Just as a seasoned boxer amid combat, who no longer thinks about throwing a hook or a jab, he is merely reacting to openings and the needed technique arises at the appropriate time. Using the same analogy, it's most important to stay with the parameters of your art when delivering or taking a blow, the same way a boxer must remember to keep his hands up after being hit. It is the mark of a undeveloped fighter to abandoned what he's learned once he's in trouble. Not only does taking a blow while maintaining your stance teach you where your openings are, it also teaches you to rely on the physics of your system. You will eventually need to stop doing Bagua movements and become Bagua itself. in order to move fluently.
It's also important to remember that each of the eight sections of Bagua has a counter section that compliments the other's strategy. Heaven is the opposite of Earth, Fire is the opposite Water, Wind is the opposite of Lake and Mountain the opposite of Thunder. A Mountain is enormous and silent, whereas Thunder is loud and invisible. The Lake is contained and deep, whereas Wind can't be held in any container. Understanding the nature of each section allows you to pair the opposite movements with each other to find hidden components within the transitions of the techniques. In short, research movements from opposite sections simultaneously for a deeper understanding of flow, problem-solving and combat strategy.
Thunder Section: The Thunder Section is called the "Way of the Body" as it emphasizes using the body in its entirety for offensive and defensive purposes instead of focusing on any particular limb as in the Way of Striking(Heaven Section) , the Way of the Hands (Water Section) and so on. Energy is channeled into the desired areas by changing the shape of the body through coiling, expanding, closing, opening, sinking, rising, twisting and untwisting. The range of every movement can be adjusted, making it possible to strike in fashions both obvious and invisible. In time, the practitioner will no longer have to think about punching, kicking, elbowing or any particular technique. Whatever part of the body that touches the opponent will go bang.
Tui- Tui is the Pushing Palm and the 25th of the 64 palms. It begins by absorbing the oncoming attack through raising the front leg and bringing in both hands and knee to the center. After the energy of the attack has been redirected to the ground, the practitioner extends the body into a long stance, thrusting dual fists into the opponent's nose, then quickly whipping the hands outwardly, planting the fore knuckles into the opponent's temple, jaw, eyes or throat. As the opponent stumbles back, a small t-step in an angle is taken to whip the rear hand into a circular grasping motion to prevent the opponent from falling or retreating. A slight downward yanking pressure occurs as the rear foot pulls to the front, angling toward the opponent's side. Then he is forced in the opposite direction of the yank with dual outward curving palms.
a. The first movement of Tui, is excellent for forcing back an opponent who is shooting in, much like a sprawl for a wrestler. However because of the positioning of the technique, if the opponent continues to drive forward, allow him in by rolling around his spine while capturing the neck. Use the split in the legs to scissor him and hold him in a choke from the rear or side. I'm not a fan of grappling in real combat scenarios, yet one should never avoid going to the ground if it's the next best move.
b. With dexterous footwork, Tui is probably one of the best ways to explode through or redirect energy back into the target . Sink the weight into the foot through the hips and fire into the opponent, much like a football player tackling a target. However the key to making this movement work effectively is where you plant your foot as the attacker comes toward you. Be sure to respond to the presented range and step exactly where you need to in order to absorb the energy. If your step is too short, you will topple over. If your step is too big, you will give the opponent too much time to recover. Imitate the size of your opponent's step with your own, which leads to another important strategy referred to as "Ghost Stepping."
c. The last portion of this movement: the t-step to the side with the whipping circle grab, stands alone as an excellent tool. Be sure to practice this movement as well as the rest of the components of this technique separately to obtain extra skills that may prove more useful than the main point of the movement itself. Also practice each component of each technique utilizing different footwork, i.e. a retreating step, crouching step, spinning step or even for ground fighting.
Tuo- Tuo is the Supporting Palm and the 26th of the 64 palms. Tuo begins by making the hips fade back out of range of the attack while sinking the weight in a deep posture as the wrist guides the oncoming punch or kick toward the ground. As the practitioner drops the weight down, the hips circle forward slightly, snapping the wrist upward from underneath the attack, pressing the opponent's limb both upward and backward. In one motion, the practitioner takes a large step forward to send the opponent flying back with a single palm or takedown.
a. The magic of this movement as with many movements is in the wrist. By learning to control the wrist with the hips, you are able to keep a strong frame of defense while the hands force openings in the opponent's guard. Be sure to keep the elbow inward along the center line so that the elbow will block or deflect the attack if the opponent is faster than you can perceive.
b. This movement works well against hand attacks, but you must have a keen understanding of how the body rises and sinks without compromising your own guard. Still, this movement is an excellent way to send a kicker onto his neck. But if it's a round kick, be sure to use footwork to adjust the foot and body to a position to absorb the impact without cracking a rib. Either trap his leg before it extends at the thigh or just above the knee; or step to the place where he is over extended and capture the leg as the power is mostly exhausted.
c. This movement done with the elbows instead of the wrists is a thing of beauty. Sink the weight atop the target and crush it with the elbow or use the elbow in circular fashion to wrap the attack, allowing you to capture the threat and use an inside elbow to counter as you send him away. This movement can also be done with the shoulder, but only with students of more masterful footwork and sensitivity. Otherwise it's just a fancy way to take a punch to the eye.
