Imagine this - you are thirteen years old and have an interest in studying martial arts; one day your Uncle (married to your father's sister) brings one of the most famous and highly skilled martial artists in China over to your home and asks your family if this guy could live there with you. This is a man who had studied Chen style Tai Ji with the Chen family, studied Ba Gua with one of Dong Hai Chuan's (ic^i'l) direct students (Jia Feng Ming - f Jf/jy and one of Yin Fu's ( f*" #) students (Ma Gui - -f), studied Wu Dang sword with Li Jing Lin (^ % and has been close personal friends with Sun Lu Tang 0 # it), Yang Cheng Fu and many other of China's famous martial artists. Sound like a fantasy or a story line to a Hong Kong Kung Fu flick? Maybe so, but this is exactly what happened in 1945 to a thirteen year old Liang Qiang Ya. His uncle, Sun Bao Gang $1), one of Fu Zhen Song's top students, brought Fu Zhen
Song to Liang Qiang Ya's home in Canton and asked
Liang's parents if Fu could live with them.
Fu Zhen Song had moved from Northern China to Canton in 1928 to teach martial arts on behalf of the Central Martial Arts Academy in Nanjing (for more detailed information about Fu Zhen Song, please refer to Pa Kua Chang Journal, Vol. 2 No. 6 and Vol. 5, No. 2). During World War II, Fu had left central Canton and moved his family to the northern outskirts of the city because the provincial martial arts academy where he was teaching was closed down. He was traveling quite often during the war and wanted to take his family to a safe place. After the war, Fu returned to the city alone in order to re-establish himself before he brought his family back to the central part of the city. When he first returned he did not have much money
One of Fu Zhen Song's top students, Sun Bao Gang, shown above, was Liang Qiang Ya's Uncle or many students. The city had been devastated by the war and many of Fu's old students had dispersed. Sun Bao Gang helped Fu find a place to live with his relatives. Luckily for Liang Qiang Ya, he was one of those relatives.
From 1945 until Fu's death in 1953, Liang Qiang Ya was with Fu everyday. He studied with him, traveled with him, and helped Fu teach classes as he got older and more experienced in the art. In a lengthy interview conducted in August, 1996, Liang discussed Fu's Ba Gua Zhang with Pa Kua Chang Journal and placed an emphasis on Fu's famous "Tornado Power." In this article we will present Liang's thoughts about Fu style Ba Gua and Liang will demonstrate some exercises and form movements which help to develop "tornado power." Special thanks to San Francisco based martial arts instructor George Xu for translating during the interview.
One aspect of Fu Zhen Song's teaching and practice that Liang Qiang Ya thinks is important in understanding Fu and his Ba Gua method is how Fu always changed and improved himself throughout his life and teaching career. Fu loved to research martial arts and continually sought out highly skilled martial artists in order to study, learn and compare. Fu not only learned from a number of highly skilled teachers when he was young, but continued to study and share the arts with other famous martial artists as he got older. He learned Yang style Tai Ji from his friend Yang Cheng Fu and studied Sun style Tai Ji and Xing Yi from Sun Lu Tang in exchange for teaching Sun his Wu Dang sword. Fu had studied Wu Dang sword from General Li Jing Lin and taught the sword skills to Li's troops. Li Jing Lin was a famous Warlord General from Shandong Province. He was especially skilled with a sword, having learned the Wu Dang sword skills from Sung Wei Yi, and was known by the nickname "first sword of China." He taught his skills to Fu Zhen Song and then hired Fu to teach his Army. Li not only recruited the top sword fighters from around the country to serve in his Army, he also invited the top martial artists to visit with him and exchange skills with him and each other. In this environment, Fu gained exposure to a vast number of martial artists and added this knowledge to his own.
Li Jing Lin was Fu Zhen Song's Wu Dang sword instructor
As a result of his research, Fu developed new training techniques and forms, often sythesizing various styles, ideas, techniques, principles, and concepts from the various internal arts and from the numerous martial artists to which he had been exposed. He was not afraid to expand and broaden what his original teachers had taught him and create new movements, concepts, theories and ideas. Fu developed many forms and training methods on his own and thus truly created his own unique styles of Ba Gua and Tai Ji. Additionally, because of Fu's continual evolution and development of his art, Liang says that the students who studied with Fu in the early years of his teaching career did not necessarily learn the exact same forms, drills, exercises and techniques that the students who trained with Fu later in his life had learned.
Some Ba Gua Zhang instructors and practitioners have referred to Fu style Ba Gua Zhang as being "unorthodox." My question to them would be "what is orthodox Ba Gua Zhang?" Dong Hai Chuan taught every student differently based on the fundamental principles of his art and his student's unique background, physical characteristics, aptitude, and special abilities. Every one of his students and student's students who taught complete systems of Ba Gua did the same thing. The underlying philosophical foundation of this art is based on the theory of change and adaptability. So how can anyone define some Ba Gua moves as "orthodox" and disregard others as being "unorthodox" when there really is no such thing a "orthodox" or "standardized" Ba Gua Zhang? Because Fu Zhen Song created a very complete system of Ba Gua that remained true to the underlying principles of the art and was extremely functional for him, I would say that his approach to the art was far more "orthodox" than those systems which were handed down identically to each student of the system. Ba Gua Zhang is about developing creativity, not learning choreography.
