In self-defence the biggest obstacle to making the jump from the basic martial skills is learning how to make contact with the incoming force from an attacker. This always brings us back to the issue (I know, I keep harping on this, but it is an important issue that often gets glossed over, in North America at least) that most bagua practitioners in China in the old days, when the art was still primarily about fighting, were experienced martial artists who already understood the mechanics of timing and distance and were used to the thump-and-bump of physical contact on a variety of levels when they first were exposed to bagua.
For students such as these, sensitivity drills were designed to teach just that, and were not designed to teach the fundamentals of fighting. Nowadays, of course, most students of bagua have little or no relevant martial experience to bring to their sensitivity training, so it is less useful unless they are taught the martial basics either beforehand or concurrently with the sensitivity training. Speaking of useful old expressions hinting that the internal arts were not originally a New Age practice, two venerable ones in the Chinese martial arts are my favourites: "Not to hit is to cheat the student." and "You must eat bitter to be full." Of course, any such saying is best viewed as a starting point for long-term study by those who are serious in the training and have considerable experience. They are of much less value for beginners and even intermediate level practitioners.
For example, most competent bagua styles have training methods developed to teach the skills of connecting, neutralising or yielding to force, as you simultaneously counter-attack. Such drills are designed to make training relatively safe and are not necessarily a precursor to free fighting. Most schools will have you sparring and free fighting first, and the push hands drills are taught later to bring the sensitivity of fighting skills up to higher levels.
Tim Cartmell, a modern teacher of the internal arts whom I greatly respect, wrote in 2003 on his website's discussion board: "The theory is, it is a waste of time to learn to neutralise incoming force, get an angle on an opponent and unbalance or 'uproot' him if you have no power or technique to close the deal with after."
Attempting to reduce the necessary factors to a manageable number, you could say that there are five essential self-defence skills.
Dominating the initial contact: When you touch the opponent with your arm or hand while deflecting and neutralising his attacking limb, you use that contact to control or "rub" the limb so as to distract him (even momentarily), as well as, hopefully, to upset his balance. This can also provide an opportunity to lock up one or more joints, strike with the other hand, throw him, or trip.
Stealing the timing: When the opponent doesn't want to take the initiative, you must either feint an attack or extend a hand inviting the opponent to make contact with you. Once this contact is made, you can use the bridge you have created to attack. This tactic can be particularly useful against those who have mistaken the forest for the trees in that their martial training has conditioned them to stick at all cost, even when this is counterproductive. Which leads us to the third point____
Breaking contact, if necessary: If the opponent has skill and successfully adheres to your limb, you must break that contact by withdrawing the limb while counter-attacking, to distract him from pressing his advantage or from reestablishing effective martial contact.
Sticking until it is not necessary: If your opponent tries to break the bridge you have created, you must follow his actions to maintain contact with one hand and/or a part of your body while you continue to attack, until it is no longer necessary to do so.
Working the open vs closed sides of the opponent: One of the toughest problems in fighting someone with skill is that they will try to limit your options in the same way you will try to limit theirs. One important aspect of this is that the safest way to defend against their arms is to work the "closed side" (i.e., if he attacks with his right hand, you defend with your left and move to his outer side). This is often easier for the smaller, lighter person to do as a defensive action, but limits somewhat your targets for counter-attack, as the aggressor's torso is protected by his arm, as well as yours.
Conversely, working the "open side" implies that you defend against the aggressor's right hand with your left and stay in front of him. This makes it more difficult to avoid being attacked by his left hand but also implies that you have better targets available to your counterattack. In other words, his torso is relatively open. There are plenty of vulnerable areas to attack when inside, but the problem is that this works both ways. When fighting on the inside (and sometimes you have no choice) your opponent has just as much access and opportunity to attack your vulnerable areas, as you have to attack his.
If you are behind or outside your opponent's arms, the opposite does not hold true. You have an opportunity to attack his vulnerable areas; he has no access to yours. In addition, you have superior positional advantage to take the opponent down without much struggle, as well as the option to escape if need be. In order to end a real fight you need to dominate your opponent. If he or she is bigger, stronger, or skilled at fighting, it will often be very difficult to do so in a face-to-face exchange.
Was this article helpful?