Xieyi painting and it's common grounds with Neijia Quan


When I started to practise Yoshinken I was gladly suprised of how much this martial art had in common with the type of Chinese art I have been practising since the beggining of the 80's. It's about this common ground and their connections this text is about.
It's not the authors intention to write an art scientific report on Xieyi painting but rather to roam over my past experinces.

First I would like to make a short introduction to the different styles in Chinese painting.
Chinese painting is called "Guohua" (national painting) or "Shuimo hua" (water and ink painting). Guohua is then diveded into "Gongbi" (realistic) and "Xieyi" (expressionistic). Gongbi and Xieyi has three branches, landscape, figure and flower-and-bird painting.

(Chinese painting is three arts combined in one, when a painting was finished a poem or a few poetic words was almost always written on the painting, often give it a deeper dimension. These lines could be made up by the artist or could be lines taken from a famous poem, they often a allusion to a historical, event, poem or person. This was to put the painting in a cultural and historical context and by that also making a personal or political statement.
To write a poem like this demanded not only profound knowlege of history, culture and poetry but also a skillful calligrapher.
In this way the three arts of painting, calligraphy and poetry are combined into one piece of artwork, therefore it is also called ”wenrenhua” litterati painting.)

Gongbi painting was favorised by the court and can therefore also be refered to as court painting, the style was realsistic and the brush strokes should be fine and precise so naturly you had to put a lot of effort into mastering the craft. The word Gongbi when translated means skillful brush. It is the same Gong as in Gongfu or as we call it in the west Kungfu which does not mean anything else than skillful or effort, you can say that a driver has Gonfu wich means that the driver is skillful or that a student has put a lot of Gonfu in his studies, which means he have put a lot of effort in his studies.
Gongbi painting was often favorised by the emperor, the court and the state administration in general.

Gongbi painting by Anders Ofverstrom (copy)

Generaly you can say that many artists after a completed examination was given an official position by the court, some were chosen to academies, institutions, societys, some was given direct comissions. At the institutions they were given some sort of influnce and regular income, in return they had to work on commsions or teaching. The shape of these institutions vary with emperors and dynastys. These were proffesional artists and useally painted in the ”Gongbi” style they considered the ”wenren huajia” litterati artists to be amateures while the litterati artist thought of themself to be above the mundane and did not paint for money or commision but only for oneselfs pleasure and cultivation.
It is in the same way the art institutions works in modern China with exeption that artists from the Xieyi school are represented in majority.
The Xieyi school puts its emphesis on the spiritual and philosofical aspect of painting.
Xieyi means writing down Intention/Idea or thought, it is the same yi as in Yiquan. As I continue I hope that you can draw more paralells betwen Xieyi painting and Neijia quan (Yiquan/Taikiken/Yoshinken/Shinbuken.) and pherhaps to life it self and how it should be lived.

Pine in Xieyi style by Anders Ofverstrom

So why is it called Xieyi, "write idea" and not paint idea? Because it describes how the painting tecnique should be done! One of the most famous artists within the Xieyi tradition, Wu Changsuo (1844-1927) said "-You shall write the painting and paint the writing". First you must have inspiration, then you must have a clear image of the painting in your mind, an idea and when you start to paint it has to have the flow of running water, spontainious but at the same time firm, just like when you write, no hesitation, you dont hesitate when you write because you have written the same letter hundred thousand times so you have learned it by heart ("xin" "shin") and it comes natural without thought. it´s just like in martial arts where you must have repeated the technique thousands of times before you can use it natural and with flow. With other words you must posses the gongfu wich the task demands. To add to this in Chinese painting you can not change something afterwards so when you put the brush on the paper it´s defenitive, just as in Tanshu when you made your first mistake you are beaten and you have to stop.

1500 years ago Xie He an artist and art critic wrote six criteria for good painting:
1. Qiyun Shendong - pulsate with Qi and living movement. ( It is because the brush strokes and the compostion have Qi that makes the painting flow (breath) with Qi and makes it come alive, without Qi it becomes static and dead) Xie He thought this the most important quality so he put it as number one and it´s this quality that gave the Chinese painting its distinctive character. This rule are considered the most important even today. (Qi is the fundamental essense in our training)
2. Gufa Yongbi - to use skelleton technique in the brush strokes. with this he means that the brush strokes should not only have the design of a skelleton bone but also that the strokes must have the same use as a skelleton, the must have the power and stability to uphold the the whole painting. (We must have the right posture in every movement)
3. Yinwu Xiangxin – what you depict have to reflect the objects charactersitics.
4. Shuile Fucai - use fitting colours
5. Jingyin Weizhi - make good compositions
6. Chanyi Moxie - You shall learn by immitating but you have to change and create.