Liang Qiang Ya states that as Fu Zhen Song grew older, he began to simplify his practice. In his later years he concentrated all of his knowledge into a couple of simple forms by developing his "Tai Ji Lightning Palm" form and his "Liang Yi Fist." In creating these forms, Fu took the essence of Ba Gua Zhang and the Sun, Yang, and Chen styles of Tai Ji, extracted moves from his other forms such as Liang Yi, Si Xiang, and the Ba Gua Dragon Form, and added his favorite moves from all of the forms and sequences that he knew. This synthesis provided a means for Fu to be able to sculpt a lifetime of experiences into a few simple forms which he could practice everyday.
Fu's "Tornado Power"
In describing Fu's Ba Gua, Liang Qiang Ya says that the focus of Fu's style was in the twisting, spiraling, turning, and walking motions involved in producing a "tornado power." He says that one uses tight, quick kuo bu and bai bu stepping to make the body spin like a tornado. The palms shoot out from the body like rope darts, or like rocks being propelled out of the
Fu Zhen Song holding his 38 pound stone ball training apparatus in 1920
spinning winds of a tornado. Liang explains that this tornado power is not only expressed in the horizontal plane. Depending on how the body is used and how the arms are coordinated in conjunction with the body movement, the "tornado power" can be used along vertical, horizontal, or diagonal paths. Additionally, the power can be used in spirals that move from large to small or from small to large circular paths. Liang says that this energy can be expressed in all dimensions. He compares it to a spinning ball by saying "when a ball rotates, energy can shoot off from any point. There are an infinite number of tangents off of a sphere."
Many practitioners of Ba Gua have watched Fu stylists spin like tops during the execution of their forms and wonder about the functionality of this practice. Why spin around like that? What is it good for? How would that be used in a fight? Because they don't understand it and have not practiced it themselves, many will immediately dismiss the moves as being useless. The skepticism concerning these moves becomes even stronger in the minds of practitioners who have not labored to learn them because many of the students demonstrating these moves at tournaments are far from mastering these moves and they look very awkward, unbalanced, unstable, and weak. However, in watching someone like Liang Qiang Ya execute these moves with a high degree of skill, continuity, stability, whole body connection, power, and finesse, one immediately begins to grasp the effectiveness and usefulness of this practice.
When discussing movements which involved spinning and turning the body 180, 270, 360, or more, degrees, the first thing to realize is that these moves are not unique to Fu style Ba Gua Zhang. As Liang stated in our interview, "all styles of Ba Gua have these moves. Fu style just happens to emphasize them more than the others." After Fu Zhen Song died, Liang researched numerous other styles of Ba Gua in order to compare them with what he had learned from Fu and so he is quite familiar with all of the prevalent Ba Gua styles which have been taught in mainland China over the past fifty years. In conducting his research, Liang discovered, as I also have discovered during my travels and explorations in China, that most styles of Ba Gua practice these spinning moves. However, in the majority of Ba Gua systems the student will not
be introduced to these moves until they are at the more advanced levels of practice simply because they are very difficult to perform correctly. Because the advanced levels of training were not taught in public classes, these more advanced maneuvers where not propagated very widely. They have become somewhat characteristically related to Fu style Ba Gua simply because Fu taught them to all of his students.
You cannot pigeon-hole any particular Ba Gua moves. You cannot look at someone practicing Ba Gua and say, "that move is from Fu style and that other move is from Sun style." Ba Gua is Ba Gua. If you take the time to explore the depth of Ba Gua and gain exposure to many different systems and methods, you will realize that there are very few Ba Gua moves that are unique to any given teacher or system. Each system will have its own unique form sets, training sequences, and developmental programs, however, it is rare that you find a move in one system of Ba Gua that other complete systems do not practice at all.
Like all other maneuvers practiced in Ba Gua, the functionality of the spinning and turning movements is two fold. One is its developmental aspect and the other is its practicality in combat. The developmental aspect of the spinning movements involves their ability to increase the practitioners stability, balance, whole body connection, awareness, and fluidity. The practicality in fighting primarily comes into play when the fight involves multiple opponents. We will explain each of these concepts in more detail below.
Ba Gua Zhang is an art which should be taught in a gradual progression, starting with very simple movements and moving steadily to more and more complex ideas, movements, and techniques. If students cannot maintain balance, stability, whole body connection, fluidity, continuity, awareness, and focus while executing simple movements, they will never be able to grasp all of these vital concepts when executing the more complex motions which are characteristic of Ba Gua Zhang. However, if a student can demonstrate all of the above listed principles in the execution of simple moves, then they are ready to learn moves that are slightly more complex so that they can work to achieve all these principles at a higher level of difficulty. The more uncomfortable the body becomes in the execution of a motion, wether it be uncomfortable in terms of flexibility, balance, stability, or orientation, the more difficult it becomes to remain continually focused and relaxed. As all practitioners of internal arts know, remaining mentally focused, relaxed, stable, balanced, and aware are all crucial to success in combat. Therefore, in the execution of forms, the more one can challenge the body in the execution of complex movements, the more prepared one will be for the combat environment. However, as stated above, the progression to these difficult movements should be gradual. If a beginner starts out with complex moves, there is no foundation and it will be very difficult for that individual to improve at a consistent pace.
