The exact origin of Xing Yi is Taoist. The earliest written records of it can be traced to the 18th century to Ma Xueli of Henan Province and Dai Long Bang of Shanxi Province. Legend, credits the creation of Xing Yi to renowned Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD) general Yue Fei, but this is disputed. According to the book Henan Orthodox Xingyi Quani> written by Pei Xirong and Li Ying’ang, Xing Yi Master Dai Long Bang "...wrote the Preface to Six Harmonies Boxing in the 15th reign year of the Qianlong Emperor . Inside it says, '...when [Yue Fei] was a child, he received special instructions from Zhou Tong. Extremely skilled in spearfighting, he used the spear to create fist techniques and established a skill called Yi Quan (意拳). Meticulous and unfathomable, this technique far outstripped ancient ones."
Throughout the Jin, Yuan, and Ming Dynasties few individuals had studied this art, one of them being Ji Gong (also known as Ji Longfeng and Ji Jike) of Shanxi Province. After Yue Fei's death, the art was lost for half a millennium. Then, during the Ming and Qing Dynasties in Shanxi Province's Zhongnan Mountains, Yue Fei's boxing manual was discovered by Ji Gong.
General History (Ancient Times - 20th Century)
Yang Jwing-Ming (who is not a practitioner of the art) argues that aspects of Xing Yi Quan (particularly the animal styles) are identifiable as far back as the Liang Dynasty at the Shaolin Temple. Yue Fei, therefore, did not strictly invent Xing Yi Quan, but synthesized and perfected existing Shaolin principles into his own style of gongfu which he popularized during his military service. Nonetheless, according to Jwing-Ming, Yue Fei is usually identified as the creator because of his considerable understanding of the art (as shown in the work The Ten Theses of Xingyiquan, credited to Yue) and his cultural status as a Chinese war hero.
Other martial artists and Chinese martial art historians, such as Miller, Cartmell, and Kennedy, hold that this story is largely legendary; while Xing Yi Quan may well have evolved from military spear techniques, there is no evidence to support that Yue Fei was involved or that the art dates to the Song dynasty. These authors point out that the works attributed to Yue Fei's role long postdate his life, some being as recent as the Republican era, and that it was common practice in China to attribute new works to a famous or legendary person, rather than take credit for oneself. One source claims that the author of the "preface" is unknown, since no name is written on the manuscript. Most practitioners just assume it was written by Dai Long Bang. Some researchers of martial arts believe that it was actually written in Shanxi during the final years of the 19th century. In addition, historical memoirs and scholarly research papers only mention Zhou Tong teaching Yue archery and not spear play. Yue historically learned spear play from Chen Guang (陈广), who was hired by the boy’s paternal grandfather, Yao Daweng (姚大翁).
With the late Ming-era and Ji Longfeng, evidence for the art's history grows firmer. Ji Longfeng, also known as Ji Jike, is the first person which all agree had both existed and practiced the art. Ji Longfeng's contributions to the art are described in the Ji Clan Chronicles (姬氏族谱). Like the Preface, the Chronicles describes Xing Yi Quan as a martial art based on the combat principles of the spear. The Chronicles, however, attributes this stylistic influence to Ji himself, who was known as the "Divine Spear" (神槍) for his extraordinary skill with the weapon. Nowadays, many believe that the style Ji Longfeng was taught had been Shaolin Xin Yi Ba (a style which still exists today, and bares minute resemblance to XinYi LiuHe Quan). Ji Longfeng referred to his art as Liu He, The Six Harmonies, a reference to the most highly developed spear style practiced in the late Ming military.
Some speculate that during that period in the development of the art, either Ji Longfeng or some of his students had a connection with monks at the famous Shaolin Temple on Song Mountain. There exists a martial art called 'Xin Yi Ba', which is still taught at the general location of the temple, and bares a few similarities to Xing Yi related styles. Some claim that Xin Yi Ba had been taught to the Shaolin monks by Ji Longfeng's line, while others hold the view that it that Ji Longfeng was taught martial arts by the monks.
From Ji Longfeng, the art was passed down to Cao Jiwu. From Cao Jiwu, the art split into its two biggest branches. One branch came down from Cao's student Ma Xueli, and became Xin Yi Liu He Quan - an art still widely practiced today, which compared to other lineages, have not undergone many changes over the generations. The other branch that came down from Cao Jiwu was through his other student, Dai Longbang. The latter passed the art into the Dai clan, which had made many changes to it, mixing it with several arts and skills that had already existed in the Dai family. The art remain in the Dai clan to this day, but have also spread elsewhere in China and around the world.
The art remained fairly obscure until Li Luoneng (also known as Li Nengran) learned the art from the Dai family in the 19th century. It was Li Luoneng and his successors — which include Guo Yunshen, Song Shirong, Che Yizhai, Liu Qilan and Li Taihe (who would popularize Xing Yi Quan across Northern China).
SOURCE: All historical text and imagery taken directly from the Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xing_Yi_Quan