Generally, people think traditional Chinese martial arts can be separated to two big groups: Waijia Quan (i.e., external martial arts) and
Neijia Quan (i.e., internal martial arts). Usually Tai Ji Quan, Ba Gua Zhang, and Xing Yi Quan are considered the traditional internal martial
arts. Even though these arts were generated from different places at different times, each had its own principles and ways of training and all
won great reputations. In the late nineteenth century, senior practitioners of these arts met together and influenced each other. Some of the
masters from these groups had very close relationships and many masters from different generations exchanged their experience and
During the last hundred years, many people have practiced these styles together, believing that learning all three styles will help them to
understand high level martial arts principles. While cross-training in these arts may be beneficial, many people experience difficulty in
making effective practice because of an unawareness of the similarities and differences between these styles. This article attempts to
scratch the surface of some of the similarities and differences between Taiji, Xingyi and Bagua.
1. Development of Neijia Quan
The original meaning of Neijia Quan is the name of an old style practiced in the sixteenth century which offered some new and special
concepts different from the ideas of the typical martial arts styles at that time. From historical records, it appears that Neijia Quan concepts
were developed and spread from that time. Although the original style of Neijia Quan was later lost, its main concepts were inherited by
other styles, though it is difficult to accurately assess how much influence passed directly from Neijia Quan to Taiji, Bagua and Xingyi, but
the influence is clearly seen in those arts.
Because Taiji, Bagua, Xingyi inherited the main concepts of Neijia Quan, when several prominent masters from these groups in Beijing
found out how close they were, they made an informal agreement to unite these three styles as one family and call themselves collectively
Neijia Quan. Although this designation was informal, people generally adopted the convention of using the term Neijia to refer not to a
particular style, but rather to a group of styles or concept of a type of style.
Although some surmise that the full development of Taiji took place over centuries, the clear
documented history dates only from the middle of the nineteenth century. Taiji principles and training
methods reached a high point of development and sophistication at that time. Yang Lu Chan received
his early training in Chen Village and made the art famous when he introduced the art publicly in
Beijing. With his skill of using softness to defense hardness, Yang won a highly acclaimed reputation
for himself personally as a great fighter and also for Taijiquan as a high level effective martial arts style.
From that time, Taiji became very popular. Later, several different styles of Taiji were developed by
Although specific physical movements may be different, all Taiji styles still follow similar principles. Taiji
is often regarded as perhaps the most sophisticated style of Chinese martial arts, as evidenced by its
deep and complete principles. In practice, Taiji training starts by trying to understand high level
principles of movement, tactics and strategy which are trained to be expressed through physical
movement. Consequently, many practitioners have difficulty understanding and mastering Taiji skill
even after many years of practice. So in Taiji training, the most difficult thing is how to correctly
combine principle and practice.
Great Master Wang Peisheng
demonstrated Taiji push hands.
Ba Gua Zhang is youngest brother in the internal martial arts family. Although
Dong Hai Chuan, the first person known to teach Bagua from the 1860s
claimed he learned this skill from some unknown masters, most people believe
that he invented Bagua. Dong’s skill and ability was generally recognized as
perhaps the best of any Chinese martial artist of his day. In the second
generation of development, Bagua was separated into several different styles
by his top students. Bagua practice methods and skills were developed
differently in each group, though keeping the same core principles.
Some have observed that as the youngest of the three traditional Neijia arts,
Bagua principles and methods are perhaps not as completely developed. For
example, at the first national Bagua conference, it was noted that among
Cheng style practitioners there was great commonality seen in the first 3-4
palm changes and great diversity for the remaining big eight palm changes.
One common explanation is recognition of the fact that Cheng Ting Hua
passed away at an early age and the suggestion that many of his disciples
may have received an incomplete transmission of his variation of the art and
therefore each derived his own version of the remaining changes.
Great Master Wang Peisheng demonstrated Bagua.
The basic Bagua principle is good, but many feel that Bagua principles for skill development and training are not as refined as those for
Taiji and Xingyi, as evidenced by the paucity of high level written Bagua classics. In practice, Bagua incorporates many high level skills,
but the training starts from a mid level point simultaneously concentrating on high level principles and low level physical training. Because
of the incomplete development of high level principles in Bagua training, many Bagua practitioners do not know what they are aiming at
as their high level goal, so that they may stay in the middle level of skill for a long time and experience difficulty in making further progress.
The oldest brother of Neijia Quan is Xing Yi Quan. It is said that Xingyi was invented by Ji Long Feng
sometime in the seventeenth century. Although Xingyi was taught in several different places after JLF,
it did not become well_known until Li Luo Neng. LLN and his students really made Xingyi famous
and earned the reputation of this style from the 1850s.
