"Ba Gua" translates as "Eight Trigrams." The Eight Trigrams are symbols which form the foundation of the Yi Jing or Book of Changes and they also provide the philosophical basis for the martial art Ba Gua Zhang. As Ba Gua Zhang practitioners, our interest in the trigrams of the Yi Jing is related to their practical use in the Ba Gua fighting method. In my school, we relate each of the eight trigrams to its own unique "animal form." The animal characteristics provide a basis for both healing and self defense. Each gua, or section, of the form (the Eight Animals form of Ba Gua Zhang) is developed to adapt the characteristics of a particular animal in its image and movement. The animal traits relate closely to the characteristics of the eight trigrams.
In this article, I will outline the characteristics of each of the eight animals and describe how the practitioner will utilize the characteristics of a particular animal in developing Ba Gua Zhang skills. I will also address the inter-relations of the animal styles and how a practitioner will integrate all of the styles in a combat environment.
In the application of martial arts there are four general categories of techniques: striking, kicking, throwing, and grappling (to include point grabbing, choking, and joint locking). While all complete martial arts systems employ all of these techniques, some may emphasize one group of techniques more than the others, (for instance Judo emphasizes the throwing aspect). Although there are only so many ways to kick, strike, throw, or lock an opponent, each martial arts system has their own unique way to implement these specific techniques. Ba Gua Zhang, being a complete and balanced fighting system, employs all of these techniques, however, because Ba Gua Zhang is an art which emphasizes theory and principle vice rote technique application, the Ba Gua Zhang stylist will approach the application of these four methods from a variety of perspectives. In Ba Gua Zhang, set-ups and follow-throughs will not only vary based on the situation, but will also vary from one student to the next based on the students size and physical attributes in relation to the opponent.
In teaching students how to train and apply Ba Gua Zhang as a fighting art in all its various facets, I utilize the "eight animal model" in order to provide each student with fighting techniques and strategies which best fit their physical characteristics and attributes as well as their individual personality. In this system a student will first learn the form movements, fighting techniques and characteristics of all eight of the Ba Gua Zhang animals. Each animal will approach the technical aspects of striking, kicking, throwing, and locking in its own unique manner.
While training each animal the student will not only learn the movements of the form set, but also practice specific palm training, footwork and leg training, and grappling and throwing drills in addition to auxiliary training which fits the attributes of the particular animal the student is studying. For example, the lion's strength is his use of the "crushing palm" and he makes use of grabbing and seizing points when implementing the grappling method. Therefore, while student's are learning the lion section of the form, they will also train the crushing palm mechanics and the point grabbing techniques of qin na. During the course of study, transitioning through all eight animals, the student will learn all of the necessary techniques applicable in a fighting situation with a variety of ' 'flavors." The attributes and strengths of each animal are outlined below.
Once students have trained all eight animals, they will then specializes in one or two of the animal styles which best suits their personality and physical characteristics. For instance, a large person who is fast and aggressive would specialize in the lion style while a large person who is slow and not as aggressive would specialize in the bear style. A small person who is very flexible and wiry will specialize in the dragon style while a small person who is timid might specialize in the unicorn style. A medium size person who is fast on his feet might specialize in the falcon style while a medium size person who has fast hands might specialize in the snake style. Once a person chooses his or her specialty, they will study that animal's characteristics in combination with all of the other animals. In this manner the eight trigrams combine to form the sixty-four hexagrams and the student has a background which allows for adapting quickly to any fighting situation. For example, a student which has specialized in the pure falcon style, will then study the falcon style with lion characteristics such as grappling and qin na. Next they may focus on the falcon style with unicorn characteristics such as evasiveness, etc. Each student will learn to specialize in at least two animal styles and study all of the hexagram combinations related to those animals.
This model not only provides an efficient and effective training syllabus for students to follow, it also provides the theory used in developing fighting tactics. In the study of the animals, the student learns how to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of an opponent and decide what strategy to use in a fighting situation. If the student recognizes an opponent to be large and slow, i.e. bear characteristics, they may choose to utilize the monkey's techniques to fight that opponent. Even if a student has specialized in another animal (say falcon) because they have studied the falcon in combination with the attributes of the other animals, they will know how to fight with the falcon style using monkey techniques.
In training the practitioner works to ingrain all of the attributes and characteristics of the animals so that they become second nature. When a fighting situation arrises there is no time to think about which animal to use. If the training has been thorough, the body will respond to the opponent without thought. In other words, the animal characteristics have been "programed" into the body and thus when the practitioner squares off against a large, slow opponent, he or she thinks "monkey" and the body responds appropriately.
