The Deterioration of the Complete Martial Arts System
The history of Ba Gua Zhang, and most other Chinese martial arts as well, is such that today it is very difficult for anyone interested in studying these arts to gain exposure to a complete system. By complete system I am referring to a comprehensive step-by-step method of training which is designed to develop a high level of well-rounded martial arts skill. While all traditional martial arts styles started out as complete systems, over the years these systems have been whittled away until all that we are left with today, in many cases, are fragments. In some cases all that is left of a particular system is one form sequence. If we look at the history of China in relation to the martial arts, it is not difficult to understand how the fragmentation occurred.
Since the end of the Qing Dynasty martial arts instruction and practice in mainland China has undergone a slow transformation from being studied solely for use in defense of one's self and others to being practiced predominantly for health and/or performance. This transformation began to take place during the early years of the Republic when prominent Government officials and skilled martial artists developed public martial arts programs for the purpose of improving the physical fitness of the Chinese people. The Central Martial Arts Academy ff7-^® - Thong Yang Guo
Shu Guan), which was opened in the late 1920's in Nanjing, and its network of subsidiary provincial martial arts schools, was an outgrowth of this program. The transformation further progressed under the communist government who, as we discussed in part one of this article, will only promote a diluted version of the health and performance style martial arts and has sought to standardize the martial arts by reducing complete systems of training down to a handful of performance oriented forms.
Martial Arts for Health - After the overthrow of the Qing Government in 1911, the "martial arts for health" movement began to emerge in China for two reasons. First, the Chinese people were generally weak. A corrupt government, foreign invasion, opium addiction, and poor harvest had beaten the people down. Second, for the same reasons listed above, national pride was low. The new government decided that in order to strengthen the country, they needed to strengthen the people. In order to strengthen the people, and increase national pride, they chose to use traditional Chinese methods of physical training, which meant using the Chinese martial arts. Influential intellectual martial artists, like Sun Lu Tang helped begin this movement.
Sun Lu Tang's introduction to his book on Xing Yi Quan (Xing Yi Quan Xue - ^"t^f* - published in 1915) states, "The way of becoming prosperous and strong lies in the bracing up of the people. The important point is to brace up the spirit. A strong country cannot be composed of weak people. We cannot make people strong without physical training. To brace up the people through physical training is the way to strengthen the country."
Other traditional martial artists began to echo Sun's words. They even began calling the martial arts the "national arts" or guo shu (0 #f) to distinguish them from Western sports activities and promote a sense of national pride. As time went on and China was plagued with Japanese imperialism and further Western modernization, the guo shu movement became stronger and plans were made for a national guo shu program. The principal of the Central Martial Arts Academy in Nanjing (Zhong Yang Guo Shu Guan), Zhang Zhi Jiang (Sjt^^), proclaimed, "strengthening oneself strengthens the race and protecting oneself protects the country."
The Central Martial Arts Academy was officially opened in December of 1927 and by March 1928 they had acquired sufficient funds to get the school off its feet. Their goal was to train a crop of instructors who would spread martial arts training throughout China in public schools in order to "make martial arts common in all walks of life." However, as traditional martial arts were exposed to a wider variety of people, the traditional instruction was greatly modified for mass consumption.
In the late 1800's and the early years of this century, those that studied martial arts in China where primarily farmers and peasants who hoped to obtain jobs as bodyguards, caravan escorts and residence guards. Since police protection did not exist outside of the major cities, men in small villages also trained in martial arts in order to protect their homes from bandits and thieves. The majority of these individuals were uneducated and were considered to be "ruffians" by the educated class in China. Sun Lu Tang's introduction to his book on Xing Yi Quan says, "There was a prejudice in the old days that literates despised martial arts as martial artists were short on literary learning." However, he also indicated that the times were changing. He continues by saying, "Now the country will be improved through reforming affairs. Martial arts has been put into the curriculum in schools so that students can be cherished on both literary and military sites. This is a good way."
