Since beginning to teach in 1985, and having also gotten married and stopped spending my free time in bars, I am happy to say that I have not had to fight anyone. However, I had some relevant experiences in my younger days, and in more recent years have manoeuvred my way out of a couple of situations that could easily have become ugly if I had panicked or overreacted. In addition, I have witnessed a number of street fights, and this kind of real violence tends to spring out of nowhere. Unfortunately, you cannot always avoid violence by minding your own business.
There is a lot of truth to the statement: "A teacher who doesn't have experience in real world violence is next to worthless." Especially if that teacher claims to be teaching fighting or self-defence methods that are guaranteed to work under all conditions, and against any opponent. However, you can also argue that not having been in a serious fight since I started to achieve some skill shows that I have achieved some maturity and the ability to manoeuvre potentially bad situations into ones that were resolved without violence. Isn't one of the worthiest goals of martial arts training to transcend the need to come to blows?
Getting the most out of bagua as a martial system relies on many training methods to develop good basic combative skills—knowing how to close the distance between you and the other, being able to neutralise and yield as you counter-attack, and having some idea of how to deal with a variety of styles of attack: a puncher, a grabber, a thrower, or any combination thereof.
At the risk of being repetitive and pedantic, I will state that it is not possible to learn self-defence or combative skills that might work against a skilled or determined attacker without controlled contact and some form of spontaneous unrehearsed attacks, albeit in a controlled manner, with or without body armour.
Having this kind of training environment is difficult, as it requires one-on-one coaching or very small groups, and a willingness by both the attacker and the defender to escalate the "violence" only as much as each participant can manage at a given time in their development. In other words, there has to be a spirit of cooperation, even though this kind of training is not done cooperatively!
Finally, I would like to quote the words of Miyamoto Musashi, the famous mediaeval Japanese swordsman, who learned the hard way by surviving dozens of fights in which his opponents were often killed. His Book of Five Rings (from The Martial Artist's Book of Five Rings, as translated by Stephen F. Kaufman, Charles E. Tuttle Publishers, 1995) is a martial primer that is worth owning and rereading, as much of his advice is still relevant to the study of any effective combative art: "You cannot take a certain attitude and depend on it entirely. There are too many variations in attacks from the enemy. What you think is effective may in fact be ineffective because of the way in which the enemy is "feeling" at that particular moment. Your attitude must be such that you can shift into any other mode of combat without having to make a conscious decision. You must be flexible and have no particular liking for any particular set of techniques. „.If you do not develop this attitude, what are you doing there in the first place? Combat fighting is not done for fun. Even in practice sessions you must have the attitude of going in for the kill."
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