Principles and Characteristics of Ying Shou Quan
Ying Shou Quan (Hand of the Eagle) belongs to the traditional styles of Chinese martial arts. It is called the eagle claw (Ying Zhao Quan) due to the way it appears when executing grabs and holds, which are reminiscent of the movements of an eagle. However, it should be mentioned that Ying Shou Quan does not imitate the movements of an eagle in its entirety, but simply borrows the fast and powerful grabbing motion of this proud bird. In this sense, the traditional Ying Shou Quan is separate from the modern eagle style –which has very little to do with martial arts–, that was created in recent decades and imitates the flying and external movements of the bird.
As previously mentioned, Ying Shou Quan is a combination of the Yue Shi San Shou and Fan Zi Quan systems, which is the reason that today it is also known as Ying Zhao Fan Zi. Both styles have their own unique characteristics and were already famed for their efficiency in combat at the end of the Ming dynasty.
More specifically, Yue Shi San Shou specializes in grabbing and locking the joints, as well as striking and pressing sensitive points of the body (e.g. zhua, da, qin na). Respectively, Fan Zi Quan is based on a series of continuous attacks, a combination of defence and attacking movements and alternating techniques (e.g. fanbeng, gunza, gaotiao, diya).
During the era of the Ming dynasty, Fan Zi Quan was known as Ba Shan Fan (eight rapid changes). Fan (meaning change, rotate, turn) is one of the most important characteristics of the techniques used in the Fan Zi system, as it refers to the continuous changes in movement, which are: forwards, backwards, upwards, downwards, left, right, single and double change.
With the merging of Yue Shi San Shou and the strongest elements of Fan Zi Quan, Ying Shou Quan has evolved into an even more effective combat system.
The secrets of its technique are located in two forms of fists: the “Fifty Roads of Lian Quan” and the “Ten Roads of Xing Quan”. The essence of the system also includes important forms (tao lu), such as Luo Han Quan, Ba Mian Zhui and Ba Bu Zhui, systematic training in locking techniques (qin na), preplanned combats between two people (108 dui da), traditional forms with weapon, as well as a wide variety of internal exercises (nei gong).
Basic Characteristics of the Eagle Style Technique:
1. Zhua / 抓 / Grab
Grabbing is the most important element of the eagle technique. A grab can be executed using one or two hands, always actively (grab and pull). It is used to grab an opponent’s arm in order to stop their attack, or to begin one’s own attack first. An attack often commences by either striking with a fist or a palm –which then immediately transforms into a grab of the opponent’s arm– or grabbing one arm and immediately striking the other. In addition, a grab is in itself an element of attack; grabbing a sensitive part of one’s opponent’s body, for example the neck, or applying pressure on joints. It is one of the most difficult elements in terms of technique and one needs a great amount of practice to master it. In place of a grab, beginners can press or pull, using the “hook” techniques (gou shou) or the “rake” techniques (ba shou – a variation of a grab, in which the thumb remains closed next to the other fingers).
2. Da / 打 / Strike
Strikes are executed mainly with a fist, a palm, a forearm and an elbow. Kicks and sweeps are also common, while there are several techniques in which knees, shoulders and hips are used. Strikes are quick, explosive and consecutive, and are almost always in combination with grabs and locks. According to the Fan Zi Quan saying, “strikes should be executed consecutively like fireworks that explode in the sky”.
3. Qin na / 擒拿 / Hold and Control – Lock
By holding the opponent and limiting their ability to move or locking their joints, you can control or directly strike them. Locks are executed with one or two hands and it is essential that the body is positioned properly. The execution should be quick and abrupt, while strength and flexibility is extremely important, especially in the wrists. Although locks are important in the eagle system, you should remember that one’s objective is to strike your opponent, not to catch and hold them. The Qin Na techniques are not ends in themselves, but a way to gain the advantage, and should always be accompanied by attacking and striking.