By studying the Eight Trigrams and related animals, as they pertain to forms practice and fighting, the student will develop a strong confidence and inner will. When the animal forms and fighting characteristics are ingrained in the body through long hours of hard practice, the practitioner's body will respond naturally and spontaneously in any fighting situation. By relaxing the mind and body and allowing the trigram changes and animal attitudes to motivate the movement, fear will not arise and the body will respond without confusion. When fear does not arise their is an increased state of awareness and every response the body makes is automatically correct. There is a spontaneous correctness in all actions and responses when movements are motivated by the trigram changes, and not fear. When the body is conditioned to respond correctly and naturally to an opponent's attack, one does not have to mentally reason out and come to a conclusion that a particular action is the right course. In a fight, a response which is a result of mental reasoning is too slow. This state of awareness can be attained through study of the Eight Trigrams and animal characteristics, attitudes and emotions. By adapting the spirit of the animal and not restricting boundaries, no fear will arise because of the
confidence and inner strength generated by the focus of intent on the spirit of the motion and movement of reflex body response and not on a given "technique."
Keep in mind that this is not a fixed system, there must be dynamic movement in which the practitioner has the potential to use all 8 animals. For instance, a practitioner might start a fight with the evasiveness of the unicorn in order to test the opponent and finish off with the aggressiveness of the lion once the opponent is vulnerable. Although a given student may identify most strongly with the characteristics of one animal, each animal will have characteristics of the other animals in its movement, emotion and attitude. In this manner the eight trigrams move into the 64 hexagrams. This study will outline the characteristics of each of the eight animals as they pertain to fighting and forms practice. A Ba Gua practitioner from the eight animals school will study the characteristics and fighting styles of each of the eight animals, but will adapt one or two particular animals for his specialty. When performing the form sequence the practitioner will shift his emotions and intent to fit the gua he is performing.
The element of Qian represents Heaven and is pure yang with the attributes of health and strength. The body of the qian gua is the three solid lines, and it adopts the characteristics of being strong, full of power, and creative. In physical dimension it becomes the lion, an animal that is brave, strong, determined and aggressive. His personality is short tempered; he channels anger into fighting energy. The lion's fighting characteristics are: solemnity and explosiveness.
In fighting, the qian takes the form of the lion paw, the fingers are curled so as to strike or quickly grab the opponent and break their defense. The lion's favorite techniques in fighting are those used in qin na (joint locking) and grappling (ground work and choke outs). In grappling, the lion works points of the body in order to separate and tear muscle from the bone. Along with the seizing techniques of the lion paw, he uses his arms to catch, hook and trap for initiating bone breaking and joint dislocation. The lion is also very punishing with his use of knees, elbows, and striking with his head. The legs are used for low pounding kicks designed to break the structure of his opponent and dislocate the knees. He will also step on the feet and ankles of the opponent to keep him from running away as the hand techniques are applied. The Lion charges its opponent straight in with the intent of pouncing and crushing. When an attack occurs, a lesser trained or fear oriented opponent will typically tense up and brace for the lion's attack causing his body to become stiff and lose its natural flexibility. At this point the opponent's body can be moved and injured very easily. If the opponent should escape, the does not give chase and will never retreat, instead he will recompose himself and await the opportune moment to
pounce. The lion will usually be dominant in practitioners who have a heavy body structure and are big boned and is effectively implemented on any opponent that is of smaller bone and muscular definition. His strength is inside and mid-range fighting, his weakness is his outside range.
The lion gua requires that the hands stretch out in full strength, moving the internal and external, upper and lower torso to combine into one energy. When performing the lion (qian) gua, the practitioner concentrates on manifesting strength and power from the stretching of the tendons from the hands all the way down to the toes (wrapping and reeling the silk). The body should be completely integrated and both the internal and external qi of the upper and lower torso should be combined in one energy. When this kua is practiced correctly, the practitioner will effectively strengthen and stimulate the lungs and breathing as well as the brain and central nervous system. If the gua is practiced incorrectly (using physical strength instead of using jing and forcing the qi instead of relaxing and nurturing it), one will cause internal blockages which may result in high blood pressure.
The element of kun represents the Earth and is pure Yin. Its attributes are meekness and receptivity. When referring to the animal characteristic it becomes the unicorn with is kind and good nature, it is capable of flight, and can change forms unpredictably. It has the ability of standing on one leg and the agility of rotating and turning the body with one movement. This trigram is, by nature, flowing and therefore the body is fast, light, moves like the swirling wind and turns like a spinning top. The unicorn's fighting characteristics are: yielding and receptivity.
