Essays on Baguazhang
© Geoff Sweeting 2018
Baguazhang (Eight Diagram Palm/Eight Diagram Boxing) is a dynamic and fluid martial art that primarily utilizes spiral and circular power with turning and penetrating palms combined with continually changing footwork. This unique art adheres to the practical philosophy of ceaseless change and adaptation, and makes use of unorthodox guerrilla warfare-style tactics enabling a smaller force to overcome a larger power with greater confidence. This boxing art may be classed as a traditional form of mixed martial art, as it combines striking, trapping, throws and takedowns in its empty hands practice and numerous weapons training, all in the one system.
The art of Eight Diagram Boxing employs unpredictable, changing strategies such as:
dodge and strike, harass and run, outflank and contain the centre, evade left and right, sidestep and cut, duck and weave, move in and out, enter high and strike low, feign retreat & turn back suddenly, advance with wild intent then yield with sudden control, appear gentle and respond fiercely, wait in stillness and suddenly move, start calmly then strike with vicious force and so on. All of these strategies combined with training in the concepts of ‘circle-walking,’
‘whole-body power,’ ‘single-thread energy’ and ‘internal strength’ form what is known as
A Brief History of Baguazhang and the Liang Zhenpu Lineage
Baguazhang is one of three main martial arts styles from China that are commonly referred to as ‘Internal Arts’ (Xingyiquan, Baguazhang and Taijiquan). The name Baguazhang is literally translated into English as ‘Eight Diagram Palm’. The eight diagrams symbolize the interplay of yin and yang, which are used to describe the cyclical nature of change manifested in the universe. They were first recorded in the Chinese classic known as the Yi Jing (Zhou Jing), or ‘the book of changes’ over 4000 years ago.
Baguazhang belongs to the superior fighting arts of China. It is classed as one of the last classical martial arts to be formed in China. The founder of Baguazhang was Dong Hai Chuan. His original name was Dong Meng Kui. He was a stocky man with very long arms who studied martial arts diligently during his youth. When his hometown suffered under poor harvests and natural disasters, Dong left home in search of better opportunities, and vowed not to return until he was crowned with success.
When he arrived in the capital (Beijing) he had many challenge matches, all of which he lost. He quickly discovered that he still had much to learn. From this he decided to embark on a journey around China to seek out masters of the martial arts everywhere and learn from them. Thus he changed his name from Dong Meng Kui to Dong Hai Chuan. In Chinese “Hai Chuan” means to “embrace the world”, which stood for his openness in learning.
Dong travelled extensively through Henan, Jiangsu, Anhui, Jiangxi and Sichuan provinces, and learned much about the martial arts. After 30 years of learning and refining his arts, which included learning both Daoist and Buddhist gongfu, as well as spending some time living in a monastery with Daoist monks, in his 50’s he created his own style of martial arts called Zhuan Zhang (Turning Palms). This was a unique style that was completely new to the world of Chinese fighting arts, and became widely revered for its unorthodox guerrilla warfare strategies of constant movement and change, and its mysterious circle walking practices combining both martial and spiritual methods.
From this point on Dong led a colourful life in Beijing taking on all comers and being undefeated in combat. He was even employed to work in the royal palace where he became head of security. From here his reputation grew to huge proportions and his martial exploits were many, all of which have been well documented. He was held in such high esteem among the world of martial artists that people spoke of his methods as being Divine and coming straight from Heaven. Truly they said his skills were not of this earth.
At some point he changed the name of his art from Zhuan Zhang to Baguazhang, after discovering that his theories and tactics aligned themselves perfectly with the theories of the Yi Jing (book of changes). And from then to the present day Dong Hai Chuan’s art was known as Baguazhang.
Dong had many great students who went on to become remarkable men themselves. One such man was Liang Zhenpu.
Liang Zhenpu was the youngest of Master Dong’s disciples, beginning his training with the master at 16 years of age, and was one of his favourite disciples because of this.
In 1899 Liang killed a few men during a political uprising in his hometown, and was subsequently arrested and imprisoned, only to escape from jail the following year.
Liang hid out in the country side and managed to open an armed escort service on the outskirts of Beijing and Baoding. After the change in government he was once again allowed to return to the city. He stopped his bodyguard service and began to teach martial arts in Tianjin and Hebei. During this time he also had the unique opportunity to teach his art in the cities’ high schools.
Upon his return to Beijing, Liang was able to further his studies with master Dong Hai Chuan, who was by then an old man.
Dong had further refined his skills and techniques, and he passed these on to Liang. During this time master Dong taught Liang, sword techniques and the seven star staff.
Liang also deepened his understanding of the art by studying with Dong’s most senior students, especially Shi Jilin (Shi Jidong). This is why Liang style and Shi style Baguazhang have many similarities and the same 8 Character Classic of: Push, lift, carry, lead, remove, cover, split and enter.
Essential Practice Points of Baguazhang
Third generation Eight Diagram Boxing Master Li Ziming described the art of Eight Diagram Palm as “The twin study of both internal and external skills.”
The practice of Eight Diagram Boxing contains internal or stillness methods and martial or self-defence practices combined simultaneously. Both sets of skills have their own purpose and uniqueness. This dual focus upon physically demanding combative training and Taoist and Chan consciousness and energy work is why many people class Baguazhang as an internal martial art.
Among the many and varied practices in this great art there are methods of fixed palms and changing palms, standing forms, single and double technique practices, two person sets, qigong breathing and meditative focuses, free boxing (solo and partnered), combat strategy application and weapons training.
Baguazhang holds the practice of Circle-Walking as a primary principle of the art. Long term, deep practice of circle walking is one of the main keys in understanding the heart of Baguazhang. There are many variations and subtleties within this one method and the applications are endless.
Circle-Walking or walking the circle, is referred to as the “Fundamental Law” of Baguazhang as it essentially contains the entirety of the art in concept and theory, combative strategy, attacking and defending tactics, strength and conditioning training, and is even the primary qigong health practice and neigong or internal work.
All Eight Diagram Palm boxing techniques come out of the circle-walking method. The changing and adapting strength of the palm changes, the relational-dialectical exchange with an opponent, and the guerrilla warfare tactics, are a natural outcropping of the circling methods and their outside-flanking positions. Indeed many Baguazhang techniques would appear difficult to employ, ineffective or even illogical if applied in an only linear fashion and not out of the deep understanding of the circle-walking method, principles and practical application. Therefore circle walking is the root from which all Baguazhang methods arise.
As in Xingyiquan, Eight Diagram Palm boxing teaches that the theory is the practice. This means that what one hears, reads and studies regarding the principles, concepts and fundamental laws, one need also practically employ.
Walking the circle assists the boxer in developing an instinct for guerrilla warfare-style tactics, as it teaches the method of continuous movement. Due to its positioning, circle walking forces the opponent to be contained in the centre, which must always be kept in mind during combative training and free-boxing practice (shadow boxing). Eight Diagram boxers aim to always be on the outside flank, facing inside to the centre, in order to never offer the opponent a frontal battle. The practice of walking the circle provides a perfect method for practically applying and studying this outside-flanking strategy. In circle-walking strategy, the boxer learns to take the initiative in location, which forces the opponent to be unable to use their strategy directly.
As a guerrilla warfare-style tactic walking the circle teaches to confuse the opponent by continually changing positions and being on the run for both attack and defence. This causes the enemy to react hurriedly to the Eight Diagram Boxer’s continually outflanking and dynamically shifting positioning. Being in continual motion also makes for a moving target, which is both harder to hit and even if struck, acts to diminish the power of the opponent’s strike by not taking on direct force, thus reducing it to a glancing blow.
Utilising circle walking strategy as a way of avoiding taking on a direct attack also provides the boxer with a method of successfully dealing with and overcoming a larger and stronger force. In circling to the flank, around or into the opponent, one can avoid frontal battle with a far more powerful enemy and make successful use of this movement for evasion and counterattack.
Generally the circle-walking method is not utilised for a long defence, but rather as a positional form of counterattack. Circling to the outside flank causes the opponent’s direct force to be dispersed and disrupted by the sudden change in position, thus allowing the Eight Diagram boxer an advantageous position and moment with which to counter with an attack of their own. The practice of continually walking the circle, turning and changing through the palm shapes provides the boxer with a practice of learning to keep one’s head amidst continually changing circumstances. In the main guard posture of the millstone palm, the guard points straight whilst the walking moves circularly. This is to “know the straight in the curved and the curved in the straight.” By having the guard directed centrally and the rest of the body moving and circling around it, also teaches the Baguazhang tenant of keeping the point still and moving around it, not trying to move the point itself.
Li Ziming said “To understand how to fight a battle successfully the skill of circle-walking must be deeply grasped and understood.”
Circle-walking is also a form of strength training and conditioning. Though circle-walking strategies provide positional defence that requires no other special forms of defence, holding the hands out in fixed palms shapes (ding shi) whilst walking for very long periods helps strengthen the shoulders, arms and upper body to endure the very tiring reality of keeping up one’s guard to protect the head, face and body from attack whilst one is continually attacking in return during combat. The continual walking strengthens the legs and builds up power and stability in the lower body. Walking very slowly in a low crouch (lower basin) is akin to performing continual squats, and in transitional moments single-legged squats, which is a highly demanding and disciplined strength and conditioning drill. Taoists speak of death beginning in the legs, so the need for healthy peripheral circulation, leg strength and balance as we age is paramount. Circle-walking builds endurance and increases stamina. Walking for long periods with steady, even and natural breathing, the body learns to relax and recover energy without having to stop moving. It is a way of training the capacity to recover or rest amidst effort.
As well as being integral as a martial strategy and health promoting or strength and conditioning practice, circle-walking is seen as a method of cultivating stillness in movement. On one level the upper body remains still whilst the lower body continually moves in walking. In addition, the spirit becomes extraordinarily still and at ease, an unchangeable centre at the heart of all the whirling and turning. The upper part of the body is steadfastness practice, the lower ceaseless change. It is a way of finding a stillpoint amidst the turning of the world. In continual movement is discovered that which does not move. Through constant change is revealed that which does not change. The transformable and the eternal are one. Individual ‘self’ and the environment merge back to oneness.
