WHAT I HAVE UNDERSTOOD OF BAGUAZHANG
LORIANO BELLUOMINI Lucca, november 2, 2002
Kindly translated by José de Freitas, Portugal
1) YI "ZOU" WEI Y0NG.
After so many years of study and practice of Baguazhang or "Eight Diagrams Palm Kungfu", if I really had to synthesize the whole art into one single sentence, I would use this: yi zou wei yong which simply means: "To consider walking around the circle as its usage". Because in fact, the whole essence of Bagua, from a martial point of view, can be found in this sentence. On the other hand, we will see in the second paragraph what its philosophical essence is, which is the basis for the martial essence.
The purpose of a martial art is to defeat an opponent, both in attack and in defense. If we consider the approach of almost all the arts, we see that it is essentially linear, according to the principle that the straight line is the shortest distance between two points. Obviously all the arts also have the study of angles and they sometimes try to go around the opponent, but this is, in the last analysis, occasional. There are two arts that are tightly connected with Baguazhang and which are in fact part of the same family, Xingyiquan and Taijiquan: I will explain in the second part why, in my opinion, Bagua is, I think, superior or better than them, because Bagua, I think always, is inclusive in comparison to them. These two arts perfectly integrate with Bagua and, probably not by chance, often in every one of the three schools, we can find techniques or principles from the others. This, if we think about it an instant, makes us think about greater universality of these arts in comparison to others, of greater integration of them with the freedom of things. But this is philosophy, we will talk about it later.
Returning to real practice, personally I find that in the field of the various schools of Bagua there is great confusion when we talk about its practical side. I am not of the opinion of those people who, especially in west and particularly in the field of Bagua, tell you: Baguazhang, in its formal content, is only an expressive potentiality, actual fighting is another thing. Now, it's true that, in comparison to a stylized expression, fighting is always another thing. How could it be otherwise? Taking an example that is often used in the field of martial arts, it would like trying to write a new, free, text or writing, using only dictated sentences one would have previously received. It is obvious that the new text would have a false, artificial, character. In the normal procedure of learning in primary school, the first thing learned is how to connect together consonants and vowels and form syllables with them (even if often the opposite is done, as for instance I do - I am a primary school teacher - syllables give way up again to consonants and vowels), then finished sentences are received, then texts made of finished sentences (dictated) to finally attempt, armed with these tools, to create the free text. It is obvious, then, that in the martial arts the procedure is similar. For instance, we start with syllables (the basic stances), we go up again to vowels and consonants (the techniques), we do the dictated sentences (the forms) and we develop the freely written text (tuishou-tuisan, half-free and free fighting). In addition to the "language" we then have other subjects based on it (the use of weapons, an extension of the art).
Is it in fact possible that the founder of Baguazhang, Dong Haichuan, universally recognized as a giant in the world of the martial arts, really developed his art as a kind of useless dance, derived from its presuppositions? It is obvious that this cannot be possible. But then, why is it that in the field of this martial art there are so many different approaches and often so contradictory? Let's take an example. Recently I read in a book written by one of my latest teachers, Zhu Baozhen, that the 64 linear forms cannot be considered Baguazhang. It is his opinion, a teacher's opinion, mainly from the school of Yin Fu, but others, in my opinion correctly, won't agree. Even I would not agree if the statement was expressed in these drastic terms: Baguazhang has in its roots the "disease" of change, the genes of change, therefore everything that historically was developed as Baguazhang should generally be acceptable as Baguazhang. Which doesn't mean that it's necessarily the best thing or that it hasn't distorted, somehow, the founder's intentions. A founder who expressed the meaning of what he taught in this simple way: YI ZOU WEI YONG, "to consider walking around the circle as the usage, that is the practical part."
