The 6 harmonies are an essential element in Xing Yi, Ba Gua and Tai Ji although slightly differently interpreted in the three arts. Harmony (合) is one way to interpret it. Union, integration and coordination are other valid alternatives. He means “brought together” or “unified”. It is different from 和 which also means harmony but does not have the meaning of unification. At the same time 合 is different from hun (混) and rong (融) etc. which means to completely merge/blend.
The six harmonies is a more detailed way of describing whole body power (Zheng Ti Jin, 整体劲). It is divided into two aspects: one external and one internal. External points to the physical and internal points to the psychological or the subjective experience. The six harmonies are a wonderful way to start learning and embodying whole body power and a very good and clear map when practising standing and movements. The idea is to coordinate the body with regards to the relationship and connection between hands, feet, knees, elbows, hips and shoulders as well as the coordination of the mind with regards to desire, intention Qi and force enabling the practitioner to engage and act wholeheartedly.
Sun Lu tang says:
The mind is internal, yet its reasoning extends to all things. Things are external, yet their principles are all there in the mind.” The intention comes from the mind. Therefore when the mind’s intention is genuine within, effects will manifest externally, internal and external always operating in unison.
Your mind and energy are stable. In observing the active, there is the passive. In observing the passive, there is the active. Passive and active are united with each other. Your upper body and lower body coordinate with each other. Inside and outside are one. These are called the “six unions”. Although they are called six unions, this is actually the internal and external united with each other. Although we say the internal and external are united, it is actually the passive and active aspects united with each other. With the union of the passive and active aspects, san ti (the three substances) are born.
The three internal harmonies – 內三合
- Unification of heart and intention (心與意合 xin yu yi he).
Sun Lu Tang says “If your mind is not uniting with your intention, then being off by a hair will make you miss by a thousand miles.”1
- Unification of Intent and Qi (意與氣合 yi yu qi he).
- Unification of Qi and force (氣與力合 qi yu li he).
Heart refers primarily to desire/will here. Although heart is mostly translated as mind this translation is a bit too vague to use here – especially since intention is also a “mind quality”. Union of heart and intention means the willingness, the longing and the desire goes together with the focus, the intent, and aim.
Qi here means the experience of connection. When the body is connected there is a feeling of aliveness and a kind of field of energy. Union of intent and Qi means that when the intent is there, the whole body goes along with it.
Force refers to action and is the final manifestation of of the internal unification. It refers to both physical force as well as mental force.
Another saying is that “When intention is there, qi and power is there also” (意到 Yi dao, 气到 Qi dao, 力到 Li dao)
There are several other internal aspects that are not part of this description such as spirit (神, shen), comprehension ability (悟性, wuxing), changeability etc. but the three internal harmonies are the foundation for discernment and cultivation of these other qualities.
Three external harmonies – 外三合
1. Union of hip and shoulder (肩與胯合 kua yu jian he)
Your shoulders loosen with an energy of drawing in. Your hips also have an energy of drawing in.”2
2. Union of elbow and knee (肘與膝合 zhou yu xi he)
Your elbows have an energy of hanging down, but must not noticeably do so. Your rear elbow has an inward bend, but it must not be a dead bend, it should have a rounded fullness like the shape of a crescent moon. Your knees have an energy of covering inward, but must not cover noticeably.”3
3. Union of hand and foot (手與足合 shou yu zu he)
Sun Lu Tangs says:4
“Your heels equally have an energy of twisting outward, but must not twist noticeably.”
“With both hands, all the fingers are spread and must not be together.”
“For each hand, the tiger’s mouth between the thumb and forefinger makes a semicircle shape. “
One aspect of this is that hand and foot arrives simultaneously (手脚一快到 Shou Jiao yi kuai dao).
As connections between every part of the body must be established for true whole body power, the 3 external harmonies can be broken down into much finer details which is cultivated by curious investigation of the body when standing and moving.
Uncle Jin Yun Ting wrote the following poem about the 6 harmonies:
The Essential Points in Xingyi Boxing’s Six Harmonies and the Extremities
The heart harmonizes with the intention;
the intention harmonizes with the Qi;
the Qi harmonizes with the power;
these are the three internal harmonies.
The hands harmonizes with the feet;
the elbows harmonizes with the knees;
the shoulders harmonizes with the hips;
these are the three external harmonies.
These together are called the six harmonies.
The left hand harmonizes with the right foot;
the left elbow harmonizes with the right knee;
the left shoulder harmonizes with the right hip,
and conversely so on the right side.
The head harmonizes with the hands;
the hands harmonize with the body;
the body harmonizes with the footwork.
Are these not also external harmonies?
The heart harmonizes with the eyes;
the liver harmonizes with the tendons;
the spleen harmonizes with the muscles;
the lungs harmonize with the body;
the kidneys harmonize with the bones.
Are these not also internal harmonies?
Are there then truly only six harmonies?
Actually, these only describe the constituent parts.
In the end, if one moves, then there are none that do not move;
if one harmonizes, then there are none that do not harmonize.
The five elements and the head, torso, and limbs can be known from this.
Li Tian Ji in his book “The art of Xing Yi boxing” has the following poem about the six harmonies:
六合者，鸡，龙，熊，鹰，虎，雷，形意拳之身法，六形合为一体也。又内三合， 心与意合， 意与气合，气与力合。外三合，手与足合，肘与膝合，肩与胯合，是为六合也。
The body har six forms, rooster leg, dragons body, bear shoulders, eagle claws, tigers embrace, and the voice of thunder.
The six harmonies, rooster, dragon, bear, eagle, tiger, thunder is the body method of Xing Yi Quan and are six shapes united into one. There is also the internal three harmonies: heart unifies with intent, intent unifies with qi, qi unifies with force; and the three external harmonies: hand unifies with foot, elbow unifies with knee, shoulder unifies with hip; these together are also the six harmonies.