Xinyiba Theory

"Strictly speaking, Xinyiba is not a set of movements, but a set of skills, and of ancient principles. The practice incorporates unique training methods, unchanged for many centuries. Emphasis is placed on the ferocious use of the Will and Intent (Xin 心 and Yi 意)


On the technical level, the "Ba" (把) , which is an advanced training method and versatile drill, is still very close to the spear techniques used in ancient China on actual battlefields.


Movement is powered using the whole body, with natural reflexes, instinct, intent, and efficient coordination.


And perhaps most importantly, the training stresses the art of adapting (thus not being stuck to a single shape or movement frame) very quickly and instinctively to any situation."


Find out more about our historic background   History of our Lineage >

Xinyiba training 心意把练法

Xinyiba is unique in one aspect: It does not have forms (taolu). In fact, it is a collection of skills and principles, rather than a collection of techniques. These principles can be applied to any martial arts style, while the skills are partly specific to Xinyi boxing.

The skill training methods of Xinyiba focus vastly on Zhuang Gong (practicing stances/shapes/postures), Bufa (footwork), and drills combining several skills; all of which one has to make "alive" via will, as well as intent, instead of letting it be "dead", repetitive, and empty. The foot- and stancework of Xinyiba is in essence the same as it's daughter styles, Ma Xueli's Xinyiliuhe and Dai family's Xinyi.

It is said, in old Shaolin manuscripts, that "practicing the forms but not the stances is like playing blindly" and "rather teach 1 form 10 times, but not a single posture"

Basically, Xinyiba has a single - spear-based - posture which easily changes and adapts. That is what we call Bianhua, the art of change/adapting. Many of our training methods are simply adaptations of the primary posture. That primary posture is the most fundamental and most important part of training. The practice of postures, namely Zhuang Gong, serves many purposes; unify the body structure, sink the Qi and strengthen the lower body, etc.

Xinyiba Zhuang Gong, oblique stance (Xie Ba), practiced by disciple Yang Xinhui
Xinyiba Zhuang Gong, oblique stance (Xie Ba), practiced by disciple Yang Xinhui

Some other basic training methods include Tie Shan Kao; martial Qigong; long pole and spear training; combat training; Expressing the listed below principles in drills and forms (in our case, we use Shaolin forms), Meditation and Intent training, etc.

Once the student has mastered the principles, skills, and the Zhuang Gong (stance work), he may be taught Xinyiba's iconic mother technique, (母把, "mu ba"), which consists of the two basic parts called Lifting and Sinking Ba / technique. It can be a very versatile drill, once mastered. One has to learn to adapt it to any situation, to change the speed, the angles, applications, power (etc.) - all movements people call "Ba" are derived from this one mother technique. Thus, it is said that Xinyiba has a single technique, and a single posture.

Most if not all Xinyiba found nowadays comes from Wu Shanlin's teachings, from back when he spent 3 years in the Shaolin temple (in the 1930's). During those 3 years, he had many students, but almost no advanced ones, so he simplified Xinyiba and structured it's training in a way beginners could learn it - in an effort to preserve it. The movements and techniques he taught back then were later put together by some students of his, and are now a collection of either 12 Ba (techniques) or 24 Ba, depending on the lineage. That is what we call "Dengfeng's Xinyiba", because it was also taught to temple outsiders and lay monks. Several lineages in the Dengfeng area can be traced back to those teachings. But all of those techniques arose from the single "Mu Ba", mother technique, which Wu Shanlin only taught to very few close disciples. The mother technique takes many years of refining skills, Will, and Intent, in order to be mastered. And this is what we do.

First principle: The six harmonies (六合 Liuhe)

The Six Harmonies are a natural principle of efficient movement. One that animals have, and even we do, in the activities we've done for the longest time, like walking or running.

There are three external harmonies (Hips and shoulders, knees and elbows, feet and hands), that is precise and efficient body coordination, which involves the body moving as a unity - if one part moves, the whole body has to be moving accordingly, in a connected manner, using the center for motion control and structural power instead of raw muscular strength. Without going into details, there are several principles which directly depend on the 3 external harmonies, for example: opening and closing, compression and expansion, circular power generation, etc.