Three Eyes join at the centre to become one,
Energy descends to stabilize in the lower abdomen,
Hands hold peace at the stillpoint,
Feet walk freely, following the circle paths of nature,
Mind flows a clear stream,
Spirit expands outward to calmly take in all,
This is the way of the Circle-Walking method.
There are many stepping methods for circle-walking. The Eight Diagram boxer continually varies and adapts their methods according to the need and focus of a particular training session or current phase of learning.
For example, walking smoothly and steadily, with a free-flowing momentum in a comfortable ‘sitting’ feeling, stabilizes energy in the lower abdomen and makes the practice more meditative. Walking quickly with sudden turns and continuous changes is focussing on combat tactics and applications. Walking slowly and crouched very low trains leg power and lower body strength and stability. Making use of continual hook steps and swings steps around the circle helps train stable footwork and a clear stepping method. Walking in figure eights, around the jiu gong (nine stations), in the taijibu (yin-yang diagram stepping) assists in mastering agile moving tactics. There are high steps and low steps, long and short stepping, rapid small stepping and big-moving steps, mud-stepping and ice-stepping, running steps and holding steps, advancing and retreating steps, snake, lion and crane steps, and so on. Vary and mix up your circle walking style and methods for an inexhaustible practice of lifetime mastery and benefit for self-defence, health and spiritual cultivation.
To speak of Circle-Walking as being the very art of Baguazhang itself signifies:
It is moving tactics and moving strategies
It is guerrilla warfare
It is outside flanking to the inside
It is positional defence
It is not taking on a direct battle
It is advantageous attacking
It is containing the centre
It is constant change
It is knowing the straight in the curved
It is strengthening the legs for health and power
It is strengthening the arms and shoulders for defence and attack
It is sinking energy to the lower dantian
It is expanding and contracting energies combined
It is rope-twisted for spiral power
It is following the movement of nature
It is resting during effort
It is stillness in movement
It is moving meditation
It is combining Yin-Yang without losing their distinctiveness
Walk to evade and walk away whilst observing the opponent,
Walk to become invisible to the opponent.
Walk to regain balance, walk to obtain a favourable position.
Walk to dodge and walk to strike, walk to turn and walk to go straight.
Walking is protecting and walking is attacking.
Walk through to take down, walk past to escape.
Walk to protect your centreline, walk to control the opponent’s centre.
Walk to out flank and walk to hide,
Walk to make use of guerrilla tactics.
Walk to confuse the enemy and walk to clear your way.
Walk to follow the movement of nature,
Walk so as to not become like ‘a flower in the ground,’
Keep walking till you have circled the earth.
Walk to heal the body and stabilize the spirit,
Walk to know yourself and others.
Single Palm Change
It is important to note that the genuine Baguazhang movements only really come into their strength and are obviously consistent and sensible when they are seen as a solution to side-fighting and intelligent combative exchanges arising out of a guerrilla-style circling, dodging and out-flanking positional defence strategy. Isolating techniques out of the context of their original practical strategies leads to a dilution and weakening of the method’s efficacy and merit. It is important to understand the spirit of the thing, or the thinking behind the development of these methods, not just performance of a set pattern, routine, or application. Grasping the essential principles of the entire movement, of its attack and defence ideas, leads to the freedom of adaptation and ongoing creative progression.
The best foundational Single Palm Change methods are the embodiment of a 1-2-3 combination. Fundamentally this is can be described as 1) Enter/bridge, 2) Strike, and 3) throw/cut-down. Initially the Eight Diagram Boxer needs to study and practice the three parts separately. Once they have understood the essential principles involved in each part and have drilled the movements to be powerful and quick, they can then progress to taking the triad combination into various combinations of fluid rhythms. Each of the three elements that make up the Single Palm Change can be used individually with explosive force, as a 1-2 or 1-2-3 combination (in any order), or utilised as a single fluid and complete method (single-thread energy) with no obvious separation between each movement.
The core movements contain the essential Pitchfork Principle; penetrating right up to the base, lifting with the whole body and turning over to toss aside. These are the Piercing and Turning forces. To master the Single Palm Change, the method should be practiced initially as a flanking-attack to side-tossing or throwing power. This way of utilising Single Palm Change requires full body application, from head to foot, with stable footwork and foundation, a strong, well-conditioned body, and smooth free waist movement. Learning good timing, and understanding the principle of rise-drill, fall-overturn, and mastering the penetrating skill and spiral force are all required to comprehend this approach of Single Palm Change. Once the boxer can skilfully angle and cut-throw or knock down their opponent with the side-tossing or side-chopping force, then it is easy to use the method to guard defensively or as a striking method. Since the strongest and most difficult application has been mastered first, the lesser techniques are easily grasped. Once the Single Palm Change core principles are mastered, then much of the other Baguazhang techniques and methods are made easy because they often utilize the same essential strategy and application of force.
Listed below are some fundamental points relevant to the principle of Single Palm Change:
· One main palm is applied at a time. The power is primarily concentrated into a lead or single arm/hand that changes to the other single arm/hand. Though both hands are always involved; ‘the two hands are in one spirit’.
· It is a 'single change' method. Contains one (single) positional change technique.
· It moves from one side to another, from one flank to another, from the centre to one side, from inside to outside, from outside to inside, out of one position into another.
· It utilizes one main palm changing positions. One palm changes position with the other palm.
· It contains the core principle of rise-drill, fall-overturn.
· The mechanism of force changes from one side of the body to the other.
· The millstone guard is the 'end moment' of Single Palm Change.
· The movement contains both the extending-penetrating force and the contracting-wrapping power.
· Two circles become one circle (the circle one walks around & the circling around one's self-in the spiral guard posture)
· Showing and hiding are one. It attacks high and also bursts up or penetrates inward from below (hidden piercing palm).
· It contains a bridging or entering attack, a penetrating/piercing palm, and a millstone palm gesture.
· It has a guarding palm, penetrating palm, lifting and turning over, knocking and throwing, stabbing and cutting power all at once.
· The foot and hand both pierce and advance with strength. The hand and foot penetrate the opponent's position obliquely and the whole body power follows through.
· When offering the attacking-bridging palm, do not just block, but use the drilled piercing palm to attack the eyes and face forcefully with great intent to harm. Engaging the opponent's eyes forces their spirit to defend with a blink or slight retraction of the head. This serves to hide the penetrating palm that bursts up from below, out of peripheral vision allowing it to appear suddenly from nowhere. Thus Baguazhang makes use of unorthodox strategies in order to defeat the opponent. As the combative exchange becomes more heated it can be seen (in both animals and humans) that each participant attempts to position themselves directly over the top of their opponent in order to dominate psychologically as well as physically. In Baguazhang the boxer often forces this reaction in their opponent in order to obtain an opportunity for victory from beneath this rising energy, and also from its flank. Thus the stepping out-flanks, the attacking-bridge palm deflects and pierces high, the penetrating palm stabs from below, the millstone gesture lifts and overturns cutting and throwing the opponent over the axis point of the penetrating leg.
· Single Palm Change generally contains a form of: Offering/Bridging Palm, A version of Piercing Palm, Lifting Palm, and Overturning Palm.
· It requires clear, definite stepping: Kou bu, Bai bu, Jin bu.
· Firmness and flexibility, straight and curved, horizontal and vertical, containing & expressing, are all present in the one movement.
· It uses penetrating force and rope-twisting strength together in the one method.
· It practically teaches the core Baguazhang concepts of 'containing the centre' and 'the point remains still as one moves around the point.'
· The energy of the Single Palm Change splits apart the structural integrity of the opponent's upper and lower body.
· It trains powerful penetrating and piercing forces along with great side-tossing, spiral-pulling, and angled-cutting powers.
· It contains the straight and the curved.
· Spiralling inward and outward are made one.
· Attack and defence are one.
· Single-thread energy and explosive force are one.
· Expanding & contracting are one energy.
· Movement & stillness are one.
Along with Circle-Walking the Single Palm Change contains the essential heart of the entire art. Do not get caught in the idea of Single Palm Change being only one technique. Rather, it is one essential principle, infinitely applied. Practice it to the left and right, high and low, angling and curving, moving forward and backward, applying smoothly and percussively. Make full use of its powers of striking and throwing, knocking and collapsing, penetrating and cutting, disrupting and breaking, turning and changing, pacing and leading, and so on. Practice every element with an opponent. Only in application against another can one realise the essence of the Single Palm Change method.
Double Palm Change
The Double Palm Change has both palms working to express power. This two-handed power expression utilizes strength and energy through the whole body at once and covers either both sides or front and back of the body simultaneously. Most styles of Double Palm Change add a stronger element of vertical movement than the Single Palm Change- a rise and fall, or point-up and strike-down action. The Double Palm Change also practically demonstrates the principle of continuous guerrilla-style fighting within its method: moving whilst fighting, fighting on the run, dodging and striking, slipping from flank to flank, moving between points continuously, and back and forth harassing and confusing the opponent. The best foundational styles of Double Palm Change begin to teach the Baguazhang boxer how to handle multiple opponents in the guerrilla-style by using the walking to engage one opponent whilst simultaneously turning and walking away from them for positional defence in order to attack a second position or enemy. By continually attacking and engaging an opponent, then walking away and engaging another, only to just as suddenly leave them again, all without pause, casts the opponents into a state of chaos due to the coming and going tactics. Of course Double Palm Change can be used against a single opponent, just as Single Palm Change can be used against more than one.
Listed below are some of the essential characteristics of the Double Palm Change:
· It has a minimum of two positional changes in the technique.
· The Double Palm Change has the ability to run back and forth between two points.
· Embodies the guerrilla-warfare style continually mobile attacking.
· It has the two palms working either both sides, or front and back of the body simultaneously.
· In most Baguazhang styles the Double Palm Change contains at least two repetitions of rise-drill, fall-overturn.