The unicorn features the palm techniques of the "Willow Leaf' Palm. The spirit of the unicorn is expressed through the configuration of "turning body striking palms," and the principle of zou hua which is the use of appropriate movement to respond with yielding rather than avoiding. Practitioners who are naturally quick, agile, and evasive adapt the unicorn as their specialty in fighting. Adopting the unicorn fighting style is effective if your opponent is much bigger, stronger and more aggressive than you are. The unicorn is always evading, much like a matador would against a bull, while he is looking for an opening to attack. A master of bobbing and weaving, dodging and feinting, yielding and withdrawing, the unicorn is known for its sudden spins and its crafty one-leg turning strikes. Extremely deceptive, the unicorn draws its opponent in, avoids the attack and then counter-attacks. The unicorn does not aggressively kick or strike, instead he will use his deceptive movements, placing his feet, knees, elbows, and palms such that the opponent unknowingly runs into them. When retreating, the unicorn will use every opportunity to counter-attack.
The unicorn's strength is his outside fighting and his weakness is on the inside. When the unicorn finds himself on the inside, he will bob and weave in order to evade his opponent and move back to the outside. Many practitioners will display the characteristics of the
Unicorn when meeting another opponent for the first time in order to "feel him out". The Unicorn's care-free attitude and evasive movements are ideal in this situation. Practitioners will also frequently use the Unicorn to set up the opponent and then switch to another, more aggressive animal to finish him off.
When performing the Unicorn techniques one should work on making the body light and nimble. Concentrate on rooting on one leg while leading the qi up to the center line. This will enable you to effectively spin on one leg without losing your balance. When the gua is practiced correctly, the qi will abide in the center abdomen giving you grace and balance from your center body. Also, your stomach will be strengthened and you muscles tonified and filled with qi. If the gua is not practiced correctly, the abdomen will feel empty and the body will not be agile. Pay special attention and study this, because this is the way in which you may achieve agility and creative application.
The element of Kan represents water, and is yang in nature. In realm to physical objects, Kan is the snake, the most poisonous of the eight animals. The attitude of the snake is one of indifference. He is cold and cruel, showing no emotion of remorse. He is like ice. Both the internal and external movements of the snake are like water, flowing smoothly and vigorously, penetrating every crack and cavity. This form is soft and passive on the outside, but strong and solid on the inside. Its characteristics are: flexibility and agility.
When the snake is used in fighting, it uses the way of "white snake spitting mushroom" and the skill of "double-headed snake coiling its prey." The snake uses the method of hitting the vital points of the body, attacking the opponents nervous system. He will use the straight "dragon's head" or "phoenix eye" punch for penetrating, dotting, striking, winding, picking up, sticking, hooking, and pounding his opponent. The snake strikes are implemented with the finger tips using the "piercing palm" method, continuously rolling, sticking, coiling, and whipping in order to penetrate the opponent's vital points such as the eyes, throat, stomach #11, heart #1, etc. The fingers are slightly curved and, upon impact, twist. The snake is a master of dian xue (point striking).
The snake kicks are low and sharp, using either the point of the toes or the ball of the foot. The snake will attack while using the bending foot, kicking foot, piercing low, and flowing inserting foot techniques. The targets for the snake kicks are the opponent's ankles, shins, calves, knees, and groin. Practitioners who are quick and agile, have a long reach and small bone structure will adapt the characteristics of the snake. You can use the snake on any opponent that you can out maneuver and can intercept quickly. The snake's weakness is infighting.
The snake makes his body move like water. It is soft and passive on the outside in order to make full use of the tendons and bones. The tendons are used to whip, or sling (much like a rubber band) the body's bone structure into the opponent. The bones act as tubes funneling the qi into the opponent upon impact. In order to facilitate this movement of qi, relax fully and stretch the tendons. When the mind's intent strikes, the body follows.
When the technique is practiced correctly, the bladder, kidneys, hearing, and the lymphatic system will be strengthened, and the lower dan tian will be rich in qi. When the lower dan tian is rich in qi, the heart of Dao is created, and the yin fire within the heart will be dissipated and problems of dizziness will not be encountered. If practiced incorrectly, the kidneys will weaken, the heart's fire will be unable to sink, and the practitioner will become dizzy with headaches and eye trouble will occur.
The element Li represents fire and is yin in nature. When the element is related to physical form it becomes the falcon. The falcon's attitude is one of stalking his prey, always alert and forever watching. Also, it can disappear into the forest with great speed. This signifies that the falcon can attack out of nowhere to penetrate the opponent's defenses and return to the void undetected.
