As discussed above, there are many benefits the Ba Gua Zhang practitioner can gain from the circle walk practice. The circle walking method employed will depend upon the result desired. Below I will discuss several of the most common circle walking methods employed by Ba Gua practitioners. I have divided this section into stepping methods, body methods, and mental methods (use of intention).
While there are literally dozens of different stepping methods Ba Gua practitioners will employ while walking the circle, there are three main methods which are practiced by most all schools. Each school may have their own special names for these steps, however, these three methods are most commonly known as the mud walking step (or snake step), rolling step (or lion step), and the crane step. Below I will outline the characteristics of these steps as practiced by several different schools of Ba Gua.
The Mud Walking Step: The "mud walking" step ( - tang ni bu), also commonly known as the "dragon step," the "gliding step," or the "snake step," is one of the most common Ba Gua stepping techniques. This step is not a method that is used very often in combat, however, it is an excellent training step and thus it is practiced by beginners in many schools. This step trains balance and stability in motion, thrusting or shoveling power in the legs and encourages an increased energy flow to the legs and feet.
Although there are numerous variations of this step being practiced by the various schools of Ba Gua, the basic step consists of the stepping foot sliding out along the ground, or hovering just over the ground, as the foot steps forward. As it is one of the most commonly practiced stepping methods in Ba Gua, a wide variety of variations have subsequently developed. In order to explore some of the mud walking step variations that are practiced today by various Ba Gua schools I will divide the mechanics of the step into three sections: picking up the rear foot, the actual step forward, and placing the stepping foot down. 1) Picking up the rear foot: While executing the mud walking step some practitioners never allow any part of the foot to raise up off the ground more than and inch or so. In other words, the entire sole of the foot always remains flat and parallel to the ground. This
Sun Zhi Jun demonstrates the use of a deep bai bu step in trapping the opponent's leg means that when the rear foot begins to step forward the heel does not lift off the ground, the entire foot remains flat.
Practitioners of this method have several reasons for executing their steps in this manner. The first is that they are concerned with maintaining the entire foot close to the ground while stepping so that if an outside force hits them at anytime during the step, both feet will quickly be in a stable position on the ground. Li Zi Ming style Ba Gua practitioners walk in this manner and Li gives this reason in his book, "When either foot steps forward it is necessary to lift the foot flat and step on the ground flat so that neither heel shows nor the anterior of part of the sole shows. If either the heel or sole is visible, it would be impossible to stand stable at that point in time and would provide the opponent an opportunity to attack."
Another reason for practicing this step is to train the psoas muscle and inner thigh muscles to engage more completely while walking. If the entire foot remains flat while the rear foot is coming off the ground it requires that these muscles be used to lift the leg. When the practitioner learns to walk using the psoas and inner thigh muscles in a more complete manner when stepping the steps become very powerful and stable. After practicing this method the student will notice that the legs are better conditioned even when executing normal walking steps or any of the other Ba Gua stepping methods.
The second method of picking up the rear foot utilized by Ba Gua practitioners while executing the mud walking step is to allow the heel to come off the ground as in normal walking. The heel lifts slightly and then as the foot is brought forward it flattens
The Mud Walking Step (Foot Remaining Flat)
The Mud Walking Step (Heel Raising Up)
Photo 4 Photo 5 Photo 6
out parallel to the ground. These practitioners are less concerned with working the psoas muscle and more concerned with the forward extension of the foot portion of the step.
2) Stepping forward: At least two variations on this theme exist, one where the foot is never lifted off the ground at all, but slides along in contact with the ground when stepping, and the other where the foot is lifted off of the ground slightly and hovers just over the surface of the ground when stepping.
While most practitioners will step forward smoothly with a consistent movement of the stepping foot, practitioners who practice the "hesitation step" will stop the forward movement of the foot momentarily when it reaches the position of the other leg. The stepping foot is held parallel to the ground and about an inch high off of the ground. The momentary pause helps the practitioner work on balance and stability while executing the step. This step is also referred to as the "chicken step" by some schools.
3) Placing the stepping foot down: In the mud walking step, when the stepping foot moves forward and is placed in position on the ground it can be done so in several different ways. Practitioners who allow the foot to slide along in contact with the ground during the entire transition forward will either allow the foot to stop sliding when they reach a natural stepping distance or they will push the foot forward a bit farther after it has reached the comfortable stepping distance and thus they will execute an extended step.