· To the movements of the Single Palm Change the Double Palm Change adds a version of the covering palm and/or covering elbow (with or without a low kick or knee), a vertically rising palm, and a form of downward sinking or pressing palms into a horse stance variant. Refined and advanced versions add another positional change through a dropping-down/snake palm variant before finishing with Single Palm Change.
· Serves as a method of engaging with two or more opponents.
· The Double Palm has the skill of expressing power equally through both palms simultaneously. This has the effect of transmitting energy through the entire body all at once.
· The two palms may express a splitting, pushing, pressing or stretching apart energy.
· The power is spread equally through two arms/hands and both legs/feet.
· Can generate an explosive force through the entire body.
· Teaches the boxer to think of handling multiple opponents with guerrilla-style methods.
· Adds a stronger vertical (rising and falling, up and down) movement to the horizontal power than Single Palm Change.
· Knowing the straight in the curved.
In the art of Baguazhang the Single and Double Palm Change are a natural extension of one another. All of the methods of the Eight Diagram Boxer naturally flow through Single and Double Palm Changes freely, spontaneously and without hesitation. In application there is no thought of single or double palms, no thought of explosive force versus connected single-thread energy expression, or extending power and contracting force- there is only the powerful use of one’s fighting spirit embodied in the physical movements for the intention of defeating the opponent.
Wang Xiangzhai, creator of Dachengquan gave sound advice to Baguazhang practitioners:
“I hope that those who practice Bagua concentrate on single and double ‘chuanzhang’ and try their best to perceive every movement. At the same time, they should make a penetrating study of the theory and put it into practice.”
Four Main Characteristics of Baguazhang
Second generation Master Liang Zhenpu passed down 4 main characteristics integral to the practice of Baguazhang. Below are the explanations of these main characteristics written by Shifu Liang’s direct disciple, third generation Master, Li Ziming.
Translation is by Geoff Sweeting from notes given to him in Beijing in 1998.
1) Baguazhang is stillness and movement combined boxing.
Baguazhang makes use of the superior body doctrine of:
Movement in the body is represented by the foot, knee, waist and hip moving.
Stillness in the physical form is represented by the palm, wrist, elbow and shoulder being still.
By following the higher theory of rotation, the correct changing methods bring a spiral power. So that even if a person is not moving, it’s as though they are coiled around a circle. This means that the coiling to the centre form of the palm shapes give the feeling of moving around the centre-point even when standing still. Also, the changing palms are movement and the circle itself around which the practitioner walks is the relative stillness. This is why the Baguazhang manual says “Movement is the advantage of stillness, stillness is hidden in movement.”
“There is movement coming out of stillness, there is stillness arising from movement.”
After long term correct practice, the practitioner feels their body moving however their spirit feels extraordinarily still. This stillness comes from the continual movement and provides the practitioner with great benefits to mind and body both. The constant moving and walking exercises the body, whilst the emerging stillness within clears the mind and calms the spirit. This allows people to practice with wholehearted devotion and promotes continuous and prolonged training of skills in a way that engages mind, body and spirit into the one practice. Practicing in this manner integrates the internal and external, uniting both aspects as one.
This is what is meant by Baguazhang’s Law of Movement and Stillness.
2) Always be from the outside flank facing inside to attack the centre.
Other schools of martial arts speak of the straight and the slanted to cover the eight directions, but they move in straight lines and do not walk the circle. They may also speak of flanking to the outside in their tactics but do not reach the true principle. As a result of walking the circle both quickly and stably, we realize the importance of having to prevail as quickly as possible. Baguazhang adopts a guerrilla warfare approach to combat strategy by engaging the enemy via circle walking. Moving in a circle around the opponent, the eight diagram boxer does their best to never offer a frontal attack or direct fight.
This contains a very profound, hidden meaning. The first rule is to remain in profile (side-on) to the enemy, in order to dodge his attacks whist seeking out his weaknesses as you continue to attack simultaneously. The second rule is understanding that in being on the outside flank of the opponent you don’t have to hold any special guard to protect yourself, as the flanking position itself is protective from the opponent’s direct force of attack.
One of Baguazhang’s 36 Songs says; “Stepping to the outside to one’s greatest extent, away from the centre.” This means to point towards the opponent’s direction (the centre), and attack behind by the changing method. Advance and change with power, stepping behind the enemy with big, stable steps away from the centre (the enemy’s location). Make use of the circle walking line to reach this advantageous position first.
In other words, always seek to continually be on the outside flank as you continue to walk the circle and fight in a guerrilla-style of combat. Put simply; just don’t give people a direct confrontation.
3) Baguazhang utilizes moving strategies and moving tactics.
In general terms, when we speak of strategy it is the art of guarding and defending. In the strategies of Baguazhang we say “It is important to move when the enemy moves, to be still before the enemy is still, let the enemy labour whilst I rest at ease, if the enemy is hard then I am soft, If the enemy retreats then I advance, if the enemy moves forward then I move back, when the enemy moves I move first, If the enemy does not move I move anyway.” This shows that the eight diagram boxer engages in dialectic responses in order to initiate attack. Move while watching the enemy, move when changing; use movement to take the victory.
Verse 47 from the Eight Diagram 48 Methods teachings says; “Move along with the primal one qi, walk to the ends of the earth, eight diagram truth is my family, continually not leaving a foot behind, to stop and stand still is to approach acting like a flower in the ground.” You must understand this meaning, then you will know the importance of Baguazhang’s ‘movement’ function. To explain further; if one comes to a halt and is not walking continuously, then one becomes like a flower sticking up out of the ground, unable to move or defend itself, it is easily cut down or maimed.
In the strategy of attack and defence, attacking is the true objective. Defence is a temporary measure and not a long term plan. In the Art of War is says; “Long defence gains no victory.” It also says; “A positive defence is an offensive defence which allows for a decisive battle. Passive defence and special guard defence are merely defences only. This renders them false defences. Only a positive and active defence is the way to counter attack and attack in defence.” Baguazhang’s moving strategy and moving tactics conform to these war-art ideals.
Baguazhang has the concepts of controlling the enemy by ‘delaying them to stop them,’ ‘sticking to them to stop them,’ ‘confusing the opponent to stop them’ and ‘leading the enemy along by the nose’ as parts of its combat strategy. This lets one clearly understand that the chief principle in eight diagram boxing movement is walking. By the walking and moving strategy one can understand the teaching of highly skilled practitioners who say to guard against “standing still like a flower in the ground.”
In realising the strategies we utilize to accomplish our task of achieving victory, we must rely upon the “constantly stepping, varying and changing, never leaving a foot behind,” ideals that are part of the circle-walking principles. Making good use of this helps ensure victory.
A line in the Eight Diagram Boxing classics reads; “Circle-Walking is precisely what is meant by the principle strategy of movement warfare.” In order to attack whilst simultaneously offering defence, a military classic says “don’t stop moving.” Attack and defend, defend and attack, apply this and continuously fight the battle with courage and indefatigable spirit. Baguazhang’s way is to continually move and never remain still. Continuously circling and turning points back to the original fundamental skill of Baguazhang- walk the circle.
Practitioners need to pay great attention to walking the circle, for not only is it the most important practice method, it is also the art’s main strategy, tactic and health preserving exercise- (some say that it is also a stillness in movement practice).
This is the essence Baguazhang exactly. You cannot separate three places from a whole nature.
4) Baguazhang follows the laws of nature.
For the body to become unified, people must live in compliance with correct, natural physiology. Developing a superior physiology naturally follows through adherence to certain natural laws. Training in martial arts is one way of practicing alignment with these natural laws of superior physiology, but leave all talk of self-defence to the actions necessary to resist an enemy, and seek victory in action; do not waste time in shallow discussions on the surface level of things.
The practice of martial arts performed with the principles of correct natural physiology builds health and strengthens the body naturally and is also referred to as a ‘promoting method.’
Through practicing the regulations and requirements of internal boxing methods (neijia quanfa) the practitioner is already in alignment with the natural laws of superior physiology. The way of utilising Baguazhang practice to realise these natural laws requires both the conscious effort of process, and an intrinsic following of nature. Only by following nature will practitioners also be practicing the requirements of the art correctly.
Yet what exactly is this so-called natural way?
Below are the purported natural laws of superior physiology:
Breathe with regular speed and fixed harmonious intervals, then the pulse will be regular and even, and the blood circulation will be matched harmoniously in its timing.
Whether practicing neigong or internal boxing methods, there is the need to practice according to natural process in order to see the deep purpose within these methods. Thus one should not force practice but approach training naturally and build up slowly over time.
It is important to begin practicing slowly. If you exhaust your energy by training too hard and fast, then you will not have the ability to seek quickness and speed. If exhausted, you will not be able to give your Baguazhang movements ‘electric turns and changes.’
It is especially important to strive for slowness in the initial and early stages of training as this lays the foundation of one’s ability to fight well. In learning and training slowly we can submit to the conformities of nature, and thus align our movements to natural principles.
If we run counter to nature, then it isn’t internal skill boxing.
The Eight Practice Criteria
There are 8 important practice criteria that must be followed by practitioners. These criteria are also referred to as the Fundamental Requirements, or simply The Requirements. They are a set of practical instructions and guidance given in relation to body posture, form and attitude that assist in the creation of an integrated whole-body strength and the development of internal power.
1) There are eight human body locations that correspond to the Eight Gua from the Yijing (The Book of Changes):
The head must be pushed up.
It is important to keep the chest empty.
The middle is empty
The shoulders must be loose and sunken.
The upper is missing
Zhen- Grain way.
Contract and raise the grain way by tilting the pelvis forward,
yet keeping the buttocks relaxed.
A jar facing upward.
Kun- Hip, knee & foot.
Must be curved in one spirit.
Keep the abdomen full.
The middle is full
Xun- Both feet.
The front foot is empty, the back foot is full.
70/30 or 60/40 rule to be dynamically weighted.
Bottom is broken
Straighten the neck.
A lid on top
2) Practitioners need to clearly understand the Three Divisions and Four Tips according to the whole body theory.
The Three Divisions are:
a) According to the body divisions;
Head is the tip, chest is the middle and lower abdomen is the root.
b) According to the arm divisions;
Hand is the tip, elbow is the middle and shoulder is the root.
c) According to the leg divisions;
Foot is the tip, knee is the middle and hip is the root.