Much like the snake, the falcon attacks the opponents nervous system, however, instead of using the fingertips, the falcon utilizes chopping techniques to attack the
Johnson demonstrates a bear form posture
"bands," in order to split or snap the tendons and ligaments. The "bands" are the body's folds/joints i.e. wrists, elbows, shoulders, collarbone, throat, solar plexus, kidneys, groin, knees, and ankles. The chopping technique is similar to the movements used when cutting with a broadsword. The falcon will implement these techniques in order to hook, lock, sweep and throw his opponent while spinning and turning his body.
While the arms (or "wings") are chopping, the feet and knees are parrying the opponents kicks and setting up for destructive downward-thrusting counter kicks. The Falcon sets up his attacks with the arms and finishes off with the legs. It is said that "The arms are the snipers and the legs are the artillery." At mid-range, the falcon "folds his wings" and uses his elbows to deliver powerful blows as he spins like a tornado. The falcon also uses the folding wings technique when parrying and then opens his wings to strike. With the combination of his long range chopping techniques, folding wings, spinning and turning, and powerful leg attacks the falcon fighter truly embodies the "clinging" nature of the trigram Li. Like fire, who's form is always changing, but it always clings to the burning object the falcon fighter will overwhelm his prey. This element attracts practitioners with medium build who are quick and agile and have powerful legs and good balance. The falcon is an excellent long and mid-range fighter, his weakness is on the inside.
As far as form is concerned, the outer portion is strong and solid, while internally it is soft and flexible. When practicing these techniques, the practitioner adapts an alert and watchful attitude as if stalking prey. If one practices this element correctly, he will feel his insides begin to transfer into emptiness and his form will flow smoothly. The eyes, heart, and small intestines will be tonified and the blood circulation will be improved. If he practices this element incorrectly, he will become confused and scatter-brained.
The element Zhen represents wood and correlates to lightning and movement. When relating the element Zhen to physical objects, it becomes the dragon. The dragon has the ability to condense its bones (contract inward), leap, fly and change unpredictably. The dragon is extremely flexible and agile and can transform into two different kinds of martial energies: the water dragon (which is solid and heavy), and the sky dragon (which is light and vaporous). The fighting configurations are pushing, pulling, hooking, splitting, wrapping, dropping, lifting, and advancing. The dragon's body will fluxate and pulsate and the arms will expand and condense as he turns and coils. He is pompous and arrogant in his turning movement. His attitude is one of superiority.
The dragon's attacks are a very erratic combination of simultaneous high and low strikes with the arms and legs, designed to confuse the opponent. He will flow like water around the opponent's attacks and defenses. The dragon makes maximum use of coiling and trapping techniques, utilizing inside elbow and palm work. The coiling and flexible, whip-like arm movements of the dragon make it very difficult to counter his inside attacks. It is from the dragon's rolling movement that the Ba Gua Zhang practitioners earned the name "Rolling Thunder Boxers." The dragon footwork is comprised of circular bent-leg hooking movements which are used for leg trapping, hooking and throwing. The dragon uses his knee strikes or presses his knee into the opponent and then circles the foot in order to trap, kick and throw. He is found of using the front and back of the heel while kicking. The dragon's strengths are mid-range and inside fighting. A Ba Gua practitioner will assume the characteristics of the dragon when faced with a larger, stronger opponent. The dragon's inside fighting movements are best implemented on opponents who have a long reach, are slow, and have a tendency to grab and hold on (like wrestlers).
Externally it is quiet and still, but inwardly it is moving and very active. If one practices the dragon techniques correctly, all the qi will gather around the liver and the metabolism will be in harmony. If it is done improperly, the liver will over-heat, causing stress and pressure on the liver, and overexertion of qi.
The element Gen represents mountain, resting and keeping still. When relating to physical objects, it is the bear. The bear is extremely perceptive. The characteristics of the Bear are: power and impassiveness. It has the ability to "up root" its opponent. The bear uses the penetrating punch, moving, catching, leading, pulling, shaking, squeezing, twisting, and following techniques.