Dai- Dai is the Taking Palm and the 27th of the 64 palms. The body extends into a long stance to greet the oncoming attack at its root with both hands. After the attack is stopped, the hands circle while yanking on the back of the elbow and bicep, pulling the opponent into the practitioner's grasp, facing the wrong direction. The arm locks around the neck as the practitioner drops his weight to the floor while pivoting in a circle, which slams the opponent on his head or upper back.
a.In the form, this movement is followed up by a turning strike to the ribs and then and a follow up stepping strike to finish. However, this movement is added in the case the opponent slips his head out of the choke slam. Still, you will find that this follow up counter is very useful for a number of movements as it uses the turning spin as a coil and can deliver damage in the form as a ducking counter followed by a turning attack or back strike.
b. Dai also works great by replacing the choke slam with an elbow strike to the back or side of the neck. Just pull the opponent in with the first part of the movement, and turn with the hips to launch a powerful attack to the blind spot before he can orient himself. Depending on the angle of the initial yank, the elbow can be horizontal or come down vertically.
c. The grabbing circle of Dai is designed to grab the opponent's opposite hand, but it works well on both sides, making it a great counter for multiple possibilities. The stepping grab works well for deflecting a one-two combinations even more effectively than against a single attack. Just step in with the hands extended and the elbows tight to parry or deflect the first movement. As the second movement comes, step back while grasping that arm underneath the elbow and put the opponent into the machine. Truth is that most people in the street are coming with a one-two so it's best to have every movement ready for the possibility.
Ling- Ling is the Leading Palm and the 28th of the 64 palms. While evading toward the side, the lead or rear hand makes a small circle parry with the forearm that transitions into a grasp around the wrist of the oncoming attack. Three quick steps are taken around the opponent towards the rear while dragging his hand across his body. As the third step hits the ground, the hips yank the opponent in the opposite direction with a horizontal motion while using an explosive half step to strike the center line with a dual palm.
a. This running step can be done with any one number of steps: 1, 3 or 5. 3 steps is ideal for a short burst, but a single step is a great way to trap the opponent's second attack against itself. Just be sure the steps continue to surround the attacker, so that it makes an attack from the rear hand an impossibility. If you allow too much space for your opponent to move, this will become a fancy way of getting punched in the eye.
b. By making the last step of the short burst a kou bu (inward pivot step), you can immediately change direction and confuse the opponent as you come behind him from the opposite direction. This is extremely effective if the pivot step is used at the exact time that the attacker is launching another attack. Use the pivot to dodge and then strike the newly made opening.
c. Ling is excellent if the hand grab is replaced with roping or scarf traps. Hold the rope in both hands and parry the attack while using the bursting step to drag the opponent in a circle.
Zhan- Zhan is the Staining Palm and the 29th of the 64 palms. Zhan meets the oncoming attack with a spearhand while using a horizontal circle in the hips, stepping forward to swing the rear hand into a palm strike that meets with either the attacking arm breaking the limb, or meeting with the jaw, neck or temple. After the palm strike lands, the same striking hand circles underneath the elbow of the opponent's extended hand. While clutching the elbow, a hidden palm buries into the sternum. As the attacker is knocked back, the hand that just landed clutches onto the same extended hand while the practitioner extends into a long stance and releases a finishing reverse knife hand blow to the throat, nose or eyes.
a. Zhan is called the Staining Palm because the initial spearhand does not stop the oncoming attack, but absorbs or invites it in, slightly rolling it around its desired target. This assures the correct range for the countering palm, beit to the head or limb. A spearhand that merely deflects this oncoming attack will void the follow up attacks.
b. Zhan works as an excellent counter to an upper body grapple attempt around the neck. As the opponent reaches forward, use the spearhand on the inside of one approaching hand as the following palm pushes in the same direction on the opposite elbow. By holding a low stance the opponent will be thrown over the lead leg.
c. The last part of Zhan, which is the long stance extending attack can be done separately from the beginning motions. With good timing, the practitioner can actually take a body blow to better grasp the opponent's striking hand as he fades back. This makes it much easier to snap the arm at close quarters, ensuring the hand has reached full extension. It's important to remember that when the range of the opponent changes, so does the limb that comes in contact with the attack. A break normally done with the palm will become a break done with the elbows or shoulders at closer range.