The Three Divisions divide the body up into three sections of three parts in order to study them independently before reintegrating them into a unified form. Each root, middle and tip, serves a particular biomechanical function in one part of the body, yet they all equally contribute to strengthening the overall structure of the body. Each part has its individual teachings, though they all work together to form a powerfully integrated posture of oneness. The hands, feet and head all press power outward together; the chest, elbows and knees all curve and embrace the centre together; and the lower dantian, shoulders and hips remain full and heavy as the roots of strength in the torso. The correlation and union of the Three Divisions produces what is referred to as Nine Part Strength (the third criteria point) in Baguazhang practice.
From Traditional Chinese Medicine we have the theory of the Four Tips:
Hair is the tip of the blood.
In traditional medicine the state of the blood and its nourishing function (circulation from torso out to peripheries and back) can be observed by the condition of the hair on the body.
In the old songs of combat it is said that the hair stands on end like halberds. This shows the sudden increase of blood flow and nerve conduction out to the peripheries and skin of the body. It is practically experienced as the sensation of ‘goose bumps’ that cause the hairs to protrude outward- like getting one’s hackles up.
Nails are the tip of the tendons and muscles.
In medicine, finger and toe nail appearance; quality, colour and, may be utilized as part of diagnosing internal processes- especially of liver qi and blood circulation, and indirectly tendon and ligament health.
In martial arts the nails are used like claws and talons, to grasp and tear, and urge strength into the hands and feet as well as the fingers and toes. The intent is to grip the ground and the air with the toe and finger tips and nails as though grasping at something. This intention of grasping activates the tendons and ligaments to strengthen the joints and attachments. Methods such as ‘pressing the iron spring,’ ‘eagle grasps’ and ‘toes grip the ground,’ all help infuse internal energy deep into the limbs and peripheries and connect the entire tendino-musculature system of the body into a unified force. All the tendons and ligaments of the body are felt to be one connected tendon-power reaching out through the tips and nails. This can be practically felt during practice as an inner strength in the arms and legs, hands and feet, that is at once full and yet flexible. After correct practice in this principle there is a distinct increase of blood and energy in the nail beds that fill the ‘space’ between the bed and the nail proper. The ends feel fuller and replete with power so that the nail bed pushes up against the nails.
Tongue is the tip of the flesh.
Tongue colour, shape, surface forms and coating are all indicative of internal health. In traditional medicine its appearance also provides a direct reflection on the process state of digestive function and therefore the condition of the ‘flesh’ of the body. In martial arts the tip of the tongue is gently held against the roof of the mouth to seal the circulation of power between the Ren and Du channels of the centreline in the body, and to prevent it being bitten down on during combat. In internal martial practice making this upper circuit seal with the tip of the tongue allows the ‘little heaven circuit’ to hold in the primal or essential power until it ‘spills over’ into the ‘larger heaven circuit’- that is, the increased circulation of blood and energy out to the limbs, hands and feet. This is felt by a fullness, warmth and colour change in the hands and feet along with the sensation of pressing, moving and filling of the magnetic energy along the channels of the arms and legs. This helps to strengthen the flesh of the body by infusing it with cultivated ‘internal’ energy. The muscles and flesh feel full and strong, heavy and relaxed yet alive and ready.
You can practically feel the correct position of the tip of the tongue on the upper palate above the grooves of the gum by experiencing a faint tingling or gentle pressing sensation around the Yintang point between the eyebrows. There is also a slight increase in saliva production that assists in keeping the mouth and throat from drying out during practice. Taoists say that the saliva produced during internal practice has undergone transformation due to the process of energy cultivation and therefore is a precious fluid. Their instruction is to swallow the saliva three times after it has accumulated in the mouth. With each swallow the mind should imagine leading the saliva right down into the lower dantian.
Teeth are the tip of the bones.
Chinese medicine views the teeth as the outcropping of the bones. The condition of the bones and of the kidney energy which governs the bones may be reflected by the state of the teeth. In martial arts holding the teeth together helps prevent percussive knockout, broken jaw and a severed tongue. By gently yet firmly clasping the teeth together there is a sense of ‘setting one’s jaw’ to the task at hand. Internally this setting of the jaw and connecting of teeth brings the energy of that determination literally deep into one’s bones. It gives a profound sense of indomitable willpower with the feeling that all the bones hold this strength of a unified will. In ‘biting down’ the deeper energies in the body are infused into the bones so that the entire skeleton feels strong and hard as iron in the body.
These classical Four Tips show the interconnectedness of the internal processes of the body with the relatively more ‘external’ structures. There is present both a ‘root-tip’ and ‘mind-body’ connection in training with awareness of the four tips, so that the internal and external can communicate freely, and the deeper, instinctual forces of the body can be expressed and made manifest.
3) Practitioners need to clearly understand the importance of Nine Part Strength.
This means to first take the nine parts of the body (from the Three Divisions listed above- the tips, middles and roots) and separately examine them so that they may then be combined through study, practice and understanding into one whole, integrated form. Turning the nine parts into one gives rise to whole body power and utilizes the One Qi. Understanding how to use the sections of the body individually allows the practitioner to break down and analyse in detail each part of the posture and body structure to help clarify the biomechanical origins of power and how it is expressed through form and application. This follows the ancient alchemical formula of Solve et Coagula. The boxer begins this procedure by employing the process of analysis to break down the elements into their individual components in order to study them in isolation (solve). In doing the simple work of learning how the shoulder-elbow-hand, hip-knee-foot, and lower abdomen-chest-head, all work in relation with one another, also lies the secret of bringing consciousness into alignment with the body. Focussing consciousness into the structure and movement of the body begins the process of unifying spirit and mind with the physical body. In ancient terms, this was referred to as spiritus in materia.
After each section has been studied, practiced and understood deeply, the resultant powers of all nine parts are mindfully concentrated into all of our movements, routines, applications and postures to express the power of a single unified force. Thus through our comprehension of the structure and function of the individual parts we go on to build up a new co-ordinated power that consists of all parts working in harmonious process together (coagula). Put simply, by initially understanding the 9 parts separately we can then ‘forget them’ and return to a naturally unified whole body power, or Oneness. After 9 comes 10, which is 1 again, but ‘1’ with a completely new level of understanding and integration of spirit and mind with the entire body.
Use the Four Tips, Nine Part Strength and the Three Divisions to study and learn how to align the body into a single integrated power. See how all the tips are alike and all the middles and roots are serving similarity of function, feeling and energy. Notice how the elbow and the knee both have emptiness and fullness, understand what is opened and closed, and how their intent and feeling are aligned. Pay attention to how the head and neck, the wrist and hand, the ankle and foot are similarly aligned in spirit, energy and form. Take note on how the shoulders, the hips and the lower dantian all make up the root. With practice and insight, study and earnest effort the different parts of the body and the postural forms or ‘Xing’ will prove a revelation of yin-yang combined harmoniously- what was once felt to be separate is now whole, complete or ‘one.’
4) Always keep the Three Empty Centres (3 Hollows) during practice.
The centre of the chest must be empty to send energy downward,
The centres of the feet must be empty to draw energy upward,
The centres of the hands must be empty to return energy also.
The Three Hollows are the centres of the palms, soles of the feet and the chest. The Hollows of the hands are the empty centres that form a ‘well’ or concaved centre of the palm when the fingertips ‘grip the iron spring.’ The empty centres of the feet are the pulled-up hollow of the soles just behind the front pads of the feet when the toes grip the ground. The empty centre of the chest is the rounded convex upper back on the outside and concaved curved shape of the chest when the hands and elbows hold the energy on the midline in front of the body and the shoulders wrap around and forward slightly to embrace the centreline. All of these locations are slightly curved inward with a sunken-in feeling, to which is added the intention of drawing power back through these hollows into the centre of the body.
These three peripheral points of the body all draw in power leading a flow of energy back into the central pole of the body which is in turn anchored in the lower dantian. All three centres need to feel as though they are pulling power back inward together. If any one of them is insufficient then the power and stability of the body will be out of balance.
With the other postural requirements and the ‘contrary urgings’, the Three Empty Centres combined together help store up energy within the body, so that it is loaded and ready to release force with the feeling of a drawn bow. The external form pushes outward whilst these ‘hearts’ or centres also direct a returning force inward and downward simultaneously.
In standing or Ding Shi practice, if the boxer pays close attention to the breathing, there will arise a feeling of the movement of the breath’s energy travelling back and forth through the Three Empty Centres. Upon inhalation there is a sensation of energy drawing in along the inside of the peripheries to the centre of the body and then upon exhalation flowing back out to the peripheries again. This is also referred to as tidal breathing.
All of this drawing in and returning energy through the Three Empty Centres is a practice to store up and nurture energy. This returning energy-intention and posture allows for the building of ‘internal-power.’ It fills the body with a feeling of fullness that stabilizes the postures during movement whilst simultaneously providing a sense of accumulating energy, ready for the ‘breaking-out force’ that is used to express power in the inner way of martial arts.
5) Keep the Three Prop-Ups.
Tongue pushes up to soft palate.
Head pushed up to heaven.
Palm pushed up and out to the front.
In Baguazhang the body is encouraged to remain relaxed and free whilst appearing strong and noble in bearing. This is achieved by the simultaneous postural practice of relaxing the musculature whilst maintaining the presence of an upward propping force in the body. This is yang within yin- the active in the passive. If the body is too relaxed the posture will sink heavily downward at the expense of the integrity of a strong structure. The Propping-Up requirements are the extending and rising power that allows for the upward energy to complement the relaxation response of the Four Drops (the seventh criteria point). When there is Propping-Up present in the posture there is a substantial feeling within the relaxed musculature that does not become ‘dead weight’, but is infused with aliveness and vitality in a free and comfortable manner.