4. Fan / 翻 / Turn – Rotate
In the eagle technique, fan refers to alternating strikes. They are usually executed by rotating one’s arm around the elbow joint, in order to deal multiple consecutive blows to various parts of your opponent’s body, for example, to the head and by rotating your arm, to the groin, or vice-versa. The fan quan technique from the “Fifty Roads of Lian Quan” is a typical example
5. Beng / 崩 / Abrupt Strike
By extending your arm, you can abruptly strike the opponent with explosive power. It can be used both in attacks and as a defensive movement. You can also execute an explosive beng strike to “crush” the combat position of your opponent.
6. Zhou / 肘 / Using the Elbow
You can use your elbow or forearm either to strike the opponent or to apply pressure. Elbow strikes are usually targeted at the chest or the face, while the most common places to apply pressure with the elbow are the joints, often resulting in their dislocation. The use of elbow techniques is even more effective when they are accompanied by the appropriate steps and turn of the waist.
7. Kao / 靠 / Press
You can press (usually on the arm of your opponent) using the forearm, arm or shoulder. Pressing does not produce hard force, but is inflicted quickly and up close, in conjunction with a turning of the waist. It is used both when attacking and defending.
The grab (zhua) is the most important element of the Ying Shou Quan technique. Seven principles are used for its application:
1. Hao / 薅 / Raise up
Grab your opponent’s arm and raise it abruptly upwards, simultaneously pulling it backwards. Pull it like you want to dislocate something; this will make it difficult for them to attack and at the same time limit their defence.
2. Na / 拿 / Control
When your and your opponent’s arms have crossed over each other, hold and control them by locking them. This works best when after one of you have attacked, your opponent is close to you or when they have tried to grab your arm.
3. Jiang / 降 / Pull down
Pull down. If your opponent attacks your chest or abdominal area, then you can grab them and pull downwards and backwards, forcing them to lose their balance.
4. Shou / 守 / Defend – Anticipate
Defend yourself and wait for the opportunity to attack. Frequently release your opponent or provoke them to make the first move and immediately counterattack their gap in defence or use the thrust of their strike to your advantage. You can also catch their hand to stop their attack, using their momentary inertia to immediately attack. The principle of shou should not be confused with passive defence; on the contrary, it is a method of gaining the advantage over your opponent.
5. Fen jin cuo gu / 分筋错骨 / Separate muscles and ligaments, dislocate joints
Use elbow and forearm grabs, locks and other techniques to attack the joints, bones and muscles of your opponent. This may result in the injury of ligaments, the rupture of muscles and tendons or the dislocation of bones. Successful application of these techniques may quickly finish off a fight.
6. Dian xue bi qi / 点穴 闭气 / Press the cavities, block the Qi
Grab and press or strike sensitive points of the body and the channels where energy flows. Block breathing, press nerve points, block the blood flow in vessels or the qi energy in the channels. These techniques can cause great pain, numbing, difficulty in breathing, loss of body control and even become fatal.
7. Nian yi ru hao mai / 粘衣如号脉 / Adhere to clothing, like taking a pulse
The principle of nian yi ru hao mai refers not only to the method of grabbing, but also the procedure of combat, overall. The principle may be interpreted as “adhere to clothing, like taking a pulse” and implies a double skill; firstly, while in direct contact with the opponent, you can feel the power and direction that their strikes will have even before they have manifested clearly (ting li = hear the power) and secondly, you observe the movements of your opponent, as a whole. Observing the movements entails not only watching how they move, but also perceiving even the slightest change or intensity in their body and their expression, if possible. A fighter that has mastered nian yi ru hao mai will enable him to sense their opponent’s intention, providing him with the ability to defend and attack more effectively. It requires great technique, physical ability and expertise, as well as high spiritual development. Having developed this type of ability, fighters such as Liu Shi Jun and Chen Zi Zheng, could render any opponent incapable of attacking in the way they wanted or “steal” their power and use it against them to win, the opponent not knowing how such a thing occurred. In this way they confirmed the saying:
“Shou jian shou wu chu zou”
When the hands cross, there is not way to escape.
