To put it simply, even the most heavily illustrated book is relatively useless for learning the basic forms and training methods. The essence of bagua resides in movement and not in static postures. These subtleties are impossible to capture through still photography.
Having said this, it is also true that illustrated books and articles are useful if used as a supplement to personal instruction. You cannot learn a set of movements from a book, but you can refer to it much more easily than to a video if you forget something from a recent lesson, or while you are in the middle of practising.
Similarly, the written word is indispensable for studying the philosophy, history, and theory of the art. Of course, it should also go without saying that it is easier to understand the principles of bagua in your head than in your body or spirit. It is not too much of a cynical statement to say that there are more armchair experts in the internal arts than in any other martial systems. Unfortunately, we have such a cerebral culture that many people confuse understanding something intellectually with understanding it on a gut level as a result of having lived through it.
Finally, I also continue to be amazed by the numbers of experienced students and instructors that I meet who have no real understanding of the history and theory of bagua and know nothing about the state of the art or the current masters presently teaching in North America or the Orient.
How can you claim to be a serious student or instructor in any discipline when you have no interest in the background of what you teach? Would you buy a car from a salesman who said, "I don't know anything about this vehicle, but it sure looks nice, doesn't it?"
I recommend the following books. The first is available over the Internet through Paladin Press, and the rest through www.amazon.com if your local bookstore doesn't carry them or doesn't do special orders:
Emei Baguazhang: Theory and Applications by Liang Shou Yu, Yang Jwing Ming & Wu Wen Ching
Yang's Martial Arts Association, 1994
Ba Gua: Hidden Knowledge in the Taoist Internal Martial Art by John Bracy & Liu Xing Han, North Atlantic books, 1999
I would add that there are good translations available in English of the original Chinese texts on the Circular and the Linear Forms that Erle teaches, and one such translator and distributor is Andrea Falk in Canada, who can be reached at http://www.thewushucentre.com/. These texts are useful for comparison purposes as they contain the line drawings that illustrated the original Chinese texts.
I would also heartily recommend buying the cd compilation of the defunct publication The Pa-Kua Journal. It is available at very reasonable cost and includes all issues published in the seven years it existed in the 1990s. Edited by Dan Miller, this was an excellent source for any bagua practitioner to research the historical and theoretical side of the art. It can be ordered through Plum Flower Press http://www.plumflower.com/ in the United States.
On the Internet, bagua sites are often self-serving means of advertising classes, workshops, videos, or books. And they also come and go, so I won't recommend any except Erle's website http://www.taijiworld.co.uk/. However, all you have to do is type "pa-kua chang" or "baguazhang" in any search engine to get more information than you can handle in an afternoon—or several!
It is also true that while there is a huge amount of interesting information on bagua and the internal martial arts available on the Internet; visiting the related chatlines and bulletin boards can be very depressing. Many of the conversations seem less like those between informed adults and more like those you overhear between teenage boys whose hormones are in overdrive; heated arguments about minor details of practice or who is legitimate and who is not.
For example, in these electronic forums, Erle has had more than his fair share of abuse, but then again, so have many other legitimate experts. He should take comfort in the knowl edge that experts like Sam Masich, Liang Shou Yu, Park Bo Nam, as well as Yang Jwing Ming and, I would assume, many others, well known and obscure alike, have been criticised or insulted through the anonymous safety of the Internet.
I would suspect that these forums act like the village well did in the Middle Ages in that the infirm, the idlers, and gossipers are attracted to gather around to trade stories and to make fun of those who are actually out working to support the village or are away fighting to defend it. After all, Internet forums are anonymous (if you choose to hide), and those you argue with or deride are far enough away (or mature enough) so that you don't have to worry about retribution—the intellectual equivalent of the schoolyard bully who threatens you while surrounded by his buddies.
A certain amount of arguing or teasing is fun at times, but it is also easy to have a board ruined for serious discussion or exchange because the more experienced practitioners stop posting out of disgust. Having said all this, it is also not a reference resource that you can easily ignore for researching the history and current affairs of the bagua and internal arts world.
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