Lian- Lian is the Continuous Palm and the 30th of the 64 palms. This movement begins with a rising spearhand - on the lead hand - that meets the oncoming attack and immediately descends for a central grab atop the wrist or forearm. While grabbing, use three bursting steps forward as the hands continue in a circular motion. The first hand grabs atop the wrist, the second grabs the inside of the bicep trapping the arm and finally as the last step is reached, the first hand is released and extends horizontally forcing the elbow into the throat and slamming the opponent to the side.
a. This technique is not for beginning students as it requires great speed and control of both foot and hand work. Also spacing becomes the greatest issue while accelerating toward the opponent so the timing of this counter attack must be precise. However, variations of the technique can be done to make the technique easier to execute i.e. change the triple-burst step to a single step or stationary step and let the opponent's rushing energy trap himself.
b. This movement is traditionally taught so that the practioner uses three movements while the opponent is still in the middle of one. With practice and understanding of footwork it can be done effectively because it is actually only one motion in three parts. However, when faced with an opponent of equal skill it is important to realize the nature of these circular techniques: it's a moving shield. Much like the chain punch for the wing chun practitioner, this series of circle grabs can deflect numerous oncoming attacks. In fact, many masters prefer to use these three techniques against three oncoming attacks from a speedy attacker.
c.The first two movements of this technique is a trap. When the first movement is pulled down followed quickly by the rear hand, there is no room for the attacker to free his second hand. Using the horizontal takedown is the traditional method of this technique, however, once the opponent's arms have been pinned to his body, it's open season for whatever ever technique you've been itching to use.
Sui- Sui is the Following Palm and the 31st of the 64 palms. First the hips sink backward as the arm directs the strike just out of the way of the mid section. As the energy of the attack has been absorbed, the practitioner uses a half step while raising the opponent's attacking hand with the elbow to create a passage way to the ribs. The forward momentum of the opponent in addition to the half step of the practitioner will create additional force as the back of the hand and rear palm simultaneously smash into the rib cage. Once the opponent has been knocked back, the practitioner takes another step into a long stance while yanking on the opponent with one hand and burying another palm strike into the heart.
a. The initial part of this technique is one of the most handy tools in the Bagua tool box. Using good footwork and sinking motion while guiding the opponent's hand towards the area he intends to strike is one of the most cunning forms of deception. When done properly, it should feel like hitting a loose sheet, that fades away just before you can contact it. This spacing control is crucial because you give the attacker a sense of success that disappears at the last minute. Follow the attack as it retracts and you return his power to him 3 fold.
b. The second part of this attack consists of the rear hand reinforcing the back of the lead hand as it strikes the target. This is very "crouching tiger hidden dragon" and looks epic when you knock someone down. However, the power is not in the two handed strike, but the bowl that is created throughout the back, shoulders and lower back as the two hands meet. This attack can slide into someone's guard quite easily so be sure to practice it with all forms of footwork to access it easily. It should feel like your stomach is inflating your arms and the hands guide that power into a single point on the opponent's body.
c. The sinking weight motion of the following palm can be repeated with good footwork, much like the waves of the ocean. If you miss, keep your weight in the back and you can repeat while stepping forward and gain even more power on the second attack. Just be sure that you are dropping your center line atop his center line to stay a step ahead. If you are using the limbs of the body on any of the attacks of the Thunder Section without the connection to the core, you might as well be doing exotic slap boxing. Everything is connected, everything is twisting and untwising, everything is both central and circular.
Nian- Nian is the Sticky Palm and the 32nd of the 64 palms. Nian first draws back one one leg, much like a bow and arrow to guide the opponent's attack first down and then immediately upward as you step forward. A three-step bursting step follows, launching the hands toward the face of the opponent: first striking the nose with an inverted spearhand, then striking the eyes with a searching palm and finally striking the heart with a single palm that lands the practitioner in a deep stance.
a. Nian, as most of Bagua movements, is a move that is reserved for life or death situations. First you, break the nose, then blind the eyes before striking the heart. Do not use this technique in any superficial form of combat or you will go to jail. There, you will have plenty of opportunities to practice footwork to avoid shanks,skanks and pranks, but there are more rewarding paths to work your kung fu.
b. My master Wu Guo Zheng often reminded me that every movement of Bagua is supposed to be done with a blade in the hands. Whether you prefer deer antlers or as I call them Moon Daggers, or any other bladed item, this movement is pretty much unstoppable, unless the opponent has incredible footwork or a shield.
c. The bursting step forward can also change direction mid step. It takes a bit more practice, but it is well worth it as you can move to any angle or even backward to utilize unpredictable and at times automatic takedowns. If you haven't gotten the bursting step down by now, you need to go back and get it.