External Training: Empty Hand
The basic empty hand styles taught through the Way are designed to initiate and condition the body towards the assimilation of all styles of Wudang Martial Arts. The beginning sets work to open and strengthen the channels on the practitioners body through correct posture, high kicks, strong punches, stamina training, and physical coordination.
The first basic hand style is Ji Ben Quan, or simply, Basic Fist. This form teaches correct posture and the basic stances and kicks of the Wudang system, as well as conditions endurance, stamina, flexibility, and strength.
After Ji Ben Quan, the practice of a three part set is begun. Xuan Gong Quan 1, 2, and 3 each work on the martial artists high kicks, wide stances, changes in direction, jumps, and more. Each form is taught and practiced as a separate form, however all three work on the same characteristics through different techniques.
The more intermediate levels of basic fist forms are Xuan Zhen Quan and Fu Hu Quan. Each have their own specific essence and style. Xuan Zhen Quan is based on high kicks and high jumps. While Fu Hu Quan (Taming the Tiger Fist) relies on the strength of the practitioners stances as changes for high to low attacks and changes in direction are common.
Each basic hand style works to strengthen the body and stretch the tendons and muscles of the artist to prepare them for internal work and overall to maintain a healthier and stronger body.
Basic empty hand forms are best learned in order because each form builds upon basics learned in the previous set. For a full recommended list, click here.
The following advanced empty hand styles should be followed by the training of the basic empty hand styles. However, that is not a requirement and is solely up the artist and the teacher on the structure for each individual. Although it should be noted that the advanced styles rely on and combine moves from the basic sets. Therefore, teaching and training can be done at a smoother pace if the basic sets have been previously learned and practiced.
One of the first of the advanced sets is called Long Hua Quan, or Dragon Fist. This form combines previously learned stances and coordination to different techniques and more specific details. The moves are based on the movements of the Chinese ideal dragon. The style exercises fast twisting motions, grabs, joint manipulation, powerful strikes, high kicks, and changes in speed to embody the movements of the legendary dragon.
Based on the ideas of combining external and internal martial arts, eventually the practitioner is able to transmit internal energy to external power (called fajin). This is one reason why the following forms are considered internal systems. However, they are included here because of the nature of their training as well as what people associate with them upon first encountering these practices. Specifically, "internal" is most often deemed slow and soft which, while partly true, does not comprehensively cover each system.
One of these styles is Xing Yi Quan. Xing Yi has a long history of being an internal art as well as having roots in fighting application. Xing Yi is taught as a form based on the five elements, each having their own characters. The form uses strong stances, powerful strikes, fast charges and strives to achieve internal strength and coordination.
Bagua Zhang, or Eight Trigram Palm, is a style well known for its internal ability. Bagua gets much of its practice from the principles of the balance of yin and yang. This form utilizes circle walking, the trademark of Bagua practices, to teach indirect striking and fluidity in movement. The circle walking on its own has strong foundations as an internal art and can be used as a meditative workout. The goal of this practice is to promote soft movement, strong focus, and internal sensation as well fast attacks, stable posture, and external power.
The last advanced empty hand form is called Xuan Wu Quan. This form isn't necessarily the most advanced set, however, it does combine movements and techniques from almost all of the other empty hand styles. Therefore making it a composite style of the Wudang empty hand forms, both basic, advanced, internal and external.
The style of Xuan Wu has many changes from slow to fast and demonstrates the artists ability to generate external force through internal control, through multiple fajing moves.
The advanced empty hand styles are not to be taking necessarily as better skills and techniques, but rather as more detailed and rigorous training styles. Due to the fact that the external styles are used to benefit the exploration of internal understanding, the external styles can be looked at as stepping stones, in a way, towards that goal.