Thursday, January 31, 2013

Ba Gua Footwork

       In this article I want to take a look at one of the foundations of Ba Gua Zhang. Footwork, without a strong understanding of footwork, your Ba Gua can hardly be said to be Ba Gua. When I was coming up in my training, the saying was, “Ba Gua is footwork.”  Without moving your feet, you are static and exposed, in the line of fire, lack power in your attacks and violate the principles of Ba Gua. Good Ba Gua Zhang has good footwork.
         I have been around long enough to see and hear many things that one group of folks will say is not Ba Gua and the next group will calm the same, is the true orthodox Ba Gua. As I have said before, I don’t believe in the true orthodox way exists, only adhering to the principles, but I also think many of those who claim something is not Ba Gua Zhang or that something else was mixed in, really haven’t done their research. With all that being said, let’s take a look at Ba Gua Zhang footwork.
       Let’s start where Dong Hai Chuan started. It is well known that Dong would not take on a student unless he was accomplished in another art. This art usually contained what are called the 7 classical stances. The 7 classical stances are those 7 stances that are contained in most of China’s martial arts. They include; Front stance, Horse stance, Cat stance, Kneeling stance, Crane stance, Crouching Tiger stance, and Cross stance. Now, the names may vary, but the stances are all recognizable by most who practice Chinese martial arts. If one does the research, you will be able to spot all of theses stances in various changes throughout the different lineages of Ba Gua Zhang. The importance of these stances are they are the foundation that Ba Gua circle walking and Eight direction rooted stepping is built on. If this were not so, why did Dong Hai Chuan require mastery of another art before starting Ba Gua Zhang?
        Eight Direction Rooted Stepping is the footwork one uses, when you make yourself the center of the circle or looking for a good angle of attack and stepping directly through your opponents center. Eight Direction Rooted Stepping is performed in the Dragon stance, what many consider the Ba Gua stance. It can be performed with many variations, but the primary emphasis should be on developing pivoting skills in all directions, along with half step or jump step and long step for attacking the center of your opponent. I have found that Eight Direction Rooted Stepping has been most helpful against an overly aggressive opponent.
           Circle walking footwork has many variations and types, but they all boil down too basically three types; Snake step, Lion step, and Crane step. Snake step also known as mud stepping is the step that is used develop stability in walking and bring more chi to the legs. There are some who think this is the only Ba Gua step. Those folks don’t fight much. It is performed by bringing the foot forward in a completely flat manner, so the whole foot sets at one time. Lion step or Rolling step is considered the combat step. It allows you to quickly and effectively maneuver over various terrains. It is performed like natural walking, with the heel setting down first and then rolling the rest of the foot forward. Crane step is used to develop stability for kicking. It is performed by drawing up the rear foot to a crane stance before stepping forward and down.
         Those are the stepping patterns. The stances that you walk the circle in are Toe-in and Toe out. Some will say we walk in a Dragon stance, and I will say I do to, but a Dragon stance is really just an extended Toe-in stance. When you step forward with the inside foot stepping straight, this your Toe-out stance. This is the genius of circle walking footwork even when you change direction you are primarily using only using two different stances with the classical stances mixed in as needed.
         This article is by no means a complete examination of Ba Gua footwork, but it is a good start. It is meant to get you thinking about Ba Gua footwork and to possibly expand your view on what Ba Gua footwork is. Remember Ba Gua Zhang is footwork!

Snake step

Lion Step


Crane Step
Toe In Stance
Toe Out Stance


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Excert from my book on Ba Gua principles

        To Sink your Center is the first principle in the Five Principles of Combat. Which are:
1)   Sink Your Center
2)   Stay Within Yourself
3)   Don’t Meet Force with Force
4)   Take Only What is Given
5)   Flow Like Water