Traditional martial arts instructors who participated in the national programs saw this as an opportunity to gain some "face" for themselves and the martial arts, however, they were not totally willing to let go of tradition. Traditional instruction consisted of a student studying with one teacher for a significant amount of time in a private or small group setting. The teacher usually taught at his home or in a park near his home. Students were taught slowly and steadily with an emphasis on basic training. Advanced skills were only taught after fundamental skills could be performed with a sufficient degree of expertise. While the student was studying the fundamentals of the art, the teacher also tested the student's loyalty, patience, martial morality, and determination. All of these factors were weighed along with the student's physical ability when the teacher made decisions about when the student would be exposed to new material. This training, at all levels, was extremely difficult and the teacher placed high demands on the students. Only the most loyal, hard working, and highest skilled students would earn the right to become "inner door" students and lineage holders. It was not uncommon for an instructor to only choose one student to receive the full transmission of his art. In order to teach short "martial arts for health" courses to the public something had to give.
What occurred in the public classes was that the students were taught a very small slice of the complete martial art. The forms and exercises that were taught were traditional, however, typically the teachers only taught a few basic exercises and forms which were good for developing general balance, coordination, and flexibility. Since health became the emphasis, the very rigorous training which was designed to teach students how to fully develop into good fighters was not generally taught. Of course, if a student in the public class showed great potential a teacher would take that student aside and teach that student privately and possibly give that student the complete transmission of the art, but these cases were rare. Most of the individuals in the public classes only received the surface level of the art they were studying. In Ba Gua this typically consisted of one eight-section form.
Famous Ba Gua Zhang teachers, like Sun Lu Tang, Jiang Rong Chiao Sun Xi Kun and
Huang Bo Nian who taught in these public settings also published books on Ba Gua in order to spread the art to the public and gain more acceptance in the literary circles. However, like the public classes, the material in the public books was only a small piece of the system of Ba Gua that these gentleman taught. The only thing in the books was what was being taught in the public classes. As people who attended these public classes and read these books began to teach students of their own, these small fragments of Ba Gua were all that was passed down from one generation to the next.
Chaos in China - In addition to the fragmentation which occurred in the public martial arts classes, we need to also consider the chaotic times which China has experienced since the turn of the century in order to understand another reason for complete systems not being passed down. Since the turn of the century China has been in turmoil. The overthrow of the corrupt Qing government was followed by a very unstable Republican government under Yuan Shi Kai (i) and then a chaotic "warlord period." This was then followed by the Japanese invasion and then the Communist takeover. Since 1949 the country has been riding the Communist rollercoaster of upheavals and purges. As a result, during the 1920's, 30's, and 40's many of the Chinese people were very transient, fleeing from one city to the next and then eventually fleeing the country.
It is those individuals who fled the country during this period in China's history that brought the Northern Chinese martial arts to the rest of the world. When we trace the martial arts background of many of these people we find that they were either exposed to martial arts through what I will call the "public lineages" as discussed above, or they only studied with their teacher for a few years before their family fled their hometown or fled the country all together. If they were taught in the public classes, they did not get the complete system and if they only studied from a teacher for a few years it is likely that they didn't get the complete system either.
Many of the transient individuals continued to study martial arts, however, each place they moved they found a new teacher and/or a new art to study. Subsequently most ended up with fragmented pieces of several different martial arts. This is not to say that many of these individuals were not skilled martial artists, it is just to say that most of them did not receive complete systems of Ba Gua Zhang. Additionally, this is also not to say that the Ba Gua these people practiced and taught was not good Ba Gua. If any of these individuals had a very solid martial arts background before studying Ba Gua, it is likely that they could have become skilled at Ba Gua in a relatively short period of time. Most of Dong Hai Chuan's (it ^ ^1) students learned in this manner as he did not accept many students who were not already skilled at something else. However, as we have seen in various articles in previous issues of the Pa Kua Chang Journal, most of Dong's students were already very highly skilled martial artists in their own right before studying with Dong and they subsequently put together very complete systems of Ba Gua training based on what Dong had taught them. In this Journal we have examined several systems as they are taught today in Northern China by the "inner door" lineage holders in the Yin Fu Cheng Ting
Hua and Liang Zhen Pu (IMJt^) styles of Ba
Gua and seen that these systems contain far more than a few exercises and one eight-section Ba Gua form.
