Monday, January 12, 2009


In all of the martial arts styles there is one element that the masters speak of that is universal. Becoming like water. I know that it seems like a simple enough idea of learning how to flow from one movement to the next, interacting with your opponent in the forms of waves and crashes while defensively dispersing or redirecting energy. This is called Wu Wei or formlessness. How is it achieved? In modern terms you can think of it as muscle memory of the entire body. Practicing a simple movement over and over allows your muscle memory to direct the movement so that it is no longer thought but reaction that leads your attacks.

To do that with the entire style means that you have to create a schedule, a training regiment that incoorporates the most vital parts of the style being the way of the legs 步法,the way of the body身法,and the way of the hands 手法. These concepts especially in Bagua are designed to simplify the movements into one idea. The movements themselves are not important, but only designed to show you the tactics of controlling your opponent(s).

Gao bagua being said to have 8864 techniques actually has an endless amount of movements. Unless we can live for three hundred years we could never have the time to learn it all. But the concepts of the way of the legs, the way of the hands, and the way of the body break it into 3 parts that need to be mastered and not 8864 parts, making it possible to achieve the Wu Wei.

"Bu fa" or the way of the legs mentions footwork. The ability to enter and exit your opponents space depends heavily on your footwork. All of the martial arts styles from Jujitsu, Karate, to Capoeira have different ways to deal with footwork, but share the same general principle. 8 directions. Eight directions is all that it takes to be able to attack, cut off, or escape from an opponent. Master these steps will help you to dominate most fighters considering most people don't want to take the time to isolate footwork training. I recommend after practicing the footwork on your own that you have mulitple attackers move in at you and using only footwork to control the situation.

"Shen Fa" or the way of the body focuses on power. Being able to throw a lot of quick hand movements may seem effective at first, until your dealing with a master and realize that "empty techniques are worthless". In bagua the hands are never the first to move but it is always the legs that carry the body which carries the hand. Meaning everytime you strike your opponent you hit him with your whole body, not just the palm. Practicing Shen Fa is key to learning how to coordinate your structure to flow naturally and quickly. This can be practiced by tying all of your techniques together in a continual flow. Bagua has eight sections heaven, water, mountain, thunder, wind, fire, earth and lake. Each section contains a different philosophy of movement or attack. Learning to mix your fire movements with water, heaven with earth, etc. is called opposing forces which teaches you to use Shen Fa in more detail. On a side note you can also practice the movements not just as opposing forces but in other combinations to see what results you get. I found that connecting water and mountain gives me crushing flowing power not unlike a waterfall. (mountain water=waterfall) Seems that bagua was designed the way it is for a reason. Researching the movements will bring forth truth.

"Shou Fa" or the way of the hands. There are thousands of hand techniques to be practiced in Bagua but the good news is someone can only attack you from a few different angles. Can you guess how many? Once again the number is 8. Think about the 8 directions as a compass on a map. North, Northwest, East, etc. You can put the compass on the ground for footwork or place it infront of you for hand work. The way of the hands is so important to practice because it is the last movement that seperates you from your opponent. Being able to block and grab takes another person to assist your training. There are many grabs and locks in Gao style bagua, but if you do not have the hand strength to grab someones arm, especially if they are sweating, then the technique is useless. Practicing grabbing and blocking at real time and speed to successfully manipulate your opponent. Also it helps to do grip training, finger tip push ups, climbing, or anything that isolates finger strength.

These three concepts are the key to finding the Wu Wei. First isolate the three so that they can be explored fully and then put them into on fluid training method. How you do that is up to you. Everyones body is different so I can't advise you on how to reach your Wu Wei. But I can say that the key with any style is first understand the movements. Don't be in a rush to create your own method. We are all young in the world of martial arts and it is only arrogance to claim to have found a better way in the short 75 years we have on this planet. Martial arts is thousands of years old and even though we have to refine it and make it better. We can't just ignore the information that has been passed for generations. In the end all of the movements are meant to be forgotten, but only after they have been ingrained on your soul.

Good luck with your training.


Michael said...

"footwork" + "wuwei" means never, ever, ever move your feet.

Move your whole self. Feet stay underneath.

Kung fu is not kung fu without these two aspects of "being like water":

"A liquid always conforms to the shape of it's container."

You are the liquid.
The container is the space between your feet touching the ground and whatever part is touching the other person.
If you are "like water", your body conforms to that shape at all times.

"The pressure is the same in all parts of a hydraulic system".

If you are "like water", your body behaves like a hydraulic system. The pressure that your foot puts on the ground is exactly the same pressure that your partner feels at any point on your body that makes contact; hand, elbow, shoulder, etc.
If the pressure of your foot pushing against the ground is not the same as the pressure at the point of contact, it got "stuck" somewhere. There is an unnecessary point of rigidity somewhere in your body. Something needs to "liquefy".

These are a few ideas that have helped me a great deal.

Warren Fox said...

Thank you very much for your comment. I see there is a big diffeence however between your translation of Wu Wei and mine. In bagua the first thing to move is always the feet or legs. Nothing can begin without these movements, but I guess we focus on the "water movement" starting from legs and not just the body.

Michael said...

I feel it's more likely to be describing the same thing from a different perspective.
To me the differences between TCM styles like taijichuan and wing chun and shaolin are mostly cosmetic. Just like a Volkwagon bug looks very different from a Ford pickup truck, but their both based on the principles of an internal combustion engine.
You'd have to show me what you mean to find out if there really is a difference.
I just started working out with a bagua guy from Halifax, maybe I'll ask him about it.