Friday, February 20, 2009

How to Practice Bagua Well

How to practice Bagua well

By Wu Guo Zheng
Translated by Warren Fox

(Original Chinese Doc at: )

“How to practice good Bagua”, many years before at Cultural Studies University in the martial arts studies program, teacher Yang Zheng Long invited me to do a presentation for the 4th year students who would soon be graduating. Of course this text only mentions a few parts of that days speech. However there are a few additional points that I have made given more time, careful thought and preparation. Where as the original speech was more than two hours long. So keep this in mind.
Actually to practice Bagua well is the same as practicing any form of kung fu well. The key components are to have kung fu (discipline), an instructor, a method of understanding and most importantly mental training.
Regarding the discipline and development, it depends on the individual. Kung fu to say it simply is “time”. But in a modern day working society everyone is busy with commitments such as work or school. When does anyone have time to take off and practice martial arts? Or even if you do have time, who has the energy left to do any exercise? Well I feel that as long as we have our mind focused we can handle the challenges one by one. In actuality we can find time everyday, we just have to develop habits in our lifestyle. Lifestyle habits mean that everyday at this time I have to get this done. Just the same as everyday at noon you have to eat lunch, and in the evening you have to eat dinner. Just as if you skip dinner, your body can’t handle it. Or maybe its every morning you have to read your newspaper, if you don’t you feel that you have been missing something all day, you feel uneasy about it. It’s the same thing when we practice martial arts. First by developing the set routine whether its morning, evening, or night to set a time aside for exercise. Then it quite naturally becomes a part of your life.
Once this becomes a life style habit there is no need to blame yourself if you miss a day. Because your biological reaction will tell you directly “Today I am missing something.” For the lifestyle habits that you have, you don’t need to make 100,000 reasons why you don’t have time to do it do you? So you must make martial arts a part of your life.
For me training for so many years it quite naturally became a part of my life. Since I came in contact with it after I finished middle school every evening doing kung fu training has become a part of my life.
All of you are senior university students and soon you will be faced with having to go the military. I can tell you once you’re in the military your time is no longer free. At that time all of your time will be controlled by military. So it won’t be easy to find a little time for yourself to practice kung fu. Luckily for me when I was a soldier I was station out in Jinmen. At the time my occupation was a trainer which meant that sometimes in the morning I had a chance to ride my bike about 3 kilometers away. Because of this I could utilize this precious time to ride my back to practice TaiChi. Everyone knows that in Jinmen the roads are all flat and there are very few cars. As soon as it was light I would take my bike into the fog and practice. It was an experience that left a great impression on me. Also when you’re a soldier there are times when everyone has to stand guard. Every time I had to stand guard I would review every technique that I had learned in my head. Today many of my students ask me how I can retain so much information with out forgetting and I respond, “Even when the teacher is not moving, he is still training.” But remember this is an important method of training. Sometimes it is the only method that you have available.
Let me also mention I was a former student of this university with my degree in tourism. Which means that when I left the army, I had to spend most of my time dealing with this career. I wanted to just be a full time martial artist but it was a dream that was too distant. Everyday my time was very limited and it didn’t allow me the chance to really get deep into my training. At this time I felt very conflicted. There wasn’t enough time to do my job and kung fu together. I mentioned this to my older kung fu brother. It just so happened that at that time he was involved in stocks. He told me the schedule for the employees at the securities and bonds company and suggested I change career paths.
As soon as I heard this it seemed that I had been sleeping and had finally awoke. For martial artist, a career is a moment in time, kung fu is our entire life. So with the encouragement of my brothers I quickly changed career paths. Employees at the securities and bonds companies finish work in the afternoon. So I have a lot more time to work with. At first I would double my training everyday to make up for the time that I had lost. After all the body has limitations, but everyday I would push those limits to the brink. Even when I was exhausted from training from the previous day, I felt I was still obligated to train much like a student should always attend class. Later I was able to completely put into practice the idea of training becoming a full part of my life.
In what I have observed in all my years in Baguazhang, I have seen that there needs to be an exceptionally good teacher along side the student to keep him from taking the wrong direction. Especially for beginning students. If they don’t have an instructor who can guide them through their learning it may be painfully difficult for them to grasp a true understanding. In the Gao style of Bagua (Soft Body Repeating Hands) the content is considerably vast. You have Ba Da, Pre Heaven movements, Dragon tail (with many fighting systems), 64 post heaven movements, 64 reversals, 64 fighting applications, over 18 weapons, 25 special steps of footwork, its really quite a marvel. Without a capable instructor as well as a dedicated student, its not so easy to learn. In addition if you really want to learn Bagua well, you need to have kung fu brothers or sisters to help you. People who are at similar levels of experience and also of similar shape and size.
For Soft Body Repeating Hands Bagua, you have to have a partner. Why is it important to have a person to pair with for Bagua? You have to have someone to trade hands with.
Everyone knows when you are practicing alone you can use as much speed or force as your heart desires. If you want to practice fast its ok or slow is also fine. But you need the external pressure from another person to give the needed rush of combat. That is the main point of this line of Bagua. Without a person to work with both your internal and external power will have limits on their development. Vitality and explosive power will progress too slowly. Being familiar with reaction and sensitivity is almost impossible develop on ones own. These are the challenges one faces while training on their own.
Training with a partner however is quite different. You can develop your breath, vitality and internal power. You can also cross weapons too develop in even more areas. Lung strength, exploding power and external power can all be emphasized. Also the reversals or diverting energy has a much deeper level of thinking than just the 64 applications. By practicing these with a partner you can be sure to obtain these meanings. If you practice these reversals and diverting energy with a person, later on you can practice by yourself and still grow and develop a deeper understanding of the attacking and defending techniques. Great Grandmaster Gao created the Bagua staff and Bagua spear systems which can only be practiced with two people in order to understand distance and timing. You can practice it by yourself but will realize that it has a much different feeling. Especially with the movements of the spear, if you practice by yourself it is too difficult to see the real application.
Practicing martial arts aside from the way of the eyes, body, method and footwork it is most important to practice in your mind. You have to carefully examine and think upon every detail that your teacher shows to you. Its also a good idea to take notes and draw diagrams. The memory has many limitations. It is not possible to remember every word that the teacher shows you when its so overwhelming at times. So taking notes in addition to practicing over and over again is the only way to retain all of the information.
Even when we are doing normal practice our mind should have three different concepts. Where the opening is when I am attacking, how can the attack Im doing be parried and how can I parry the incoming attack. Using this thought with all of the 64 techniques teaches you not only how to use the movement but the precise knowledge of the tactic itself. From any angle, or height or position you should use your mind to train the technique fully.