The majority of the true Ba Gua lineage holders spent their entire lives studying only Ba Gua and they studied with only one, or perhaps two, Ba Gua instructors. When examining Ba Gua as it is taught in many areas of Southern China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, we do not find many complete Ba Gua systems being taught. There are certainly exceptions, many of which have already been covered in this Journal, but it is rare to find a complete system outside of Northern China. Additionally, even though some systems outside of Northern China are complete, in most cases, there are only a handful of students who studied these systems long enough to receive the full transmission.
Now that traditional teachers in mainland China have been more accessible during the past fifteen years individuals in the United States and other parts of the world are now going back to Northern China to learn from the old masters and are trying to receive the complete transmission, so there is hope for the future. However, as we discussed in part one of this article, these traditional lineage holders are not easy to find because the government is promoting the performance arts. Additionally, the traditional lineage holders of Ba Gua in Northern China are keeping to tradition in that they are only passing along their complete method to a select few students. A foreigner receiving complete Ba Gua training from a traditional Ba Gua teacher in Northern China is a rare occurrence.
Historically we can safely say that as a result of the "public lineages" and the transient nature of the people in China who brought arts like Ba Gua to the rest of the world, what we are left with in most cases are relatively few individuals outside of Northern China (Beijing and Tianjin Cities and Hebei, Shanxi, and Shandong Provinces) who specialize in Ba Gua and have complete systems of Ba Gua to teach.
As I mentioned in part one of this article, the standardized wu shu Ba Gua being taught in mainland China today is a major fragmentation and degradation of the complete Ba Gua method. However, now we can also see that as a result of the "public lineages," even some of the Ba Gua that left China before communism are fragmentations as well. If someone is teaching "Jiang Rong Chiao's Ba Gua" and is only teaching one form, it is a fragment. If someone is teaching "Sun Lu Tang's Ba Gua" and they are only showing the form that appears in his book, it is a fragment. If someone teaches "Jiang Rong Chiao's form" and then teaches "Sun Lu Tang's form," they are simply compiling fragments. Two fragments do not make a whole. If someone is teaching the circle walking practice and tells you that there is only one stepping method used in Ba Gua, you are being taught a very small fragment. Fragmentation leads to ignorance. Those that tell you that there is only one way to do something in Ba Gua are akin to the frog in the bottom of the well. They only have one extremely small view of a very vast art form.
What is a "Complete System" - Complete Ba Gua Zhang systems are comprised of step-by-step, progressive, balanced curriculums which expertly combine all aspects of internal martial arts training. They are designed by an experienced teacher who will guide each student's individual development as it is appropriate for each unique individual. Any complete Chinese martial arts system will include a thorough and integrated training curriculum which incorporates wai gong ftbtfl ), nei gong (i*^), and qi gong training methods.
Below I will provide my definition of these components and explore each of these areas as I see them. Although I have divided them into three separate categories below, the reader should understand that in terms of internal martial arts training they are all part of the same whole and thus elements of one component will naturally cross over to the others. These components of training cannot be put into nice neat boxes, they are mutual supportive and mutually dependent.
Although beginning level training methods might isolate the various components of training, more advanced training will always contain all of these elements. Additionally, every training component in a system like Ba Gua enhances the attainment of skill in other areas. For instance, good solid wai gong training provides the foundation for nei gong and qi gong training and good nei gong and qi gong training will give deeper insights to the wai gong training. Also, exercises like the circle walk practice can be used to train all of these components depending on the walking method and the focus of the training. This is one reason why each system of Ba Gua will have numerous basic circle walking practices and stepping methods. (Note: Please excuse my occasional step up onto the "soap box" during this section of the article. After receiving three or four phone calls a week for the past four years from people wanting to know about the "secrets" of internal arts and the "easy way to internal power," I can't help myself.)
