By John D Bracy

Create this image in your mind: a bus load of classic looking Ba Gua masters, just the way they would look in a Hollywood martial arts movie. Some are bald, some sport classical "master-like" beards, many wear the trademark blue jacket customary to a generation of older Chinese, all of them represent the different styles of Ba Gua. They are all smiling and talking to each other as they bounce along in a rickety Chinese bus on the way to lunch. While I've asked you to imagine this picture, this was just one of the many unforgettable images from my recent trip to China.

In September I traveled to Beijing to attend the Second Annual International Ba Gua Conference. Being the only American instructor in attendance, my Chinese hosts treated me as a royal guest. The best seats at dinners and special events were reserved for me. Everyone was supportive and friendly, not only toward me but to all the other attendees, regardless of Ba Gua style or affiliation. We have a lot to learn from our Chinese Ba Gua brethren.

Although promoted as an international conference, the "international" aspect consisted of one American, three Brazilians, one South Korean, and a handful of Japanese and North Koreans (additional representation included one Swede who took part in the competition phase). The participants numbered about 200; those actively involved were predominantly male with an age

Dong Energy Jacket

Li Chang Hua of Shan Dong Province with his "master-like" beard and "trademark" blue jacket range from 10 to 86 years. The event was organized in this manner:

Day One - Discussion Day Two - Competitions

Day Three - Field trip to Dong Hai Chuan's home in An Wei

Day Four - Presentation of papers on Ba Gua and related subjects, closing ceremony's and formal dinner

Day Five - Master's demo and group picture taking.

Day 1: Registration & Discussion Period

The schedule for day one was listed as an informal discussion period. What this really meant was that everyone hung around the parking lot. There was not much interaction between teams and groups and there was no organized meeting. However, for me, because of the openness and free access to Ba Gua seniors, whose years of experience often matched or surpassed my age, the arrangement was great.

Everyone there was approachable, even my very limited Chinese language ability; a smile goes a long way; also a friend and a part time translator came in handy. For anyone planning to attend this event in the future note that no translators were available so you should consider arranging for one if you don't speak at least some Chinese. For the Ba Gua enthusiast, this "discussion period" is a dream come true. Teachers and practitioners from all over China brought together in one parking lot created a grand supermarket of kung fu masters. You could find anything you wanted here. Fast Ba Gua, no problem; slow Ba Gua, no problem; exotic weird looking styles, just look on aisle 3. How about "Tai Ji Ba Gua?" One teacher had his students showing off this style to me, at least until I asked too many (nice) questions and he looked away which was the cue for one of his senior students to come up and talk to me (run interference). It was clear that they didn't want too many questions asked about the particular lineage.

Another teacher exhibited what I called the "Spock" (Startrek) method. This approach was demonstrated by Hu Po Luan. To demonstrate this method of Ba Gua, the teacher began with the shaking of his entire frame, moving into the classic Ba Gua guard stance all the while continuing to shake and ending up with the extended palm being in the characteristic finger-spread-into-a "V" salute. When queried about the purpose of this technique he became vague. He said

Liang Quan

Hu Po Luan demonstrating his Ba Gua Zhang method at the conference that it was too difficult to explain the purpose.

Pan Xue Ju was one of the two principle coordinators of the event. According to Pan, the purpose of the event was to develop and spread Traditional Chinese kung fu to the world. Expecting some deep philosophical insight, I asked Pan what, in his opinion, was the common underlying principle of Ba Gua Zhang, his answer was simple and the obvious: "walking practice done in a circle while every part of the body conforms to the circle." In regards to correct vs. incorrect practice of the art, Pan said that usability was the most important factor in determining "correctness." His opinion of the stylistic performance "Wu Shu" Ba Gua methods was that these were centered on health, not martial values. His advice for American practitioners: "select teachers and practice according to one's needs." Pan said that in this regard it is important to discriminate between usability or health goals when choosing a style, approach, or teacher.

The methods exhibited as large a range as the ages. Some practiced and competed with slow, Tai Ji-like,

Zhang Liang Quer

Liang Zhen Pu Stylist Li Chang Hua demonstrates his Ba Gua Zhang internal qi gong focus and determination, some with fast and furious movements, which appeared extremely effective, not unlike a tiger on the chase. As noted above, this was not a conference for adults only. A large children's team came from the area of Dong Hai Chuan's hometown. This group consisted of boys and girls that ranged from 10 to 15 years of age.

On man that impressed me was Li Chang Hua, a 70 year old practitioner from Shan Dong Province and of the Liang Zhen Pu lineage. His teacher was Liang's famous student Guo Gu Ming (see Pa Kua Chang Journal, Volume 4, Number 3, page 22). His movements were quick paced, with celerity and agility betraying his age. His technique was fast in skill, exhibited with impressive precision, fast changing and no doubt highly usable. It took him only 44 years of practice to reach this height. ( I should have known by his distinctive beard that he shared some Ba Gua family relationship to Vince Black.)

