Thursday, April 5, 2012
The Evolution Of Bagua
I have been honored and invigorated on my Bagua path of training, researching and understanding. It has become one of the greatest tool's that God has given to me. I can not let a day pass that I have not polished and appreciated these treasures that I have received. With my pleasure comes the pressure of retaining and passing this art to the new generation. This presents many challenges that masters of the past were not in contact with. At a time of war, it was never necessary to convince people the effectiveness of the art. At a time of war people are focused on survival, not theory.
Today's martial arts world is consumed with theories of which style is best or more effective. It is because they are not using the art that they have so much time for questions. Even in China they argue over the "ABC's" of a style's movements. "That doesn't look like Bagua!" I have heard from many other bagua practitioners from different lineages. I am faced with the same frustration as Bruce Lee as I try to explain that the "AbC's" of the arts are meant for writing, not comparing.
All of the arts could be used to write books, poems or anything that the practitioner can imagine, yet most martial artist's waste the majority of time discussing the little differences of theory and application. When you spend so much time debating, it distracts and eventually discourages you from your own training.
If your concern is combat then the solution is really quite simple. Look at every attack as a mathematical equation such as 5+7=12. 5 represents the initial attack and 7 represents the counter giving you the result you desire 12. If 12 means that we have incapacitated our opponent, then it would be wise to train the other possible numbers that may come at you. If someone approaches me with a 2, then my counter must be 10 in order to put my opponent down. All of the techniques have been written down precisely to help each martial artist reach their ideal equation, which is why no art needs to be changed. Why change math?
Yet if you are working at the cashier when someone gives you a number you must produce the math quickly and automatically. If there is a long line, there is no time to write down the information or discuss theories. Just as in combat, you must react in a timely and natural fashion. If your mind is on the process of the technique, you will certainly end up losing your job.
The majority of people do not like math because it forces your brain to except what at first may seem unnatural. Modern day fighters hate to think and it is reflected in both how they train and use their art.
Let's take a look at Dong Hai Chuan, the "founder" of Bagua. It is pointless to get into too much detail about his history because he was so mysterious that not even his pupils could make out everything about him. We do know that he incorporated the circle and that he taught in the Imperial Palace where his techniques were discovered. He was noticed as he was carrying large trays while moving through enormous crowds both easily and gracefully.
This let's us understand that the root of Bagua is in its footwork and its ability to move with great balance and purpose. Dong had a lot of experience with other martial arts and was rumored to be an outlaw (which is why many people believed that he began working in the palace, as a means to hide in plain site) How would this situation affect the way he practiced and used his art?
Dong taught to 57 students and some of them were more renowned: Yin Fu, Ma Wei Qi, Cheng Ting Hua and Ma Gui. These students differed dramatically in size, status and previous martial arts experience which also affected Bagua's direction.
Ma Wei Qi had a violent temper and had little respect for those other than Dong (After Dong defeated him) He was an expert with the spear and very keen in his understanding of combat. Yet his attitude caused many of his students to fear to ask him questions which meant his art could not be passed along easily. He also had a successful coal company which would affect how necessary it was for him to teach Bagua.
Ma Gui also had a very successful company in lumber. Just as today, if you are making money, how hard do you really need to train or teach?
So even though Dong had 57 students, the two styles that are more widely known today re Yin Style and Gao ( which came through Cheng Ting Hua.)
Yin Fu and Cheng Ting Hua were also very different in the way they practiced their Bagua. Dong felt it was better to teach bagua more as an enhancement, not just a style. So we could look at Bagua as the engine of the car, but the car itself can vary in many ways. Because I don't have time to explain the whole history of Bagua, I will stay within the realms of my own style (Gao Style Bagua)
Cheng Ting Hua was formerly a wrestling expert who also specialized using a heavy broadsword. When he met Dong he was unable to touch him and became his 3rd student (or 4th). He trained with Dong for 6 years before Dong passed away. This left Cheng Ting Hua with the responsibility to continually train and research Bagua based on his understanding of the art. We can see his wrestling background as well as his previous experience in the broadsword in the art today. This means if Cheng Ting Hua had learned Muay Thai before meeting Dong, today we would see a lot more harder low kicks in Bagua.