Developmentally, Xingyi evolved high level principles and practices, but its training methodology
typically starts from a low level focus on physical training. The common progression of Xingyi training
mirrors the evolution of Chinese martial arts, developing from external to internal practices. In the
beginning, Xingyi training is very similar to external martial arts training, and then the training
progresses to incorporate high level principles. Because the training methodology is changed inside
instead of outside, many people cannot do this well, even if they do not realize it. Consequently, many
people enjoy low level practice or mistake low level practice for high level skill. In Xingyi training, how
to step over this point is the most difficult thing.
It is interesting that prominent masters of Taiji, Bagua and Xingyi met in Beijing and made their
reputation from the late nineteenth century. In exchanging their experiences, the masters from these
groups found that these arts shared similar skills and principles. So finally they decided to unite their
skill in one family. But it does not mean they are totally mixed together. Because of the difference,
each art still keeps its own features.
Great Master Wang Peisheng
Each of these three styles developed to high level skills and principles, although each still retained some, more or less, low level skills.
Usually the lower level skills are easy to understand and learn. The higher level skills are more difficult to study and cannot be easily
understood. Unfortunately most people just understand lower level principles, and sometimes therefore mistake low level skill for high
level. So it is said that although many people practice, it is very rare to find someone who can achieve high level skill.
2. Similarities and Differences in Neijia Principles
Just like the extinct style of Neijia Quan, all three styles use Taoist philosophy (as distinct from Taoist religion.) as the foundation of their
principles. The basic concepts of Taoist philosophy came from several different sources and developed for a long time. The main
sources included Laozi and Zhuangzi, the Yi Jing, the concepts of Yin-Yang, Wuxing, Bagua and some Confusion ideas. About 2000
years ago, these principles started to mix together little by little. Finally the idea of Tao, the name of Taoist philosophy, became the most
influential principle pervading traditional Chinese culture.
When martial arts were developed to such level, people want to use higher level principle to instruct their practice. As the most important
base of traditional Chinese culture, Taoism was introduced into martial arts naturally. From old Neijia Quan to Taiji, Bagua, and Xingyi, all
used Taoist philosophy as the foundation of their principles. From this point, when the skill level of Taiji, Bagua, and Xingyi was
developed to a higher level, their practice and application became more similar as they derived from the same general principle. It
means that the same principle decided the essence of these styles are similar.
Although Taiji, Bagua, and Xingyi derive from the same principle system, each art emphasizes a different aspect of Taoist principles.
Taijiquan uses the Taiji principle of Taoist philosophy as its main concept. This principle emphasizes the dynamics of the Yin-Yang (i.e.,
positive-negative, active-inactive, substantial-insubstantial) concept. The main idea is about the balance and exchange of Yin-Yang.
From this principle, some special Taiji skills were developed, such as how to use quiet to overcome moving, how the weak can defeat
the strong, and how to lure the opponent to come in and fall down by his own force, etc.
Baguazhang uses the Bagua principle of Taoist philosophy as its main concept. This principle is based on the Yi Jing (i.e., Book of
Changes) which is about the changing principle of the world. From this principle of change, some special Bagua skills were developed,
such as Tou Shen Huan Ying (steal body away instead of the shadow), Ye Di Cang Hua (flower hides under the leaves), and Zou Ma Hui
Tou (running horse returns back its head), etc.
Xingyiquan combines Xing (the shape of 12 animals) and Yi (mind-intent) attributes. The Wuxing (5 elements) principle of Taoist
philosophy is used as its main concept. The Wuxing principle emphasizes the rule of Sheng (creation) and Ke (destruction) in universal
changing. From this principle, some special Xingyi skills were developed, such as Pi, Beng, Zhuan, Pao, Heng, the creative and
destructive circles of Sheng and Ke, etc.
3. Similarities and Differences in Neijia Fighting
Although Taiji, Bagua, and Xingyi use their own skills in fighting, all follow basic concepts of Neijia Quan, such as use quiet to control
moving; use soft to control hard; use smaller force to defense bigger force; launch later but reach early; refrain substantial and attack
insubstantial, and Yin and Yang supply each other and exchange. All these ideas can be found in Taoist philosophy.
Essentially, the main idea of Neijia is about seeking maximal efficiency. Consequently, one seeks to avoid opposing force directly,
instead one tries to find the ideal timing, position and direction to exploit an opponent’s weakness. In order to do this, one needs to
develop a high degree of sensitivity to feel the opponent’s intent, structure, timing and movement, as well as a relaxed, flexible physical
adaptability to take advantage of when the opportunity arises. Rather than simply launching a set attack or defense combination, ones
attempts to first control the opponent. According to this approach, one considers efficiency to be paramount over effect, process more
important than product.
