or Soo Shim Kwan. I was completely mistaken. It is not Kwan, but Kwon (Hangeul: 권 / Hanja: ). The Korean for Hsing-I Quan 形意拳 is Hyeong Eui Kwon 형의권. The last character in Hsing-I Quan 권 / is actually the middle character in Tae Kwon Do 태권도 / 跆拳道.

I find this profoundly interesting. It means that General Choi Hong-Hi, the principal founder of Taekwon-Do and also the person who proposed the name Taekwon-Do, specifically chose this character that is present in the names of such iconic Chinese internal martial arts as Hsing-I Quan and Tai Chi Quan. Kwon 권 / 拳, as every Taekwon-Doin knows, means “to strike or break with the fist.” True, the character can literally translate as fist 주먹 and is often used to denote “pugilism” or "boxing,” but keep in mind that General Choi was a calligraphist and had an intimate knowledge of Chinese (Hanja) characters and must have been fully aware of the connotation this character has with such Chinese martial arts as Hsing-I Quan and Tai Chi Quan. By choosing the name Tae Kwon Do 태권도 / 跆拳道 he was positioning Taekwon-Do within a specific group of martial arts. The first character links it to Korean martial arts (referring phonemically to Taekkyeon); the second syllable referred to traditional Chinese martial arts like Hsing-I Quan, Tai Chi Quan, Shaolin Quan, and so on; and the final character positioned Taekwon-Do as one of the new modern styles, like Aikido and Judo, that emerged in Japan.

I'm pleased with my (belated) 권 / discovery as it confirms something I have intuitively felt for quite some time. I cannot believe I've overlooked it for so long.


Robocoastie said...

actually Hsing-I like the other internal arts do not use hip rotation at all but rather use whole body movement, what appears to be hip rotation is the dan-tien rotation. Hsing-I comes from spear fighting thus it is an explosive straight forward ground taking style. This is what real "internal energy" is about, not the woo-woo that gets sold to gullible westerners but an actual physical skill which is radically different from the body movement of external styles.

Skryfblok said...


Thank you very much for this clarification on Hsing-I. Much appreciated. That it is derived from "spear fighting" and therefore focusses on "explosive straight forward ground taking" movements is undoubtedly at its core; and it is in this sense different from Taiji and Baqua--but strategically not so different from other linier styles.

I'm just wondering if hip rotation and dan-tien rotation is intrinsically different?

In Taekwon-Do and Hapkido we sometimes use "hips" and "dan-jeon" (the Korean translation for dan-tien)synonymous, when we refer to its rotation.