In bagua it is most important to understand how to use steps to manipulate your opponent. By stepping toward the attack we can jam it before it reaches its most powerful position. We can step back to let him waste energy by missing. We can also step in an angular trajectory allowing us to gain a favorable distance while the attack glances past us. This makes it so crucial for us to practice Kou and Bai bu which is almost like the steering wheel in a car.
The problem with learning to think with our feet is that initially it is unnatural. When we flinch, our hands come up and cover our face instinctively. Bagua means that you have to retrain mind so that we flinch with our feet instead. The next problem is that the step must be rooted and weight sunken in order to prevent stepping into a trap. If we are in mid step as the opponent attacks our weight must be lowered so that we are able to better roll off the projected energy. It is only arrogance to assume that we will always be ahead of our opponent and we must prepare to react and protect ourselves in more unexpected situations. There are countless ways to practice foot work from the 9 palaces, to the mud step. One recent discovery I have fallen in love with is step training on black ice.
Blue ice, white ice, snow and sleet all offer different advantages for stepping and balance. However nothing is quite as merciless as black ice. Only when your weight is properly placed in the back are you able to maintain a solid stance. Every movement will undoubtedly make you take a slip or an adjustment step. This slipping is good because the first part of this training is not only to maintain balance, but keeping focus of your attack while you are off balance. Learning to stay focused on the attack while you are about to fall will make all the difference when you get into a real live combat situation. It is the motion in between motions that will be the deciding factor while in a scrap.
In addition to understanding your balance you must also be aware of the subtle quickness necessary to avoid danger while practicing stepping. Once your legs are stopped, then all of your plans will go out the window. A good exercise for this is to have a partner (grappler) lay on his back while reaching for and sometimes holding on to your legs. Continue stepping through Kou and Bai bu, using the power in the hips to free yourself from his grasp. As you get loose it is crucial for your partner to continually grab for the other leg. This is great practice for both sides learning how to adapt to difficult circumstances. (This idea was developed by Hanzo, a great training partner.)
Sometimes a mistaken step can be recovered from, while other times the wrong step will end your fray. This is why I enjoy practicing thorn stepping. By creating barriers of loose thorns or just practicing in an area naturally covered in thorns, we force ourselves to become cautious of our every movement. Continue moving without stopping and always thinking about your hand attacks. If you make a mistake you will know immediately.
Another style of stepping training that is similar to thorns, is creek stepping. This is much more tranquil and by far the most relaxing of all of the stepping training. (If you don't fall in the creek) Stepping atop the rocks that occasionally move and sway in the water will force you to continually concentrate on your foot positioning. Try to think light thoughts and make sure that you are only focused on your hand techniques. After all if you must look at your feet to know your position, then you are no where near ready for combat. Stepping has to be just as natural as flinching.
Evasive stepping is illustrated in my video "Bagua vs the world 101 ways to train. You can find it on youtube. Yet a more effective way to train this exercise is to have someone continually stab at you with a staff or even spear. Binding the hands behind the back gets us used to not relying on our hands to free us from danger and makes it much easier for us to move when our hands our finally free.
Ok I think that is good for now. Train safely. Always start slowly until it is too easy. Then slowly add the heat of intent with every step.