The intention of high level skill in each of these three styles is similar although each art uses different ways. Tuo Hua (no skill to win skill)
is a result of high level practice in all three styles. High level skills of these three styles require great sensitivity. It is called "know yourself
and your opponent" and "the mysterious ability is that make changes according to the opponent’s change."
Although the basic concepts are similar, each art uses different training methods. They have different features of their fighting skills.
Because they were developed in different ways, all three internal styles have their own high level fighting technique goal in fighting.
Traditionally, the goal of Taijiquan is called "empty motion;" the goal of Baguazhang is called "change motion;" the goal of Xingyiquan is
called "straight motion."
In Taijiquan, the high level fighting technique goal is Kong Dong (empty motion) or Kong Jin (empty force, though not to be confused with
Lin Kong Jin, the idea of moving an opponent without touching), which is the most typical feature of Taiji fighting skill. It means to let the
opponent feel something he thinks he can get, but cannot really get because it is empty. It should induce in the opponent a surprised and
frightened feeling, like when one walks on the top of a high building and suddenly steps on an empty place. Usually the skill is described
as "lure in and fill in emptiness." Here "lure in" is a key concept, it is not "force in." The feeling is just like to suddenly appear and/or
disappear. One lets the opponent feel something, but get nothing. All Taiji skills should meet this goal. It should follow the basic Taiji
principle as Yin and Yang supplement each other and exchange. The technical foundation of Kong Jin is Zhan (adhere up), Nian (stick to),
Lian (link), and Sui (follow). If one does not exhibit these attributes, one is not considered to practice Taiji in the right way. In application,
changes of Yin-Yang happen on the inside of the touching point between your opponent and you, but your physical body may just show
really small even invisible movement.
In Baguazhang, the high level fighting technique goal is Bian Dong (change motion) or Bian Jin (change force), which is the most typical
feature of Bagua fighting skill. It means change should happen at any time and anywhere and without the opponent feeling it. Anytime one
makes contact with the opponent, change must be done continually until you win.
The change should not let the opponent feel before it really happens. It should induce in the opponent an unsure feeling. The description
of Bian Jin is "move then change, change then evolve (turn into), evolution to evolution, never stop." The idea is to use quick and
continuous changes to make the opponent lose his concentration and then beat him from his weakness point. Never oppose the
opponent’s force with one’s own force directly. One should always change when one’s force meets the opponent’s force. All Bagua skills
should meet this goal. It should follow the basic Bagua principle of change. The technical foundation of Bian Jin is Zou (go away), Chuan
(pass through), Ning (twisting), and Fan (turn over). Without these attributes, one is not really doing Bagua. In application, a lot of visible
changes are made. These changes should be continuous and smooth. Do not let the opponent to feel any change until the changes really
happen. The physical changes should follow internal changes.
In Xingyiquan, the high level fighting technique goal is Zhi Dong (straight motion) or Zhi Jin (straight force), which is the most typical
feature of Xingyi fighting skill. It means when contact is made with an opponent, use a straight force to cross the opponent’s force and
suddenly increase one’s own force. It means to attack the opponent at his weakness point (with proper positioning, timing, and direction),
or to use a big and strong power to attack his weakness point directly. One should let the opponent feel one’s power is so strong that he
is unable to defend against it. One should never use one’s power to oppose the opponent’s force directly.
Sometimes the outside movement may appear to directly oppose the opponent’s force, but in fact inside one should make a simple
change to cut across the opponent’s force. With this change, one will be much stronger than the opponent along this particular force
vector. The description of Zhi Jin is "Heng (side to side) defense Shun (straight); and Shun defense Heng." All Xingyi skills should meet
this goal and should follow 5 elements principles of creation and destruction. The technical foundation of Zhi Jin is Ci (stamp), Pu (spring
on), Guo (wrap up), Shu (tie or bind), Jie (decisive). Without these attributes, one is not really doing Xingyi. In application, the break
points of physical movements may be visible but internal change should be smooth. Also, the physical movement changes usually are
different from the internal changes. It is called "looks like diagonal but is straight inside; and looks like straight but is diagonal."
4. Similarities and Differences in Neijia Practice
Basically, the top level fighting principles of these three styles are similar (e.g., never use force against force directly), but each has
different technique goals so each art uses different methods to reach those goals. In the early stages of training, these arts appear very
different, however, as one’s skill level advances, one finds more similarities the higher one goes.