1) Wai Gong - Wai Gong is the external aspects of martial arts training which includes firm balance, flexibility, agility, good posture and stance work, proper mechanical and structural alignment, coordination, stability while moving, and a physically strong body. These basic skills are practiced in the context of developing all aspects of the fighting arts such as foot and leg work, which includes stepping, hooking, kicking, trapping and sweeping with the legs; striking, which includes developing power and speed in striking with all parts of the body; seizing and locking (ik^ - qin ria); and throwing - shuaijiao).
These aspects of training form the foundation of practice and are emphasized heavily during the first few years. A complete system of Ba Gua Zhang will have a great number of training exercises, as well as numerous straight-line and circle walking forms, which are all Ba Gua specific and focus on the development of one or more of these vital aspects of martial arts training.
If the student does not develop sufficiently in these "external" areas of training, progress to higher levels of skill, which involve refinement of these basic skills, is not likely. Unfortunately most practitioners of internal arts today want to skip this training and go to the "good stuff." Good teachers who start their students on a solid program of fundamentals are said to "not be teaching the internal" or "holding back on the good stuff." Fifteen years later when individuals who skip ahead to what they would consider the "more internal" aspects of training don't have any "internal power" or fighting skill they finally realize that something is missing - a basic martial arts foundation!
In traditional Ba Gua Zhang schools beginning students spend years developing the basic wai gong skills before focusing on the more refined aspects of the art. This is not to say that the basic skills training is not "internal." This training does involve the use of internal principles, appropriate body alignments and natural body movements. It is simply less refined than the more advanced training. One cannot start with a physically weak, uncoordinated, unbalanced, unconnected body and hope to develop refined internal strength through the study of intermediate or advanced Ba Gua forms or exercises.
Today many teachers in the United States who gained skill through solid basic training and then later progressed to more refined aspects of the art tend to forget where they came from when teaching students.
They no longer like to practice the physically demanding components of the art that were so important to their own development, or they find out that they do not attract many students to their school when they teach this way, and so they don't teach it to their students. As a result, their students are being cheated and will never be as good as their teacher.
In Ba Gua Zhang systems there are any number of forms and exercises associated with wai gong training. Basic stance work, straight-line and circle walking stepping drills, hand movement exercises, kicking sets, straight-line repetition of movements, straight-line linked forms, various circle walking drills, apparatus training, power training with weapons, numerous two-person sets, etc. Each system will have their own approach. There are also numerous circle walking exercises working with different types of stepping methods and upper body postures which develop the body and leg strength in a variety of ways. 2) Nei Gong - Nei Gong is training which is designed specifically for the development of muscle groups, ligaments, and tendons not usually under conscious control. This training involves refinement of the basic wai gong skills and development of the connection between mind and body. In the beginning levels of nei gong training, repetitive physical movements are combined with:
1) relaxation of all muscles which are not directly involved with the particular action being performed,
2) breathing in coordination with the motion, and
3) simple imagery (use of intention).
The combination of relaxed physical movement, breathing, and intention begins to teach the practitioner how to move in a highly refined manner and facilitates the development of subtle strength and efficiency in movement.
Today some people in the internal arts are fond of saying "use no strength, let the qi move your body." Reality check! I'm sorry folks, if your body is moving you are utilizing muscles and strength. Don't let them get away with that "its the qi" dodge. Whenever anyone tells me "its the qi" or "use the qi" my mind translates it to mean "I don't really know what I'm talking about so I will say something very nonspecific and people will think I am an expert." The top level Xing Yi and Ba Gua instructors that I have met in mainland China and Taiwan rarely ever even use the word qi when they are teaching beginners. But here in "new age" America we find that word everywhere and there are people who will believe anything is possible as long as they are told "the qi" is doing it.
