Part I – Introduction
This piece provides explanatory material for the Essence of Beng Quan video, available on the EOE America Youtube channel:
The video gives a demonstration of different exercise methods, but does not explain how the Essence of Evolution theory relates to those methods. This was a conscious decision on my part. We’ve already produced several videos explaining how to apply theory to training, and we will continue to produce more. With Essence of Beng Quan, I was purposely giving an exhibition, rather than a lesson. Before I get to the outline, I will explain my reasoning for that decision.
For many years now, I’ve been watching video after video featuring the style of Xing Yi Quan (XYQ), the vast majority of them depicting mediocre skills hiding under cover of so-called “tradition.” As has been the case since I started studying this art over twenty years ago, the dialogue of most XYQ practitioners centers around a fantasy universe in which esoteric Chinese mysticism replaces physical ability. It often seems to me that some people are so desperate to validate the style that they praise even the most rudimentary skill.
A framework that depicts a fundamental separation between “internal” and “external” arts is a perfect example of ideology replacing thought. I’m far from the first person to point that out, even within the kung fu subculture of Nei Jia Quan (NJQ) practitioners. As they say, the emperor has no clothes; and yet numerous people are either pretending he’s fully dressed, or have been so thoroughly indoctrinated that they actually see clothes instead of a bare ass.
Not only is the division of external/internal merely an ideological separation, it is a recent one; as documented at length on the martial studies blog Kung Fu Tea, the division of Chinese martial arts into “internal” and “external” styles was a political division, created in the early 20th century for nationalistic purposes.
Most of the ideas that people now take for granted about this division can be traced to the work of one man, who was both a scholar of Chinese philosophy and a practicing mystic. For that matter, much of what we regard as “traditional Chinese martial arts” was created within the last 200 years; temporally speaking, it’s about as “traditional” as internal combustion engines.
History is what it is (until it’s something else), but here’s my thing: I’m not Chinese. While I love and admire Chinese culture in its various forms, I have no interest in subjugating myself to the vagaries of Chinese nationalism. Or anyone’s nationalism for that matter; I call my organization EOE America simply because that’s where I’m from and that’s where I live.
For the record, I have nothing against mysticism per se. In fact, I’m quite a mystically inclined person myself; I’ve been involved in everything from western occultism to East Indian tantra to Native American shamanism. Those are not interests I care to explore here, since that’s not the purpose of this blog.
I’m certainly not against Chinese philosophy or medical theory (I’m an advocate of acupuncture, herbal medicine, and tui na in particular), which are rich and rewarding fields of study. What I’m against is authoritarianism (no lords, no slaves), blind obedience (human reduced to cog in a machine), oriental exoticism (dehumanization and objectification), and childish fantasy bullshit masquerading as “practical self-defense skills” (immature, dangerous, and irresponsible). If there’s anything I hate, it’s people pissing on my head and telling me it’s rain; in general, I prefer an unpleasant truth to a comforting lie.
However, those are personal gripes, and they belong to me; I don’t expect anyone to agree with my philosophies. My personal beliefs don’t have anything to do with EOE theory, which is just that: a theory. It’s abstract, it’s easy to understand, it encourages creativity and play, it’s no more ideological than simple mathematics, and… this is the best part:
You can make use of EOE theory without necessarily abandoning other practices or beliefs.
There is one major exception to this point. Much of what passes for “traditional” training, as I mention in the video’s interlude, amounts to a type of formalized fetish behavior. The inherently conservative nature of tradition tends toward this kind of stagnation. Ritualized awkward and stilted movement cannot survive contact with practice rooted in movement dynamics and object-based training. Such practice will, and should, change how one moves, as well as how one practices choreographed forms (part two of the EOE motto: “From Tradition to Evolution”).
That said, if people are into qi and “internal force” and huajing and whatever else, that’s great; none of that is an obstacle to making use of EOE theory. Put every available tool to service. I may talk bad about “fantasy,” but imagination is the most important of all tools; without it, there would be no styles, no strategy, no tactics, no theory.
In my experience with practitioners of traditional styles, the biggest mental obstacle toward utilizing the tool of EOE theory is the Not My Style phenomenon—people ignoring or dismissing something because it’s not included in their particular training with their particular teacher(s). A less kind but more accurate way of describing this phenomenon is stylistic bigotry. (An exploration of the cultural, historical, psychological, emotional factors responsible for this phenomenon, while guaranteed to be fascinating, is far beyond the scope of this blog.)
This bigotry is often is disguised as a kind of benign, enlightened liberalism: “everyone has their different ways of training, and they’re all equally good.” We all save face and nobody’s feelings get hurt. To be fair, this is important as a tactic of diplomacy; we’re social animals. However, like all animals, and the rest of the material world, we exist in a physical, three-dimensional space that works according to certain basic, objective, observable laws and principles. This is the domain of EOE theory.
Now, we enter the realm of EOE philosophy: everyone who embarks on the study of martial arts must have a point of entry. Any given traditional martial arts style is merely one of hundreds—if not thousands—of entry points. It is the choice of every individual whether or not to continue the limited pursuit of repetitive, fixed form.
I decided to create an exhibition video to demonstrate what is possible when you have a practical, theory-based template for developing movement skill. I chose Beng Quan as my subject matter, both because it’s a popular form, and because I think our training methods based on that form are relatable for martial artists who practice styles other than XYQ; every fighting method has some variation of a straight punch. Use of the vertical fist is common, particularly in Chinese and Southeast Asian styles.
