How to Improve Punching and Pushing Techniques?

By Hai Yang


            Most of the time, we use fists or palms in martial arts. Compared with the legs, using hands have some advantages, because it is easier to change direction of the hands, hands are faster also. In internal styles, we use obvious hands and hidden legs (not only kick). So having strong hands for punching and pushing is very important.


            There are two crucial factors. One is the technique of the hands and the other one is the hardness of the hands.

            The technique of the hands includes many aspects. For example, how to make the fists? How to push? How to move hands faster? All of the above questions are related to the efficiency of the movements of the hands.


            I could talk about the above questions for a long time, because there are so many factors we have to know. Each aspect can be talked in an independent article. However, in one sentence, I would like to say: use the whole body force to punch and to push. We will talk about this more in other articles.


            Here, I would like to emphasize on how to make hands hard. Some people may say that I am wrong. Because they would say that internal styles should not use hard force. And making the hands softer is better. They are right, but they forget something important also. The reason is that we have different definitions of hard and soft here. We could not get the same conclusion or agreement if we do not think about or understand something from the same direction.


            When we use our hands, no matter fists for punching, palms for pushing, fingers for point pressure, there are only two situations: static hands and dynamic hands, or Yin and Yang hands. The hands are called dynamic they before hands arrive to the target. And the hands arrive to the target as static hands.


            Keeping the hands soft when the hands move toward the target (body, arms, legs or whatever part of your enemy) helps accelerating the speed. Relaxed arms move faster and hands just follow the arms, which is common sense. So keeping hands soft during the movement is very important.

            However, when our hands arrive to the target, the hands have to become hard right away, no matter which styles we are talking about. And harder is better. People may ask, why Tai Chi master uses soft hands to push? Well, the answer is very simple. You only see the soft hands when he touches your body. But his hands will become very hard when he pushes you!


            In physics, the deformation will generate the damage. Strong force will generate the deformation or break the objects when the rigid-body cannot sustain the impact.

            More importantly, the active object (your hands) should be able to sustain the counterforce from the passive object (your enemy). So that, preventing the deformation of your hands is important at this point. This is why hard hands will give better results, in order to keep the rigid-body work effectively.


            Now, let's talk about the hands of internal style masters.


            Their hands are soft, however they are able to make hands very hard if they want. And their techniques which used in the last second (when they punch or push you) have to be based on hard hands, even though the time is too short to be observed by most of the people.


            Before the hands arrive to the target, they are dynamic hands or soft hands. When the hands arrive to the target, they are static hands or hard hands. This transformation can be explained by the concept of Yin and Yang also.


            How to make hands hard? Technically, the answer related to how to hold the palms or the fists. I will not talk about this here. But I want to talk about some common exercises for this.


            Traditionally, people will practice some auxiliary exercises, such as punching the sand bag, punching the paper pad or pushing the some objects such as trees. All of these are good exercises.


            However, I want to emphasize something specifically. Please do not punch or push something too fast, too hard. Otherwise, you will damage your health (not only your hands, be careful). I heard some people punch stone, wall, even metal, that is absolutely wrong. The reason is that their hand bones will get hurt. You will see the damage clearly when you go to the hospital to take an X-ray, and that is irreversible. These people will suffer the pain when they get older. Why should martial artists have to suffer more than the people who do not practice?


            Some people want to use some Chinese herbs to help the practice, which is a good idea. But, that kind of herbs should be used at the correct time and with the correct formula. I have seen many people whose hands get hurt from martial arts in my Chinese medical practice. And usually, it is already too late when they try to ask herbs from me.

            We have to know this, no matter how hard you practice, our skin will not become as hard as metal, your bones will not be as hard as metal either. Excessive practice or unscientific practice only makes the skin thicker and breaks the bones...That is not a traditional practice at all.


           Many herbal remedies help stop the pain, but the damage is still there. And sometimes, you will not feel the pain and will keep practicing because you have used the herbs to wash your hands. But the result will be worse, because some bad formulas use narcotic herbs to stop the feeling of the pain when you practice, and the damage is still developing without the consciousness.


