If you have been following the lesson plan, you have learned the fundamentals of internal martial art practice. Along the way, you have supplemented the traditional training with floor exercises that reinforced traditional concepts. With this information in hand, you are ready to practice the classical Baguazhang forms described in Sun Lu Tang’s book. Sun Lu Tang named this Baguazhang practice method as Swimming Body Eight Trigrams Connected Palms. Swimming Body implies we perform the postures in a continuous manner, while Connected Palms means we link the postures with the changes in direction.
Do not think of the forms in this section as a routine that you must practice one after another, rather as characters of an alphabet that you can connect to create your own routines.
Before you can achieve the free form practice of Swimming Body Connected Palms, however, you must work on the basics of learning the postures. First, practice slowly, performing each change of direction with care. Pause at each step to check your body alignment, much as you did in Standing Meditation and Mother Palms practice. When you feel comfortable with your body alignments, you can move through the changes with slight pauses at the extremes of each posture. Sun Lu Tang reinforced this pause in his book by saying that the “posture stops, but it does not stop.” Think of water moving inside a bag as you shake it. When you stop shaking the bag, the water continues to move about, causing the bag to move. After much practice, you will change directions without thinking and move from one change to another continuously.
Once you have attained the highest level of practice, you cannot abandon the basics. Recommended Practice has hints on staying in touch with the basics as you progress in skill.
I shared some information about meditation in the Attention section. By practicing attention with the physical exercises of this book, you have a tool to achieve a higher state of mind than most people around you. The biggest side effect of this attention is that you will be more aware of the present moment, your surroundings, and the current situation than those around you. You will notice people with bad posture, or people who are not breathing. You will recognize situations that seem like a major crisis to others as imagined obstacles that do not exist in the now.
This attention to the present moment is the single most important teaching of any pugilistic skill. Without presence, you cannot win a fight. Someone that is not present in a fight will think about all the past harms their opponent has done them and use those memories to fuel their rage. Others may focus on how cool they will be after they have kicked their opponent’s ass, and what a great story their victory will make.
The trained boxer defeats himself first. He recognizes that fighting will benefit no one. Someone will get hurt, and there can be no awareness at the moment of doing harm. Attention recognizes that all the perceived hurts or imagined victories do not exist, NOW. The practiced martial artist does not seek to harm, but to return safely from the encounter. Ultimately, that is the genuine struggle of life: to return safely from the encounter.
Circle walking is the method used in applying Baguazhang for martial purposes. There is an old saying:
“The hands defend; the feet win.”
Circle walking in Baguazhang practice is the continuous training of footwork skills. The ability to change hand positions and defend or attack while moving is a skill few have.
Books describing martial arts often show martial applications with the description of the posture. Understanding the form’s purpose in a fight will help in you study the posture and improve your practice of it. Usually, this is useful, since many martial forms have clear and direct applications. Baguazhang, however, is about change, and the applications are less clear.
Martial art instructors have devised many ways to preserve and transmit the martial applications of an art. The most popular method is the practice of Pushing Hands. Pushing Hands is a two-person training routine that teaches leverage, sensitivity, positioning, and coordination. Another method is the use of keywords describing the fighting essence of the art.
Instead of looking for specific applications in the Baguazhang postures, consider these keywords and how each of them could be applied at any instant in your circle walking practice.
Ward off the opponent’s hand, foot, shoulder or hip with a countermove. Similar to Block, but you do not rub the opponent.
Hinder or stop the opponent’s movement or action by rubbing against the hand or foot of the opponent with your hand, shoulder, hip, or foot.
Prevent an opponent’s strike from landing by deflecting it with a hand, elbow, shoulder, or hip. Parry is round, Intercept is straight.
Collide with the opponent’s breast or abdomen with your elbow, shoulder, hip, or knee.
Use one or both hands to hold or exert force against the opponent. Also called a strike.
Lift the opponent’s hands away from the intended strike.
When grabbed by the opponent, support the grab and move to break the hold. This may be done by Knocking, Upholding, or Lifting.
Raise or lower the opponent’s body, causing their balance to be lost.
When practicing the postures, use the Natural Step to walk around the circle. Walk slowly, pausing with each step to check your body alignment. Pictures and descriptions are for the left turning (walking in the counterclockwise direction with the left hand in the center of the circle) changes only. Reverse the descriptions to perform the change on the right side. Perform each change an equal number of times for both the left and right postures.
Sun Lu Tang connected each of the twelve postures in his book to a concept from Daoist cosmology. You are familiar with the first two postures.
Before you begin practice, stand in Wuji posture.
Before you move, there is the intention of moving, and then there is the separation of Yin and Yang. Before you walk the circle, stand in the Pushing Millstone posture on the edge of the circle. This announces your intention to move and creates Yin and Yang.