Cheng Ting Hua also had "students" who were Xing Yi master's. He didn't feel comfortable calling them students because they were to close together in age to himself. So he suggested that they later say they learned from Dong Hai Chuan. Cheng Ting Hua was killed during the boxer rebellion, where in an unclear dispute he killed 8 armed soldiers with two daggers before being shot down. (From this we know that Cheng Ting Hua's Style contained daggers)
Before he was killed he taught to a student named Gao Yi Sheng. Gao Yi Sheng was introduced by another student named Zhou Yu Xiang. Zhou Yu Xiang had beaten Gao in combat 3 times before taking him to see his master Cheng Ting Hua. Gao studied with Cheng and Zhou both until Cheng Ting Hua passed 4 years later. Gao also studied Xing Yi which we can see easily as we look into the 64 palms that were added by Gao.
Now we see that the art of Bagua has changed in many ways in only three generations. This is partially because the art of Bagua is an equation that can be used as an enhancement, but it is also due to the experience of each fighter. I read that Gao added the 5th and 6th section (16 movements) based on his knowledge of Xing Yi. Technically he could have added anything, but because he knew what was already tried and true kung fu, he added Xing Yi. With today's mentality, people would have told him, "That's not Bagua!"
Gao had thousands of students all across China. Because he came from a home that had lost their fortune at an early age, he valued the financial possibilities of Bagua. His hometown in Shan Dong was infested with bandits and he worked as a body guard at the house of my masters father, Wu Jin Yuan.
Wu Jin Yuan was only 8 years old at the time Gao stayed with them. Yet his training was a daily routine that consisted of every piece of Bagua Gao had attained for the next ten years. Because Wu Jin Yuan was so young when he had first touched such a complex art, in rewired his thinking and ability to attain information. He was the first one in our lineage who didn't have previous martial arts experience and was able to be completely empty as he retained Gao Bagua. When he was eighteen he then went on to learn more arts including " The Stealth Tiger Saber, Qing Ping Sword, Strange Spear, Baji, Taiji, etc. He used the reverse method of knowing only Bagua, but then using other styles as an enhancement.
In fact I know we use the Stealth Tiger Saber instead of the Bagua Saber because of a duel that took place and the Stealth Tiger Saber was stronger. This is not to say that one saber or style is more effective than another because it always comes down to the man in the end. I'm just trying to show you how the art has evolved and is still evolving because of the people who touch it.
Wu Jin Yuan can be found in another article on my blog if you are interested. I'm just laying down a rough bagua outline. When Wu Jin Yuan came to Taiwan he taught to the military in Xin Zhu for forty years. When you are teaching to the military everything must be tried and true, there is no room for theory. Forty years of teaching would make you not only a master of the art, but also a master teacher. Wu Jin Yuan's son Wu Guo Zheng had no problem absorbing all of the information from his father. The only problem being that how do you pass thousands of movements to a society that doesn't have the patience to learn one?
Every master has had their specialties, strengths and problems that they had to come to understand. All of these factors have heavily affected the shape of Bagua itself. I am perhaps the most different from the previous successors of my art, but in no way do I intend to change the mathematics that have handed to me. I still have a lot to learn about the art of Bagua and better developing my ability. You are witnessing me at the beginning of a 60 year journey. Still it would be foolishness for me to throw out the 20 years of experience that God has already given me. All Bagua tree's will grow very differently, but the fruit must remain the same.
My background in martial arts has always lead me to focus on how to immediately apply the art to combat. It is because of my experience as a child in a dangerous environment that I have always had to prioritize the effectiveness of each technique. I can tell you that if you bind yourself to a theory without understanding the fire of combat, you will be unable to bear the heat of real battle. Combat is something that is alive and can not accept forced mathematical equations. Just like the cashier you must learn to respond to what the customer has ordered. If you try to use an equation just because you feel like it, you will be badly distracted from the living flames.
On the other hand we can not become as out of control as the fire around us and pretend we live in a universe with no math. We must be empty and accepting even as we do battle. Accept the fact that this fray will take place and calmly make the right decisions for your opponent.