In the Xingyi classics, there is a famous description of the different levels of Neijia training. It is said there are three steps in the training
progression: Ming Jin, An Jin and Hua Jin. The first step is Ming Jin _ visible force that means everything can be seen.
The second step is An Jin _ hidden force that means many things will be hidden inside.
The third step is Hua Jin _ dissolve force that means the skill should be dissolved in your body. In fact, this idea reflects the evolutionary
development of Chinese martial arts.
Martial arts were developed from physical skill to mind control skill, from low level to high level. Some styles may have stopped
development at some point, so they were not developed to high level. All three Neijia styles are generally regarded as having evolved
high level skills.
In Xingyiquan, the progression of these three steps is very clearly seen. Xingyi practice progresses from hard to soft. In the beginning,
Xingyi practitioners train obvious power from Ming Jin training, making body movement strong, hard and coordinated. Then, at the An Jin
level, training shifts to an emphasis on relaxation and smoothness. Finally, Hua Jin reflects the highest refinement of skill.
The advantage of the Xingyi practice methodology from hard to soft may make it easier for some practitioners to gradually understand
internal training of force, qi, and mind, and to connect physical practice with the generation of power. The disadvantage is that may be
too easy to fall into the trap of being too tight and stiff. Even though the progressive principle is clear, in practice the change from Ming
Jin to An Jin requires internal adjustment, and from An Jin to Hua Jin is very difficult. It is very common for Xingyi practitioners to remain
at the level of Ming Jin even after many years hard training because they do not know how to progress to the next step (An Jin) and
perhaps do not even realize the need to further progress.
In Taijiquan training, Ming Jin and An Jin are relatively de-emphasized. In the beginning, after a short period of training An Jin, many
groups train students to focus on Hua Jin training directly. Taiji practitioners lay great emphasis on the importance of learn how to relax
without compromising structural strength, utilizing smooth, slow, even movement practice to achieve coordination, relaxation, sensitivity,
and power. From this approach, it is believed that if one can understand Hua Jin, Ming Jin and An Jin are relatively simple and easy.
Unfortunately, many practitioners misunderstand the emphasis on Hua Jin to think there is no Ming Jin or An Jin training in Taiji.
The advantage of the Taiji approach is that it makes it clear from the outset the high level goal of Taiji training. Ideally, following this
approach may make it easier for practitioners to understand internal components training, like Shen, Yi, and Qi, and also high level
martial arts concepts. The disadvantage is that because it is difficult to understand Hua Jin skills, many practitioners appear to fail to
achieve any discernable results even after practicing for many years.
Baguazhang training sets out to practice in An Jin mode to acquire both Ming Jin and Hua Jin skills. In the beginning, Bagua practitioners
should focus on both physical and mind training. To make the movement relaxed and smooth and to concentrate the mind is very
important. The advantage of the Bagua approach is aid the practitioner to understand and feel the coordination and application of the
physical movements and internal components in the body movement and footwork. The disadvantage is that is easy to all into the trap of
becoming unctuous, showy and superficial, so that the foundation will be poor.
The above generalizations about the relative advantages and disadvantages in the training of each style are not meant as simple good
or bad judgments. The stated advantage of a particular Neijia style merely suggests that its training methodology may make it easier for
practitioners to acquire certain skills, not that everyone will get it. The stated disadvantage merely refers to the fact that its training
methodology may make it easier for practitioners to overlook certain pitfalls, not that everyone will stumble. Any of these styles can
provide a road that one may travel to achieve high level skill, however, one may find that one has an affinity for one style over another
depending on one’s personality, body type, etc.
Cross-training in two or three Neijia styles is also a common idea because different styles can bring different benefits. The potential
advantage is that one may come to understand Neijia Quan from different views. But the potential disadvantage is that sometimes one
simply becomes lost and confused. With proper instruction, if one can keep everything clearly in his mind, can separate the flavor of each
style clearly, and can work hard in each practice, cross-training may be beneficial. Otherwise, a better idea is to wait until one can
understand one style well and then go on to learn others. The worst situation is to practice everything together to the point where one
cannot clearly separate one from another. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to see a cross-trained practitioner practicing several arts
externally with the flavor or internal attributes of another, for example, when one practices Bagua which looks like Taiji with Bagua
This article has tried to suggest that Taijiquan, Xingyiquan and Baguazhang share basic principles which are typically trained in different
ways and emphasize different aspects. The fighting concepts of these arts are similar, but the methods and skills are different. The
internal practice is similar, but external practice appears different. At the low level, one tends to focus on the differences between these
arts. At high level skill, one sees more similarities. One should study the similarities and differences closely and clearly in order to fully
understand these arts.
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