It is amazing to me how otherwise intelligent individuals will suspend all rational thought and common sense when someone mentions the word qi. Yes, I do believe in qi. However, I believe it is not something to be worshiped or sought after as "the ultimate goal" and it is not something that is magical or mystical. Proper internal martial arts training facilitates strong, full, and balanced qi in the body. This certainly helps the practitioner's "internal power." However, if the proper alignments, proper use of refined strength, proper body coordination and timing of the body movements, and correct, natural and efficient use of the body in conjunction with the mind and the breath are not trained correctly, the practitioner who is worried about obtaining "qi power" is dreaming. If those other things are in place, the qi will naturally be there, if they are not, you are out of luck.
"Proper use of strength" in the internal martial arts means that the strength is not "clumsy." In executing any movement, if the practitioner is utilizing muscles that are not directly involved in that movement, if the breathing is not coordinated with that movement, or if the mind is not fully involved in that movement, then the movement is "clumsy." The classics of internal boxing all warn the practitioner against the use of "clumsy force."
Nei gong training teaches the individual how to use the body strength in the most natural and efficient manner so that it is not "clumsy." Simple repetitive exercises which teach the practitioner to coordinate mind, body and breath are all that is required in nei gong. It doesn't need to get any fancier or more sophisticated than that. Wild visualizations exercises which tell you to "imagine the energy of your large intestines connecting with your lungs, moving out your middle dan tian, wrapping around your body four times counterclockwise and then sucking back in to your body through your third eye" are not going to get you very far in the internal martial arts. In my opinion, in the context of obtaining martial arts skill, it is simply mental masturbation. Sure you might get a little "qi buzz" happening, but this kind of qi development is usually not very functional in martial arts. Additionally, forced movement of energy in the body through strong mental visualization is potentially very dangerous.
The majority of the overly complex nei gong and qi gong which people are practicing today is coming from what I call "fad" qi gong books written by individuals who are appealing to the overly intellectual Western mind and overly lazy Western body by promising better health through mental gymnastics. I can't believe the number of phone calls and letters that I get from people that are overly concerned about things such as "connecting the governing and conception vessels" ( H - Ren Mai and - Du Mai) through meditation so that their "microcosmic orbit" or "small heavenly cycle" will be "complete." First of all, if your Ren Mai and Du Mai are not connected, you are probably dead. Secondly, if you are concerned about increasing the full and balanced flow of qi in these meridians, you should not be sitting in a chair and trying to do it with your mind. Correct movement combined with simple imagery and gentle breathing will do it for you in a simple, progressive, and safe manner.
Yi (iii^), the son of the famous Xing Yi Quan master and Chinese Medical doctor Wang Ji Wu (i -8 A, 1891 - 1991, see photo on page 10, Pa Kua Chang Journal Vol. 4, No. 3), it says:
"If the qi circulation in the Ren and Du meridians is strong, the "Small Heavenly Cycle" is open and there are great benefits to health, including increased metabolic activity, increased resistance to disease, increased powers of recovery from illness and leading to a long and healthy life.
While qi circulation in the Ren and Du meridians is a vital part of maintaining health, Wang Ji Wu felt that the beginner should not try and force the qi to flow through strong intention. His advice was to practice the exercises with a relaxed mind and the intention focused on the dan tian. After the qi has gathered in the dan tian, it will find its own way in the "Small Heavenly Cycle" through the gentle coaxing of the physical movements."
All of the good teachers that I have been exposed to have the same advice for beginniners. Don't force things with the mind that can be accomplished just as easily, fully, and safely, with gentle concentration and simple body movements. Through experience I have learned that they are correct. I myself practiced those "fad" methods for years. While I did indeed feel some partial benefits from these practices, the results were not nearly as great, or as functional, as the results I obtained through the practice of much simpler methods. Personally, I found that physical movement in coordination with the breath and very simple mental imagery was far more practical and beneficial.
In the chapter on Nei Gong in the Written Transmissions of Xing Yi Quan it states:
"If the dan tian is lacking, the qi will not be sufficient. With insufficient qi, power will be inadequate. The five elements and the twelve forms will be empty. In this state, in defense one will be as a city surrounded by a dry moat, in attack, one will be like a strong soldier with a weak horse. One must practice Xing Yi Quan diligently everyday. Sitting in meditation trying to become immortal will not cultivate the dan tian."