The head is pushed up, raising the crown toward heaven (raising energy up the du mai) making the eyes alert and awakening the spirit to feel confident and vital. The extended palm is pushed outward and slightly upward also, guiding energy and strength to the extremities. Traditionally it is said that the Three Prop-Ups also assist the return of energy into the lower dantian. This means that the contrasting forces of raising up and sinking down, issuing and returning, extending and contracting mutually assist one another in improving the circulation of energy and blood in the body. The tip of the tongue curls back and upward to connect to the upper palate. This joins the Ren and Du mai (the centreline energetic channels), allowing intrinsic energy to sink along the ren mai to complete the little heaven circuit. It also keeps the tongue out of harm’s way from the teeth in combat.
6) Keep the Three Roundings.
Upper back is rounded.
The tiger’s mouth is rounded.
Both hands (arms) mutually embracing need to be rounded.
When both hands are aligned forward in front of the chest to protect the centreline of the body, the upper back is naturally curved and the elbows and arms have the feeling of embracing something between them. This empties the chest in order to assist deeper abdominal breathing (and prevent energy rising up from the dantian causing the body to feel top-heavy and easily unbalanced) and opens and strengthens the upper back. Stretch out the index finger and them as wide as possible and then hook the thumb at the first joint and have the finger tips very slightly (isometrically) press and ‘iron spring’. This opens the Tiger’s Mouth strengthening the hands and fingers to prepare them for striking and grasping.
There is a direct line of power from the Shendao point on the spine of the outwardly curved upper back through to the lead hand or palm.
7) Keep the Four Drops.
The shoulders relax downward free of tension in the upper trapezius muscles so that the arms and hands can move freely and relay power free of resistance. The waist relaxes down into the hips and lower abdomen (dantian) to settle the body into its lower centre of gravity. The knees bend and sit into a crouched stance ready to pounce. The Four Drops basically give the body a feeling of relaxing downward and following the ‘earthing’ feeling of gravity. This helps stabilize and steady the boxer’s body as they move and change positions rapidly. The Four Drops are always coupled with the Three Prop-Ups (criteria point 5) so that the body remains comfortable and naturally loose to enable free, instinctual movements without becoming overly rigid, yet does not become so lax that the structure and integrity of the posture cannot handle resistance or apply strong force.
8) When beginning to study it is important to avoid the Three Harms.
Avoid exertion of the breath.
Avoid exertion of strength.
Avoid raising the abdomen to expand the chest.
When the body is comfortable and relaxed, then energy and blood can flow freely, and the mind is able to direct physical movements and responses quickly and accurately. When a boxer overly exerts their strength, it usually results in some part of the body becoming rigid and tight which restricts freedom of movement. This reduces speed, agility and the delivery of power, and may result in injury.
The Baguazhang boxer seeks a balance of training time between flowing, relaxed and harmonious movements that exercise and nourish one’s body and energy, with an equal percentage of effort being applied with full force and expression of speed and power. In each individual training session the boxer best go slowly at the beginning of training, warm up into medium pace and end with full strength and combative force. If boxers only ever practiced in easy comfort, they would tire quickly in strenuous application. If practitioners trained full-tilt every session, they would exhaust themselves and be open to injury and illness. A considered approach is advised in order to strike a balance between long term daily practice that is sustainable in promoting strength and health in the body, and yet also engaging in enough ‘hard’ effort to keep sharpening the saw of one’s martial skills.
If the boxer does not keep even and regular breathing during practice then their stamina will be reduced and they will tire very easily. If the boxer draws in sharp upper-lobe breaths, this results in shallow breathing that causes dizziness, disorientation and even panic under effort. Upper chest breathing also makes it easier to move a person because the centre of gravity is higher. This is why Baguazhang advocates the empty chest - full abdomen teaching, as it assists the boxer in a fuller and more even breathing rate and depth. This has the advantage of helping keep a lower centre of gravity, remaining clearer in mind, and improving one’s stamina.
These Eight Important Criteria are the basis of the body method in Baguazhang. Through the practice of sincerely keeping these requirements during training and application, one’s consciousness and energy become powerfully unified within a strong body. The ideas behind these practice requirements help build and foster the proper intents and structural alignments within the body. They are the starting points through which practitioners discover a type of whole-body power. Combining the Eight Important Criteria with expanding and contracting, coiling and uncoiling, opening and closing movements, contributes to the skills of building internal power.
Spiral Power and Internal Strengthening
Turning inside the body spiral power forces the lower body to coil downward for greater stability. The lower body sinks down and crouches as though contracting toward the earth and the feet are as screws being turned in the earth. The spiralling continues upward from the waist, through the chest, neck and head, and the arms, hands and fingers extend to issue forth an outward force. The spiral forms two circles of power in opposite directions above and below that are linked by the waist. Thus extension and contraction are combined with a spiralling movement. This is the rope-binding strength or twisting power of Eight Diagram Boxing.
The vital energy channels are primarily vertical in the upright bipedal structure of human beings with only the dai mai (belt or girdle channel) running horizontally at the waist. Turning the body at the waistline helps to draw in the vertically running channels and bind them together with an added horizontal torque force. Thus the separate strands of energy in the body are made more powerful by twisting them together to help form a spiral type of strength. This works in the same way that single strings of fibre are made stronger by being twisted together in the formation of rope. The dai mai or waist is the central binding line and the hands and feet, arms and legs also add their local twisting strength into forming the overall spiral power of Eight Diagram Boxing. Adding the sitting or dropping downward feeling of the crouch reflex of the lower body to the extension and propping up intention of the upper body provides the basic strengthening and qigong elements to the fighting postures. The extending is the penetrating driving force, and the dropping, relaxing downward is the binding and wrapping strength.
The cultivation or building of internal power arises primarily from the contrary urgings. These opposite urgings are present in the structure or postural shape of the body’s external form and the inner feeling of intention combined together simultaneously.
The Contrary Urgings are;
Expanding whilst contracting
Issuing whilst returning
Pushing outward whilst pulling inward
Twisting to the outside whilst twisting to the inside
Propping up whilst dropping down
Grasping whilst releasing
Advancing whilst retreating
Attacking whilst defending
All of these contrary urgings stimulate opposite, almost antagonistic forces or polar points in order to awaken and stimulate the free circulation of blood and energy within the body. Focussing upon these intentions also brings attention back to the body for greater mind-body unity. It is a dynamic process of communication and strengthening within the body particularly when practicing standing or fixed palm practices. The contrary urgings are much like an isometric exercise coming from a traditional or even ancient practice. The contrary urgings practice helps build and nurture internal force by compressing and condensing energy and strength in the muscles and tendons without overly straining them.
From the traditional Martial arts perspective, we are also practicing building up potential explosive power. On a practical level, it feels as though you are drawing in and storing up force until you release it. This requires both some slight isometric type pulling and pushing in the body’s structure and posture combined with an open, aware and ready state of mind to release it. It is also a type of internal feeling of attacking and defending. It’s important to note that the contrary urgings training should not be forced, but increased gradually over time and practice. It must also be harmonized by a naturally balanced relaxation process. Beginning and ending training sessions in the wuji standing form is an appropriate time to practice formally relaxing the muscles. As the boxer progresses in the art, the contrary urgings and relaxing, condensing and releasing spontaneously combine and enhance one another through the movements instinctively and naturally.
A Way of Harmonizing with Nature
Baguazhang practice seeks to merge the practice of the practitioner with the flowing movements and cycles of nature. The expansive-creative energies (heaven) and the supporting-nourishing powers (earth) are brought together consciously and intelligently within the body and mind of the practitioner (human) to harmonize or make whole the traditional trinity of Heaven-Human-Earth. Sinking and stabilizing your energy connects you to the earth, while remaining clear and open in your mind connects you to the expansiveness of the sky. Out of these two qualities interacting wisely and naturally infinite change and flow can be realized and enjoyed.
Baguazhang practitioners are encouraged to train outdoors as much as possible to directly experience the world as animated and alive, filled with a type of broad, generous and communicative consciousness. Training in all weather and every season, hot and cold, rain and shine, morning and night, the boxer comes to feel their own inner nature respond to Nature all around them in harmonious union. The practitioner’s energy is naturally harmonised with the environmental energy all around them as they commune with the rhythm and movement of the elements.
Training in nature allows one to more easily sense the self in the universe and the universe in the self. This reflects the Taoist understanding of macrocosm-microcosm, or the ‘as above-so below’ of Hermes Trismegistus. Practicing in natural surrounds lessens the sense of separation and reduces barriers to this knowledge and experience of the human being as a ‘little universe’ within the body.
It is often said that life itself is movement for nothing is completely fixed in nature. Seasons cycle, days and months come and go, the planets all revolve around the sun, people are born, mature, age and die, energy is always moving, changing and in flux. In Eight Diagram Palm the boxer walks the circle revolving around a centre point just as the earth moves around the sun. They walk upon the earth and turn with it, their consciousness expanding out beyond their immediate and routine limitations to encompass the universe. When the boxer points upward they pierce the sky, when striking downward the body disappears into the depths of the earth. Circles within circles, one turns like the seasons and in attacking, burns like the sun and freezes like a blizzard.
Conscious awareness of the movements and holdings of Nature inform and enlighten the human soul. When one seeks to blend their practice to harmonize with the cycles of life they transform their art into spiritual work and not just the craft of self-defence or physical strength and wellbeing. Long traditions of Yogis, hermits and ascetics continually seek to remind everyone that Mother Nature is the Original teacher of humankind, so one may enter a forest or mountain knowing very little and emerge two years later understanding much.
When one learns to follow the cycles of nature, they also discover the movement of human nature. As one observes, senses and feels the activity and flow of fauna and flora, the changes in temperature and weather occurring all around them, they may also come to understand the intricate movements of the human body. One’s cycles of growth and decline, rest and activity, the flow of energy and blood, heat and cold, the interrelationships of the internal organs, the rhythms of the breath, of the reproductive and creative force and one’s powers of destruction. Thus the art of human movement is transformed into the art of natural movement in the truest sense. Understanding and comprehending the ways of Nature in turn deepen the understanding of one’s self. So as the boxer learns to harmonize their practice with the way of nature as ‘self’, they may also learn how to harmonize better with the movements of another human being.
