“The six combinations are the soul of Xinyiquan and an essential lesson in various styles of martial arts. As the author lacks expertise, I can only offer a humble discussion. As for in-depth and precise analysis, that is left to the experts in the field.
combinations can be divided into internal and external harmonies. The internal harmonies involve the unity of the heart and intention, intention and Qi (energy), and Qi and strength. The external harmonies involve the unity of hand and foot, shoulder and hip, and elbow and knee. Many martial artists commonly mention these in their writings, indicating their deep understanding of the profound meaning of the Six Harmonies.
1. What is the unity of the heart and intention?
What is the heart? In Chinese medicine, the heart refers to both the physical organ and the intellectual brain. Here, it refers to the brain and thoughts. The unity of heart and intention means the unity of thoughts and intentions. So, what is intention? Regarding the unity of heart and intention, it refers to the direction of intention and the location of intention. In short, intention refers to the goal. In this context, intention does not refer to thoughts. If you practice meditation, your goal will naturally be internal, such as the organs, Dantian (energy center), internal imagery, and so on, which can be beneficial for the smooth flow of meridians. However, martial arts involve striking others, so the goal must be external, such as the opponent’s nose, eyes, throat, feet, abdomen, legs, and so on. Since it is a target, it should be seen with the eyes. Why use the heart then? In my understanding, targets on the back of the body, such as the back of the head, the back, and the acupoints on the back, such as Mingmen and Changqiang, are not visible to the eyes. Therefore, using the term “heart” is more appropriate. This also makes one admire the thorough consideration of ancient thinkers.
From the above, we can understand that the so-called internal harmonies are actually the harmony of internal and external aspects. The unity of heart and intention means having a clear goal in mind and aligning thoughts (heart) with that goal.
As for Tai Chi Chuan, it emphasizes the use of intention rather than force. When the opponent exerts force, you should redirect your goal (also known as shedding the shell). When you strike, you should not focus on specific targets but rather abstract goals. This is also the unity of heart and intention in Tai Chi Chuan. There are many aspects to the unity of heart and intention in Tai Chi Chuan, such as imaginary goals during practice and the use of intention without exerting force during strikes. This principle applies not only to Tai Chi Chuan but also to all internal martial arts.
2. What is the unity of intention and Qi?
Qi refers to internal energy, not atmospheric air. What is internal energy? This is a very puzzling question. We believe that Qi manifests in three aspects:
1) In living beings, it manifests as vitality, such as “full of vitality” or “when yin and yang separate, the essence and energy are depleted.” In martial arts, it manifests as the momentum. For example, “the abdomen is relaxed, and the energy surges,” and “Tai Chi Chuan lies not in appearance but in momentum, not on the outside but on the inside.”
2) It manifests in internal strength. For example, in Tai Chi Chuan, it is said that Qi originates from the spine, which means strength originates from the spine. This refers to accumulating internal energy or internal strength.
3) The above two points are only manifestations of internal energy on the surface. What is the essence behind it? We believe that the essence lies in the functioning of the meridian system. The human body has two major systems that command and act upon muscles and organs: the meridian system and the nervous system (Western scholars used to recognize only the nervous system and not the meridian system, but now, due to the proven effectiveness of acupuncture, the meridian system is being reconsidered). The nervous system commands muscle contractions, leading some martial artists to believe that muscle contractions are the source of strength. Muscle training can quickly enhance strength, and it is visible and tangible. It is considered 100% scientific. On the other hand, internal energy is considered unscientific. But how do some martial artists generate extraordinary internal strength? We believe that when the nervous system dominates, the meridian system is in a weak position. How can the meridian system take the upper hand and fully exert its magical effects? Some internal martial arts masters adopt the method of muscle relaxation. Whether it’s standing exercises, training routines, or other methods, teachers always emphasize relaxation, relaxation, and more relaxation, even 100% relaxation. By keeping the nervous system in a weak position for a long time, the meridian system takes charge and commands. When the meridian system is dominant in a martial artist’s body, they will be strong and healthy, and chronic ailments will diminish (due to the effect of meridian circulation). They will feel “Qi pervading the body without hindrance,” and they will naturally generate extraordinary internal strength. The magnitude of this internal strength should be produced by the meridian system commanding muscle contractions. Here, I don’t deny that the nervous system commands muscle contractions and is one of the main sources of strength. However, I want to remind everyone not to dismiss the internal strength generated by the meridian system. This real internal strength is what is currently described in books and referred to as “internal energy” by past masters of internal martial arts. What is internal energy? It is internal strength. Although two systems take turns governing, the generation of internal strength is the result of the meridian system taking charge.