Day 2: Official Opening

Kang Ge Wu, the event co-chairman, declared the official beginning of the conference at a grand banquet presented at a nearby hotel. Television cameras were present and several important officials attended the dinner and gave speeches, among them were Xu Tia, Chairman of martial arts in China and China Olympic committee member. Also present were the Beijing Martial Arts committee members, Li Zi Ming's daughter, and others. I had to be vigilant for the occasional pan of the T.V. camera so to be alert when one of those token shots of the White man from the West would be taken that I wouldn't be shown eating too fast or slouching

Author, John Bracy, with the event coordinator Pan Xue Ju

John Bracy

Author, John Bracy, demonstrates his Ba Gua Zhang in the competition over. Once when I was engaged in conversation with Jerry Lin, my trusty translator, Xu Tai, the aforementioned Chairman, appeared with several other dignitaries behind me for a press photographer who appeared in front at the same time. The novelty of being treated as if I was a celebrity eventually got tiresome.

Day 3: Competitions

As I walked into the warm-up area packed with Ba Gua practitioners on the morning of the competitions my first thought was that there must be an official uniform for Ba Gua in China. More than 80% of the competitors wore an entirely white flowing "silk" style uniform. In the United States I am used to small groups of Ba Gua stylists at tournaments. Imagine the feeling of being in a large competition arena, the setting equal to the largest of martial arts tournaments, with the difference that there were only Ba Gua practitioners.

In the morning was the Ba Gua solo form competitions with divisions being established for children, young adults (under 45) and older adults. The afternoons were devoted to weapons and two-man routines. Just as in the other phases of the conference, easiness and feeling of cooperation characterized the event, with no evidence of problems between various sects. I stopped and spoke with one instructor accompanied by two young competitors. He wanted to get our picture taken together and felt no hesitation whatsoever in interrupting a nearby competition entrant and asking him to take our picture. Keep in mind that they didn't know each other and the man was in the middle of practicing his routine and preparing for competition. I thought that the man would be irritated or angry because of the interruption, but to the contrary, he happily assisted us with the photograph. I couldn't imagine this degree of comfortableness and good feelings (especially when interrupted in the middle of a routine) in my country's Ba Gua or other martial circles.

In Ba Gua competitions in China, the possibilities are endless. Competitions are intermixed between slow styles, fast styles, wu shu styles, even highly acrobatic styles featuring rolls, tumbling and inverted positions with legs kicking and spinning in the air with the shoulders on the ground. Recently there has been much discussion about Ba Gua stepping variations and methods in U.S. martial arts literature. From what I saw in the competitions and the demonstrations that followed most used the same basic step with nothing much special about it. This might have been due to the nature of the floor (industrial grade carpet) or other factors.

Gua Zhang Styles

Park Seong Ju, from Korea, demonstrates his Ba Gua Zhang in the competition

Dong Hai Chuan
Dong Hai Chuan's family home

Day 3: Field Trip

Fortunately my stomach was upset the morning of the field trip and I was unable to attend. I did not have to endure the 3 1/2 hour and the 4 1/2 hour bus rides to and from Wen An and the home of Dong Hai Chuan. However, it was a major event for Dong's town. Dong Hai Chuan's family home was the main attraction. The home town village made a grand presentation. Everyone came out for the event; flag waving children lined the streets as the conference buses came and the mayor and province officials were there to make speeches. A model of a planned Dong Hai Chuan Ba Gua training center was unveiled. Detailed plans and financial solicitations were made the following day during the paper presentation. According to one person on the trip it seemed that persons appearing to be nonChinese were not allowed to take pictures of the Dong house and locality.

In regards to the future training center, the part of the income producing the master plan that disturbed me is that they plan to move Dong's tomb to the central part of the training center. Revenue is expected to arrive via tourists and training groups similar to the way the "Shaolin Temple" and "monks" currently receive income.

Day 4: Presentation of Papers

About ten speakers presented papers on a wide range of material during day four of the conference. Zhang Shou Lin spoke on the relationship of Ba Gua Zhang to the Yi Jing. According to Zhang, Ba Gua and the other internal arts, especially Tai Ji, share underlying philosophical roots. Of interest in Zhang report is his feelings that the eight guas of the Ba Gua relate to the eight "turns" of the body; those being the turning at the wrist, neck, elbow, shoulder, middle torso, knee, and ankle. Each joint being exercised thru and conforming to the "rounding" in the Ba Gua circle walking method.

