by James Coons (Please visit yuefei.ca to know more)
Among famous Xingyi masters, many western practitioners are familiar with the names Guo Yunshen, Liu Qilan, Li Cunyi,Zhang Zhaodong, and Sun Lutang. However, one of the greatest masters of Xingyi Quan has been mostly lost in the sands of time.
Xue Dian was a Xingyi master who lived in Tianjin at the height of the popularity and achievement of martial arts in that city during the 1920's. He studied from Li Cunyi, Li Taihe (grandson of Li Luoneng, the founder of XingYi) and Xue Zhengang. When he was defeated in a challenge match against Fu Jianqiu (a student of Li Cunyi), he had to leave town due to cultural rules about martial arts competition.
While he was away from home he learned from Monk Ling Kong, (probably an allonym of a hermit) and also developed his Xingyi by himself. Later, he moved back to Tianjin and became the director of Martial Art Academy of Tianjin.
What he came up with is possibly the crowning achievement of the Hebei branch of Xingyi Quan. People called his creation Dragon style Xingyi Quan or Xue Dian style Xing Yi Quan.
As the name denotes, the style teaches its practitioner to move smoothly and powerfully like the mythical Chinese dragon.
The style has some important points of emphasis such as:
- a unique alignment of the legs from feet, to knees, and hips, to spine that emphasizes pushing against the ground to generate force.
- a radical turning of the hips in transitional postures to unwind at the moment of impact to make the power emitted much stronger than that of standard Xingyi.
- a large forward lean in the back to emphasize clear power generation through the back and out the arms.
- and a very extended posture with long stepping that promotes clean power generation through the body and out the limbs, as well as helps to develop speed in footwork.
Xue is famous for beating many famous masters in Tianjin after he returned home. His Xingyi is a great vehicle for building power and obtaining self defense skills in a short period of time.
However, for the most part Xue has been forgotten and his lineage is quite obscure. Many people in China know who he was, but almost no one teaches his style, since he only taught it in Tianjin. I was lucky enough to learn Dragon style Xingyi from my teacher, Yang Hai. Master Yang learned this style from some friends of his grandfather, including as Zhang Songlin, who had studied with Xue himself.
Master Yang told me that in a talk with Mr.Zhang Songlin, this teacher cried when remembering the skill of Xue Dian, and how much he respected him as a person.
After I started learning Xue's style, I stopped practising the systems of Xingyi that I had learned earlier (Zhang Zhaodong and Li Cunyi's styles, with the exception of Li Cunyi's animal forms which are a helpful way to learn Xue's much more complex animal postures) because I believe that Xue's Xingyi is much more nuanced and effective than either of those styles.
From this practice I have learned many valuable insights about the ideal posture of the body to use when generating force within the paradigm of Xingyi Quan training, as well as some more subtle mental and energetic aspects of the art.
I hope that as I improve and grow, I can share this great style of martial art with people and with the help of my teacher, allow Xue's Xingyi to become known in the west.