Dai Family Xinyiquan - The Origins and Development

by Jarek Szymanski

Text and photos - Jarek Szymanski; © J.Szymanski 1999-2002


Chong Tian Pao movement of Dai Family Xinyiquan

Although most Chinese martial arts enthusiasts know quite a lot about three sister arts, Taijiquan, Baguazhang and Xingyiquan, there are probably very few who heard the name of Dai family Xinyiquan (Mind and Intention Boxing) in 1990s. Most Xingyiquan (Form and Intention Boxing) practitioners probably heard about Dai Longbang. Many of books list him, along with Yue Fei, Ji Longfeng, Cao Jiwu and Li Laoneng, as one of the Xingyiquan great personages. Dai is also considered to be Li Laoneng’s teacher.

It is still a questionable matter who actually Li Laoneng learnt from. Xingyiquan practitioners living in Hebei claim that Li learnt from Dai Longbang and this is the most common theory. Shanxi Xingyiquan historians point at Dai Wenxun (Dai Erlü), Longbang’s son, while Dai Family Xinyiquan followers attribute the transmission of the art to Guo Weihan, nephew of Longbang’s wife. To learn more about these different claims please read this article.

This style, sometimes called Dai Longbang’s Xingyiquan in the West, was created by Dai clan living in Qi County in northern China’s Shanxi Province. Its most famous exponent was Dai Longbang, who inherited the Intention Boxing (Yi Quan; not the same as the style later created by Wang Xiangzhai) passed within the clan and later learnt Xinyiquan (Mind and Intention Boxing) from Cao Jiwu as well as Praying Mantis style from Jin Shikui.

Some martial arts historians claim that Cao Jiwu not only did not teach Xinyiquan to Dai Longbang, but was not related to Xinyiquan at all. The common believe that Cao was Dai Longbang’s teacher comes from another believe – that the "Introduction to Xinyiquan Boxing Manual" (Liu He Quan Xu) was written by Dai. However, there is no name below the text and there is no evidence Dai actually wrote it. While most Xingyiquan practitioners consider the "Introduction" to be a document of historical value, more and more researchers doubt its authenticity. Some even claim it is a forgery made out in Shanxi at the end of 19th century.

Ancient mural showing Xinyiquan movement in Dai clan mansion

The written material (mainly copies of old boxing manuscripts) and oral transmission (also in Taigu, center for Shanxi Xingyiquan) mention the name of a Li Zheng as the one Dai learnt the boxing from. Li Zheng was a famous Henan Xinyi Liuhe Quan exponent, native of Lushan in Henan Province, student of Zhang Zhicheng and grand-student of Ma Xueli. The comparison between Dai Family Xinyiquan and Henan Xinyi Liuhe Quan shows enough similarities to prove that they either come from the same root or/and there has been extensive exchange between the masters of both styles.


Tiao Ling movement of Dai Family Xinyiquan

Apart from Li, Dai is said to have studied Mantis Boxing with Jin Shikui. Today’s Dai Family Xinyiquan practitioners contribute Ten Big (Animal) Shapes (Shi Da Xing) to Li Zheng, four routines of Za Shi to Jin Shikui, while Five Elements Fists (Wu Xing Quan) are considered to be the earliest Dai clan boxing.

On the other hand some researchers point out at Three Fists (San Quan) as the earliest part of Dai Family Xinyi system with Five Elements coming later. Sun Yemin, Xingyiquan practitioner and researcher from Shandong province suggests and explains how Five Elements could have been built upon movements from ancient Si Ba (Four Seizes) routine and Dai's stick techniques (Three Sticks - San Gun).

Although it is now impossible to verify, the fact is that within some branches of Dai family Xinyiquan there is no tradition of spending much time on Za Shi practice and some even refuse to study Ten Big (Animal) Shapes focusing only on Five Elements Fists.


There are some interesting stories about the origins of Xinyiquan. According to one of them, Li Zheng’s style is derived from legendary patriot and hero, Song Dynasty general Yue Fei, who is said to create Xinyiquan. Yue Fei’s manuscript was found 500 years after his death by Ji Longfeng in Zhongnan Mountains in Shaanxi Province. Ji, famous for his spear skills, changed the spear movements into barehand techniques using principles from the Yue Fei’s manuscript, and later taught the art of Xinyi Liuhe Quan to Ma Xueli, Muslim from Henan Province (Li Zheng’s grand-master).

This story, however, has many weak points. There is no evidence that Yue Fei created Xinyiquan. Yue died in his thirties and spent most of his life on battlefields fighting against Jin army, thus had no time to create such an advanced martial art as Xinyiquan. Of course, there is possibility that Yue Fei learnt it from his teacher, Zhou Tong, but chronicles only mention archery and spearplay.


The part of the story about Ji Longfeng finding a manuscript and re-creating the martial arts on its basis with help of his spear skills has no evidence either, nor has the story that Ma Xueli learnt from Ji Longfeng. Although Ma Xueli was from Luoyang in Henan Province, Xinyi Liuhe Quan practitioners in that city heard  about Ma learning from Ji for the first time only several years ago from the articles by Huang Xinming. Ma’s descendants, who still live in Luoyang, say that Ma learnt from an unknown wandering master.

There is another story about Dai Longbang’s teacher that can be found in some books published during republic period (1911-1949). In these books Dai is said to have studied Yi Quan (Mind Boxing) with Niu Xixian in Kaifeng. Niu’s ancestor was Niu Gao, one of Yue Fei’s officers and disciples! True or not, the story brings the name of Yue Fei as the creator/exponent of Xinyi Quan back again.

Tiao Ling movement of Henan Xinyi Liuhe Quan


The pre-Dai Longbang history of the style in not less confusing than the transmission after him. As already mentioned, there is no clear picture about how Xinyiquan has developed into Xingyiquan – we do not know who Li Laoneng’s teacher was and what Li actually learnt from his master. The history of Xingyiquan, starting from Li Laoneng, is quite well known. Technically however the styles differ very much one from the other.


Ying Zhuo (Eagle Grasp) of Dai Family Xinyiquan

Dai Longbang had two sons: older Wenxiong (also known as Dalü – Big Lü) and younger Wenxun (Erlü – Second Lü). Wenxiong died quite early caught and then burned alive by bandits. Because of this tragic incident, Dai Longbang decided to keep the art within the family and not to teach it to outsiders. Wenxun passed the art to his son Wuchang and nephew Liangdong.

Wuchang passed it to his only son Dai Kui and nephew Hongxun. Since Dai Kui had no children (in spite of the fact that he had three wives!) and lost family’s fortune, he decided to teach people from outside the family. In this way the art of Dai Family Xinyiquan has been transmitted to our times.

As already mentioned, Xinyiquan of Dai Family and Xingyiquan differ a lot. In most cases the similarity between the styles lies in their names only while the movements are completely different. The theory of the styles, although the same, fits Xingyiquan only if really stretched. As Li Wenbin (Shang Yunxiang’s disciple) noticed, old (e.g. belonging to Xinyi tradition) theory cannot be applied to Xingyi. To learn more about technical characteristic of Dai Family Xinyiquan read this article.


End of "Dai family Xinyiquan - the origins and development";© J.Szymanski 1999-2002


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