Martial Arts Taught in the Old Tradition Part III

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Eight to ten years ago almost of the articles that were written in magazines about Ba Gua Zhang painted Ba Gua as being an "esoteric," "secret," or "mysterious" martial art. Most of those descriptions were simply being used in an effort to hype the article or the person writing the article. Whenever anyone talks about internal martial arts and uses the words "esoteric," "mysterious" or "metaphysical" my b.s. meter is immediately pegged. I think that instead of esoteric, secret, or mysterious a more appropriate word would be "misunderstood." It is natural to think of things that we don't understand as being "mysterious." As I have discussed in the last two segments of this article, the misunderstanding of Ba Gua Zhang is a result of fragmented teaching and the standardization which has occurred in mainland China as a result of the modern wushu. The fragmentation and standardization have both served to severely limit the way many practitioners view this art.

In my job as editor of the Pa Kua Chang Journal I have fielded numerous phone calls and answered dozens of letters from people asking, "Does Ba Gua use point striking?," "Does Ba Gua use the fist?," "Is there such a thing as linear Ba Gua?" I could probably construct a sentence that read "Does Ba Gua have___?" and fill in the blank with any martial art technique except "circle walking" and "palm strikes" and find someone who has asked that question about Ba Gua. Most individuals who have heard of Ba Gua, but have not practiced it, would probably say, "Ba Gua? That is where they walk in circles and strike with their palms." That is the limit of their Ba Gua knowledge and thus they believe that is all there is to Ba Gua.

For years I have also been listening to Ba Gua practitioners, who look at what other Ba Gua practitioners are doing, say, "That's not Ba Gua, that's Xing Yi, " That's not orthodox Ba Gua, that is a synthesis," "Ba Gua doesn't have that, that looks like White Crane," "He is not walking the circle with the correct Ba Gua step," "He is not doing the correct single palm change." It reminds me of the old story about two blind men trying to describe an elephant after each has had the opportunity to feel opposite ends. They are both trying to describe and define the same thing from their extremely limited perspective.

Ba Gua has linear footwork, Ba Gua has point striking, Ba Gua has throwing, Ba Gua has kicking, Ba Gua hits with every part of the body, Ba Gua uses whipping energy, Ba Gua uses linear energy, and Ba Gua has joint locking. If it can be used effectively and efficiently in a fight, Ba Gua Zhang has it. It would be ridiculous to think that a martial art that has not only survived, but flourished for over 100 years would not utilize anything and everything that can be effectively used in combat. It would be like a country preparing for war and saying, "We are not going to have an Air Force because that is not part of our style."

Everyone tries to fit their idea of Ba Gua into a nice tight little definition. While I do not believe that any martial art can be strickly defined, the nature and philosophy of

Ba Gua, that of variation and change, is in vast contrast to the idea of concrete definition. Dong Hai Chuan 0kM)]\) is said to have taught each one of his students differently based on their size, character, and martial arts background. Thus, Dong taught each of his students differently. This was his genius. He taught fundamental principles of body mechanics and tactical fighting strategies that could be incorporated into any given set of martial techniques or any given way to apply force. Ba Gua is an art of principal, not an art of technique, and thus there is a Ba Gua way to apply any technique from point striking to ground fighting. Once the student understands the physical, philosophical, and tactical principles of Ba Gua, they can apply those principles to any physical movement or technique.

If I were required to define Ba Gua Zhang, I would say that Ba Gua Zhang is a complete and effective martial art system which utilizes natural and efficient physical skills and strengths and emphasizes the use of evasive footwork, powerful palm strikes, and turning and twisting body motions while maintaining whole body strength and mind/body unity. Notice I used the word "emphasizes," not "is limited to." My viewpoint is that if the movement is natural and efficient, meaning that the body is relaxed, the mind and body are unified, and the alignments of the body are such that natural strength is being utilized instead of brute muscular force, and the movement is initiated in the legs, directed by the hips, and expressed in the hands in a natural, fluid manner then that movement, technique, or gesture could be a part of Ba Gua Zhang. While the flavor of Ba Gua suggests turning, twisting, and coiling motions in the footwork, body movement, and hand applications, and this flavor is evident in the movements and techniques of anyone who is practicing or using Ba Gua, Ba Gua is certainly not limited strictly to these movements.

In my opinion, anyone trying to define Ba Gua Zhang too rigidly is severely limiting themselves and the art. However, this tends to be the nature of the Western mind. In order to try and understand things, we in the West love to fit everything into a nice tidy definition. The analytical western mind habitually tries to divide the dynamic, ever changing aspects of reality into static and quantitative compartments. We seek to understand through compartmentalization and an attempt at concrete definition. However, by dividing things into small parts and trying to define them we miss a great deal because the reality of the whole is above and beyond the reality of the parts. It is the nature of our western mind to dwell on one thing at a time to the exclusion of everything else, to define things so narrowly that we impose upon ourselves a limited understanding. A study of any classical Chinese concept, including medicine, philosophy, or martial arts, utilizing the analytical tools we have grown accustomed to in the West only leads to misinterpretation and misunderstanding.