Lotus by Anders Ofverstrom

The common idea among art critics after Xie He was that you could achieve all this through laborious pracise exept the first rule which they thought that only a few was gifted with.
Xie He's six rules for painting have been altered and expanded up to this date but the principle remains the same. If we look at the order of these six rules we can see that composition and colouring is at the bottom of the scale this implicates that realism and reproduce nature was not purpose but rather paint the spirit of the object.
As a result of this other art/philosofic terminology have sprung out, such as:
(I belive that through looking at the terminology we can easer understand the qualities of Xieyi painting)

Yixiao kanda - to see the big in the small / to open your senses.
Kongbai - empty space / to get the viewers imagination started and to harmonise the composition.
Busi zhisi - the likeness off unlikeness / brings out the typical charecteristics in the object you paint so you recognize it not from its shape but from its charectaristics , in this way easyer understand it's soul. ( You can not get to know a person by looking at his/hers appearance but through his/hers character you can.)
Kuazhang - exaggerate / to emphesize on whats important and bring out the charectaristics of the object.
Duibi - contradictions / to harmonise and dramatize. Interactionwith Qi between empty and filled spaces, yin/yang.
Jianhua - simplify / to make your idea visible.
Qi - Qi / to make the painting alive with the energy of natures own life puls.
Zhuo - clumsy in a positve aspect / to reinforce the characteristics of the artist. To show true intention.
Xinyin - heart print / the painting should be as a print of the artists heart and soul.
Without these qualitys a painting is mere ink scribble.

I think for those whom have practised Neijia "internal martial arts" it's easyer to see these qualitys in a brush stroke.
To try to explain in detail how you can see these qualitys is very difficult , It's like trying to explain what Qi is, the best way is to practise. Lin Fengmian (1900-1991) who started to hold the first classes at Zhejiang academy of fine arts was taken aback when it came to what method he was to use when teaching Xieyi painting and he said "- now I have to teach something that cannot be teached". Xieyi must grow from inside and are shaped from the artists ego and character.

Bird by Anders Ofverstrom

As a speaker of the Chinese language I have come across events and persons in China which fits in to the frame of "art and Qi", one of the more funnier ones are the following:
At the art academy in Hangzhou we attended a course in calligraphy, the teacher was also a Qigong master who was using his Qi in his calligraphy. He had piercing eyes an as soon your eyes met his you had to lower your head. He always started each term with asking; -what is Qi?. This time he asked a student for a coin, then he put it between his longfinger and ringfinger and broke it in half with his thumb, at another occasion he had broken a table in half with a swift blow. After his demonstration he explained to the students that he did not accept late commers or talking during his lessons, the students obeyed this without objection. Later in the term there was a knock on the door during his class and the teacher looked curious at he door and wondered who had the guts to disturb his lesson, a mans voice was calling one of the female students from the other side of the door. At this instant everybody knew that it was one of the teachers whom had a relationship with one of the female students. The Qigong master who was a man of moral and virtue had of course knowledge about this highly improper relationship, now gathered his Qi and waited until the door slowly opened, then released his Qi and hit the table which flow across the class room and hit the door which closed with a BANG. This time the table broke as well, to the growing anger of the caretaker.

One Daoist expression used in both Xieyi painting and Yiquan is Wuwei which is translated non action.
In Xieyi painting this means to create without thought, to follow the nature of your personal qualitys or call it the inborn reaction of the circumstances. We can find this quality in a good Tanshu as well.
Wuwei is besides of Yijing "the highest idea expression" and Qiyun "pulstating Qi" the most important quality in Xieyi painting. Not to forget is that to use Wuwei systematicly demands a lifetime of training along with creativity, orginality, an open mind and a genious. Some artists used wine in order to easyer attain this state of mind. Su Dongpo (1037-1101) a poet, artist, art critic, connoisseur and official wrote about the subject in the following poem:

When my lips touch the moister of the wine
my guts grows and split
and out of my liver and lungs
grows bamboo and rocks
they find their expression on your white wall

Bamboo by Anders Ofverstrom

Zhang Xü (8th century) entitled inventor of the wild cursive calligraphy, acording to contemporarys he behaved in a crazy manner shouting and screaming while writing, often in a drunken state, it is said that he even used his head and hair as a brush.
Du Fu (712 - 730) poet, describes Zhang Xü in his poem

...and three cups of wine makes Zhang Xü a master
he tear his hat off
without cermonies he stands in front of the princes
bareheaded he handles the inspired brush
his callicraphy flows fourth like raging clouds...