And there are three internal harmonies (Will and intent, intent and Qi, Qi and power). Using the will and intent is an important part of developing internal power (power that is not solely based on muscular strength). Will, or the "heart" as described in the ancient manuscripts, is the wholehearted desire to strike. The intent is what happens in your body when you have already mentally decided to strike. Movements have very different dynamics depending on whether they have intent in them or not. Intent will make your body behave accordingly and make it establish the correct pathways of power, without you having to consciously make all the micro-arrangements in your muscles, fascia, tendons and ligament paths (which in case of horizontal or upward power lead directly from the ground to the attacking extremities). Qi follows the intent, and will go wherever your intent is, even outside the body (That's not some telekinesis-like magical power; this passive "Qi field", or Hunyuan Qi, is just one of the many manifestations of Qi). It also manifests on the pathways of strength created through intent. And finally comes power, directly following Qi. If it were the other way around, with strength leading Qi, it would be a more external approach to martial arts (as it requires much more tension and effort, which we consider counterproductive)








The four ends (四梢 Si Shao)

The four ends, or four points, are areas one has to affect with intent in order to activate its relative anatomical element within the body with Qi.

  • The tongue is the extension of all the flesh within the body
  • The teeth are the extensions of all the bones and cartilage within the body
  • The nails are the extensions of all the tendons within the body
  • The hair is the extension of the blood (via the nervous system)

Unite and activate all these elements, and together with Qi, generate internal power.

The methods used for this will physically simulate a powerful, physical state of rage - while the mind stays still and focused.









The  three sections (三节 San Jie)

The human body has three main sections, just like a tree. Trees have roots (Root Section), a trunk (Middle Section) and branches (Upper Section). Human bodies have the same principles: feet to hips (Root Section), waist to chest (Middle Section), and shoulder to hands (Upper Section). Each of these main sections has three sub-sections. 

  • Upper Section: Shoulder (Root), Elbows (Middle), Hands (Upper) 
  • Middle Section: Chest (Upper), Heart (Middle), Dantian  (Root) 
  • Root Section: Hips (Root), Knees (Middle), Feet (Upper) 

The power comes from the root, is controlled by the trunk, and is projected by the branches. Thus, if you want to control your opponent's force, block it at the root of his movement. Likewise if you want to generate more power, understand the pathway of strength through your body. The power comes from pushing the ground with your feet, it is controlled by the waist area (Dantian, lower back, Kidneys, etc), and is projected by the hands (or feet, depending on the situation).








The study of opposites (阴阳 Yin and Yang)

The understanding of Yin and Yang within martial arts is essential for any Kung Fu practitioner. It is the understanding of all the dualities, both in the microcosm (man) and the macrocosm (the universe). Dualities, as in interdependent and complementary opposites (Remove one, and the other one becomes meaningless; Neglect one, and the other one can't be grasped either).

Yin and Yang within your martial arts practice means that there is a constant changing of states, from yin to yang, and yang to yin. These energies are manifested in a multitude of dualities, such as hard & soft, fast & slow, breathing in & breathing out, high & low, expanded vs compressed, using power from the ground vs using power from the sky (gravity). And the human body is a channel between heaven and earth, meant to express those energies.

Power lies in that changing of states. At the very point of balance between motion and inactivity. One has to find the balance between the two, and not focus on only one aspect, which would limit one's understanding.

The five elements (五行 Wu Xing)

The five elements is a concept that is deeply rooted in the traditional Chinese medicine, and there is evidence that it started out in daoist healing methods and mysticism or even earlier, in the shamanic origins of Daoism.


Basically, there are five elements, or rather five phases, that seem to be present in many aspects of nature and the universe. There are two cycles within these 5 phases: a creative, generating cycle and a controlling, restraining cycle. Each element is active via one of the five major organs of the human body.


Diagram from
Diagram from

Note that our understanding of the five elements is not the same as it is in Xingyiquan, where they are directly applied on a technical level. They are simply five types of energies to us. The following analysis is partly the viewpoint of traditional chinese medicine, and partly the way these elements manifest in our martial arts practice.


