COMPARATIVE STUDY OF XINGYIQUAN, WUZUQUAN, BAGUAZHANG AND TAIJIQUAN
What is the difference between Xingyiquan, Wuzuquan, Baguazhang and Taijiquan in terms of benefits for health and spirituality, form, force training, combat application, philosophy and special internal skills (such as Striking Across Space which is found in Wuzuquan)?
Sifu Anton Schmick
Xingyiquan, Wuzuquan, Baguazhang and Taijiquan are all great arts promoting health and spirituality. Any difference explained in the answer is relative. For example, if one art is said to be more effective than another art in promoting health, it does not mean that the other art is not effective.
In comparing the four arts, it is presumed that all other things were equal. This is almost never true in real life, but is necessary as a philosophical concept for meaningful comparison. For example, when it is explained that one art is more effective than another in promoting spirituality, the comparison is based on this one factor in isolation. If other cateria are involved, which always happen in real life, like a practitioner of the former art is more diligent than a practitioner of the latter art, the former may obtain more benefit in spirituality than the latter.
The comparison is based on genuine Xingyiquan, Wuzuquan, Baguazhang and Taijiquan at the potential. Please note the two points involved -- genuine and potential. Unfortunately today not many people have the opportunity to practice any of these genuine arts. The question of what makes an art genuine is debatable.
The criterion adopted here is that an art is genuine when it is what it is said to be. As all of them are martial arts, if a practitioner uses kick-boxing instead of the art he practices for sparring, it is reasonable to say that what he practices is not genuine.
One may practice a genuine art but he may not have reached a high level in it, irrespective of how long he may have practiced. Hence, when we say that his art is one that has the most advanced internal skills, it may not apply to him.
A fourth factor to bear in mind is that we are special, a fact others may not like to hear and probably do not agree. We are special because of the many advantages we have in the practice of these arts that others may not have, like understanding the underlying philosophy of the training in these arts and the ability to generate energy flow. Because of these advantages, we are able to employ an art for spiritual cultivation when it is not normally possible for other people.
These four points are not only important in our philosophical discussion on the difference between the four great arts, they are actually more important in everyday life. Many students do not derive the benefits they should get although they practice these great arts, not because these arts do not give them the benefits but because what they practice is not genuine, or they practice insufficiently or wrongly.
With these four points in mind, namely that the comparison is relative, that all other things are presumed equal, that we are comparing genuine arts at their potential, and that we are special, let us examine the difference between Xingyiquan, Wuzuquan, Baguazhang and Taijiquan in terms of benefits for health and spirituality, form, force training, combat application, philosophy and special internal skills.
Relatively and in my opinion, Taijiquan is the most effective in providing benefits for health, followed by Baguazhang, Wuzuquan and Xingyiquan in that order of importance. As mentioned earliet, this does not mean that Xingyiquan provides little benefits for health. Indeed the health benefits of Xingyiquan are tremendous.
But in the real world today, I believe the biggest group of people who have become unhealthy, like sustaining knee injuries, as a result of their training, both in terms of number as well as proportion, are Taijiquan practitioners.
A survey showed that more than 62% of Taijiquan practitioners in the United States suffered from knee injuries, many of whom as a result of their practice. This is shocking. Taijiquan is supposed to be the art amongst the four mentioned here to give the most health benefits. Why do so many Taijiquan practitioners suffer from knee injuries. They practice wrongly. They do not rotate their knees!
Why does Taijiquan, if practiced correctly, amongst the four mentioned arts provide the best health benefits? It is because of energy flow.
All the other three arts generate energy flow too, but Taijiquan generates the most energy flow and in the most conducive way for health. In the other arts, energy flow is consolidated for combat, whereas in Taijiquan though it is also consolidated for combat, the energy flow is fluid and more emphasized for health.
Taijiquan is also the one amongst the four mentioned arts that gives the best benefits for spirituality. The supreme aim of Taijiquan is returning to the Tao, which in Western terms means returning to God the Holy Spirit. All Taijiquan training places much emphasis on spiritual aspects, like being calm and relaxed, and using mind instead of using strength.