All of the nei gong I have been taught in mainland China and Taiwan by individuals who I would consider top rate martial artist was very simple, practical, and effective. Again, simple repetitive movements combined with simple imagery and executed in coordination with the breath is the most effective way to practice.
In Ba Gua Zhang much of the nei gong work is accomplished through nei gong exercises which are similar to things like the ba duanjin - eight section brocade) however they have more of a Ba Gua twisting and turning flavor. There are also other basic hand and body movement exercises, and the circle walking practice while holding the "eight mother palms," which are included in the nei gong training.
Every Ba Gua system I have encountered has their version of the eight mother palms. These palms are also sometimes called the qi gong palms, the nei gong palms, the "inner palms," or "the basic palms," but the practice is the same. The student walks the circle while holding static upper body postures and executing simple directional changes. Concentration is placed on maintaining a stable dan tian, the breathing is smooth, continuous, and natural, and there is a simple mental image associated with each of the eight palms and the transitions between the palms. This practice is the core of nei gong in Ba Gua.
3) Qi Gong - Qi Gong training consists of breath control, simple visualization, meditation, and nonspecific body movement techniques and exercises for various purposes including increased circulation of qi and blood to the distal points of the extremities, increased vital capacity, increased mental focus, and increased whole body strength. These methods typically consisted of very straight-forward exercises designed to strengthen the body internally and increase mental focus. These exercises and techniques are a far cry from the "new age" qi gong of today which consists of a mixed bag of incomplete practices from various disciplines stirred up in a pot of mysticism and esoteria and promising results of "qi power" and "spiritual enlightenment."
The qi gong which the internal martial artists practiced was simple and the results where obtained gradually. Simple practice and gradual development in qi gong insures a safe practice. Any qi gong practice which promises quick results is probably dangerous. Much of the "quick results" qi gong which is written about and practiced today was taught in China to soldiers in time of war. Obviously in war time it was necessary for the soldiers to be trained quickly. It was also no concern of the people training the soldiers whether or not the soldiers developed side effects from the training years down the road or died at a young age as a result of the training. The war was now and the soldiers had to be strong and tough now. Unfortunately, after the war the surviving soldiers went home and taught these methods in their home villages. Lineages where formed and so we are left with these dangerous practices today. In many cases the damage done by bad qi gong will not show up for many years and so people did not usually connect the illness with the qi gong. Practices such as "Iron Shirt," "Iron Palm," and hanging weights from the testicles are the very worst of the practices which fall into this category.
Much of the "dangerous" qi gong methods mentioned above which were taught in war time originated in places like the Shaolin temple. In the temple the monks who practiced these methods did not take the same risks as the soldiers because they had time to develop these practices slowly and gradually and they led a lifestyle which was conducive to this kind of development. There meditation practices, diet, daily schedule, and herbal supplements all served to keep the body in balance while performing these exercises. When these practices were separated from the monastic lifestyle, and thus practiced incompletely, they became dangerous and while producing quick results, they were very harmful in the long run.
Other qi gong methods, from both the Daoist and Buddhist traditions, underwent a similar transformation when they were taken from the temples and taught to the general public. More times than not the transmission was incomplete and when the practice was separated from the lifestyle of a monk, it became potentially dangerous. In a future issue of the Pa Kua Chang Journal we will have a more in-depth look at qi gong and the dangers of incorrect practice. Good qi gong practice is very simple and the results are obtained gradually.
Mixing the Ingredients - Even if a Ba Gua teacher is teaching elements of all of the above training methods, it still may not come together to form what I would call a "complete system." What is listed above could be analogous to ingredients required to prepare food. If you were to posses all of the ingredients to make a certain food, but did not know how to mix the ingredients appropriately, how to prepare and cook the ingredients, and how to add the spices, you could not prepare the food properly. Martial arts training is similar. Just because a teacher has a grand list of exercises, forms, and training methods does not mean he has a system. There are a great many teachers of Ba Gua in the United States today who have a hodgepodge of forms and exercises from various systems and sources and they do not really know how to put them together to train students effectively. They have a lot of ingredients, but no recipe.
