It’s hard to know where to start when talking about bagua, as it’s such a broad and intensely profound art. When teaching or learning the art one typically starts with static movements and drills, footwork, you know all the fundamental skills. It took me at least 2 years before I had even a sense of what I was doing in the art, by that I mean 2 years before I started to really grasp the concept of what bagua is. It was an enigma. I had trained in other styles and been exposed to bagua before, but the way this system (Gao Bagua) was taught was different. It certainly wasn’t due to bad teaching as my teacher Sifu Yu Kai Chang is a multi-system inheritor of many internal martial arts, and truly a world class teacher. Bagua performs everything on both the left and right side of the body, so the left and right side of our brains get a work out. Baffling ingenious foot work there is in it’s forms. Bagua for me now can be summed up in a few words; Twist, Turn, Root, Stretch, and Move. Sifu Chang had a unique vision for the internal martial arts. Sifu Chang learned very traditionally, literally learning only one move or short sequence over the period of a month. The following months teachings would consist of the previous months lessons and well it took a lot of time. Many students came and many left. Tedious hours and repetition a lot of us would call this very boring, and who has time to dedicate to that; after all MMA, Krav Maga, Muay Thai, and Kali all throw you into fighting and self defense day one. A student of the above mentioned arts start knocking heads typically on the first day. Yes I’m generalizing, but take a 6-month student of bagua vs a 6-month Kali or Krav Maga student and I’ll put money on the Kali or Krav Maga guy/or girl; a conversation for another time.
Sifu Chang taught very fast by traditional standards, but he felt this was necessary in that people these days will get bored and quit. They will not commit or practice as they did in the past due to the fast pace we all live now. Plus we have guns and there’s a lot of information on youtube and the internet. It’s hard enough at times to find an hour a day to work out, it gets harder with a family too by the way. So Sifu Chang taught us faster than he was taught, the main points were shown with applications and in retrospect nothing was left out. It was up to us to practice the material and fill in any holes there may have been anyway. A good teacher can take you only so far after all.
End posture end posture end posture, this is really the key to most any martial art the transitions come later. Good martial arts skill or power is rooted in structure, that’s why everyone practices hours of horse stance and other foot work drills. Consider how to throw a punch like a jab in boxing, one will typically learn how to hold their hands at the beginning (hands up around their head) and the full extension will be shown (arm extended out in a punch). It’s up to the practitioner to fill in the middle ground of the punch, so if your body knows the beginning and end of a movement it’ll naturally get better and more efficient at going from point A to point B. That’s why in bagua we match up the 6 external harmonies fist with foot, elbow with knee, and shoulder with hip. The end postures are obviously stressed when first learning a new form or sequence and muscle memory eventually takes over.
We consist of muscle, bone, and tendon fascia. These are some of the things we are most concerned about in bagua or internal martial arts. We align the bones and issue power with the tendon/fascia, extending not contracting. Consider a cat, they’re hairy balls of tendon and sinew. We have all seen a cat jump (youtube if you haven’t), or get scared and it leaps up into the air. Picture the cat when it’s scared now, it doesn’t have time to bend it’s joints it just fires! It ignites it’s tendons and whole body springing into the air, typically 2-4 feet. When we train our tendons instead of our muscles we too can have this explosive type of power. It’s been said that Fa Jin (issuing of power) is simply a controlled sneeze type of movement, and we see this in cats when they are startled.
How bagua ignites the tendons is by twisting and stretching. Bagua is riddled with perplexing body, arm, and leg twists; your whole body coiled up like a snake. Compare it to a paper towel for a moment, when the towel is straight or flat it’s easily ripped in half or shredded. Now twist the paper towel, twist it until you can twist no more, and now try to tear it in half or rip it. Not so easy, you encounter some resistance and have given the paper towel strength. The practice of bagua is twisting and circular in nature, your constantly turning all the way in one direction like ringing out a towel, and then back in the other direction. This lengthens and strengthens the tendons and fascia in the arms and legs, and massages the internal organs of the abdomen. Still water becomes stagnant, so do our bodies, bagua is functional movement for health with tag along martial arts function to boot. Go on try it, put your hand out in front of you palm up, now twist and rotate your palm as far as you can to the left, now go the right. Now go more! Twist until you can’t twist anymore and then try and go further. Feel the resistance and strength when your fully rotated one way or the other and taste what it is to rotate a bit with bagua concept.
Our bodies were made to rotate and move in multiple directions. So why not practice an art who’s core principal and values are based on rotation and functional movement. Take an Olympic clean and jerk movement, to perform this movement we can only move our bodies up and down back and forward, functionally forward and backwards. No twisting can be done, one as it’ll injure you, and two because we are trying to lift a weighted bar up in the air as “efficiently” as possible. No doubt one will become stronger from this exercise of lifting a bar up from the ground, however what about the left right, side to side, or intermediary directions/muscles? They are neglected in an Olympic lift. Try getting out of a car only moving forward to back, no rotation. Get up from a cushy couch without rotating, how long did it take you, did you get stuck? Bagua enhances 360 degree functional movement, and is truly the PHD of martial arts. Keep moving.