Practicing in the open wild spaces of nature free of distractions promotes sincere and concentrated training. Sincerity in practice focuses the inner and outer worlds into unity. When the boxer practices sincerely, they may experience a great joy that opens the heart. Loving their practice awakens the devotional heart, and practicing in a wild place lets that free heart flow outward with gratitude for the flow of energy and life ever present and surrounding them. In the joy of natural surroundings and the sincerity of practice all the dross is burned away, obstacles swept aside and self-consciousness forgotten.
There is a raw, almost fierce freedom to be found in the natural surrounds of a forest grotto, desert plain, mountainside or coastline. This clear, pure power frees the soul from obscurity through its unbinding energy and helps to awaken the spirit. It can reveal one’s place on the earth and renew the fire of the heart. At the same time there is gentleness and nourishment. Walking upon the ground the boxer feels the whole earth beneath their feet- holding and supporting one’s strength. Breathing deep the scent of salt and sea, imbibing fresh pine resin and rich clay-soil, it feeds mind and body with beauty, simplicity and sustenance. It is the making of soul in the world.
Practicing outdoors also provides a wonderful training ground for learning adaptation and flexibility. Circle walking, fighting methods, Free-boxing and partnered exercises performed on naturally unstable ground builds the skills of regaining balance and centredness under unpredictable circumstances. Facing the heat and cold, wind and rain, dawn and dusk, darkness and light builds a type of innate courage and resilience whilst also fostering a sense of devotion in being prepared to practice one’s art in all circumstances.
Allow nature to show the way. Work with the glorious unceasing changes that never make a single moment the same as another. Follow the great teacher Nature and let practice open one’s self up to the world, within and without, and discover they are one.
Song of the Noble Guard
The tiger keeps its rump in the cave,
As it cautiously surveys the terrain
Ox touches its chin to butt its horns
Head matches the hands
Elbows hold and condense the energy on the centreline
Leopard crouches upon its hind legs
Ready to pounce upon its prey
Eyes glare through the tiger’s mouth searching
Or, let the three eyes combine at Shangyang
Crow extends its wing, issues the arms
Snake coils its body, spirals head to toe
Toes grip the ground, fingers press the iron spring
Like crow’s feet grasping its prey,
And brave leopard digging its claws to climb
Upper back curves to empty the chest
Breathing fullness into the lower dantian
Keeping steadfast, stable head and neck,
The central pole is an unshakeable energy
Now you have the presence of an iron ox
Extend the arms, two palms in one spirit
Aligning nose with the fingers, finds the black crow
Withdraw the lower body, crouch and flex the claws
Bend the limbs flexibly, produce a supple force
Focus attention fiercely to enliven the spirit,
Poised and alert, but calm and steady.
Mind holds the power in,
The will draws intent to release,
Like a tautly drawn bow,
Thus we awaken the great hunting leopard within.
Twist at the waist; make the whole body spiral,
Turn out the palms
Push up the tongue to form a seal
Pull back whilst issuing forth
Returning energy as strength is urged forth
The snake recoils cautiously as the crow extends boldly.
Have the great and fierce attitude of one,
Whose hands could tear down a great mountain.
Hold vital force within, be tranquil and steadfast,
With a valiant bearing, transform into a pillar of strength.
Use immovability-mind to store up power,
And directing-mind to release force.
Be in possession of an iron will,
Becoming one who is capable of cruel action,
Yet chooses the power of compassion.
This is the spirit embodying the Noble Guard.
Dragon Style Boxing
The spirit of the refined Eight Diagram Boxer can be represented by the symbol of the dragon. Though there are specifically named Dragon forms, patterns and techniques in Baguazhang, the Dragon style of Eight Diagram Palm should be thought of as a way of using the combat palm methods in a dragon spirit and attitude, not merely as formal or specific dragon techniques per se. Thus it is the essential principles of the dragon style that require deep reflection and practice.
The aim of practitioners training in the dragon style is to realise the spiritual nature of the dragon ideal; the ceaseless and unpredictable shifting and changing quality of its movements all done with ease and continual flow in a serpentine unity of integrated structure and strength. The entire body becomes one continuous sinewy tendon and the power flows without end. The bones simply fold inward and flash outward effortlessly and unhindered in expression of agile force. Strength is spread equally over the whole body yet the power is expressed by intent and applied by the will at certain moments of accent just like a python can use its whole body to wrap and bind but still bite with its fangs. Thus there is a complete or total power that never entirely empties or leaves the body even as internal force is expressed at points of contact.
The Dragon-Spirit style is a feeling of the will combined with a clear intention, the xin and yi that form the human spirit expressed through the dragon ideal, and not merely the performance of an outward form. Liu Yiming wrote;
“A dragon, as spiritual luminosity, can be large or small, can rise or descend, can disappear or appear, can penetrate rocks and mountains, can leap in the clouds and travel with the rain. How can it do all this? It is done by the activity of the spirit.”
(Thomas Cleary translation.)
The dragon’s one flexible strength turns through every range of motion with serpentine fluidity, connected yet expressive, concealing then suddenly revealing, holding the aim of unifying the trinity of heaven-human-earth. It takes the dragon spirit, that mythological ideal, which swims to the deepest depths of the ocean and flies up past the clouds in heaven, united in human movement, spirit and energy to know the way of Tao; that is, to approach a sacred practice. At one moment flying in the clouds, the next diving down to swim to the bottom of the sea. Speaking thunder, causing lightening, twisting and turning and rolling unpredictably, moving left but arriving on the right, moving to the front yet attacking the back, all transforming continuously and without end. High and low, sky and earth, water and air, left and right, back and forth, change and revolve, confront and escape, claw and bite, wrap and bind, rush and shake off, it is easy to see the practice of non-attachment in this style of shadow boxing. The mind is kept attentive, present and fully aware, yet the intent is deep inside the feeling of the movements also. Everything flows together spontaneously and naturally, and the practitioner discovers that all the spirit, strength and skill is to be found at the source of power within them. It gives a feeling of freedom by experiencing a sense of merging with something greater than the immediate self, yet without loss of the individuated being.
Thus the dragon style represents a type of freedom. A dragon is a kind of creature that can fly away and liberate itself from worldly concerns and yet in the very next moment be directly involved. The dragon moves in close, then with a flick of its tail becomes distant. It appears in a flash to be deeply engaged then just as suddenly liberates itself, retreating to a far off mountain to remain aloof. The dragon is a force that can never be captured. It is as slippery as an eel, fierce as a lion and unpredictable as a windstorm.
The dragon ideal holds a deep and profound vitality and energy that invigorates the body and spirit and awakens the soul to greater life. This way of practice helps restore suppleness of strength and fluidity of deeper primal and instinctual energies, for it represents the very vital waters of life, the elemental forces that power our vitality. It is life promoting for it brings all of our available resource streams as a human being into one greater integrated force, like many smaller individual streams running together to create a single larger torrential river that finds its way past every obstacle and always connects to the great ocean.
Seek the principles behind the dragon style movements: the serpentine flexibility and connectivity, its unpredictability, changeability and fierceness in attack. This practice helps make the whole-self strong; mind, body and spirit. It is a big use of mind, a big use of spirit and a full use of the body and takes nothing less than everything concentrated all at once. It is a way of discovering that the true source of power lies within, and not outside of one’s self.
No Fixed Movement-No Fixed Technique
(The Freestyle Art)
It is important to remember that in combative pursuits, the only goal is to defeat the opponent. Genuine Baguazhang principles teach that there is no fixed technique or patterns of movement in its application. Thus Baguazhang is essentially a principle based art. The boxer needs to focus completely upon the situation before them, remaining open in awareness and empty of preconceived notions (wu-xin). Observe everything closely. Use all of the five senses to remain alert and free to respond to the needs of the present; look, listen, touch and feel, smell, taste, continually use all or any combination of the senses to stay present and the mind will become immediately free of distraction. Through practice of conscious, mindful awareness, eventually the senses will become automatically (unconsciously) attuned to the here and now. This enables one’s responses to be more naturally and effectively aligned to the needs at hand. Through disciplined training the boxer comes to liberate the power of natural, instinctual responsive energy and channel it through the knowledge of skills and technique. A balance needs to be found between pure, animal instinct and conditioned (or trained) responses- the learned and the instinctual.
Thus the aim is emptiness, or better yet freedom and liberation from extraneous thoughts and resistances in the body’s energy flow and movement, not depending on any individual physical sense yet all of them working together subconsciously to express intuitive and instinctual responses. This open-mindedness and keen attentiveness provides a full, unhindered awareness of all things powerfully and naturally.
Of course the subconscious cannot draw from nothing. No water can be drawn from an empty well. There needs to be a dynamic internal reservoir of highly-trained attacks and defences, unorthodox strategies and uses of clever force already established through training to the point of refinement that one no longer needs to consciously think of applying their techniques but can simply ‘direct the spirit out of emptiness’ with powerful results. As the Taoists would say; doing non-doing. In the Internal Boxing arts this means that we use intention without intention. The boxer has the will to succeed, the will to express their martial power with great force, full of vigour and vitality, but does not over-think their responses nor attempt to force techniques that aren’t naturally aligned with the opportunities presenting in the situation.
Freestyle allows the boxer to mix up all of their movements naturally and spontaneously. It lets the body respond in surprising and interesting ways. It prevents the practitioner from becoming lazy, bored or too comfortable in their training. Each practice is fresh and new and rich with possibility in a way that keeps mind, body and spirit alive and interested.
Sometimes it is all elbows, or knees, or just footwork, traps and kicks and evasion. Other times it is with weapons or fitted weights, partnered or solo, in the new light of dawn or feeling your way through pitch black night. It can be low and high, slow or fast, fists and shoulders, hips and head butts. By introducing a touch of chaos and unpredictability into the practice, Freestyle practice emancipates the mind enabling creativity to flow with greater force and profundity. The smaller self’s ‘ego’ is cast aside so that superficial competitiveness is replaced by a deeper sense of vital and spontaneous creativeness.
Solo Freestyle Internal Boxing begins with entering the great silence and waiting calmly in emptiness.