Those practitioners who allow the foot to hover over the ground slightly as the foot is brought forward will place the foot down in one of four different ways. The first is to place the foot down flat so that the entire surface of the foot contacts the ground at the exact same time. The second is to place the foot down so that the toes dig in first and then the heel is set down. The third is to allow the toes to come down first and then continue to push the foot and allow it to slide forward in an extended step. The fourth is sort of a combination between the two different methods of bringing the foot forward. These practitioners allow the heel to rise up off the ground when they step and then they will flatten the foot so that it is parallel with the ground by the time it reaches the position of the opposite foot. At this point the foot is placed on the ground toes first and then slid forward on the ground and stops at a natural stepping distance.
The sliding of the foot forward in an extended step is trained primarily by individuals who like to use tripping and sweeping techniques. As they move towards the opponent they will quickly slide their forward foot behind the opponent's front foot or in-between the opponent's legs so that they can set up to lock the opponent's feet and legs before they execute a throwing, trapping, or tripping technique.
The Rolling Step
The Crane Step (Foot Landing Flat)
As you can see, there are numerous variations of the mud walking step in the execution of lifting of the foot, the transition forward, and the placing down of the foot. Other variations and combinations exist and each instructor will have their own methods of teaching and points of emphasis. Above I have simply described the most common variations in general terms. No one technique is more "correct" than the other, they all have merit.
The Rolling Step: The "rolling step," also commonly referred to as the "lion step," the "continuous step," and the "small fast step," is executed in a comfortable heel-toe walking fashion. Since it is the quickest most natural step and is easily and efficiently combined with the kuo bu and bai bu steps, it is often used in combat when speed and agility in motion are required.
The rolling step is very similar to natural walking, however, the knees are bent lower and the practitioner keeps the upper body stable without allowing it to bob up and down, wobble forward to back, or sway side to side. The hips, shoulders, eyes, and top of the head are all held level and the only movement occurs below the hips. The entire upper body remains relaxed, comfortable, and motionless. If someone were watching a practitioner walk the circle in this manner from the other side of a wall that was about hip height, the practitioner's upper body should be so smooth that it would appear as though the practitioner is sitting on an object which is moving around in circles. The upper body should give no indication of what the feet are doing.
In order for the walking to be smooth and the upper body motionless the legs must act as shock absorbers and the heel-toe rolling motion of the feet must be very smooth. When the practitioner's heel is set down there is no thud, it is set down very light and soft. The transition from heel to toe is very smooth, as if the practitioner had small rocking-chair type rockers on the bottoms of the feet. The transition of weight across the stepping foot is very smooth and continuous.
The Crane Step: The "crane step," which is also sometimes called the "chicken step," is executed with the stepping foot being lifted to about calf or knee height before it steps out. This step is primarily practiced to improve balance and rootedness on one leg for use when kicking, trapping, and sweeping with the legs. Yin Fu (f"#) was said to have been fond of utilizing the crane step. Yin Fu was also said to be so skilled at leg trapping and sweeping that his feet and legs were as sensitive as a skilled push-hands practitioner's hands and arms. Walking with the crane step will help to develop the balance and stability necessary for these leg skills.
In stepping forward with the crane step some practitioners will slide the foot out as in the mud walking step, some will step out heel-toe as in the rolling step, while others will allow the foot to land flat so that the entire surface of the foot arrives at the same instant. In executing the crane step, some practitioners will step out smoothly while others will hesitate and balance on one leg before stepping out. The hesitation occurs when the stepping leg reaches the calf or knee of the other leg. The crane step is also typically the step which is used when practitioners practice walking on top of bricks, stones, or poles.
The Foot Placement: When practicing the circle walk, almost all schools that I have encountered have a similar foot placement in terms of the angle at which the foot is placed in relation to the line of the circle. The outside foot (foot furthest from the center of the circle) cuts in at approximately 45 degrees to an imaginary line which is tangent to the circle. The inside foot steps relatively straight ahead (parallel to the line which is tangent to the circle). Angling the outside foot helps the practitioner circumnavigate the arc of the circle. The exact angle of the outside foot will depend on the size of the circle, however, as stated above, this foot will usually angle in approximately 45 degrees when walking in an average sized circle (see illustration).
While each of the above mentioned stepping methods have their unique purpose in terms of foundational skill development, they also have purpose in fighting. Each of the stepping methods has an optimum time it can be employed in a fighting situation. Some steps are ideally suited to different kinds of techniques and different kinds of terrains. The stepping method employed (both linear and circular) in combat will
Line of the Circle
constantly change depending on the situation, the opponent, and the environment. In all complete systems of Ba Gua there are complete methods of training and this means the usage of a wide variety of stepping methods in both practice and application.
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