What Makes Bagua Different in Martial Terms

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As I said in an earlier chapter, bagua has some rather interesting approaches to combat. The most direct is to attack the aggressor's arms or legs as he advances to attack you. Many people, even those with fighting experience, will find it painful and disorienting to have their limbs struck. In combat, one of the key tactics (don't take my word for it, read Sun Tzu's Art of War) is to surprise the enemy and do the unexpected. Of course, this method works best if you have considerable skill and are not much smaller than the person attacking you.

When size matters, and it always does in self-defence, the other bagua approach is to move out of the line of attack to avoid resisting the incoming mass and resultant power and deflect it off-course while counter-attacking. This does not mean getting out of the way. Doing so will only work in a classroom setting, where your partner isn't really following you with the intent to harm you for real.

Getting out of the way in a bagua-like manner implies that you are connected to the opponent with at least one of your forearms or palms and have not moved needlessly out of range. It also means that you move diagonally forward, not to the sides or directly forward. Stepping diagonally backwards is a second-class option that only works under certain situations.

Done smoothly and competently, moving forward diagonally is what makes you look as if you have circled around your opponent to be in the position of advantage behind him or her. You didn't really believe that walking the circle meant that you would circle the opponent like the Indians, riding around the wagon train that had pulled into a defensive circle in bad Western movies? Circle stepping in any context teaches you about getting out of the way properly, not about walking around in circles.

Getting back to the original idea of having two major approaches to dealing with an attack. Ideally, you will learn to do both types of tactics in your training sessions even though a much smaller person would be best to use only the avoidance method when dealing with a larger attacker.

It is also important to remember the difference between working on the open and the closed sides of an opponent. 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. But, if you are behind or outside your opponent's arms, the opposite does not hold true. You have access and opportunity to attack his vulnerable areas, he has much less 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 fight you need to dominate the opponent. If your opponent is bigger and stronger, or has some practical skills himself, it will often be very difficult to do. This is why when two people fight, the bigger and stronger fighter usually wins. If you are technically far superior to your opponent, you can most likely put him down despite a significant size or weight difference. If you're not more skilled than the larger or heavier opponent, his greater reach and greater mass in motion make it unlikely that you will prevail.

By the way, you should always assume that your hypothetical opponent is dangerous, stronger and technically sound, and that having superior skills may be the only way you can win the encounter.

It is also important to remember that bagua is an art that uses the open hand in preference to the fist—particularly when attacking the head. The rationale is that all your opponent has to do against a closed fist attack is duck a few inches, and you will end up connecting with his skull with a real danger of breaking your fingers or wrist. These are the most common injuries faced by Western boxers despite having taped their hands and wearing gloves. The other common problem is landing your closed fist on an opponent's elbows if he covers his ribs effectively with elbows, which are very strong and bony joints.

With considerable time and practice, palm strikes, or those using the heel of the hand, become preferable for these reasons. Erle teaches three main versions of the palm strike for slightly different martial purposes. Finally, the open hand can be used to grasp vital points or lock up the key joints of the limbs. The bagua style we follow favours open hand techniques, but each of the two forms contains one closed fist technique to remind us that this weapon can be useful under certain situations and cannot be ignored completely.

The funny footwork used in the Slip Step is also a way of training the martial use of your own feet and shins as offensive and defensive tools. One of the hallmarks of bagua is the way in which a practitioner uses his or her feet while doing toe-in steps, to trap an attacker's legs and balance whenever possible while in close range. If you are crowding an attacker without tensing up or losing your balance, it will be more difficult for the aggressor to continue their attack effectively. The same applies if you are kicking their shins, stepping on their feet or striking the vulnerable areas of the inside and outside of their knees while doing toe-out steps, with hands doing the necessary martial work.

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