The bear will usually wait and counter attack by rushing in when the opponent is off balance in his stepping, posture, or mind. He will wait calmly until his opponent is within striking range and then seize the correct moment to "whip" his paw to strike the opponent. A good example of this technique would be that of rolling up a newspaper in order to swat a hornet. Because of the hornet's speed and skillful evasive maneuverability, you must have patience and wait for the proper moment to strike. The fa jing is the most explosive in the bear. He will shake his entire body when slamming an opponent to release the yang energy. When close in, the bear will use his weight to lean on the opponent and drain him of energy. He will also use his massive structure to offset his opponent's balance. He will constantly become an obstacle obstructing his opponent's movements by jamming him with his feet, knees, hips, elbows, shoulders, belly, back, and head. The bear is effective at mid-range and inside fighting and he is least effective on the outside. Practitioners who are big boned and strong, but not aggressive, will adopt the characteristics of the bear.
When relating to form, the upper portion of the body is strong and firm, while the middle and lower parts are flexible and soft. While the bear is very inactive outwardly, his qi is active inside the body. If one does these techniques correctly, the lower dan tian will produce colors which will be manifested on the face, giving him a healthy and young complexion. Also, the spleen will fill with qi. The heart's fire will sink and qi travel up the spine and fill the whole body. If you do the practice incorrectly, the yang qi in the dan tian will not be able to rise up the spine, and the fire in the heart will not be able to sink down.
The element Sun represents a penetrating wind. In physical form, the element Sun becomes the phoenix. The phoenix characteristics are; swirling in a continuous circle and the action of sinking while moving forward. The emotion of the Phoenix is one of daring determination. He is very brave and confident in his attack.
In relation to fighting, the phoenix will meet and yield to attacks with circular motion, parrying the opponent's thrust, utilizing his momentum in order to place his opponent into an unstable position and topple him before he can counter. The phoenix whirls like a tornado and uses his elbows to cut and thrash. In addition to the elbows, the Phoenix will use chopping and backhand strikes when attacking to catch, hook, and set up for a sweep or throw. IN order to use less effort to change the direction of a moving object, you must keep it moving in a continuous curve. This curvilinear motion also decreases joint tension, which frees them to move with greater tenacity. This is done by keeping the upper body strong and firm, and keeping the lower portion of the body soft and flexible. Timing and smooth execution are essential. Your energy should be continuously moving like an ocean wave. The Phoenix kicks are usually no higher than the knees. He uses his legs mostly to help take out his opponents root. His circular stepping and zig-zag patterns are most effective when used for scooping, sweeping or throwing an opponent. The phoenix is a mid-range and inside fighter with a weakness on the outside range. The characteristics of the Phoenix are usually adapted for medium and large boned students.
The "tornado power" of the phoenix is one of the most difficult powers to attain. This is not simply a "silk reeling" rolling power. There is complex turning power inside your body, it also moves from side to side and up and down, a soft spiraling energy that adheres to your opponent. As your opponent punches he does not feel anything because you are so soft and fluid, changing and turning, you wrap your energy around him, and stick to him. This type of changing involves maintaining balance between your Yin and Yang energy. You must be able to become either light or heavy, soft or hard, quick or still, sticky or springy at will. When you fight, keep your movements simple. Be circular in your movements and motions.
If one practices correctly, the true qi will permeate into the four limbs and every part of the body from the inside out, and the body will move like a tornado; continuous, without beginning or ending. The liver and lumbar vertebrae will also be strengthened. If it is done incorrectly, the qi will be blocked, and it will not be able to travel through the body.
The element Dui represents metal and correlates to a lake. In terms of physical manifestation, it becomes the monkey, which has the greatest agility of all the animals. The monkey is crafty and deceptive and his techniques are quick. The monkey has the ability to shrink and leap from one tree to another. The emotions of the Monkey are: excitement and surprise.
The monkey is famous for pinching and twisting the muscle and nerve cavities, grabbing hair, and grabbing and twisting fingers. His best techniques are those used for twisting, pulling, pushing, grappling, embracing,
crouching, leaping, hooking, sticking, trapping, and evading. When grappling on the inside or using close to the body trapping, the monkey will bite to counter-attack if trapped. He makes great use of borrowing energy and "light air" gong fu skill. He literally climbs all over his opponent in an effort to frustrate him and wear him down. His feet stick inside and outside the opponent's legs and then kick the opponent's back leg when there is an opening. The monkey's leg work is also designed to interfere with the opponent's stepping and is used to offset and uproot the opponent by confusing him. Practitioners who are short in height, small in bone structure and have great natural agility and quickness will adopt the characteristics of the monkey.
When relating to form, the upper body is soft and flexible, but the middle and lower portions are strong. If practiced correctly, the qi in the lungs will be strong clean and moist. If practiced incorrectly, the qi in the lungs out of harmony, causing coughing, asthma, and other respiratory disorders.
This article is an excerpt from an upcoming book by Jerry Johnson on the secrets fighting techniques of the internal martial arts.
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