"Hsing" means shape or form and "yi" means intention (attention, consciousness). Thus Hsing Yi is a martial art in which the internal intention controls the external form of the movement. Attention to the manner in which consciousness controls the body turns Hsing Yi into an exercise of body and mind as a single unit. This is the defining aspect of Hsing Yi and the reason why it is considered a particularly effective martial art.
The heart of Hsing Yi is training in the "five fists" in accordance with the "five elements" of Chinese medicine. The five fists are "pi chuan" (metal), "tsuan chuan" (water), "peng chuan" (wood), "pao chuan" (fire) and "hong chuan" (earth). Outwardly the exercises look simple but they include deeply embedded details and nuances. Many years of training and study are necessary in order to reach a proper understanding of the exercises and a full exploitation of their inherent potential.
A further important stage in Hsing Yi is practicing the twelve animals. Each animal represents a particular quality of movement. The animals are dragon, tiger, monkey, horse, "tao" (crocodile), chicken, falcon, swallow, snake, phoenix, eagle, and bear. Each of the twelve movements has a defined physical effect, a recognized internal influence, and a connection with the five elements. Together they deepen the effect of the exercise on health. Working on the twelve animals trains the student in all the types of movement necessary for martial arts.
The history of Hsing Yi is ancient. General Yu Fuei, a famous hero who lived during the Sung Dynasty (960-1279CE), is credited with inventing the system. However, in view of its diversity, there is no doubt that the system had begun to develop in a much earlier time.
More reliable evidence about Hsing Yi is available only from the seventeenth century, beginning with Chi Long Feng who learned the system in the Tsun Nan Mountains in Shanxi Province. Long Feng is considered the modern father of Hsing Yi and all Hsing Yi masters, to this day (and there are very few of these) belong to a dynasty of teachers which originated with Long Feng. Grandmaster Wang Shu jin and Master Wang Fu Lai, also belong to this grand dynasty.
Because the system is so complicated, it was always shrouded in a cloud of mystery accompanied by many legends. Grandmaster Wang Su Jhin used to tell a story about the legendary Hsing Yi teacher Kuo Yun Shen who was the teacher of his teacher. One day Kuo arrived in a city in which a famous martial arts teacher lived. This teacher immediately demanded that Kuo demonstrate his abilities in combat. Kuo refused but this teacher insisted until Kuo was finally forced to defend himself as a result of which he injured the teacher. The ruler of the city was angry and ordered Kuo imprisoned. Kuo spent three years in prison with his hands and legs in shackles.
As soon as he was released from prison a student of the same teacher challenged him. Many people gathered around not only because Kuo's name was known far and wide but also because they knew that Kuo had spent three years in prison in shackles without being able to train. The student attacked, Kuo responded and threw the student a distance of eight meters where he collapsed and fell. Kuo used the movement of the tiger ("hu hsing") from Hsing Yi, the only movement he could practice with his hands in chains.
At the Israeli Tai Chi Center, the students practice Hsing Yi, adding it to the regular tai chi training. The Hsing Yi exercises include the five elements, barehanded katas, the twelve animals and weapons training (sword, staff, spear, and others).