            Therefore, in order to practice the hands scientifically, use the hands with good timing and good position and master the technique of moving the whole body force into the hands.


            This is the key of how to use the hands in internal styles.


How Did People Practice in China Before?

By Hai Yang


           I had many opportunities to study and meet with many famous masters.


            When I talked with them, I always asked them different questions: how did you learn? How did you practice? How did you teach and how did your students make progress? And so on.


            Before 1949, there were a lot of schools and full time teachers. How did they teach? Did they have a studio like here in North America? The answer is mostly No. In China, people lived in houses, and most houses had a yard, called (Yuan Zi in Chinese). Usually, teachers taught students in parks, and, they would invite students to go to their home to teach them more when the time was right. That is different between in-door students and out-door students, usually.


            After 1949, Chinese government began to promote Government sponsored martial arts. Since back to that period of time, the government wanted to make martial arts as a sport in order to improve the physical and health situation of Chinese people, to save health care expenses and other reasons. The original intention was very good and it had very valuable result later on. But just like any things in the world: there will be a side-product or bad-aspect when there are good aspects. So what is the bad impact of this idea? It is that the traditional way of practice which encourages the martial practice had been ignored. The traditional style became a kind of out-dated practice in many people's minds. This is why the new Chinese generations do not know traditional styles too much. After decades of misunderstanding, people confused Wushu (the official named martial arts) with the traditional practices, thinking there is no difference between them, which is not true.


            So, after 1950s, almost all of the styles in China have a Wushu version. And students began to learn it in schools, universities, and mostly, the teachers were getting paid.


           At the same time, traditional styles were still pursuing a parallel development. Many masters still taught their students in the traditional way, in parks or homes, without big gyms or government backing. The teachers treated students as their own children, and students treated each other like brothers and sisters.


            But since the last decade, the situation of traditional teaching is changing. Since the notion of paying to learn from teachers is more popular, teaching is starting to become a business. Therefore the quality of teaching and learning is also changing because there is money involved. The family aspect and the traditional martial arts teaching have been changing a lot too.


              How did teachers teach?

             Traditionally, in China, teachers would not teach you new movements before your practice of the present ones was good enough. Teachers controlled the progress of the teaching and learning. That is the traditional way of teaching. Students were not allowed to ask more questions about it. And you would be asked to seek the answer to their own questions first when they asked teachers; "why?" Teachers in China wanted students to find something by themselves, because so much more is learned when left to personal demise.


            Also, if the answer is given right away, we have this problem: when students know an answer from teachers, they will think that they are able to do the movements as well as the teacher, will not practice more. Understanding something is different from being able to do something.


            When I teach, I like my students to ask me the questions. Because it helps me understand more the questions people have in North America. Since English is my second language, and that I teach in this language, I sometimes do not know if my teaching is clear or not. This is the only reason I permit my students to ask me this many questions. Every so often, I do not feel very comfortable facing some questions. For example, one student asked me: "why don't I feel the force when I do this movement? " One reason could be that I teach wrong, but mostly, it's that he or she has not practiced enough. Just after I teach them and they started practicing 5 minutes, they begin to ask me questions about how to get the force...

            How did students practice?


            Different people have different experiences. Thus, I would like to share a personal experience. When I learned martial arts, I began learning from my grandfather and my uncle. So those were easier times for me. I could do whatever I wanted. I could ask them questions without any problems.


            But, I also had experiences of learning from many others masters.


            Most of the time, I was not allowed to ask questions, so I just practiced what they told me repeatedly and repeatedly. And used all chances I had to look at the demonstration and practice of my teachers. I trained my brain to be like a camera, to memorize their movement, their teaching. I remember beginning to be allowed to go to one teacher's home (Mr.Hu) after learning from him for 6 months because he told me that I practiced seriously and I made obvious progress, although his home was so close to the park where he taught me. It was at most a 5 minutes walk from the park. Nevertheless, that meant I was allowed to learn more.