Out of this open ‘emptiness’ the boxer feels the urge to move. This movement arises from a genuine desire in one’s heart to take action; to express one’s self physically and spiritually. Now one can bring forth the feeling of everything they have learned of their art all at once, yet without consciously being aware of choosing any one specific thing. Instead, trusting in the wisdom of the subconscious to respond powerfully and automatically. Directing this fullness of internal resources into one’s martial spirit in a state of complete awareness allows a full and complete usage of all one’s skills. From the spiritual power of emptiness can arise the true expression of pure-will. This is the will without ego, without clinging or attachment, but free and true. All methods are no methods again, and no methods results in the freedom to utilize every method naturally and accordingly.
The Freestyle Internal Boxer twists and turns in their movements, binds and wraps, contracting and holding like a coiling snake. The arms cut and expand, lengthen and extend, turn and penetrate as though a flying crow stretching out sable wings. The fingers grasp with talons, pierce with a black beak, spit poison and bite with venom; the straight and the curved, the expanding and contracting, snake and crow energies combine endlessly. The Freestyle Internal Boxer lets the body fly lithely upward and descend stably. They settle on the earth like a heavy ox, butting with great horns, stamping the feet and bumping with the shoulders, pushing with unyielding strength, the body is thick and solid like an iron ox. Without warning the Freestyle Internal Boxer nimbly dodges and strikes; suddenly roaring forwards in advance and just as quickly retreating to hide. Concealing and thrusting out ferociously, pouncing and hitting, stretching up and climbing down, cuffing and clawing, lunging and grappling like a fierce leopard overcoming its prey. Crouched defensively whilst extended in attack, the Freestyle Internal Boxer rolls and turns, soars up to the sky then dives deep, plunging to the bottom of the sea a wild dragon. In the blink of an eye the Freestyle Internal Boxer is close enough to bind and squeeze, to pierce and chop down, to cut off life; then just as suddenly has withdrawn, stepped apart and circled afar, melting away like a shadow. This is the spirit of the thing, the way of the Freestyle Internal Boxing Art.
The movements of the Freestyle Internal Boxer are connected and flow together as though weaving one single-thread. The actions of the boxer are like a piercing needle leading the way of a thread behind it sewing and binding and penetrating all with one force consisting of equal firmness (needle) and flexibility (thread) flowing continuously, unbroken and unhindered in all you do. Your palms, hands and feet are as the steel needles, your arms and legs the threading rope that leads the core power of your body- pierce through the gaps and turn to bind up. Cut down the darkness of the forest before you and follow the palms into daylight. Even when the Freestyle Internal Boxer issues force and expresses a great ballistic or percussive strike, there remains a sense of connected, unified strength. A core power and energy that is never let go, never yielded to the opponent.
In the open, free mind of ‘emptiness’ there is no fixed or rigid way, and all possibilities are present. This boundless open-mindedness lies at the heart of the creatively responsive Freestyle Internal Boxer’s Art of turning and changing palms.
On the ‘Pure Will’
Pure Will is something akin to the will to live, but it does not take death in to account. It contains the desire to succeed, but it isn’t the will to win nor the intent to lose. It is spacious but very full and substantial. It can be pressed out from within one’s self into the environment, yet never leaves the body. It fills the boxer with strength from head to toe. Though its strength is experienced physically, it has some essence of the mind, or perhaps even something of the spirit in it. It contains great vigour and infuses all of one’s expression with a vital power.
It is definitely the will to express one’s self, though not in mere show, performance or exhibition, but in genuine self-expression that reveals much of one’s nature or character. And, though it is unmistakably one’s own, there remains an awareness that this force is also somehow bigger than one’s self only. Old masters spoke of the individual’s will becoming the divine will.
This power of pure will remains unattached to shifting events yet is immovably present. It pushes and pulls and drives change unceasingly though it remains absolutely still and is completely unchangeable. It is spiritually resolute and steadfast in intent, though it permeates everywhere freely and flexibly.
Pure Will is accessed, awakened or realised by a profound concentration of energy and spirit arising from an act of complete decisiveness. The more completely resolute in intention, the more pure the expression of will arises to support it. It is the decision to truly live, to roar back into the fearsome face of the golden lion so long and so loud that the great cat’s countenance is transformed into your own.
No matter the station or moment one may find one’s self in upon the path of life, regardless of any and all circumstance, this true will- the clear perceiving power of energy and spirit- is always ready to arise within and embolden the soul.
“No thief can steal your will.”
Instinctual Force and Refined Learning
All traditional forms and patterns of Baguazhang techniques contain both the essence of an instinctual response coupled with a refined or learned technical aspect deriving from the analytical experience of the human genius. Traditional forms passed through the ages are like a living library. They are a way to ensure that the past genius of generations, of the work done and refined by countless martial artists, will be remembered. They are not a formal way to do or apply things. Baguazhang practitioners need to have the eyes to see, and depth of intelligence to draw out from a traditional movement what is both instinctual and what is enhanced through knowledge and experience. Otherwise there is the risk of over formalizing movement into unnatural, forced choreography with no real self-defense or empowering attributes and a false spirit that does not raise vitality and aliveness. Yet if it is all instinct, it is easy to lose focus, become scattered in the movements and energy and miss the superior ways to move the body or apply a technique that many generations have refined through great experiences of trial and error. Where refined learning can show a better strategy, way to move or technical point, it is dis-empowering to train away a person’s instincts. It dilutes naturalness of movement and intuitive response. Training in any art is best undertaken in an environment and attitude of beginning with traditional fundamentals and combining the work with freedom of expression as the practitioner advances.
To combine instinctual force and refined learning is to make animal instinct and human intelligence one. This is referred to as Xin-Yi in the traditional Chinese martial arts. Xin is the instinctual aspect of consciousness, whilst Yi is the guiding, intending part of mind. Xin and Yi combined makes up the complete spirit in a human being.
As in Xingyiquan, much of the internal force of Baguazhang lies in harnessing the wild unconscious power of the instinctual force and directing it with the more learned, refined part of conscious mind. When the boxer has these two internal parts working harmoniously together they can achieve the full natural force of instinct, applied with the wisdom and directing abilities of the pure will and conscious intent. The boxer needs to learn to use instinctual force as the raw power, and apply the will to keeping the integrated body so that the primal one-qi can be freely and effectively directed by intent into the efficient application of skill.
The strong, instinctual animal force automatically reacts to situations without prior thought. The learned aspects of skills are the insights and approaches flowing down to practitioners from the devotional genius of past artists. The products of these efforts are refined into the traditional fundamentals to be store housed for seekers of future generations. Instinctual force is a glimmer of the raw, wild power inherent in nature. The hunting and protecting instinct, the will to live and prosper, to feel vital, well and alive, to connect with and care for others and the surrounding environment; all of these tendencies are natural empowering desires that assist in survival of self and others, and the quickening power of instinct vitalizes these impulses naturally and powerfully. Baguazhang training also makes use of the three major instinctual, subconscious survival responses of Fight (martial techniques), Flight (Circle-walking and continuous movement tactics) and Freeze (the fixed palms, immovability and stillness aspects), and combines them with the conscious training process of deliberate, logical and rational strengthening and self-defence practices. In order to develop a more profound relationship with one’s instinctual power, the Eight Diagram boxer is encouraged to stay more muscularly relaxed during body movement. The more supple and fluid the tendino-muscular system remains, the greater one can access the instinctual force. When one’s body feels comfortable and free in the movements, the spirit is more stable and at ease, which makes one ready to twitch-fire the instinctual power. Instinctual force doesn’t stay in contraction, isn’t tense, but is fluid in issue and return. The two arms strike like venomous vipers, both legs spring, kick and climb as though an agile leopard. The limbs shoot and recoil, spit out and pull back, as though fire spitting from a muzzle or water bursting from a geyser. Its release is extremely fast and it hits with concentrated natural force. This generates great power in a somewhat (relative) looser manner than the ‘ram-rodding’ of continually contracted and tightened muscular force. Continually contracted muscular strength holds a rigid force, but may constrict the release of power.
Approaching the Spiritual in the Art
Any art that one devotes one’s self to with long term commitment, intelligence, perseverance and sincerity stands as a possible vehicle for forging the spirit and realizing deeper the profundities of mastery. It is important to practice naturally, as focussed yet unaffected as possible. The way of Baguazhang is the combined practice of self-defence and inner skills. The main focus of practice needs to remain upon the physical conditioning and mental focussing disciplines and let any advanced or deeper sense of the work naturally arise out of efforts in these areas. Emphasis is always laid upon the labour of a craft- show up, do the work, continuously, patiently and sincerely, so that the circle, naturally over time and with long term effort, may be transformed into a forge in which one can temper the spirit.
The more meditative and spiritual aspects of Baguazhang training come out of its moving practice. The way to correctly invite the advanced understandings of the art is to simply walk, turn, change, step, rise, drill, fall, overturn, spiral and twist, pierce and push, contract and expand with purpose, stability and in complete mindful awareness. Each movement is done with natural relaxation, complete awareness and deliberate intention. This places the practitioner right into the here and now, bringing conscious mind into present engagement. Once occupied with being completely present, the deeper unconscious is free to begin to produce a more profound inner stillness naturally growing from the constant movement. This is simply combining intention with attention to produce a transformed state of consciousness. Mindfulness in one’s actions helps clarity of mind, and peace of heart. This is always of the greatest benefit.
Whereas Xingyiquan can be thought of as primarily training and making use of mind-which has as its goal ‘no-mind’ (wu-xin), Baguazhang can be best thought of as training ‘nature.’ By training nature is meant following nature which is always in flow and movement, changing and transforming cyclically. Therefore it can be said that to train nature is to move, and to train mind is to be still. It requires stillness to break through the perception of separation put forward by the conditioned and heavily encultured mind, but it takes continual movement and change to merge with the fluid process of life and the evolving way of Nature. Yet there also emerges the still, unchangeable point that arises spontaneously out of the flow of continual movement, and so stillness and movement are one. This is to approach the practice in a way that combines yin with yang. To both follow nature and put in the effort of process. To have conscious and unconscious, instinct and wisdom, stillness and movement, all united in the one practice.
