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Ma (Horse) Hsing

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This article has been expanded upon and included in Mike Patterson's new book...

XINGYI - A Means To An End

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Copyright: Pai Hui Ke Enterprises 1990

Theory & Principle
Ma (Horse) Hsing (Form)
Twelve Animals Hsing I Practice. (Part One)

By: Shr Fu Mike Patterson (Excerpted from the book written by Mike Patterson; XingYi; A Means To An End)

The purpose of this series of twelve chapters is to delve into the methodology behind the proper practice of the Hsing I twelve animals hsings. I will be discussing the prescribed method as taught to me through the late Master Hsu Hong Chi, and delving into the individual animals from the perspectives of kinetics and applied force, as well as potential strategy of combative application.

Before we can even get into discussing the theory and principles of practicing the twelve animals of Hsing I, we must first by necessity, define exactly what we mean by "Hsing I" in the first place. Most people translate "Hsing" as form, but originally the character used was the character for "Hsin" or heart. It is not exactly known when the name was changed, but it is important to remember this original rendering, as it relates to the true nature of the boxing practice.

The character, "I" is usually translated as Mind or Will by most scholars. However, in the Western languages this is far too vague. It should be distilled down ever further and rendered as Intention, to really begin to grasp the idea behind this method of Chinese Boxing, called Hsing I Chuan.

This then, gives us a balance of "Hsin" Heart, and "I" Intention within "Chuan" Boxing, yielding Heart Intention Boxing, as the original contextual rendering coined by the earliest of practitioners.

When a practitioner is working with one of the animal hsings (forms), the attempt must be made to capture the essence of the heart (emotion), and the essence of the intention (idea), of the animal associated to the form. In other words, it is not enough to simply perform the gestures without the intensity of the animal behind them. Without this essential essence, they are just empty movements. It could be said if practiced without these qualities that what you are practicing is external boxing within a Hsing I frame.

So then, what is the heart (emotion) of a Horse? And what is its Intention (idea)? Well, let us look at what the masters who went before us said.

The classic writings of Hsing I define the Ma (horse) Hsing as the following:

  • Ma Hsing - The horse is a domestic animal. It can transport heavy loads, and is the fastest and surest way for men to travel on land.
  • The hsing is related to the Mind. Practiced properly, it will bring good morale to the mind, dissipating anger/temper. Otherwise, it will produce diverse effects.
  • Some people favor Ma Hsing because it can match all kinds of Kung Fu's while the opponent is unable to win.

Obviously, the first reference should give us a clue as to both the strength and the solidity of the technique once it is fully developed, "It can transport heavy loads, and is the fastest and surest way for men to travel on land." The reference here indicates there are three predominant qualities contained in the form, of strength (power), speed (explosive movement) and sure footedness (root).

The second reference is to the health giving benefits and states in a rather matter of fact fashion, "The hsing is related to the Mind. Practiced properly, it will bring good morale to the mind, dissipating anger/temper." Then admonishes that improper practice may result in negative effects, "Otherwise, it will produce diverse effects." I think it is difficult for the average Westerner to understand that proper practice or improper practice of a concordant motion and breathing pattern could possibly affect the mind in either a positive way, or a negative way. But it is my experience that it can, and does. Let's face it, we have learned much about the mechanics of anatomical function, but we are still in the dark ages when it comes to understanding how the mind works by itself alone or in interaction with the body.

The final reference in the classics pertains to a minor lesson in combative strategy, "Some people favor Ma Hsing because it can match all kinds of Kung Fu's while the opponent is unable to win." This indicates two things, one is that the horse movement can "match" other movements or styles. And the second is that the opponent will be "unable to win." The meaning here is found in the range of the horse movement structure which is designed for medium to long range tactical attack or counter application. If the distance is understood, the long reach of the horse technique makes it difficult to get around.

The horse hsing is the first animal learned in the Hsing I system taught through my family. It contains a unique "double pumping" action of the legs one after another to simulate the galloping action a horse uses to gather momentum and speed. Developing this type of leg work is considered essential in our family method in relation to other animals taught later on in the development of the practitioner.

By way of Anecdote, permit me to share one story here: Years ago when I was first studying with my teacher, I had occasion one day to be practicing (or at least attempting to practice) the Fhu (tiger) Hsing when Master Hsu entered the room. Seizing the opportunity, I asked my teacher why I had been having such a difficult time gaining any perceivable power in the form. Without asking anything about my Tiger form at all, Master Hsu asked/commanded me, "Let me see your Ma,  form". I blushed immediately since that was the form I practiced the least.. besides I had learned that movement long ago in one of the fundamental forms "Ba Shou", or so I thought. But, I showed it to him, just the same, I could not have refused. After I completed the form, he looked at me and said, "You no good practice this form." I grinned sheepishly, since he of course was right. He followed that statement with, "I know, because you before already learn this one, eh? Ba Shou number three have this one." Hmmm, I thought. He said, "I before have same same make this mistake." He shook his head, and said, "You cannot same same make my mistake." There upon he began to illustrate the differences to me of the foot work, concept, strategy, etc. of the two types of motion. Similar, but different. Chief among the difference is the afore mentioned "galloping" action of the legs.

My teacher used to strap two chest protectors on a student and then extending his arm straight and rigid, he would use the leg pumping action of horse and launch a blow into a student sending him flying with the impact generated by the leg action alone. I can now duplicate the same feat, but not without very long practice and attention to detail through my Ma Hsing work. And you know what? My Tiger isn't too shabby either.. he was right again.

When practicing the Ma (horse) form, one must be cognizant of four main phases of motion and the transitions between the four. In the Shan Xi method. In phase one, the practitioner condenses the body downward, compressing the costals, loading the rear leg, and descending both hands downward. The forehand will be at the level of the Heart, and the hind hand shall stay at the level of the solar plexus region no more than six inches behind the forehand. In phase two, the body shifts from rear to front leg, while expanding the costals and expressing both hands along with the body motion forward and slightly upward. In phase three, then, the rear leg comes up next to the hind leg and resides in the light foot position (horizontal and level with the medial malleolus of the inner ankle), and the arms are brought to the fisted "insertion" position, while the costals contract yet again. In final phase four, the body explodes outward picking up additional drive from the secondary leg, while expanding the costals and then rapidly contracting at the end, while solidifying the half step at the precise moment of impact on the imaginary or real target.

Practiced correctly, the Ma Hsing yields power that is exemplary of all of Hsing I's concepts as a very powerful boxing art. Both legs are using their maximum thrust to develop momentum in the action. The intercostal muscles are being used in two and a half full compressions with following expansions. The waist is being held in reserve until the final phase of the movent series, when it is being snapped forward for sudden acceleration of the actual blow itself. All of the key components are utilized in just the right sequence for maximal kinetic potential. Simply beautiful.

Tactically, Ma Hsing is equally well suited for attack or counter offense. As an attack, slipping Pi Chuan fist, the first action of Shan Xi's splitting technique, over the opponents guard and then as he uses rising energy to fend off, continuing into Ma underneath his lead hand, can be a very powerful and difficult to defend attack.

And equally true, using Ma to explode into a counter offensive "stop hit" against an opponent who is strongly attacking the high lines, can be a most effective dissuading technique.

It is indeed true, what our Hsing I ancestors said, "Some people favor Ma Hsing because it can match all kinds of Kung Fus while the opponent is unable to win."