            Students have to practice stances correctly and long enough (not Horse Stance). Imagine this, When I learned Xing Yi with my grandfather, I had to practice a single-leg stance. So how to calculate the time? At that time, China was poor, and as a kid, I did not have watch, which is something very common now. In order to force myself, I calculated the number of cars passing by in front of me. I only changed stance when a certain number of cars had passed in the street. The thing is, at that time, it was in the evening, and so there was not a lot of cars circulating on the street... you can imagine that sometimes, I had to stand for a long time to change to the other leg before there were enough cars passed by in front of my sight...


            This was the training in China a while back. It is losing more seriousness and dedication as the economy of China is getting better and better. People are slowly losing the spirit of martial arts training in general. But I believe that one day, Chinese people will realize it and then, they will start to seek their losing treasure back, and I hope the day will come earlier.


* This article was written in 2003. Now, the traditional way of practice in China has been improving a lot in general.

Wushu v.s. TMA (Traditional Martial Art)

By Hai Yang


            The Chinese martial art has a long history, beside there are many different styles, there are two important categories: the Modern one and the traditional one. In China, most of the time, people call martial art as Wushu as a whole although there are differences between each other. Sometimes, in order to differentiate them, people will call the traditional one as traditional Kung Fu.


            So where did the modern Wushu come from? Actually, when we studied the history, we will find that the modern Wushu was born from traditional martial art (we do not use the term traditional Wushu in order to avoid the confusion), since the modern Wushu cannot come from empty space.


            In 1950s, the Chinese government tried to promote martial art as a national sport, they believed in this way, that the country will become stronger and stronger, the country could save a lot of health care expenses. Since back to that time, the communist government just began to apply the universal health care system in cities. The result of that idea was great, since Chinese people began to do organized exercises in the whole country. Back to that time, there were some movies about how to promote a healthier lifestyle through doing exercise; martial art has been just one of them.


            In order to make more and more people have the chance to practice martial art, they had to simplify the practice, and many famous masters took that idea very seriously. So to many styles of martial arts, there would be the simplified version as well. After a few years hard working by many great masters, more and more people took martial art as a way of keeping good health, martial art masters got more respect than before, many famous masters even became a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the C.P.P.C.C. is at same political level as Congress in China, it could not happen before. For example, Chen Fa'ke, Wang Ziping and many others.


            At the same time, in order to promote that type of simplified and standardized practice, the government encouraged youth to practice in the government sponsored martial art schools. Students who practiced in that type of public martial art schools would study the standardized practice. So from that time, teaching martial art in public school has become a job, it has never happened before either. Before, only people who could pay could practice martial art with private teachers.


            After creating the new system of teaching, practice and managing the schools, the government made many competitions to encourage students practice better.


            Later on, for the competition reason, teachers had to teach their students more difficult movements in order to compete others in martial art event. This was the reason how the fancy movements come from. That was for the needs of competition and demonstration.


            If  someone went to the government sponsored martial art schools, normally that person would learn the standardized practice, or people call them as modern Wushu. If the person stays with some masters who were keeping the traditional way of practice, that person would study less fancy movements and eventually would practice more application of the movements.


            Now we could understand that the modern Wushu was from the traditional practice, and they just focus on different aspects for different purposes.


Since there were no government support, the development of traditional martial art could not keep the quick pace as much as the development of the modern Wushu.


            From 1980s, Chinese people began to realize that the modern Wushu has a so much limitation that they began to practice and promote the traditional martial art more and more. From that time on, there have been many traditional martial art associations and organizations to be created in the whole country. These associations have published many articles, books in order to keep the practice going. Many old masters did not have education at all, so in order to make their practice survive, many associations sent out their employees to write down the old masters' teaching or help them to write books. This is why right now, there are so many martial art books in China about traditional practices. Because martial art from ordinary people, only the practice of ordinary people will make this art survive.


