The Conditioning Applications

Both partners start by standing in a moderate Horse Stance (ma-bu is a foundational stance in most forms of Chinese martial arts) and facing each other with their palms pressing down by their hips. They should be positioned just out of punching range for the taller partner. Starting this way minimises the chances of accidental contact to the wrong targets.

One person is designated the leader, and he or she initiates the movement of each method in this little two-person set—save one, so that the leader doesn't get complacent and forget that there are always exceptions to every rule. The goal is for the other person to play "follow the leader" and counter whatever technique or footwork is used against him with the same method. After having gone around once, the other person can take the leadership role, and the exercise can continue this way indefinitely, with both people alternating in the lead role for a preset period of time.

This is my variation of a common training method for beginners in other styles, and it teaches the student to defend with what I call "grinding power" with the outside of the forearms (primarily Number Four and Number Six palms) while deflecting the attack, rather than confronting it. It also teaches how to use the most common stepping and directional change methods and to follow properly—not too soon, not too late—and to use your body to pull, rather than your arm alone.

Remember to take turns leading. You will discover, it is very difficult to use the right timing to counter at the correct moment even when you know what the other person will be doing. As with any basic exercise, it is easy to let yourself accelerate and to use too much brute strength, as opposed to learning how to deflect or counter by striking when this is appropriate.

Although it is not done excessively, this exercise is a good introduction to learning to take some force with your arms and to not let such impacts affect your mobility or ability to stay functionally relaxed.

Joining Legs: Each person will stand in front and a little to one side of his partner, on one leg while connecting the outside of the other lifted knee to the outside of his partner's lifted knee. The heels of both lifted legs should be in contact. You should connect the wrist/forearm on the same side to your partner's wrist/forearm.

In the beginning it can be a bit of a struggle for both people just to stand there connected without one or both losing their balance. While doing either of the two exercises discussed here, you should switch supporting legs whenever one person falls over or loses the contest. Do not this exercise for too long at any one time.

Vertical Power Exercise: This two person exercise strengthens the legs, particularly the hips. It improves co-ordination and balance—particularly the ability to make vertical circles with the hip being the axis of the wheel. It is important to lean forward and back without compromising your ability to move or remain in a state of equilibrium, even when leaning at weird angles. In bagua, vertical power is quite often used to initiate a kick, or to evade a head strike from the opponent's hand. Remember to use the waist and hip on the supporting leg to do most of the work. You can lead either with the hand or the hooking leg—but do not let the action become simultaneous. Erle doesn't emphasise this tactical application, but it is common in other competent versions of bagua, and I think it is important to be able to do it.

Horizontal Power Exercise: Like the first, this exercise strengthens the legs, particularly the hips, and improves co-ordination and balance, especially the ability to use horizontal turning and twisting to deflect upper body and low foot attacks.

There are also ways of practising this where you practise kicking attacks and defences, but that is more suited to advanced students and resembles in some ways the "sticky legs" exercises used in some Chen Styles and in some Wing-Chun variations.

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