I want to emphasize that what follows is merely a template. Each section in the template can be a jumping off point for many other kinds of training, technique, and movement play. Playing with form, theory, and movement is the primary method I’ve used to develop my skills and teaching methods. If you’ve read this far, you’re probably a good candidate to do the same. Human beings learn best through play, so take the ideas and play with them!
Part II – Video Outline
Each section here corresponds to a scene in the video, and includes a notation of the approximate time in which those scenes appear. My recommendation is to read through this outline a couple of times, then watch the video.
Traditional Form (0:14)
A brief performance of the Beng Quan form of Hebei-region XYQ, from the Yizong line of Zhang Junfeng, as taught to me by Su Dongchen in the early 2000s. Note that I’m doing the form in a somewhat limited space. Note also that my performance of the form is free of excess tension, and does not display fajing, or “sending power.” My training philosophy is, if you want to send power, send it into an object. Objects are objective.
Regarding the name of the form: Beng Quan is most frequently translated into English as “Crushing Fist.” However, the Chinese character “beng” also relates to the elastic movement of drawing back and releasing the string of a bow. Su usually referred to this form in English as “elastic fist.” As a traditional saying of Hebei XYQ describes Beng Quan: “Its form is like an arrow.” I don’t currently have access to a bow & arrow set, or I would have included it in the following section.
Proof/Object Method: Demonstration of Principle (0:24)
Front-Back is the dominant axis of movement for this form. The principle of Front-Back movement is Extension/Contraction, or elasticity. Object: elastic band.
Circulation Exercise Method (∞): Running (0:30)
EOE theory’s term for exercise that cycles continuously is “Circulation Exercise,” represented by the infinity symbol (∞). Running is the most basic human exercise involving relative balance of arms and legs, extending/contracting along the Front-Back axis. Running requires coordinated movement of shoulders & hips, elbows & knees, and hands & feet, known in the XYQ world as the “Three External Harmonies” (Wai San He).
The energy and inertia of running can significantly improve the martial applicability of this form. Note that I demonstrate the following variations: changing speed, moving both forward and backward, running in place, and conversion from simple running to running while thrusting the fists. This process takes fixed Circulation Exercise (∞) and develops it into free-form Spiral Exercise (@).
Conversion Method: Cross & Spiral (X@) – Hand Method (0:38)
Crossing (X) and Crossed (@) technique are the physical manifestation of defense tactics—intercepting, preventing, and controlling an attack (more on this in our next video, Essence of Martial Arts Technique, coming soon). Using the basic hand method of Beng Quan as a starting point, I demonstrate fluid left/right conversion movement.
Conversion Method: Cross & Spiral (X@) – Total Body Exercise Method (0:48)
Beginning with a variation in the Beng Quan form, commonly seen in the first section of XYQ’s Lianhuan Quan or “Linking Fist” form, and changing into free-form Spiral Exercise (@) that integrates arm, leg, and body movement.
Proof/Object Method: Sending Power (Point & Line • —) (0:59)
Using beanbags to demonstrate and practice sending power forward, first one at a time, then in a rapid series (high-density ⸫). The beanbag is a kind of Point, that follows a Line of trajectory when thrown.
I made these beanbags myself from denim scraps; in a future video, I’ll show how to make them, for the benefit of people like me who have little or no skill at sewing.
Stepping Method: One-Step, Two-Step, & Three-Step (• •• •••) (1:06)
One-Step is the basis of weight transfer. Focusing on a single leg (Partial Body Method), I demonstrate both a full step, into a forward bow stance, and a half-step. Two-Step transfers the full body weight forward using both legs (Total Body Method). Three-Step combines One- and Two-Step to continue forward inertia (Inertia Method).
Stepping Method: Extending Step (1:12)
A specialized walking method to move forward while sinking the body weight (Circulation Exercise ∞), commonly known in the NJQ world as the Mud Sliding Step.
Body Method: Extension & Contraction (1:16)
Holistic physical practice includes training of the body axis, in addition to training of arms and legs. I first demonstrate rocking forward and backward, which is the basis of body movement along the Front-Back axis. Next is swinging the arms up and over the body, using pendulum motion to open the body.
Leg Method: Wave Motion (~) (1:25)
Showing freestyle wave motion through forward-backward rocking on both feet.
Point-Line Striking Method: Kicking (• —) (1:31)
Demonstrating kicking methods with the knee and foot along the Front-Back axis.
Object Method: Short, Medium, Long (• •• •••) (1:42)
Combining striking with footwork along the Front-Back axis, using various objects (short & long, firm & flexible, light & heavy, single & double handed).
Object Method: Tonfa – Front-Back Turning (2:12)
Using a tonfa (Okinawan-style baton) to practice transferring power while turning front to back.
Spiral Exercise Method (@): Front-Back Turning (2:18)
Freestyle turning from front to back, with and without stepping.
Spiral Exercise Method (@): Freestyle Beng Quan (2:35)
Dynamic form play, coordinating striking with stepping, long & short striking, sending power, etc.
Interlude: Explanation of Purpose (2:55)
Training Montage (5:34)
Demonstrating various training methods, using available objects to practice Front-Back movement dynamics, along with Point-Line, Crossing, and Spiral technique (• — X(#) @).