Stated below are some experiences that may naturally arise from long term practice of these arts. They are by no means experiences or signs of the truth or some ultimate way. Perhaps they are best understood as being grouped into energetic experiences and perceptual shifts. It would appear that through these stages of experience the sincere practitioner is able to graduate from a more physical effort focus to a naturally meditative practice. It is important to note that these experiences are not attempts at diversionary transcendence in the sense of being above or away from the world; they aren’t a form of escapism in which we yearn to leave the dust of the world behind. Rather they arise spontaneously by going deeper into the practice itself. It is something akin to entering into sincere, mindful focus and persistent effort so profoundly and completely to the point where the subconscious can take over automatically. This delving deeply in to the work in turn allows the spirit to settle and the ever-flowing mind to run itself clear. All of this is achieved naturally and one comes to spontaneously feel that there is no mind and body and spirit, rather there is oneness and therefore emptiness of separation, and a sublime experience of self and environment can be revealed. There is to be found something of empyreal radiance within these experiences, yet they are not dissociative, rather, they are keenly associative with reality to the point of revealing an essential sublimity that approaches the rapturous. This is an experience of elevating one’s craft to higher art, perhaps best exemplified and embodied in Chinese Dhyana Buddhism (Chan); that through entering deeply enough into the ordinary, one may come upon the extraordinary.
A Taoist master once said “Qi is not Tao.” Having said this, there does appear to be a natural progression from qigong- energy cultivation and utilisation, to neigong- meditative and inner work, through to perceptual modifications and a resultant deepened ‘spiritual’ understanding or awareness. This is not to say that all qigong work guarantees one will be automatically led to spiritual practice, far from it. In fact it is even easier to be hooked by one’s energetic experiences and sensations so that one never arrives at the deeper experiences of oneness and emptiness. Therefore it is very important for practitioners to never chase sensation or experience. Simply note them, acknowledge them, and let them come and go. Continue to work patiently and conscientiously at your practice, free of attachment to any desire for special occurrences.
Put simply, it is natural that an energy or state change can flow into a perceptual shift, and in turn, from an alteration in perception, it is far more likely that one be open to, and therefore experiences, an enlightening paradigm shift.
In walking the circle utilising the postural and practice requirements of the art, there comes a drawing down and inward sensation that concentrates at the lower abdomen. It is a physical sense of consciously allowing or working with the natural force of gravity to run through the body in order to form a stabilizing fullness at the lower abdomen just beneath the navel. This energy feels as though it is accumulating there, condensing, swelling and slightly hardening in the deeper musculature. It is often accompanied by a sensation of warmth. It gives one a physical centre. And with the breathing, fills and empties (pumps) in relation to drawing in and applying force. Once realised and trained over time, it becomes automatically present during practice. Following this, there is the realization that all instinctual energetic movements explode out from this centre through the limbs and torso, to be expressed outwardly through the peripheries as a palpable force. Along with the replete energetic sensation in the lower-dantian, the boxer experiences a strongly elevating and upward rising force from the mid upper-back point (Shendao), through the neck and into the head and crown (upper-dantian), and a free, opening, horizontal expansion of the chest and solar plexus (middle-dantian).
Often there is a springy, suction feeling pulling the legs and body to the ground as if a magnetic force binds the feet to the earth. It feels difficult to lift the feet up to leave the ground, but effortless to let them drop down in return. It is a sense that the downward energetic connection to the earth isn’t lost, even when stepping high, kneeing or kicking out. It gives every step, turn, palm strike and movement a very real substance. It is an elastic drawing force that allows for fluid rapid movements whilst retaining the feeling of substantial power.
Concentrating one’s focus at the centre of the circle in walking practice, the boxer may experience a strong feeling of heaviness, fullness and heat, with visible reddening under the skin’s surface; of forearms and hands whilst walking in the millstone guard and other fixed (ding shi) shapes. Depending upon the palm shape and gesture being utilised, there is an accompanying sensation of strong heat in the appropriate body areas with each Ding Shi (fixed style) shape. Thus the energy can be felt condensing at specific areas in relation to specific gestures and forms. Other times the practitioner will notice feelings of general warmth, tingling, and magnetic movements pressing continually around whole body. In concentrated solo practice one regularly feels the magnetic energy travelling through and accumulating in the channels of the arms, hands, fingers and legs. Often there is a feeling of energy dragging through and wrapping around the whole body. There is also a strong sense of the boxer’s energy interacting with the environmental energy, a meeting of forces that in turn come to work together in a very natural and harmonious way. Still other times the whole energy of the body is incredibly light, open and free, giving the boxer a sense of emancipation into the practice itself with nothing else present. All self-consciousness is lost and the pure-will of the boxer blends seamlessly with the flow of movement so that one comes to wonder whether they are doing the movement or the movement is doing them.
With energy moving in the body, there are times when the practitioner becomes aware of energy drawing in from the top (crown) of the head, back from the palms and upward through the soles of the feet. The sensation travels through the peripheries in toward the centre of the body upon inhalation. The energy then flows out naturally in the opposite direction along the same pathways upon releasing into exhalation. Though it often matches the rhythm of breathing, this also occurs without guidance and intention, and is known as the Tidal, True or Primal Breath, for even when holding the breath this rhythm of energy flow continues independently. In applying boxing skills, the Tidal Breath energy is directed like a rush of water through the limbs to penetrate into the body of the opponent with explosive force.
In stillness work, when the alignments are very stable, and the breath even and regular without conscious control, one can collect the mind within to produce a very slow movement of heat and energy from the sacrum up the spine (du mai) over the midline of the head, through the face and mouth, then down the chin and throat continuing down the centreline of the front of the body (ren mai) until it reaches the navel. This generally takes twenty five to thirty minutes to complete an initial cycle. The warmth and energy then spread out through the limbs to the hands and feet. The heart is empty of emotion or clinging, the mind clears and becomes transparent, and a calm vital force is present through the entire self.
After circle walking quickly and fluidly it feels as though the ground is turning beneath the feet, with the practitioner effortlessly walking on the spot. The boxer comes to feel as though their body is completely at a standstill with only the legs moving easily, as the earth turns effortlessly and continuously beneath them. It is akin to walking smoothly on a treadmill though much lighter. Following this is the sensation of feeling as though one is walking just above the ground. Gliding along above the earth in one’s steps, without touching the ground at all, easy and effortless. Not having to generate any exertion to walk, but rather being carried along by momentum in this way. An ancient writer once described this spiritual walking as “upright in silence as if with no steps as mist across a meadow.”
At the other end of the spectrum is a sudden perception of being sunken completely into the ground up to the waist. This is a common occurrence when practicing standing or zhanzhuang types of exercises in the evening. There may be moments of feeling extremely huge and expansive, and in the next instance, shrunken small and tiny into the earth.
Out of the boxer’s constant circling, fluid turning and changing arises a profound stillness. It is felt both internally within the body, and also out in the immediate surrounding environment. One comes to feel like a stable boat, weightlessly drifting down a calm, slow moving stream. There is complete stability of mind, body and spirit unified in a feeling of supportively encompassing peace.
Becoming so concentrated, the boxer has the experience of just being their palms. The practitioner feels as though they are only mind (awareness) and palms travelling together with nothing in between. With this type of experience also comes the sense of being aware of the energetic connection of a fixed point. That the third eye point (Yintang) between the eyebrows connected to the Colon 1 point (Shangyang) in the bottom corner of the nail of the index finger reaches such a stability that all else is forgotten but this stable connection concentrated at the centre of the circle.
The boxer develops an understanding that the practice of Baguazhang can lead to realizing the interconnectedness of all things. Through unifying one’s self in mind, body, heart, spirit and soul with the energy and consciousness around them (awareness of the ‘life’ within as being connected to the ‘life’ outside the immediate self) one comes to see that all things are of the one source- emanating from a single, primal pulse of life. This is experienced as a felt presence when one relaxes from their centre outward, and allows the world and its’ power to meet them without resistance. This is Baguazhang’s training nature. Following the process of slipping and blending the consciousness and energy of the boxer into environmental energy and consciousness, the two become one. Dynamically interdependent and mutually supporting and merging together.
In moving and constantly changing the boxer comes to ‘fly’ through the natural patterns of the energetic gestures, changes and turnings as a completely connected experience. This is a form of the single thread energy. It is a realization that these seemingly different movements are in reality inherently connected configurations of the sublime consciousness and energy of life. A living, embodied understanding of the universal infinite pattern as revealed so often in spiritual artworks. This interconnected patterning is lived, is felt and followed spontaneously when one reaches the stage of changing gestures without conscious effort or thought. Practice has come to the point of completely letting go, of mind and body, into wuji. From the wuji state one is free to simply follow the intricate, endless possibilities of infinitely connected expression. Now it is felt that the soul has achieved emancipation into pure free-being. The body is only following the flow of energy and pure-will expression, no longer trying to produce gestures and form shapes. The Eight Diagram Practitioner has become the true Freestyle Internal Martial Artist. Their will is expressed so purely that it hints of the divine in action. It becomes a sacred dance of the changing palms where the Free-Boxer no longer has to consciously apply them with great effort, for it feels as though it is being done through them. This is the Taoist approach of doing non-doing. It is a form of emptiness, there is no I-thou, no self and other, no person and environment, yet at the same time everything is more keenly present, vivid and vital in its inter-dependency.
It is the independent creative intelligence, devotion, commitment and conscientiousness- the qualities of self-discipline applied to one’s art that cause it to become sublime. In this sublimity there is something of emptiness. This means that the ego is not moved, is not activated, but released. In the release is the moment itself- a shining moment, radiating vitality and even beauty in the practice itself. It is so immediately present that it arrives at a point of radiance. This is a moment of oneness and emptiness that is also filled with effervescent flow and a commingling of yin-yang dichotomies in infinite run and play. There is a wholeness and dynamic completeness to the practice and performance of the movements themselves. There is no other reason for the practice; the practice has become the whole thing itself. This is to approach the spiritual in the art.
© Geoff Sweeting 2018