The mouth is linked to the heart, which represents the element fire. The nose is linked to the lungs, which represent metal. The eyes are linked to the liver, which represents wood. The ears are linked to the kidneys, which represent water. The philtrum is linked to the spleen, which represents earth. 


The heart is fire; move the heart to generate more power. The lungs are metal; compress the lungs, and make sounds like thunder. The liver is wood; move the liver, and generate explosive, fire-like power. The kidney is water, use the kidney, and you move as fluidly and quickly as the wind. The spleen is earth, use the spleen, and you'll stand with great power and stability. 


The five major organs are like five entrances to the body, we have to guard our own entrances and restrain your opponent from attacking them. 



The five elements are not isolated; rather they work closely together and have their own internal orders and patterns. The rules that govern the five elements include a mutual generation cycle, a mutual restriction cycle, over restriction, reverse restriction and balance between generation and restriction.  


Mutual generation cycle 

One element (serving as parent) enriches, nourishes, strengthens, promotes growth and development of the following element (serving as child). 

Generating: Wood feeds Fire - Fire creates Earth (ash) - Earth bears Metal - Metal (trace elements) collects, enrich Water - Water nourishes Wood  

Interpretation: (supporting, helping) 

- Wood is the supporting element of Fire. Fire can release the power of Wood. 

- Fire is the supporting element of Earth. Earth can release the power of Fire. 

- Earth is the supporting element of Metal. Metal can release the power of Earth. 

- Metal is the supporting element of Water. Water can release the power of Metal. 

- Water is the supporting element of Wood. Wood can release the power of Water.  


Mutual restriction cycle(overcoming) 

-Wood parts Earth (such as roots; or, Trees can prevent soil erosion); 

-Metal chops Wood; 

-Fire melts Metal; 

-Water quenches Fire; 

-Earth dams (or muddies or absorbs) Water; 

This cycle might also be called "control", "restraint" or "father". 


Over-restriction cycle 

The Chinese word for restriction, "ke" means "inhibition" or "winning over". In nature, wood controls the earth. In the body, the liver (a wood element) controls the spleen (an earth element) and inhibits its functions in a balanced manner. If the liver's function becomes excessive, there will be over-restriction of spleen function causing an imbalance in the body. This happens because excessive liver function produces fire, which in turns affects the smooth flow of qi. Without good qi flow to start, the spleen cannot successfully transform food into more qi.  


Reverse restriction (weakening) cycle 

If the enemy is too strong, the controlling element itself becomes controlled in a reverse manner. When wood is too strong and its controlling metal axe is too blunt, the axe cannot cut the wood and may even break as a result of the rebound force if an attempt is made to chop it. This illustrates reverse restriction because the wood is able to restrict metal, which is not usually the case. In our body, if the spleen functions excessively, its controlling liver will also be restricted in a reverse manner. The excessive spleen function will produce heat and dampness, which doesn't have a sufficient release in the body. The constrained damp heat will heat up the liver and the gall bladder. When this occurs, the gall bladder can no longer properly regulate bile secretion, and disease occurs. 


Reverse restriction (weakening) cycle :  

- Wood insults Metal (axe cannot cut metal, can even break) 

- Metal insults Fire (can extinguish fire) 

- Fire insults Water (fire evaporates water) 

- Water insults Earth (water overcomes dam) 

- Earth insults Wood (earth too dense, roots cannot part it) 


Balance between generation and restriction 

The famous Traditional Chinese Medicine physician Zhang JingYue (1563-1640 AD) said, "The mechanism of creation cannot do without promotion. Neither can it do without control. If there is no promotion, there will be no development and growth. If there is no control, the unbalanced excitement will be harmful. It is necessary to have control inside promotion and to have promotion inside control, so that everything can operate continuously, in both a complementary and opposite manner." 


Balance between generation and restriction is important for normal transformation of the five elements. Each element is under the influence of the other four in some way. Wood generates fire and water generates wood. On the other hand, wood inhibits earth, but itself is inhibited by metal. In this way, all five elements establish an intricate homeostasis in nature. This wisdom has also been applied to TCM by incorporating the theory of the five elements into health maintenance strategies, which have been successful for thousands of years.