Everyone who has ever practiced Ba Gua Zhang has been given the lecture about the importance of the circle walk practice. Stories abound about the old masters having been allowed to practice only basic circle walking methods for the first several years of their Ba Gua training. While the previous article in this issue discussed some of the great benefits of the circle walk practice, many readers may still be wondering exactly how this footwork is employed in a combat situation.
The basic circle walk practice is primarily a training exercise that the beginning and intermediate level student practices to build a strong Ba Gua Zhang foundation. The advanced Ba Gua practitioner will also continue to practice the basic circle walk to continually reach deeper levels of internal awareness. No matter how long an individual practices the basic circle walk, there are always deeper levels to discover. When Ba Gua Zhang instructor Park Bok Nam was training with his teacher, Lu Shui Tian (Jt^K^?), in Korea, his teacher required that Park practice the basic circle walk exercise every morning for one hour. At the end of one year of practice Park came to his teacher and said, "After practicing for one hour everyday for the past year, I now understand this circle walk practice." Lu only shook his head and laughed. He said, "Just keep practicing." After another year of practice Park came to his teacher again and said, "I now know why you laughed at me last year when I told you that I understood the circle walk practice. After practicing another year my knowledge is much deeper and I can say that I now really understand this practice." Again, Lu laughed, shook his head and told Park to keep practicing. Park has now practiced the basic circle walk exercise for nearly 35 years and he says that there is always something more to learn.
Although there are always deeper levels of experience one will gain from the basic circle walk practice, a skilled Ba Gua practitioner engaged in a fight is not going to walk in complete circles around his opponent. This is just not practical in a realistic situation against a seasoned fighter. If you are fighting a skilled opponent and take more than two or three steps in one direction, you have set up a pattern that he will immediately use against you. It is ridiculous to think that you will be able to stalk your opponent by walking in circles around him waiting for an "opening." If this is your idea about how Ba Gua circle walking is used in a real fight you are going to be in for a rude awakening when you meet a skilled opponent.
The key element in Ba Gua's employment of footwork is not to try and move in circles around the opponent at arm's length, but it is to either try to out flank the opponent or open up his center. In either case, as soon as you move, you are closing with the opponent, not running around him. Your goal is to gain an advantageous angle of attack. Simply running around someone at arms length is a big waste of time in a real fight. A skilled opponent will eat you alive before you take your third step if you try such a thing. The only time this tactic might be used is if you are trying to bait the guy to set him up.
We can look at Ba Gua's employment of circle walking footwork from two perspectives; one is when the opponent initiates the attack and the other is if you want to initiate the attack yourself. Preferably you will initiate the attack yourself or bait the opponent into attacking you where you want him to attack you so that you can set him up. The idea that some practitioners have of Ba Gua being a "passive" and "defensive" martial art is a pile of "new age" nonsense. If you are going to fight with someone, you do not sit and wait for him to attack or walk in circles around him waiting for him to attack. You move in without hesitation and you flatten the guy in most efficient and effective way possible.
If the opponent initiates the attack and you chose to employ the circle walking footwork (circular footwork is not the only stepping method used in Ba Gua), the initial idea is to move out of the way of the opponent's
Park Bok Nam executes advanced circle walk pole training practice attack. However, we do not want to simply run away, we want to move in such a manner that we avoid the opponent's attack while simultaneously setting ourselves in a position for immediate counterattack. Evasiveness in Ba Gua is not about running away from the opponent, it is about closing with and destroying the opponent as quickly as possible without meeting force against force. We do not want to engage directly, we want to be a bit sneaky about how we close with the opponent. We want to use optimum angles of attack and use the opponent's force against him, but we will do so very efficiently with no wasted movement and allowing no gaps for him to move. This means moving around his attack, but at the same time moving towards him and inside his defenses. A skilled opponent will immediately take advantage of any gap in either time or distance you give him to work with. Your footwork, body movements, and hand techniques should be executed such that the opponent has no time to react or space to move.
While evading an opponent's attack and instantly delivering a magnificent, fight stopping, counterattack is a dream come true, more times than not, it is not reality. If the opponent is skilled, he will not let you get away with it. We can also never forget about Murphy and his laws. If something can go wrong, it will go wrong. This is where having the ability to change direction very quickly while remaining stable becomes vitally important. When you launch your counterattack against your opponent's initial attack you are already "thinking" about what comes next and you are prepared for anything. (This "thinking" is more a body knowledge than an actual thought process. In other words, your body is prepared to continually attack, adapt, and move.) You never assume that your first technique is going to work. You never want to think like a "one shot wonder" who imagines his first attack, or first counterattack, will devastate his opponent. There are
Park Bok Nam executes the "figure eight" walking pattern around a set of three poles many martial artists who feel that they can hit so hard that one shot is all it will take to defeat the opponent. There are others who think that they have some special techniques that no one can counter. "Welcome to fantasy island." If your opponent is skilled it will be very difficult for you to ever land your first shot and it will be even more difficult to land a direct hit with full force. You must be prepared to continuously attack while changing and adapting to the situation.