Bagua Circle Walking

A model of the Dong Hai Chuan martial arts school

A Mr. Guo presented detailed plans for the Dong Hai Chuan training facility to be built in the founder's hometown. Of all the martial arts tests I have gone through, enduring his 45 minute speech was one of the more difficult. At the end of his speech there was a display of those who came forward, cash in hand, wanting to be among the first donors. I don't know if it was my imagination or not, but I had the distinct impression that (since everyone knows all American carry bundles of excess cash at all times, always trying to figure out what to do with the money) that everyone expected me to donate a large sum of cash. Later the speaker approached me. I can't say for sure, but he seemed a little miffed when I wished him luck without making a contribution.

The presentation that most interested me was by Zhang Shui Long who analyzed Ba Gua physical mechanics. Zhang reported on a way to symbolically represent Ba Gua power and use of force principles. Zhang feels that for efficient power and ability to apply to Ba Gua in combat that the body should be angled and not held perfectly straight up and down. According to Zhang, a perfectly vertical posture causes dispersal of power. He contrasts this to a posture which holds a slight angle in one direction which allows concentration of power through the slight angle, and concentration of force along the newly emerging axis. (I got a copy of Zhang's paper and diagrams and will submit it in a later article after I have it translated.)

Chinese conferences can be challenging. In one case a long, pre-recorded speech of someone who was unable to attend played on a tape recorder. Ten minutes into the speech most stopped pretending to be interested. After about 20 minutes someone showed mercy by turning off the tape. I felt sorry for the young children who were forced to sit through most of this and the other presentations.

Day 5: Masters Demonstrations and Pictures

Again the weird feeling strikes me of being in the midst of some 200 Ba Gua practitioners. Among the demonstrations that were impressive or particularly interesting were eighty-one year old Di Zhao Long wielding a heavy Ba Gua broadsword and a two person demonstration by Sha Guo Cheng's son and his son's wife.

There were several representations of Ba Gua quite unlike anything I had seen before. One elderly man showed off his Ba Gua skill in the form of creating a human perpetual motion machine. His perpetual motion consisted of rapid fire, tightly wound steps of kou bu and bai bu done in a tight circle without pause or stops. This whirling dervish looked as if he could not stop even if he wanted to (it went on for a while and he looked quite content - no variations just kou bu, bai bu, kuo bu and so forth in one circular direction in the classic Ba Gua guard posture). Eventually, the chief judge ended the display by saying ""had" (good), the demonstration then ended and the next performer was able to take the floor.

At the conclusion of the master's demonstrations there was a mass picture taking ceremony. After the picture taking we all returned to the auditorium and that's where the bedlam and the true Ba Gua were apparent as at least a hundred Ba Gua competitors charged the table while pushing and shoving to obtain their certificates of participation and place indicators.

Who Attended and Who Didn't

When I first contacted my Ba Gua "family" in Beijing to tell them that I was planning to attend, I was surprised to learn that no one from my immediate family was planning to be there. In fact, some family members tried to discourage me from attending, saying the event was just a money making endeavor. My teacher, Liu Xing Han (undoubtably, at 86, one of the oldest Ba Gua masters in China - See Pa Kua Chang Newsletter, Vol. 1, Number 1) wrote a note to the chairman saying that he would attend if a car was sent for him. During the event, no special arrangements were made and Liu did not attend. Also missing was Liang Ke Quan (see Pa Kua Chang Journal, Volume 4, Number 4), and many of Beijing's other well known older generation masters. Once source, who refused to be identified, said that they didn't particularly want senior instructors who complained too much or too loudly to attend. Obviously there must be many other senior Ba Gua Zhang instructors who did not attend the conference. Thus, it could be argued that the conference did not represent all perspectives on Ba Gua in China.

In Conclusion

This event brought Ba Gua stylists together from all over China. Meeting so many enthusiasts of the Art I love was rewarding so, for me, attending the conference was a positive event (although once was enough). It was good to see so many Ba Gua people together and to see everyone getting along so well. It was also nice to be spoiled and treated like royalty for a few days.

Instructor addresses from the back page of the Pa Kua Chang Journal were provided to the event organizer. He promised to send information and invitations for next year's event to everyone listed.

John Bracy has been practicing Chinese martial arts for over 28 years and has been teaching traditional kung fu at the Hsing Chen School of Chinese Martial Arts in Orange County, CA since 1976. He holds a B.A. in psychology and in 1981-82 did graduate research in Taipei, Taiwan into psycho-therapeutic applications of acupuncture. He has traveled to mainland China, both by himself and with his students, on numerous occasions to study with his Ba Gua Zhang teacher, Liu Xing Han of Beijing. He was featured, along with his teacher, in the Pa Kua Chang Newsletter, Volume 1, Number 1.

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