If the teacher shows the student "Sun Lu Tang's form" this month, "Jiang Rong Chiao's form" next month, adds in "Wang Shu Jin's form" two months down the road, and then supplements the forms with ba duan jin and "iron shirt" and shows you his "fighting training" which simply consists of his interpretation of "the application" of each of the form movements, you are simply following him down his road that leads to Ba Gua Nowhereland. Complete martial arts training programs are very systematic. Like building a house, there is a plan. A strong foundation is built and then each piece is added sequentially and everything fits in its place. When the plan has been followed, there are no missing pieces in the end.
A good teacher with a complete system will be able to show the student how to practice each exercise and form, be able to explain why each exercise is being practiced, how it fits into the overall picture, and where it is leading to next. Additionally, the teacher will also know how to vary the program from one student to the next in order to fit each student's individual needs based on age, sex, coordination, experience, strength, build, constitution, health concerns, etc. Not every student can be taught the same way. Every complete martial arts method has a systematic program and each teacher knows how to vary that program to bring out the best in each student.
Conclusion - In order to raise the level of Ba Gua practiced in the United States, I feel that it is important for students to strive to learn a complete Ba Gua system. Let's put an end to the fragmentation that has occurred over the last 70 or 80 years. This is the only way this art will continue to grow and flourish. Ba Gua is not "a form, " it is a system. If you are teaching Ba Gua, you know whether or not you have a complete system. If you are teaching fragments, complete your training. Eat some humble pie and search out an instructor who has a complete method so you can fill in your own missing pieces and pass a complete art along to your students.
More than one Ba Gua "teacher" in this country is out there teaching Ba Gua forms to students that they picked up from video tapes, weekend seminars, or a two week trip to China. This typically occurs with teachers who have been trained in one system, like Shaolin, Tai Ji, or Xing Yi and have students that also want to learn Ba Gua. In order to keep their students, they quickly run out and buy a video or take a seminar and then teach what they learned the next week. It is sad, but it is not an uncommon occurrence. Again, if you are a martial arts teacher and want to teach Ba Gua, spend some time really learning Ba Gua yourself before trying to teach it to someone else. Learn Ba Gua as Ba Gua, don't learn a Ba Gua form and then try to guess how all of the moves are used based on your knowledge of Tai Ji, Xing Yi, or Shaolin. You will not get it right.
If you are a student, take a hard look at what you are being taught and decide whether or not it has everything you are looking for in a martial art. Ask your teacher to explain his system and how each of the components fit together. Use common sense. Do not be fooled by explanations that sound too general, promises of results that sound unrealistic, or training that seems too easy. Good Ba Gua training is extremely difficult.
If you feel your teacher is a good martial artist and you would like to obtain his skill level, ask your teacher about his background and how he was trained. If he talks about how his teacher made him walk the circle for hours in a low posture and made him repeat simple form movements everyday for months before he would be given the next section of a form, then he should be teaching you that way. Otherwise, you are probably never going to be as good as he is. Use common sense. Don't allow a teacher to "sell you," let him convince you through your own progress. Don't let a teacher tell you that you have to practice for ten years to get internal power. A student that practices hard should develop a good deal of power within the first year or two of training. It will take years to further refine that power, however, if you have been studying Ba Gua for two or three years and haven't greatly improved your internal power, something is missing.
Editor's Note: I realize that this two part article has in some ways been quite negative and will probably upset some people. What I have expressed here are my personal opinions based on my experiences. If others have opposing opinions based on their experiences, that is fine, they are entitled to them and I respect each person's individual opinion. If you feel like expressing your opinion to our readers, write to me and I will gladly print it.
As a journalist I feel that if I "sugar coated" everything I wrote so that I would not upset anyone, I would not be doing my job. I feel it is my duty to conduct my research as thoroughly as possible and then to express my honest opinion based on that research. I do not ask that everyone see things my way, I only ask that readers consider what is said. Again, I feel it is a writer's job to get people thinking, not to make everyone feel good about themselves.
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