I have known Byron Jacobs for several years now, and I have been a member of his Mushin Martial Culture site on Patreon. He is a truly authentic instructor of Xingyi Quan. He lives in Beijing and is a disciple of DI Guoyong. When Byron published his book this year, "Dragon Body, Tiger Spirit," I was expecting a good book because of his deep experience and clear-eyed view of Chinese martial arts. The result, however, is the best Xingyi Quan book in my martial arts library.
As Byron describes it, "Dragon Body, Tiger Spirit" is "a translation and explanation of the classic texts of Xingyi Quan." He has collected the main writings considered to be Xingyi Quan "classics." Each chapter focuses on a particular classic, including a brief overview of a section of text in traditional Chinese characters. This is followed by a translation of the text. And finally, Byron provides his own commentary on the text. A lot of very good information is obvious in the translations, but it's Byron's commentary that brings each section to life, providing context and the correct way to interpret the information in your Xingyi practice.
I have been practicing Xingyi for 36 years, and teaching for 26 of those. I have won numerous tournament competitions with Xingyi. But I am always open to information that helps in understanding the mechanics, body method and applications of the art. I approach Xingyi, just as I do Taiji and Bagua, as a fighting art. One of the concepts of Taiji as a fighting art is to "yield and overcome." I love Taiji as a fighting art, but I also love Xingyi because it doesn't yield, it simply overcomes. A Xingyi Quan fighter has the eye of the tiger, and when he pounces, he will not be defeated. It is not in his nature to be defeated. That is the mindset of the art. The Monkey form, for example, teaches techniques and movements that "surprise, shock and overwhelm an opponent," according to the book, and it's a perfect description.
The Xingyi that I was taught and have been teaching has a lot in common with the art Byron learned from Di Guoyong, but there are stylistic differences in almost all the various styles of Xingyi, Taiji and Bagua. I try not to focus on the stylistic differences but focus instead on the body mechanics, principles and body method.
One way I judge a martial arts book is these two questions: did I walk away from the book with new information that can make me better at my art? Does it help me understand my art better? The answer for this book is yes. The writing is clear, the context is clear, and Byron's commentaries are straightforward and based in real-world experience. He illuminates the principles and methods of the art.
After reading the chapter on the Seven Fists, for example, two of my students and I had a great practice working on using the elbows in relation to the concepts of Splitting, Drilling, Crushing, Pounding and Crossing. The Seven Fists of Xingyi Quan include the head, shoulders, elbows, fists, hip, knees, and feet.
Some of the classics translated and explained in the book, in addition to the "Seven Fists," include "The Five Element Poems," "Yue Fei's Nine Essential Requirements Treatise," "Cao Jiwu's Key Extracts of the Ten Methods," and the "Twelve Animal Poems," among others. I found each one interesting, and I wore out a yellow highlighter as I went through the book, because I didn't just read it. I studied it.
The book also includes biographies of noted Xingyi Quan instructors, starting with the semi-legendary Yue Fei and ending with Di Guoyong.
I have read other translations of Xingyi Quan classics in the past. They all have something to offer. You can't expect to learn an art like this from a book, so this book won't teach you Xingyi Quan. But if you have or are currently studying Xingyi, "Dragon Body, Tiger Spirit" is a book that will increase your knowledge, inspire your practice, and I believe it will be a reference Xingyi practitioners like me will be consulting for a long time to come.
Last week, I interviewed Byron about the book for the next edition of the Internal Fighting Arts podcast. I am in the process of editing and it will be online this week. I'll replace this paragraph with a link to the podcast when it is ready.
by Ken Gullette