The spinning and turning motions which have been associated with Fu style Ba Gua and "tornado power" should not be attempted by beginner or intermediate practitioners because they are not really ready for these moves. They will be unstable, off-balance, disoriented, and disconnected. However, once a student can maintain all of the important requirements of good Ba Gua practice in the execution of less challenging maneuvers, then he or she is ready for the complexity of the spinning moves. If a practitioner can expertly execute the tight and quick kuo and bai footwork, rapidly spinning body movements, and coiling and twisting arm motions, of the tornado spinning motions, know how to come out of the spin sharply, accurately and crisply at any instant without becoming unbalanced or disoriented, then this practitioner has reached a high level of Ba Gua skill and has a very functional combat tool. Liang Qiang Ya says, "If I can turn fast with power, connection, awareness, and fluidity while keeping my center and maintaining control, I will have an advantage in a fight. Ba Gua is based on the principle of moving. This is its main characteristic. So we must have as a goal in practice to learn how to move faster in the execution of difficult maneuvers." He adds, "When turning, the upper is fire and the bottom is water. The upper is light and free, the bottom is heavy and sunk. The power is free, but also strong. The whole body must be straight to have a center. The chest is loose and alive, the feet grab the ground."
Liang says that in application, being able to execute the quick spinning motions while remaining centered and balanced is useful when fighting multiple opponents. You can attack one opponent and then quickly turn to attack another without loosing stability, power, awareness, or focus. He states that when fighting, Fu Zhen Song liked to attack his opponent's vital points using his fingers like steel darts. Fu's fingers were like iron rods and a well placed poke would immediately finish the opponent, leaving Fu the opportunity to turn and address any other attackers. In order to help maintain his finger strength, Fu would exercise with a 38 pound stone ball. He would manipulate the ball with his fingers while executing his Ba Gua movements in order to develop finger strength. Liang said that Fu also liked to throw the ball up into the air and catch it on his chest in order to develop his body.
While turning your back on a skilled opponent in the execution of a spinning motion during a fight is not a smart thing to do, and thus the quick turning and spinning motions executed in forms practice would more directly apply to the multiple opponent scenario, these spinning motions do have a developmental aspect in training for the single opponent situation. In a fight, the Ba Gua practitioner is going to rely on his footwork and his ability to change directions rapidly in order to gain an advantage on his opponent. If the practitioner cannot change directions rapidly and still maintain stability, centeredness, and continued
Liang Qiang Ya visits Dong Hai Chuan's hometown in Wen An China and pays his respects at Dong's memorial awareness, he or she will be at a disadvantage when executing the change. When executing a maneuver such as the single palm change, where the practitioners focus, energy, and awareness changes from one side of the body to the other, there is a point during the execution of this change, especially if the change is executed rapidly, where the practitioner can easily loss orientation and/or awareness. This point occurs when the brain is switching control from the left hemisphere to the right hemisphere. In the execution of the single palm change, the Ba Gua Zhang student should work to maintain constant focus and awareness all the way through the change. This is one reason the practice is first executed slowly and then gradually works up to a fast paced change.
Once the student has learned how to execute a maneuver such as the single palm change while maintaining balance, stability, centeredness, connection, and focus, progressing to moves such as the 360 spinning, which is prevalent in Fu style, will further challenge the student's ability to maintain all of these aspects of good Ba Gua practice. If the student can learn to spin rapidly and maintain full awareness, focus, centeredness, balance, stability, and connection, then he or she will probably be able to maintain these components when faced with the fast paced chaotic confusion of a real fight. Therefore the spinning and turning motions become an excellent developmental tool for the practice of maintaining stability and awareness while rapidly changing directions. In practice you purposefully place yourself in a disorienting situation (spinning 360 degrees or more) in order to practice remaining focused, aware, stable, centered, and oriented. It is highly unlikely that one would actually spin 360 degrees or more when fighting single or multiple opponent's, however, it is an excellent training tool.
The "Tornado Power" Movements
In this section of the article, we will present numerous training movements and exercises which will help you build a good foundation leading to the execution of the tornado power movements. We will also present a number of variations in the arm motions which can be practiced with the spinning footwork and body movements.
Liang Qiang Ya says that it is important for the beginner to learn correct kuo bu and bai bu footwork prior to executing any of the turning and twisting movements of Ba Gua. In Ba Gua practice, all upper body motions are initiated in the footwork in a coordinated and connected manner. When the footwork is correct and the body is connected, the whole body can move as one integrated unit. Liang states that in the beginning levels of practice the footwork must be correct or the student will loose the whole body connection when he executes complex and rapid body motions. Liang further stated that "The change is initiated in the footwork and the palms follow the step by changing simultaneously. The walking is like a dragon, the turning and shrinking like a monkey, the changing posture is like an eagle, while being stable as a tiger."
Was this article helpful?