Seven types of strength are used in the eagle technique:
The seven different types of strength used in the eagle style are on most occasions connected to each other. The type of strength used in each strike depends on the technique you want to apply and your opponent’s reaction.
1. Yin li / 阴力
Hidden or internal strength. It has no obvious form, the strikes are not violent; the momentum and intensity are not easily distinguishable.
2. Yang li / 阳力
Apparent or external strength. It has an obvious form, the strikes are hard, easily distinguishable and have a longer distance to travel.
3. Gang li / 刚力
Hard strength, abrupt and very dynamic, with a wider range of movement.
4. Rou li / 柔力
Soft strength, deep without any obvious form, abundant in alternating movements.
5. Tan li / 弹力
Explosive strength with abrupt flicking movements. The intensity of the strikes, which are not hard, is immediately relieved. They have an “elastic” strength (like a spring shooting up).
6. Cun li / 寸力
Strength at close proximity. The strikes are accurate and the strength is let off at close distance, by striking forwards and quickly pulling the hand backwards.
7. Cui li / 脆力
Sharp strength. It explodes clearly and quickly, penetrating the target. It is hard, but not as rough as gang li.
In general, you must avoid using excessively hard and rough strength (meng li / 猛力), as well as complete and uninterrupted strength (quan li / 全力). The reason for this is that it is difficult to control your movements, to retreat, or to change your technique quickly enough when using these strengths and as a result, your opponent is able to control you more easily.
The goal of every eagle style trainee must be to master the various strengths, which are the basis of the successful application of combat techniques. Teacher Guo Xian He provides us with some examples of where the seven strengths can be applied (Guo 1987, pp. 28, 29):
a. For throws, locks (qin na) and techniques with the elbow (zhou kao), you use the yin and cui strength.
b. For grabs (zhua), you use the yin and cun strengths.
c. For strikes with rotation of the hand and for abrupt strikes (fan beng), you use the tan strength or a combination of the tan, yang and gang strengths.
d. For strikes with flicking of hands (shuai), you use tan strength.
e. For attacks (da), depending on the situation, you use yin, yang, gang, tan, cun and cui strengths, as well as a combination of them. However, you should never use the rou strength to strike, unless you use it in combination with other strengths.
In reference to grabs, he says:
“When you execute a forward grab (zhi diao), the strength must be released when your fingers begin to bend to form the grab. This way the cun strength is more efficient. In addition, when you rotate your wrist to execute the grab (zhua), the strength should be let off silently at the moment when your fingers are almost touching your opponent’s arm. Consequently, the hidden strength of yin will become apparent though the technique.”
The development of strength (both absolute and relevant) can be speeded up with traditional strength training methods (such as exercises using resistance apparatuses, weights, etc). Furthermore, development can also be accelerated with special internal and external exercises (nei gong and wai gong) which are done in Chinese martial arts.
Through training in Ying Shou Quan you strive not only to achieve maximum development of your strength, speed and technique, but also to train the “spirit” (chen jing) and “naturality” (zi ran). By saying spirit, we mean internal serenity and peace that should distinguish a person training in martial arts: the psychological and spiritual state that could enable you “to see the collapse of the highest mountain without blinking”. Naturality refers both to your own movements and positions, which should be according to the body’s anatomy, the breathing rhythm and the energy flow, and to your reactions to your opponent’s movements.
According to the principles of chen jing and zi ran, you must strive to unite your hand (fast), gaze (sharp), body (agile), step (light) and concentration, in a natural manner, balancing between the states of motion and stillness, intensity and calm, in order to avoid impatience and haste.
The “eagle” is a dynamic and fa st system that combines agility and explosiveness in its technique. It is a marvelous combat system, without elaborate movements and elements that are designed to impress, simple and concise techniques. The principles on which Ying Shou Quan is based have been shaped through time by the great teachers of our family. The effectiveness of the system in a combat situation is expressed in the following proverb:
“Chu ru you men jin tui you fa”
There is a gate to enter and to exit;
there is a way to get in and out.