            In China, any styles have standards, no matter modern one or the traditional one. It is not that the modern one is beautiful and the traditional one is ugly.


            But in the outside of China, there has been a common misunderstanding that if someone does not practice martial art very well, that person will claim that he is doing the traditional way. It is an insult to the traditional style. How come traditional practice can be ugly?


            Any martial art needs speed, force, flexibility, application, and many other factors to be an art. The modern Wushu is not created for combat purpose. It is a type of sport for demonstration and form competition. The traditional practice has been for self-defense purpose of the day it got created. But many people who practice Chinese martial art lack some of these aspects, instead of realizing their mistakes; they would say that they are the traditional practice. Even some martial art teachers do the same thing. It makes the quality of Chinese martial art worse and worse.


            In China, there is a proverb: if you look down something, you have to be better than that. Let's apply this principle in the martial art community: if we look down Wushu, we should be better than Wushu. But the present situation is the opposite: people use the word "traditional" as an excuse of doing wrong practice or low quality of practice.


            People can choose the modern way of practice, and people can choose the traditional way of practice too. Both of these two practices have their own advantages and disadvantages. So it is better to keep peace between these two. For sure the traditional practitioner will feel get insulted if his practice is looked as the modern one, and vice versa.


            In my opinion, doing wrong practice or ugly demonstration is not the traditional way of practice. Traditional practice is very beautiful and enjoyable to look as well.

The five elements of Xingyiquan stripped down

      by James Coons (Please visit to know more)


            Xingyiquan is a fast, versatile and effective style of Chinese martial art that incorporates many important martial arts skills into a relatively limited number of drills and forms. Within Xingyi, the most important practice is known as Wu Xing Quan, or Five Element Fists. These exercises are simple drills practiced on straight or diagonal lines that focus on clear expression of external and internal force. The aspects of force trained in the Wu Xing are both physical and energetic. The practice of the mind within these exercises is every bit as important as the basic physical movements. This article will talk briefly about the type of force manifested in each movement and the mental qualities contained therein.


            Before we can talk about the qualities of the movements, we should introduce and explain the movements themselves. The names are as follows:

* Pi Quan (chopping fist)
* Zuan Quan (drilling fist)
* Beng Quan (smashing fist)
* Pao Quan (pounding fist)
* Heng Quan (crossing fist)


            Each of the different punches of xingyiquan expresses a different kind of trained force (or "jin"). Pi Quan contains the actions of drilling, chopping, and gathering into the center. The drilling action expressed involves shooting the front arm out at mid chest level to the space directly in front of the practitioner. As the hand goes out, it creates a twisting motion through the forearm and upper arm. This motion can be used to disrupt an incoming attack to the face or body and uses the principle of minimal expenditure of effort to effectively stop and attack. After the first movement, the other hand comes up to meet the drilling hand and rubs past it until it is at the very front of the drilling arm. At this point both of the hands overturn. The back hand becomes the front hand and the front hand becomes the back (this is accompanied by a stepping motion that moves the back foot to the front). The front hand chops down and forward while the backhand returns to the area just below the abdomen and hooks up and under. The hooking movement causes the chopping hand to emit more force upon completion of the movement. The chopping motion in Pi Quan is its signature movement and is used to attack the chest or even the face. An auxiliary practice in Pi Quan is to chop upwards towards the face (though the downward chop is practiced more as it is the most important aspect of Pi Quan). After this, both hands are collected back to the body so that they are ready to repeat the movement on the opposite side. The collecting of the hands should not be ignored as an unimportant practice. Actually, this movement of the hands is extremely important. It allows the Xingyi player to have tremendous pulling power, which they can use to seize their opponent and pull them into their fist.


             It can also be used as a self defense application for when they are grabbed forcefully on the forearm. As the hands are retracted, they can pull an opponent down and forward into whatever anatomical weapon the defender decides to use against them.