           As I have discussed Sinking Your Center before, I am not going to go over it except to say that it must be done first for any of the other principles to be effective.     
         Stay within yourself has two connotations: one physical and one mental. Staying within yourself is the ability to pay attention to what you are doing, not what is happening to you, which is the mental aspect. The difference between what you are doing and what is happening to you, many do not understand, and this is why they have trouble when they fight. The difference is basically one of mental state. One state says, “What am I doing that is allowing him to hit me?” The other state says, “I am getting hit!” Understanding how these two different thoughts function in the body is vitally important to understanding staying within yourself.
     What am I doing that is allowing him to hit me? This is a thought that allows you to stay within yourself. It keeps you in control of what you are doing, even though you are still getting hit you are taking responsibility for it. Asking yourself “what you are doing” keeps you in control, allowing you to make the necessary adjustments to keep from getting hit. It is important to note that this attitude keeps out the fear factor as well. For example, let’s say your opponent is extremely fast and/or big. By concentrating on what you need to do to get those qualities, fear does not have a chance to enter your mind and paralyze your mind and body.
     When you ask yourself, “What am I doing that is allowing him to hit me” makes you constantly improve your technique. If you are getting hit, obviously you are not doing the best technique you could be. This may have nothing to do with the mechanics of the technique, rather the timing and sensitivity of it. Everything has to be right when dealing with the bigger, faster, stronger opponent and all to often, unfortunately, that is exactly who you will be dealing with. By paying attention to what you are doing, you will have the opportunity to cover openings in your defense, develop sensitivity to your center, and take advantage of your opponents weak areas. 
     The other state of mind that says, “I am getting hit!” will paralyze you with fear. It takes control of the fight and gives it to your opponent. For he is the one you are focusing on, and the fact that he is hitting you. You can not stay within yourself if you are thinking about someone else. You can not make the necessary adjustments to keep from getting hit, because you are not thinking about that. You are thinking about the pain of impact and fear. This will cause your mind to freeze and along with it, your body. Never, never be so concerned with what your opponent is doing that you come outside yourself.
     The mental aspect of stay within yourself deals with paying attention to what you are doing, so that you can constantly improve your technique as well as being aware of your center and not allowing it to rise up to your chest or head. The physical aspect of stay within yourself has to do with all the physical movements that keep your center down and prevent you from reaching with your technique.     Before we talk about staying within yourself physically, we must define reaching as it applies to fighting. Reaching is extending the technique
to the point that it causes your center to move and lose it’s root. Reaching is an all to common problem and is made worse by the fact that some have taught their students to reach by either skipping or falling into the technique. To prevent reaching you must be aware of two things: your center, and the length of your technique from your center. As all, properly thrown technique comes from your center. You must know where your center is and how far it is from your center to the end of your technique.
     Staying within yourself physically means that after you have sunk your center, you must ensure that it stays down by not attempting to go beyond the length of the technique being used. The length of the technique is learned by repeatedly throwing the technique to the point just before reaching occurs. This is a fine line; the one that separates total victory from complete disaster. But it must be mastered to master the concept of staying within yourself. Knowing where the line between complete extension of a technique and reaching, is vitally important. Especially when dealing with systems that specialize in causing their opponents to reach, like: Tai Chi, Judo, and Shuai Jiao.
     To stay within yourself, you must understand the proper mental attitude of “what am I doing?” and the physical discipline of controlling and extending from your center. Without these abilities, you can not stay calm enough or move efficiently enough to do what comes next, which is “never meet force with force.”
       Never meet force with force, the principle that the art of Tai Chi has taken to the ultimate understanding. The truly great thing about this principle is it is not a mystery to understand. Doing it, however, is another story. The reasoning behind this principle is quite simple in the face of the realization that there is always someone bigger, faster, and stronger. Trying to go toe to toe with a larger opponent who can generate much more force is not wise and very painful. Even if you could go toe to toe with the opponent, why would you want to take the abuse if you do not have to. This is where never meet force with force comes in.
     To effectively avoid or yield to the incoming force of an attack, development of listening skills or sensitivity must take place. “Listening Jing or energy is not done with the ears, but rather with the skin. You use your sense of touch to pay very close attention to the opponent’s motion and energy. Listening is done with skin of the entire body. Any part of your body may be touched or attacked during a fight, and almost any part may be used for an attack” (Yang pg 102). The ability to listen is developed through various training drills contained within the internal arts. Tai Chi’s “push hands” drill is an excellent place to start training sensitivity as well as BaGua’s “soft hands” drill.  The goal of these drills is to teach how to listen to your opponents energy or intention, so that you can avoid and move around it.
     To move around the force, footwork must be trained. Not just the strait line footwork of many linear styles, but angular and circular footwork as well. Strait line footwork is fine for attacking, but for defense it does nothing to move you out of the line of fire, it only delays the inevitable. For this reason, many systems have developed angular and circular stepping methods, with BaGua having the most advanced footwork system of any fighting system. Angular and circular stepping allows you to feel the force move out of its way and counter immediately.
     To illustrate how important footwork is to fighting skill, I would like to share a story that my former teacher, Bok Nam Park, shared with me about one of his students in Korea. After the passing of his teacher Lu Shui-T’ien, Sifu Park became very well known for his skill in Ba Gua. Hearing of Sifu Park’s skill in Kung Fu, a man came to Park’s school who wanted to lean the martial arts, but thought the traditional Korean systems did not have anything to offer him. Sifu Park took the man on as a student and taught the man Ba Gua circle walking and pivot stepping. The man trained daily for hours at a time just doing footwork. Soon he became untouchable during sparring, due to his excellent footwork. Many of his fellow students did not enjoy their sparring time with the man due to his ability to disappear like a ghost, then reappear and strike, all because of footwork. There is one other thing you should know about the man. He had no arms. I can think of no other story that better illustrates the importance of footwork and never meeting force with force.
