Monday, April 20, 2009

Your Thoughts On "Heng", Crossing Fist?

Xingyi Five-Element Forms (slightly different than the way we practice it)

Regular readers probably know that in an effort to expand my understanding of Chinese internal arts, I have been learning the Xingyi 5-element forms. In order to stay within the framework of internal arts, I've had to correct previous habits from Karate, such as avoiding full chambered punches.
The first four elements- splitting, smashing/crushing, drilling and pounding are pretty self-evident in performance and application.
But the Fifth Element (Hmmm, a Bruce Willis movie) is a little confusing and I'm interested in other people's opinions. It is serpentine in nature, and the application is often shown as a strike that curves around an opponent's arm with striking surface being the thumb side of the fist. I'm not sold on that yet.
In reviewing my reference material from a recent Seminar that Tim Cartmell gave on the similarities between Taiji "Peng", Bagua "Fan" and Xingyi "Heng" (Crossing Fist), Tim demonstrated that all three related techniques use alternating arm circles in (Peng) rising, (Fan) oblique, and (Heng) horizontal. Same basic concept in each.

Above is an example of the type of use for Crossing Fist that Tim Cartmell teaches, presented in my own clumsy interpetation.
As my Xingyi instructor Jake Burroughs explained, a significant feature in this technique is not the striking out with the fist. The emphisis is rather on the hip action and setting into the Kua. Jake warned me that learning crossing fist correctly was going to drive me crazy, so I welcome comments from people out there familiar with the form. One more thing:
The Crossing Fist, Heng, is said in the classics to be the "mother" of the five elements. Tim explains that this is due to the nature of the alternating arm circles noted above. The Classics also mention Heng as related to Earth and the Spleen, which reglates Yin and Yang and therefore regulates yin and Yang of the other four fists.
If other people more experianced than myself would like to give comments/opinions on the subject of Heng, Crossing Fist, It would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks for all your suggestions and opinions on Heng-
If you haven't read it yet, Jose' provided one of the best descriptions of this technique that I have read yet. Jose' - as always, thank you very much!


Littlefair said...

I like your application there: it looks very effective (as demonstrated). Is it a bit convoluted though? It seems like I might get my arms wrapped up and tangled a bit. How's your experience been of it?

It's good to see T'ai Chi/Pag gua applications. Very nice.

Sean C. Ledig said...

I also like your application. I showed it to my friend, Don, when I was teaching him the Five Elements.

Like you, it's not my favorite element. I'm partial to Zuan/water or Peng. One of my old Tang Soo Do teachers taught me a reverse punch that looked a lot like Peng.

Before I saw your application of Heng, I saw Heng almost like Slanted Flying. I would use it to take the opponent's arm, shift into the gua closest to the opponent and uproot him with my shoulder.

JoseFreitas said...

If you look at Sun Lutang's book, in the pics of Heng you will see that his final positions is with opposite arm forward (ie. left arm if right foot forward) with the fist at shoulder height fingers facing the face - almost as if a backfist had been completed - and the other hand below the leading elbow, fingers facing down, a couple of inches distant from the elbow. There is a slight angle in the arms (relative to the front mid line of the body) but not very big. This is how I was taught by one teacher (the other teacher taught me Tang Shou Tao variations which is close to what Tim teaches).

The emphasis I was taught was on "ripping" from side to side laterally. It is an almost perfect example of some joint destruction. Imagine catching your opponent's wrist with the right hand, and ripping through his elbow joint with the left arm as it moves laterally to the left "crossing" the midline of your body.

It's not the only app, since we also use it as a a "bumpy" aggressive form of diagonal flying as you did, with the possibility that the high hand also strikes. But in my experience, the emphasis is on training the ability to creat force going to the two opposite sides, laterally, at the same time, not necessarily the application (in the Tang Shou Tao the force goes forward and backward at the same time).

Dojo Rat said...

If you are already in close, like in push hands- you will be suprised, you can sneak it in as you step behind. Tim Cartmell also uses it off arm drags. He will try an arm drag to set up a throw on one side. if the opponent steps back to counter Tim simply crosses over to the other side of his body, steps behind the Other leg and he is in the exact position for the throw. There are various ways to enter. The nice thing is that the opponent's free arm is trapped between your bodies.
I have Sun Lu Tang's book- I like your description, sounds like an elbow break.
Uprooting, yes!
This crossing fist seems most useful to possibly neutralize a punch, or apply chin na locks, but not so much as a striking technique as some books show.

JoseFreitas said...