Benefits for spirituality range extensively from the basics of being peaceful and relaxed to the supreme attainment of merging with the undifferentiated Cosmos. Irrespective of which point along the range, Taijiquan, at least in theory, provides the best benefits. But it may not be so in real life, due to one or more of the four conditions mentioned at the start of the answer. In my opinion, due to the nature of their training Xingyiquan practitioners are more highly-spirited than Taijiquan practitioners in real life today.
With this philosophical knowledge and our ability of energy flow, we in Shaolin Wahnam are able not only to avoid the weakness and highlight the strength of any arts we practice, but also to employ the strength of one art in another art where the strength is originally absent.
For example, in Xingyiquan, Wuzuquan and Baguazhang there is no mention or practice to enter Tao, or expand into the Cosmos. But with this skill acquired in Taijiquan, we can apply it in Xinguyiquan, Wuzuquan and Baguazhang.
In terms of form, Taijiquan has the largest number of techniques, followed by Baguazhang, Wuzuquan and Xingyiquan in that order. Baguazhang movements are the most complex and elaborated, followed by Taijiquan, Wuzuquan and Xingyiquan. Wuzuquan and Xingyiquan techniques are relatively simple -- but their application profound. Hence, a Baguazhang performance is the most beautiful to watch.
All the four arts use the flow method for force training. Taijiquan is the softest and the most fluid, followed in order by Baguazhang, Wuzuquan and Xingyiquan. Although Xingyiquan is known as an internal art, by which many people mistakenly conceptualized as soft, it is quite hard. It is the hardest of all the generally known internal arts.
Why is Xingyiquan internal and is hard? It is internal because its force training is prominently internal, i.e. through flowing energy. It is hard because its force is the result of flowing energy being consolidated.
Why is Taijiquan internal and is soft? It is internal, like Xingyiquan, because its force training is prominently internal, i.e. through flowing energy. It is soft because its force is the result of vigorous energy flow.
Baguazhang and Wuzuquan are in between, with Baguazhang closer to Taijiquan, and Wuzuquan closer to Xingyiquan.
All the four arts are extremely effective for combat. If all other things were equal, like equal internal force, equal knowledge or combat strategies and equal fighting experience, Taijiquan being the one with the largest number of combat techniques would be the most combat effective. But in real life this is not so, simply because other things are not equal.
In my estimate, in real life Xingyiquan practitioners are the most combat efficient, followed in order by Wuzuquan, Baguazhang and Taijiquan. Interestingly, the order of combat efficiency in practical experience is the direct reverse of the order based on theory.
Why is this so? Precisely because Taijiquan and Baguazhang have so many techniques, it takes a longer time to practice them. It is faster to practice the few techniques in Xingyiquan and Wuzuquan. Also, because Taijiquan and Baguazhang techniques are sophisticated, it is harder to master them. It is easier to master the simple techniques of Xingyiquan and Wuzuquan. Given the same time for practice, Xingyiquan and Wuzuquan practitioners are more skillful in their few techniques, whereas Taijiquan and Baguazhang practitioners still have to struggle with their many techniques.
Xingyiquan techniques are the simplest. They are closest to Boxing and instinctive fighting. Hence, even when Xingyiquan practitioners have not undergone systematic combat training, they can still use their Xingyiquan techniques to fight instinctively.
But Xingyiquan is unlike Boxing or instinctive fighting. Its simplicity hides a profundity that Boxers and instinctive fighters cannot even fathom. The simplicity of Boxing and instinctive fighting is due to their lack of a great variety of combat techniques and skills. The simplicity of Xingyiquan is the result of crystallizing a great variety of combat techniques and skills into a few fundamentals. If an opponent attempts to fell a Boxer or an instinctive fighter, for example, the Boxer or the instinctive fighter has no techniques to defend against the attack, but a Xingyiquan practitioner has many ways to overcome the situation.