              Never meeting force with force is primarily a defensive tactic but it can and should be used offensively as well, along with the principle: Take only what is given. What does it mean to take only what is given? No fighting stance or defensive posture can cover all of its openings or weaknesses at once. This may not be just inherent in the physical posture, but how  it is used as well. For example, the typical American Kickboxing stance gives its opponents rear leg sweeps and a large variety of throws. On the other hand, traditional Karate, with its deep stances, does not often give the rear leg sweep. However, because of the linear movement and thought patterns involved in Karate, they give openings to the rear which are easily reached by circling behind. Taking what is given is a matter of learning to see the openings or (what is given) and then take advantage of them.
     You must also understand that when an opponent attacks you, he is giving the most you are going to get from him. When your opponent attacks, he is completely open and vulnerable to counter attack. When your opponent commits to an attack, he must do so both mentally and physically. Which means, physically, he must open up and extend, and mentally, he is focused on offense and he is not paying attention to defending all the openings he just created. A good example of this would be the typical reverse punch that all systems have. When the rear hand extends forward, that side of the body is completely open for the length of time it takes to throw the technique, giving you that time to attack. By learning the proper application of never meeting force with force you will increase that time even more, which in turn allows you more time ti take advantage of what is given. While the opponent’s arm is physically extending and opening up his body, his mind is narrowing its focus to the target of attack. Even if he wanted to, it would be more difficult for him to pay attention to his openings, causing him to give more than he wants, but he has not choice if he wishes to attack.
     Learning to see what is given during his attack requires bravery and a calm of mind. That is why the best way to learn the principles of never meet force with force and take only what is given are best learned in slow sparring, where fear of injury is not a concern.
     Another part of take only what is given is the concept of “closest weapon to closest target.” Basically this means whatever target is closest
you hit with whatever weapon is closest to the target. An example of this would be if you are throwing jabs at your opponent’s head, but he has his hands up protecting his head. Rather than target his head, which is being protected, the closest weapon to closest target principle would have you attack the radial nerve on the inside of his forearm with a jab. Your jab is the closest weapon to the closest open target of the radial nerve.
     Learning to use the principle of closest weapon to closest target takes some time to learn to see, but once learned will quickly increase your fighting speed and efficiency. Understand that fighting speed and absolute speed are two different things. Absolute speed is how quickly you can move from point A to point B. Fighting speed is how quickly you can hit someone with enough force to do damage. Absolute speed is good to have but not absolutely necessary. If you take the time to develop good technique and fighting principles, you can develop tremendous fighting speed with only average absolute speed. This I can testify to personally, many have commented to me how fast I am when I fight, but the truth be known I only have average absolute speed. By following the five principles of combat, I appear to be much faster than I am.
     Sink your center, stay within yourself, never meet force with force, take only what is given: these four are the foundation for the fifth principle “Flow like water.” 
             Flow like water for anyone who started training in the martial arts after the death of Bruce Lee, have heard that at least once or probably more, and may have gained superficial understanding of it. To flow like water you must understand the characteristics of water. Water always takes the path of least resistance, i.e., never meeting force with force. Water always seeks the lower ground, i.e., sink your center. Water will flow on the outside until it finds an opening to come in, i.e., take only what is given. Water will take on the shape of its container, i.e., stay within yourself. But there is more to water than these four things.
     The characteristics of waters ability to flow has many fighting applications. Water can gently flow around a rock, slowly wearing it down and turning it into sand. On the other hand, water can be so pressurized that it will cut right through the rock. The main characteristics from water that you want to take on is the continuous flow. Never stop throwing technique, you will either wear away your opponent’s defense and turn it into sand, or you will cut right through it with your continuous pressure. This continuous flow or pressure can be learned in the forms of a fighting system, but will only learn to be applied through sparring. Not tournament point sparring, rather continuous sparring where a flow of technique can be developed and utilized as they would be in a real fight.
     Water also takes on the shape of it’s container. Before I had attached this particular characteristic to the principle of stay within yourself, but it is much more. Let me paraphrase what Bruce Lee to explain: “Water is soft, water is hard. It is liquid, a gas, a solid. If I pour it into a cup, it becomes the shape of the cup. If I pour it into a bottle, it becomes the shape of the bottle. Water is the most adaptable thing in the universe. It has no form that it might assume all forms. Be water my friend! Be water my friend!”
     You must be adaptable like water. You must be able to respond with the appropriate technique no matter what it is. You must have no-form in your form. By this I mean you must not have a formulated plan of attack (I am going to do this, then he will do that, and I will follow through with this).  The reason being, rarely does the opponent do what he is suppose to, which completely throws off the plan and it does not work. You must be able to see what is happening and respond correctly with what you have.
     Bruce Lee wanted everybody to learn as much as possible so they would be able to adapt to what is needed. Another more traditional way is to completely learn what you have been taught so that you can respond appropriately to any situation with it. This is where your form has no-form. This is a high level of training for it requires you to thoroughly understand the principles and theories that your fighting system is based on.
          To reach a high level of flow like water, you must train until you can use all you basic techniques in any situation. A good example of this is western boxing. They have about five punches, two blocks, and a little footwork. They are not a fighting system overflowing with technique, but they work those few techniques to the point that they can use them in just about any situation. Few people enjoy their sparring experience with boxers, even if they win. Many Asian masters have commented that their most difficult opponents have been western boxers. Why? Because they know what they do so well that they can use it in any situation. Boxers understand no-form form and flowing like water.
     Water has many characteristics that we, as martial artists, must seek to emulate. It is soft, powerful, adaptable, and flowing. Flowing like water is the sum of five principles of combat. Those who choose to use these five principles will appear to flow around their opponent, choosing when and where the fight ends. Flowing like water has been the goal of fighting masters since the beginning. From what needs to be done, to when it needs to be done, with only enough effort to do the job. In essence, flowing like water is the art of effortless power or doing without doing (WuWei).