DR, I've had it drilled into my head by all the chinese teachers I've met that we shouldn't focus excessively on the applications of the Elements, we should look at them as Nei Gong training, ie. training that ingrains the ability to apply certain types of "power" or "trained strength", which might be used in many different apps. In this sense, the Five Fists are much like the Eight energies of Taiji: there is no specific application to "Wardoff" for instance, even though the form contains a move that shows supposedly a "pure" wardoff, it is meant as an example to examine other applications to determine what "energy" or "powers" should be used.

In Xingyi, the Animal Forms is where applications are explored, and we're generally taught (at least I was) to see what mix of Elements each Animal is or contains. For example, Dragon is a clear case of variation of Split, but Tiger contains both Crush (or drive) and Drill (and in some variations Crossing). And so on. As usual, it is the case that the simplest apps tend to come up more times simply because they're faster and more ingrained than the more complex apps.

As for Heng being the Mother of all fists, there are two reasons I think for this: one is philosophical, simply because Earth is the mother to all the Elements. The other is because in some sense, Heng contains ALL the other energies of the Elements. Split is Downward power, Crush is Straight power, Drilling is Upward and Cannon combines Up and Forward, we migh call it Expanding power, but Heng contains Up and Sideways in the rising hand (or Up and Forward in some styles) while the falling hand has Down and Sideways (or Backwards). Therefore, Heng contains the greatest mix of all the abilities and you need some training with the other before you master Heng. And yes, I agree that it kinda drives you crazy!

It is also interesting to see that in most Five Elements two person sets I'm aware of, either the Heng applications is the weirdest, or it is simply REMOVED. In the one I learned from Sifu Wu Xuan here in Portugal, Heng is simply replaced with two blocks, one that moves sideways and downwards (kind of a slapping block) and one that moves inward crossing your own centerline. There is no pure Heng move in this set, unlike all the other Elements, which are present. Even in the Tang Shou Tao the way that Heng is presented is different than the one it is trained in the Five Fists sets, it is done as a rotating outward sticking block/deflection which has a back hand for support.

And I could be wrong too!

JAB said...

It is important to remember that though Tang Shou Tao (TST) was a big influence on both of my Xing Yi teachers, neither teaches the TST method, nor forms. Tim had many influences including Liang Ke Quan, Mao Ming Chun etc.
The app shown is just a smooth step(same side) application of Heng.

JoseFreitas said...

JAB, I mentioned the Tang Shou Tao simply because it provided one of the bigger variations of Heng I've seen, ie. the very extended spiraling punch under the arm as the back hand retracts. I like it a lot, not so much for the app, but due to the training it provides of "twisting" into the strike with your shoulder/torso while taking non-obvious angles of striking. There are other variations of Heng I didn't really mention because I don't don't much about them. I generally make it a point to still drill the TST variation of Heng frequently.

But I would note that this TST variation only seems to crop up in Taiwanese styles/teachers. Maybe it is reflective of some specific style that came to Taiwan post-WW2 and was adopted by pretty much everyone? Wang Shu Jin shows it in the video of his that popped up recently, and also in Smith's book. As far as I know I haven't seen it in the mainland (but of course, this is not the same as saying it doesn't exist!). Also, would you agree that Heng in general shows the greatest variations in delivery across styles, more than any other of the Five Elements?

JAB said...

No worries. I figured as much bro! I would agree the TST cats have a very distinct flavor.

What do you mean "variations?" As far as form? Yeah, I could see that. Function... trick question as I see many examples on the web that are not very good examples. In general I would agree though. Pi is pretty much Pi. Beng is as beng does. Lots of variation on Dzuan often, but you can still tell what it is! Pao is pretty universal.

JoseFreitas said...

The major variations I see on Zhuan are in the initial move.

After the "uppercut", for instance, TST leans forward or extends slightly, and opens the lead hand, twisting it so the thumb rotates inward and then to the side(you end with palm up and thumb outside), while the lead foot turns outward at a slight angle (my teacher in TST, James McNeil, would insist a 45ยบ angle but would sometimes do it with less). But in the mainland I've seen a lot of different motions.

My teacher here in Portugal teaches the initial move as a sort of fast jab, you extend your stance into a longer gong bu, lead foot pointing forward, and drive your shoulder into a fast strike with the closed fist, while the rear hand pulls back (not too much), and then you jump step into the "uppercut". Other teachers show the same general body motion, but the hand opens and instead of a short punch you get a spearing hand strike, followed by an explicit grabbing motion (I like this variation best of all).

In any case, it's always fun to drill some variations, reverse stances, walking backwards and so on, once you can do one variation well. Best.

elk949 said...

An excellent application. Thanks for sharing.