How to increase extraordinary internal strength? Mr. Hao Shaoru’s theory of loose connection, Mr. Wang Xiangzhai’s standing exercises, Professor Yu Shangan’s sharp standing exercises, and the methods of other masters can all be referenced by modern martial arts enthusiasts.
Regarding Mr. Zheng Wuqing, let’s not discuss practicing Tai Chi Chuan but rather “playing Tai Chi Chuan.” The term “playing” instantly relaxes the mind and makes muscle relaxation even easier. Mr. Zheng is truly an enlightened master of the “Dao.” If one fails to recognize the profundity within, they would be wasting Mr. Zheng’s teachings. This is the study of adjusting the mind.”
Once you grasp the key to obtaining internal strength, you can exercise your muscles, swing heavy poles, and roll stone balls. Weightlifting, sandbag training, practicing Yijinjing (alternating tension and relaxation) – wouldn’t these be even better? With a solid understanding of internal strength, combined with muscle training, you truly become a master in both internal and external martial arts.
The so-called unity of intention and Qi means aligning internal strength with your target.
Regarding the terms internal strength and force, they are simply used to distinguish between internal strength generated by the meridian system and force generated by the nervous system. In reality, internal strength and force are the same thing. Some insist they are two different things, but they need to provide reasons to support their claim.
Some ask, in a situation where both internal strength and force are maximally exerted, is internal strength greater than the muscular force generated by the nervous system, or is it the opposite, or are they equal? Without participating in competitions or conducting experiments, we cannot make definitive conclusions. We must leave it to future generations for further study. However, in terms of quality, Professor Yu Shangan believes that those who only train muscular force are at the beginner level, while those who develop internal strength are at the intermediate level. This indicates that there is still vast room for the development of advanced martial arts.
We should recognize that beginner-level martial arts are also foundational and important. In specific cases, beginner-level martial arts may not necessarily be inferior to intermediate-level martial arts. In terms of quality, Muay Thai is considered a beginner-level martial art, but how many people can surpass Muay Thai? Winning a fight is influenced by various factors, including technique, physical fitness, skills, experience, timing, and other reasons.
3. What is the unity of Qi and force?
It means the combination of internal strength and muscular force. The fusion of these two forces constitutes the exertion of a martial artist’s strength. Of course, it is possible even without internal strength, as long as there is whole-body coordination. Likewise, even with technique alone, one can become a martial artist. For example, understanding Tai Chi Chuan techniques such as yin and yang, sacrificing oneself for others, borrowing force, using intention instead of force, and the methods of issuing power, combined with muscular force, can make one a Tai Chi martial artist. Therefore, it is not surprising to hear that athletes from other sports can achieve good results after a few months of push-hands training. However, if you have been practicing Tai Chi for many years and have yet to develop internal strength, do not understand how to issue whole-body power, and lack muscular force, then you will end up with an empty shell. To develop internal strength in internal martial arts and to achieve Tai Chi divine power, currently, standing exercises and training routines are the only methods available. We hope that contemporary martial artists can innovate and discover faster and more wonderful ways to develop internal strength and Tai Chi divine power, and we will certainly seek to learn from such teachers.
Internal strength and force are both forms of energy that can be trained to issue power. However, for elderly individuals or those with weakened bodies, they should not release energy indiscriminately in order to preserve their health. Just as soldiers training in shooting need to expend ammunition, they should not do so blindly and without restraint. Practices such as relaxed exercises, training routines, and standing exercises can promote the smooth flow of meridians. Through the clear pathways of meridians, one can strengthen the body, alleviate or even cure certain illnesses. However, it must be recognized that although the meridians are unblocked, they are not omnipotent, nor can they treat all diseases. Furthermore, it should not be assumed that they are the sole method for longevity. Longevity is a highly complex and comprehensive field of study. Do not engage in grand discussions about the great path or longevity based on only a few years of practicing Tai Chi or standing exercises.
4. What is the unity of hand and foot?
This is one of the external unities. The external unities are the unity of left and right. The external unities manifest in the form of fighting stances and specific methods of striking. “The unity of hand and foot” refers to the unity of the left hand and right foot, or the unity of the right hand and left foot. Power originates from the heel, manifests in the fingers, and the force is transmitted in a cross pattern. The force of the right foot is transmitted to the left hand, and the force of the left foot is transmitted to the right hand. The unity of hand and foot primarily relies on mental synchronization. There is a slight sense of attraction and synchronization. As long as the movements are synchronized, the hands should strike forward, not towards one’s own feet. The hands have different responsibilities. Each hand operates on its own side, with the body’s centerline acting as the division, and the hands can only move on the same side as their respective feet. If you cross the centerline to the opposite side or move outside the range of the feet, your hands will lose their power and will not be effective. Don’t believe it? Give it a try and you will see. When will you be able to freely move across the boundaries with equal strength inside and outside? Only when you have achieved “internal power” at the very least, and preferably also possess “whole-body power,” can you move in and out freely without any limitations.