Xieyi painters saw themselfs as the opposit of the Gongbi painters. Gongbi painters was according to the Xeiyi painters crafstmen and not artists they put to much effort on technique and surface while the Xieyi painters emphesized cultural spirit and to do this you you had to be a cultivated person, anyone can learn technique and craftmanship but to beeing a cultivated person also demanded that you lived by the virtues ”Ren yi dao de” goodness, righteousness, Dao (the way) and good morality. I you dont live by these virtues it will show in your brush strokes and other connoisseurs and artists will reject your art no matter how skillful you are.
Shi Tao (1642-1707) spoke in his art theory of the all-embracing brush stroke where the brush strokes seemed to randomly spring up from nowhere and where the artist had to penetrate into the smallest aspects of matters to be able to give spiritual life to mountains and floods, open and closed landscapes, all living and growing and to humans manifistations. This all-embracing brush stroke is pherhaps best described by Cai Yong who wrote around 150 A.D about the art of writing.

When you write you must first make yourself free from your thoughts and indulge yourself in your feelings.
Let your nature follow its incliantion. If you feel the slightest low-spirited, bound or forced you will not succed even if your pencils hair is made out of the finest Zhongshan hare. your writings forms shall give vissions of lying and standing, flying and going, comming and going, lying down and standing upp, sharp swords and keen spears, of strong bows and sharp edged arrows, mist and skyes and of the sun and the moon - all this shall speak in your writing, only then can it be called calligraphy.

Read this once more and think of Tanshu

Budo has a lot in common with the Chinese Xieyi tradition, for some of you this is well known to some of you this might feel familiar but at the same time new. It is not by a mere accident that the famous Miamoto Musashi (1584 - 1645) also was a master of Xieyi painting or Chanpainting as it was called then, Zenpainting in Japan.
The key to succes lies within the name of the branch of martial art we practise, Yoshin(ken) in Japanese or Yangxin(quan) in Chinese is a concept that propably originates from Xünzi (a confucian philosopher ~312-330).
directly translated means cultivate heart, where the heart means both body and soul. Xünzi put it this way in his book Xünzi, chapter cultivate the body:

" All methods which nourish Qi and cultivates the heart must go through rules and regulations, you can only attain this by yourself, not get it from a master or from immortals. This is the true way to attain cultivation of heart and Qi".

Banana tree by Anders Ofverstrom

Yangxin became more of a Daoist expression. In "The immortals of the west mountains" meeting records they write the following regarding Yangxin:

"Zhenren shangxian
Jiaoren Xiudao
Jixin xinye
Jiaoren xiuxin
Jixin daoye

"True humans thet have become immortals, teach people to cultivate Dao
It is the same as cultivate the heart
They teach people to cultivate the heart, which is the same as cultivate Dao"

The Daoists belives that it is in the heart where all feelings and desire is born, the right way to control negative feelings and desire is by cultivating the heart which is done through both spiritual and physical exercises.
We can also find the expression Yangxin in Chinese medicin where it is a way of nourish the heart when it suffer from lack of Yang Qi (like in Yin/Yang), which results in nervousity, insomnia, sexual disfunctions etc.

Another way to cultivate yourself which goes back more than a thousand year is "Qin Qi Shu Hua" - to cultivate oneself through playing "Qin" a chinese Zither, playing chess, write calligraphy and paint. These are counted as cultural arts "Wen".
There is an idiom called "Wenwu Shuangquan" which means with both cultural and martial arts you become complete.

Yoshimichi Sato could not have chosen a better name than Yoshinken (Yanxinquan) to Marshall Mcdonagh when he created his branch of Taikiken which has its roots in Yiquan.
I was not only happy to discover how much Yoshinken had in common with Xieyi painting but also to find a teacher who understood and could mediate these, not only a teacher and master of martial arts but also to widen the awareness on both the spiritual and everyday life. Through compassion. honesty, true intention, inspiration and deepening in one thing understand thousands of other, "Yixiao kanda" see the big through the small / to open your mind.

   Anders Öfvesröm 2007-09