              Zuan Quan expresses force that drills upward and forward. The main action of Zuan is actually backwards to Pi Quan, in that as the practitioner is stepping forward, the leading hand overturns and is replaced with the other hand, which drills out. In Zuan the idea is to use upward and forward drilling force to go through the opponent's center and hit them with the forearm on the chest or the fist on the chin. Zuan also has a similar gathering application to pi, except that it is less gentle. For Zuan, when the opponent's arm is pulled down, they are pulled into the incoming fist.


            Beng Quan is a vertical fist that is known for its "smashing" quality. Essentially, the fist shoots out at stomach or chest level and has a trajectory like an arrow being shot from a bow. Beng rotates slightly and is designed to have a quark screwing quality that pierces an opponent while also causing blunt trauma. Beng is one of the most useful movements in Xingyi and it combines very well with the chopping action of Pi to allow for combinations of high and low attacks. Another interesting aspect of Beng is that it is accompanied by a half step where the same foot always remains forward, and does not contain the full "chicken step" that is seen in all of the other elements (at least in Hebei style).


           Pao Quan or "pounding fist" is comprised of one hand shooting forward at chest level and the other hand moving back in the shape of a high block to protect the head. However, it should be noted that Pao is not just a rote technique of blocking the head while punching, but is in fact a way of creating a certain kind of force that involves whole body coordination and tearing power. Pao has a style of stepping that involves the same action of stepping as Pi and Zuan, but on a zigzag pattern as opposed to a straight line.


             Heng Quan is also referred to as "crossing" since the fist makes the action of crossing the body and shooting out at a horizontal angle. Heng is accompanied by a step that is similar to Pao, except that it is more horizontal and involves a more obvious circle with the legs. As with all of the elements of Xingyi, Heng has drilling and overturning as its main feature, but it also adds horizontal or indirect force into the mix.


      In terms of energy and "internal power", Xingyi focuses on making the mind active. Each of the fists of Xingyi is related to a specific organ and each of the fists has practices that are related to that organ.

             Xingyi also focuses on transfer of intent through the body and focusing of Qi (Chi), the mind (Yi), and the emotional mind (Xin).


            Regarding the practice of the internal organs in Xingyi, it should be noted that the organs themselves do not serve a function in the creation of force, but instead that the large anatomical area around the organs is used to generate power. Within Pi Quan, the lungs are said to be the seat of power. When working on force with the lungs, the chest is rounded and the rib cage is used to produce power. Zuan Quan uses the lower back in the area of the kidneys. Beng Quan focuses on the hips or the area that Chinese medicine designates as being around the liver. The hips are turned maximally and allow for Beng to shoot out like and arrow and smash through its intended target. Pao Quan is considered to be the domain of the heart and therefore when executing Pao Quan, the chest always turns with the force. Pao has an extended force because the body makes itself longer via the turning of the chest. Heng Quan is related to the Spleen and thus focuses on turning the waist in the direction of the force being emitted In this sense the waist is seen as being separate from the hips and work independently of them (though the hips also move in Heng).


             The practice of intent in Xingyi practice is somewhat difficult to describe, but involves focusing the mind on the action at hand, while also concentrating on the real, or imagined target that is being struck. Generally the intent will focus on three things. The first is the actual movement. The mind must drive each movement and there must be a focus on the end of the movement and the power created. Second, the intent must be placed on the Qi that is being emitted with each movement (IE: the mind must focus on bringing Qi to the attacking extremity). And finally attention must be placed on the actual physical place that the movement is coming from (IE: heart, spleen etc....). When these aspects are brought together with the external physical movement, it can be said that the movements are well coordinated and powerful.


             Xingyiquan players should be very concerned with coordinating both external and internal powers to create the most effective techniques. The main practice of Xingyiquan is to focus a large amount of force in a very small area. All of the physical, energetic, and mental practices of Xingyi are designed to produce tremendous physical force while maintaining a relaxed posture and a clear mind.


            I hope this article will be of some use to people as a means of describing some of the basic practices of Xingyiquan. Good luck in your practice!