     I would like to close this section with an excerpt from an article on the Sabaki Challeng from Black Belt Magazine, August 1990. I chose this article not because it is about me, but because it is a description of what someone sees when they watch the five principles applied.
     “The middleweight match pairing Enshin stylist Shingo Asayama of Japan, against Shaolin stylist Michael Martin of Ohio, was a delight to watch, because Martin actually did in the ring what so many Kung Fu fighters just talk about: he harmonized with his opponent’s movements and directed Asayama’s force back at him. For example, when Asayama grabbed Martin’s arm and pushed, Martin simply yielded to the push, twisted and hit Asayama in the face with a spinning elbow strike. Martin was disqualified for the illegal blow (he had earlier hit Asayama’s face with another elbow strike), but he was nonetheless impressive. He did not seem to think about his techniques, but instead reacted instinctively to his opponent. His match was in stark contrast to most of the fights which featured straight-in, toe to toe action.”
     “Be water, my friend! Be water, my friend!”

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

What I would like to do here.

      This blog is going to be the home of articles and videos I have produced over the years on Ba Gua Zhang. I have been involved with martial arts for over 30 years, and I am beginning to realize that what I thought to be common sense about martial arts and Ba Gua Zhang specifically, is not. The more I share with so called traditionalist, the more I learn about peoples need to do it the way we have always done it with no thought as to how it works. What I really like are the Ba Gua traditionalist  who have obviously not taken any time to research any branch of Ba Gua other than their own because they have the pure true style. Well I hate to tell you there is no one pure true style. Dong Hai Chuan did not teach one way, he taught his students according to what they already knew. He did not accept students who had not already mastered another art. So every time I hear, That's not real Ba Gua because something else has been mixed in. I have to laugh, because if your definition of real Ba Gua is nothing has been mixed in, well then, Dong Hai Chuan didn't teach real Ba Gua by that definition.

       Ba Gua Zhang is an art of principles not techniques. If you understand the principles and apply them to your technique then you are doing Ba Gua Zhang. And if you are doing what you think is Ba Gua Zhang, but don't apply the principles, you are not doing Ba Gua Zhang.
       If you are more concerned with doing it the way master So and so did it then adhering to the principles you are not doing Ba Gua Zhang. Ba Gua Zhang was not meant to be stale or stagnant. It was meant to be alive and growing. Things that are alive, grow and change. Ba Gua is a system of principles so that it can grow and change and continue to be alive.
         My personal favorite saying that traditionalist will say is " Ba Gua Zhang is based on Change."
They then turn around and get all offended if you change something. These folks seem to think that their teacher's teacher was semi divine and that to change something tantamount to treason. Well he was not, he was just a man and it is possible that he made some mistakes, it is possible to improve on his understanding of the principles.
       Don't think I am saying we should toss out everything. What I am saying is that it is possible to improve on one man's perspective by looking at others and incorporating them in to what we do. This is what I do and this what I will be sharing here.