The combat application of Taijiquan and Baguaquan are generally circular, whereas that of Xingyiquan and Wuzuquan are straight. Taijiquan and Baguazhang movements issue mainly from waist rotation, whereas those of Xingyiquan and Wuzuquan issue mainly from the shoulders. When a Taijiquan exponent executes a thrust punch for example, the spiral force comes from the waist, whereas when a Xingyiquan executes a crushing punch, the spiral force comes from the shoulder.
The source of the internal force in both cases is still from the dan tian, but the starting movement as well as focus are different. The training to accomplish the force explosion is also different. By rotating the waist, Taijiquan exponents spiral energy flow from their dan tian to their fist for the thrust punch. By practicing Santi Stance, or the Three-Body Stance, Xingyiquan exponents consolidate energy at their arms to be spiralled out from their shoulder for a crushing punch.
With this knowledge of the underlying philosophy and our ability to generate energy flow, we in Shaolin Wahnam can accomplish both types of exploding force more efficiently and in shorter time. The skills derived from one art can be profitably transferred to other arts. For example, both the techniques and skills of Taijiquan in exploding force from the dan tian using waist rotation, can enrich the techniques and skills of spiraling force from the shoulder in Xingyiquan, and vice versa.
A fundamental philosophical difference between Taijiquan on one hand and Xingyiquan, Wuzuquan, Baguazhang on the other is that Taijiquan is basically practiced for health and spiritual cultivation, whereas the other three arts are practiced for combat.
Like Shaolin Kungfu from which it evolved, Taijiquan was first developed for spiritual cultivation. Its first patriarch, Zhang San Feng, was already a great fighter and very healthy. He had no need to invent another art for fighting or for health. He practiced what was later to evolve into Taijiquan to attain immortality, which he did.
On the other hand, the first patriarch of Xingyiquan was Yue Fei, a famous marshal, who developed Xingyiquan for generals in battlefield environment. The first patriarch of Wuzuquan was Bai Yi Feng, who combined the best of five Shaolin styles with combat in mind. The first patriarch of Baguazhang was Tung Hai Chuan, who learned from two unnamed Taoist priests to improve his fighting ability.
The philosophy and history of these arts have a direct bearing on their training and results, even after many centuries. Thus, amongst their classmates Taijiquan practitioners today talk on topics like how to be more relaxed or how to harmonize with your partners' movements, whereas practitioners of Xingyiquan, Wuzuzhang and Baguazhang talk on topics like how to have more force or how to strike down opponents.
We in Shaolin Wahnam are special. Irrespective of whether we train Taijiquan, Xingyiquan, Wuzuquan or Baguazhang, or all of them, our priority is good health and peak performance as well as longevity and spiritual cultivation, yet we also pay attention to combat efficiency. We are able to do so even when these qualities may not be originally emphasized in some of these arts because of our spread and depth.
As all of them are internal arts, Xingyiquan, Wuzuquan, Baguazhang and Taijiquan are rich in internal skills. Yet, there are fine differences in their emphasis and application of these internal skills.
Xingyiquan is famous for its hard internal force, which may bulldoze into opponents. Such crushing force is effective for breaking walls and opponents' bones. Wuzuquan force is also hard but more flowing, and manifests in such skills like Striking Across Space. Baguazhang force is spiral, famous for getting to opponents' back and tossing them about. Taijiquan force is soft yet powerful, poetically described as silk wrapped round iron.
We in Shaolin Wahnam are unprecedented in our opportunities for learning all these wonderful arts. In the past, if one could learn just one of these great arts, he would be considered very fortunate. Even if he had the rare opportunity, he would learn two arts at two different times, otherwise they would distract from each other. Not only we can learn different arts at the same time, because of our advantage of spread and depth, we also get more results in shorter time.
Xingyiquan Questions and Answers
The questions and answers are reproduced from the thread 10 Questions to Sifu about Xingyiquan in the Shaolin Wahnam Discussion Forum.