When training to fight you always imagine that your opponent is much bigger, much stronger, and at a much higher skill level than you are. You also must respect Murphy and consider that what can go wrong, will go wrong. Your mind must stay one step ahead of your body at all times, you use your listening skill and as soon as you feel how the opponent is reacting to your initial attack, you immediately change appropriately and continue attacking. The art of Ba Gua is philosophically rooted in the concept of change and physically rooted in the footwork and single palm change. Being able to change directions rapidly with balance, stability, and power is the important part of Ba Gua's use of the circle walk practice in fighting. Therefore, advanced circle walk training is focused on training these components.
In the second instance mentioned above, that of you yourself initiating an attack, the same principles apply. Initiating an attack is a three step process: gain a reaction, bridge the gap, finish him off. The first step is to gain a reaction from the opponent. This can be accomplished in any number of ways. This can also be viewed as a "set up" or a "jab," however, it is not simply a false ploy. Most of the time it is a realistic movement which will hurt the opponent if he does not respond to it. But we will always assume that he is a good fighter and will be able to successfully counter our initial movement.
The next step is the "bridge." The bridge is used to open up the opponent and get inside where we can really do some damage. The type of bridge which is used will depend upon the opponent's initial reaction to the first move. If the bridge is successful, then we can follow up with a finishing technique. If the opponent is skilled, we may need to employ several quick, repetitive bridging maneuvers before we can get inside on him or out flank him. Also, once inside we may need to apply a series of fast, powerful finishing techniques before the opponent is thoroughly defeated. Once the Ba Gua Zhang practitioner gets inside on the opponent, he will continue to stay inside until the job is finished. There is no bouncing in, striking once, and then bouncing back out as in sport fighting for points. Once you are inside, you stay until the job is finished. Again, it is your footwork that keeps you there.
A skilled opponent is not going to let you continue hitting him from a vulnerable angle, he is going to move. Utilizing your footwork, you stick on the opponent like glue. Were he goes, you go and you don't let up until the job is done. Park Bok Nam calls getting inside on the opponent "opening his door." He says that once
the door is open, you do not let the door close until you have finished the job.
Skillfully executed rapid changes of direction in conjunction with changing the palms and whole body power provide excellent opportunities to bridge the gap and open up the opponent. If you can execute rapid change of direction in combination with stable steps and flanking movements it will be difficult for the opponent to keep up with the changes. This is why the change of direction is so important in Ba Gua. In advance circle walking practice the circles become smaller and the change of direction more frequent.
In advanced circle walk training the practitioner learns to change directions rapidly while changing the palms and maintaining balance, stability, and full body coordination. While these concepts are also trained in the basic circle walk practice the difference here is that instead of continually walking around the center of the circle, in the advanced practice, the practitioner walks around the center while also moving towards the center. The circles become very small and the walking patterns turn into "figure eights" or spirals. Because of the difficulty of walking in tight circles and changing directions rapidly while maintaining balance, speed, and coordination, all of the important concepts that are trained during the basic circle walk practice must be in place before the practitioner moves on to the advanced circle walk training.
While each school of Ba Gua will have their own methods for developing the advanced circle walk practice, in this article we will explain the advanced practice as it is taught by Park Bok Nam. In Park's system the first practice a student will graduate to after the basic circle walk is the yin-yang circle walking pattern as shown in the diagram below (the arrows indicate the walking pattern) and the photographs on the previous page. The changing of the palms in this pattern is executed as the practitioner transitions
through the middle of the circle. A pole or tree is placed in the center of the circle and the changing of the palms and the directional change of the body is coordinated with the movement towards and around the pole as if the pole was an opponent.
The important component of this practice is the timing of the palm change, the smoothness of the steps and the ability to keep your center facing the opponent. In order to accomplish this, the turning of the body around its center as the palms are changed while you move around the pole becomes very important. You maintain a consistent optimum angle in relation to your opponent by turning your hips and shoulders at the appropriate time during the transition. The timing of the palms changing position and the rotational movements of the arms in conjunction with the rotating torso are also important points in this practice.
The yin-yang pattern is the first of the many patterns that are practiced as part of Park's "pole training." After the student has practiced the yin-yang pattern around one central pole and become proficient in the mechanics and timing of these movements, the practitioner will then begin to practice walking a "figure-eight" pattern around two poles. From there the student will progress to walking a double figure-eight around three poles. This pattern is demonstrated in the photographs on the opposite page.