Here, I would like to introduce Mr. Guan Yongnian’s article “Relying Entirely on the Back Foot Push” (from “Wu Hun” 2005, Issue 8), which explains the Three-Body Posture of Xingyiquan and exemplifies the unity of hand and foot.
Mr. Guan stated, “Through countless practices, I have come to understand the effectiveness of the ‘Three-Body Posture.’ The leading hand, whether in the form of palm, supporting, or pointing, makes contact with the opponent’s solar plexus. As soon as there is contact, the sinking force from the back foot is united with the fingertips of the leading hand. This moment of unity (consisting of striking, pushing, pressing, and supporting) easily sends the opponent flying, and both parties feel light and agile.” From this, we can observe the effect of the unity of hand and foot.
Why does Xingyiquan rely entirely on the back foot push? As Master Hao Shaoru said, it is because the Yin moves the Yang. The leading hand represents the Yang, while the back foot represents the Yin, and the force from the back foot is transmitted to the leading hand. Additionally, in this form, the left hand represents Yang, and the right lower hand represents Yin. If the left hand is pushing forward, the right hand must move simultaneously. This conforms to the principle of Yin moving the Yang and does not disrupt the overall framework. Those who practice the Three-Body Posture should pay attention to this. However, understanding the principle of the unity of hand and foot alone is not enough. For Xingyiquan, it is necessary to stand in the Three-Body Posture for an extended period, and if one follows Hao Shaoru’s theory of relaxation, namely “loose with the Qi sinking downward, empty with the intention rising upward,” extraordinary internal power can also be developed. Of course, Xingyiquan has its own specific transmission, and it is not necessary to adhere strictly to the theory of relaxation. It is still possible to develop exceptional internal power. Although the principles are consistent, the methods are countless. Without internal power, by following the principles of the unity of hand and foot and practicing diligently, one can still generate a certain amount of force. However, extraordinary internal power is not achieved overnight. It is essential to first grasp the basics and then seek further progress. In Taijiquan, movements such as Peng, Lu, Ji, An, Cai, and Lie all involve the unity of hand and foot.
5. What is the unity of shoulder and hip?
The unity of shoulder and hip is the unity of the right shoulder and left hip, and the left shoulder and right hip. When the shoulder strikes, it transfers force from the opposite hip. The intention of the shoulder is directed towards the hip. Similarly, if striking with the back, the left side of the back unites with the right hip, and the right side of the back unites with the left hip. I had the fortune of witnessing Wang Peisheng’s guidance on how to rotate and strike with the side of the back. Using the power of the shoulder and back, the strikes are powerful and forceful. If caught off guard, one can harm or even knock the opponent to the ground. However, achieving this is not as effortless as it may seem.
6. What is the unity of elbow and knee?
The unity of elbow and knee is the unity of the left elbow and right knee, and the right elbow and left knee. The elbow can be used for both offense and defense. Professor She Shangan believes that the elbow is longer than the fist. Rather than waiting for the opponent to come to you, you can actively pursue and strike with the elbow. The effectiveness lies in each individual’s skillful application. Professor Yu also said, “The Eight Extremes consider the knee longer than the leg.” It is said that some warriors from foreign lands came to China to learn the elbow and knee techniques of the Eight Extremes, and upon incorporating them into their own styles, their striking abilities in countering Muay Thai greatly improved.
The above discussion on the unity of the six harmonies is merely scratching the surface and discussing it on paper. The correct understanding relies more on the teachings of esteemed predecessors. As for our speculations, they may be subject to criticism and correction by experts, which would fulfill our aspirations. The reason for writing this article is because in Issue 9 of “Wu Hun” in 2006, the editor’s note raised the topic of exploring “internal Qi.” We felt that we could no longer avoid this question. To draw attention to it, we have included the editor’s note from “Wu Hun” as follows:
In the practice of traditional martial arts, the difference between “ordinary strength” and “internal power” can be felt in terms of phenomena, but the explanation that traditional internal power arises from internal Qi is not easily understood by modern people. The editor believes that this statement actually implies a series of extremely complex biochemical processes. In their time, our predecessors provided reasonable explanations based on the scientific level of their era to account for the phenomena they observed. These explanations laid the foundation for future generations to continue progressing along the correct path. However, merely repeating the words of our predecessors is no longer sufficient. People today should and can rely closely on the continuously advancing achievements of science to continue exploring and deepening the research areas that our predecessors discovered. Only by fulfilling the task of taking over the “baton” from our predecessors can we highlight the scientific value of traditional martial arts and find the connecting points between ancient and modern civilizations. The editor even believes that the progress of this work is related to the future and destiny of traditional martial arts.