Bodyguards and caravan escorts, like those shown above in this photo of a famous bodyguard company in China, being realistic fighters, were more concerned about what worked than what style the techniques came from.

In the old days (prior to 1920) the practitioners of martial arts did not try and strictly define styles or standardize any martial arts forms or techniques. If something worked, meaning that it was efficient, effective, and natural, it was good. Definition of styles and standardization of teaching and practice did not begin to occur until the 1920's in China when the martial arts were organized and taught publicly (see the part 2 of this article in the previous issue of the Journal). When I was in Shanghai in 1991 and studying Yang style Tai Ji with Fu Zhong Wen some individuals were asking him about the differences between this style Tai Ji and that style Tai Ji. Fu said, "In the old days no one was concerned about what style of Tai Ji anyone practiced, Tai Ji was just Tai Ji. It wasn't until later that people started to try and differentiate Tai Ji into different styles."

Prior to the 1920's most of the martial artists in China practiced martial arts to gain jobs as bodyguards, residence guards, caravan guards or for use in protecting their home village. In other words, they trained in order to use their arts for real. Because they trained in a certain style, and each style of martial arts does have its characteristic flavor, the flavor of their motion and technique was representative of their style. However, if you are fighting for your life, you are not going to exclude techniques, moves, or gestures that work. Every complete system of martial arts has kicking, sweeping, trapping, throwing, striking with all parts of the body, grabbing, seizing, locking, point striking, and about any other thing one could think of to use in a fight. Back then in Northern China martial arts was martial arts, you learned as much as you could to stay alive. Each art has its specialty, but that doesn't mean anything else was ignored. Today martial artists become to compartmented because they only study the one aspect of their art which is that art's special aspect. They are not studying the complete system. This is also how fragmentation occurs in the martial arts.

Again, the genius of Dong Hai Chuan was that he invented an art based on certain principles of body motion and fighting strategy and then taught his students how to apply those principles to the techniques they were already good at. He taught Yin Fu (f3*^) how to apply Ba Gua principles to his Shaolin (^fr) technique, he taught Cheng Ting Hua fS how to apply the Ba Gua principles to his Shuai Jiao %) techniques and he and Cheng Ting Hua taught Li Cun Yi and Zhang Zhou Dong (

«It) how to apply the principles to their Xing Yi. In other words, Ba Gua principles can be used when applying any given movement or technique and the result will be Ba Gua. Ba Gua is an art which is founded on principles, not a set of given techniques.

I think that the martial artists who say, "Ba Gua has this and Xing Yi has that, and Tai Ji has this other thing," have a very narrow view of what the internal martial arts are about. Each art emphasizes certain things and executes everything with their own flavor, but it is ridiculous to think that some internal arts have some moves while others don't. If it is efficient and effective, it will be used. Ba Gua uses straight line footwork and Xing Yi uses circular footwork. This is not a Ba Gua man executing a Xing Yi technique or a Xing Yi man executing a Ba Gua technique. From the start Ba Gua had straight line footwork and Xing Yi men practiced circular footwork before Ba Gua was even invented. Xing Yi's Pan Gen (5a exercise, which looks exactly like Ba Gua circle walking in a small, tight circle, was written about in the Earth Dragon Canon itiLM - Di Long Jing) and handed down by Li Neng Ran til So you cannot look at a Ba Gua man practicing straight line sets and say "That comes from Xing Yi," or look at a Xing Yi man walking in circles and say, "That comes from Ba Gua." Complete systems of martial arts contain all efficient and effective aspects of martial movement and technique. It is ridiculous to think otherwise.

Pa Kua Chang Related Periodicals

Qi: The Journal of Traditional Eastern Health and Fitness: Insight Graphics, Inc., P.O. Box 221343, Chantilly, VA 22022 - Steve Rhodes and his crew at Insight Graphics continue to provide readers with interesting information relating to all aspects of Traditional Eastern health and fitness. The magazine is produced in a very high quality format.

Journal of Asian Martial Arts: 821 West 24th Street, Erie, PA 16502 - This is a high quality publication which provides well researched articles in a scholarly fashion.

Internal Strength: Watercourse Publishing, P.O. Box 280948, Lakewood, CO 80228-0948 - A new periodical dedicated to bringing the reader practical information on all styles of internal arts.

1994 Calendar of Pa Kua Chang Workshops and Seminars

Instructor

Location

Date

Contact for Information

Park Bok Nam

Mt. Madanna, CA

29 Sept. - 2 Oct

Dan Miller

(408) 655-2990

Park Bok Nam

Seattle, WA

8 October

Glenn Wright

(206) 584-4647

Kumar Frantzis

New York, NY

22-23 October

Frank Allen

(212) 533-1751

Zhang Jie

Santa Fe, NM

22-23 October

Jim Cox

(505) 474-2871

Kumar Frantzis

Brookline, MA

27 October

Bill Ryan

(617) 277-2975

Park Bok Nam

Boston, MA

15 November

Marc Sachs

(508) 668-2239

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