When working with either the two or three pole configuration, the distances between the poles are varied so that the student will become accustomed to navigating smaller figure-eights and larger figure-eights. When working with three poles, the distance between each of the poles will be varied so that the first figure-eight around pole #1 and pole #2 might be small and the subsequent pattern around pole #2 and pole #3 might be larger. In addition to the figure-eight pattern, the student will also practice small circles around the various poles in conjunction with the figure-eight patterns. In other words, the practitioner might execute two consecutive figure-eight patterns around the three poles, then execute a full circle or two around pole #1 before continuing the figure-eight pattern. Varying the patterns gives the student experience in varying the timing of the palm changes, varying the footwork patterns, and the varying the coordination of the body's turning and twisting movements.
Walking in smaller, tighter circles, and changing directions frequently facilitates the development of the kuo bu [i* and bai bu steps. The ability to apply kuo bu and bai bu quickly and efficiently not only teaches the practitioner how to change directions rapidly while remaining stable, it also develops flexibility and adroitness in the pelvic region. Additionally, the student begins to develop the ability to utilize the kou and bai steps in hooking and trapping the opponent's legs.
In addition to utilizing the fan zhang (iNlf), or overturning palm movement when navigating amongst the poles, the student will also practice changing amongst the "eight mother palms" that were also
Photo 7 Photo 8 Photo 9
Photo 10 Photo 11 Photo 12
practiced during the basic circle walk exercise. By executing these movements the student not only becomes familiar with the rapid twisting and turning movements of the body, but he also becomes familiar with various basic arm movements. When the arms, body, and legs can all be coordinated while the practitioner is navigating the tight twists and turns amongst the poles, he will discover many new applications of these basic movements. Many of Ba Gua's throwing techniques come out of these changes.
Once the student becomes adept at changing amongst the poles utilizing the basic arm movements of the "eight mother palms" he will then begin adding striking and kicking maneuvers to the pole training practice. The poles are made from bamboo, rattan, PVC pipe, or some other flexible material that is buried into the ground. The practitioner can kick or strike the pole and the pole will have some give to it so that it absorbs some of the energy of the strike and bounces back. In this practice the practitioner will never stop moving amongst the poles while simultaneously kicking, striking, and rapidly changing directions. Some poles are kicked, some are hit, and others are not touched but evaded as the student continually moves around the poles. In this practice, the student learns to strike while remaining highly mobile and learns how to quickly change and move after a strike has been applied.
After the three pole practice, the student will move to four poles in a square pattern and then to five poles
Park Bok Nam executes the pole training practice amongst poles positioned in a "tee-pee" pattern
(one in the center and one on each side). Again, the distances between the poles are not always the same, they are all varied. After the five pole practice, the student will continue adding poles, one at a time as his practice improves, until there are nine poles, one in the center and then eight out to each direction. This is Ba Gua's famous "nine palace" pole training practice.
Many of the schools of Ba Gua practice the nine palace pole method. However, Park believes that it is important that the practitioner develop the pole training in gradual steps by first starting with one pole, then two poles, then three, etc. The training should be developed step by step. If the practitioner cannot utilize the proper movements when walking around two poles, he will only become confused if more poles are added. As each successive pole is added the student adds a new dimension to his practice.
There are many different "games" one can play while working the pole training method in order to develop different Ba Gua skills. Some poles are kicked, some hit, some avoided and the circular pattern is always varied. Sometimes small circles are executed, sometimes the circles are bigger, sometimes the figure-eight pattern is utilized, sometimes a spiraling pattern is employed; all possible variations are explored.
When Park was practicing the nine pole method with his teacher, Lu Shui Tian, Lu had tied a small rope to the top of each of the bamboo poles. As Park was circling, moving, and navigating amongst the poles Lu would pull on one of the ropes and one of the poles would shake. When Park noticed a pole shake he would immediately have to move in a attack the pole that was shaking. There are many such variations that can be practiced with the nine palace pole training.
The pole training practice in Park's system does not end with the nine palace pole arrangement. After the student has become familiar with working the nine poles, he will then remove the center pole and slant the four side poles in towards the center, thus forming a tee-pee shape with these poles. Utilizing this configuration the practitioner is not only required to navigate among the poles, but a height variable is added due to the slanting poles. While walking, circling, and turning the student must also adjust the body height to go under and around the slanting poles. The angle at which these poles are slanted can also be varied.
In the application of Ba Gua as a fighting art the practitioner must learn how to be highly mobile and evasive while at the same time moving in and continuously attacking the opponent. Evasion in Ba Gua does not mean running away or escaping an attack, it means avoiding the opponent's force and strength while simultaneously counterattacking at the most efficient angle and then continually changing as to maintain those efficient attacking angles until the fight is over. The advanced circle walking practice as described above helps the practitioner begin to develop this ability.
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