For years, after having learned the linear forms, I thought that "Laoseng tuobo" (the old monk lifts the bowl posture) was the most advanced bagua fighting position . It is a frontal position (even if sometimes used on the circle), similar to the santishi of Xingyiquan. However, there remained always in me a sense of dissatisfaction: Where was the so much proclaimed "circularity"of Bagua if in the end a frontal position was mostly used? I often made in my mind the comparison with Longxing bagua tuishou, the pushing hands Dragon form created by Fu Zhensong, a two-man form that it is completely circular. Why wasn't this also the rule of application in the other schools? Naturally this doesn't mean that to practice Bagua it is necessary to continually walk around the circle: perhaps after some walking we would be dizzy; but the purpose of fighting Bagua certainly has to be to use its circularity to surround the enemy, not to fight him frontally as taught in the the linear forms. Therefore, something needed to be changed.
after a certain point I started to change the formulations. Laoseng tuobo
can also be done all right as a form of palm change but beginning from a
circular position. In fact, if done with correct mechanics, Laoseng tuobo
can be very useful and can develop a lot of spiraling energy (chansi jin)
in striking. But, as I said above, the necessity of continuous change is in the
genes of Bagua: can there be other positions that develop strength dynamics? For
instance, the classical Bagua stance can be all right and work pretty well
especially in defensive form: it is difficult to overcome the line formed by the
two hands, one above and one low. While it is all right, in my opinion it is not
so good as an attacking stance. Instead, there is a posture used in the eighth
series of palms of Jiang Rongqiao Original Form (and whose origin appears rooted
in the snake form of Xingyiquan) called Jinshe panliu (golden snake winds
around the willow) which is more dynamic as an attacking stance. This is one of
the positions we adopted. Still another position can be that of Yiquan, but done
walking around the circle. Obviously, it must be stated that we don't become
"fixated" in any of these postures, however valid, but we adopt the more
appropriate to the various occasions. In any case, the two that I prefer are the
classical one for walking around the circle (also using laoseng tuobo)
and Jinshe panliu.
Having said this, though, it is clear that the point is not the use of palms or fists (reality, in its mutability, can require one or the other), but the use of the circle or less. It is obvious, as I said above, that we cannot walk around the circle to infinity. Dong Haichuan himself had present this non-necessity. Therefore in the "48 songs [sishiba jue]" (the songs used to memorize the princėples) the "half-circle" method is stated, bānjuan shoufa (song # 22):
In case he indicates he will strike straight (to use then) an oblique technique,
Still you take a half-step to the side without worrying about it.
The Chinese commentary (by Li Ziming?) to this fundamental text says:
"If a person of another school attacks me using mostly techniques in a straight line, I have only to take a half-step to the side and the opponent will end in the void; in case the opponent points straight (a feint) to cross-strike (instead) sideways, I am able to use the preceding technique and again take a half oblique step to the side, forcing him to fall into the void and to be without utility; this is the "the half circle hand-technique ". This bufa (footwork) is the main technique to avoid the substantial (a hard technique) and to send it to the void and from here to look for possibilities to gain the initiative".This technique of the side-half-step is also described in others "songs", for instance in # 20, Beihou zhuanshen fa translated by Huang Guoqi as: "Method of Turning Body to Flank" and which I instead would translate as: "Technique of the turning of the back", a technique that my students know well and which serves to face the furious attacks of the opponent. The text says:
To make a step to the side (kuabu) crouching towards the earth and turning (the body);
When he wants to turn I capture him.
article could be longer, but I intend to conclude here its practical part. I
would like to state again that going around the circle (or also only using the
"half circle") is fundamental in Baguazhang, it is the essence of the art. This
is confirmed by all the texts and by all the teachers (even if practice is not
always consistent with the premises). I believe that the careful reader will
also have found, among these lines, many hints for its real practice.
Unfortunately as the years passed, and due to "the teachers' cult" which is always present in the Chinese Confucian mentality (but also, and sometimes more so, in the western one) the art has often been reduced to a dead husk and, as all things in contemporary China, this is due to the evil influence of money: for these reasons a living and enlivening content has often been embalmed. For years I have transmitted Bagua exactly as I was taught. I now feel that this is a dead way. It is necessary to innovate, it is necessary to create. Certainly those are the forms, but regarding their practical applications, they very often had gone lost or are now obsolete and what remains is insufficient. Perhaps we again need to use the philosophy of Change (YI) and to do so starting with the very beginning from the princėples governing the art. These changes cannot be arbitrary, they must have rules governing them, and only the princėples (as in Taiji) can be the stone against which to compare them.
is one of the reasons that lately I reread the "songs" of Bagua, rediscovering
them after so much time. Recently, for instance, looking at a recent book of
Liu Jingru on the forms that he taught me I noticed many changes in them, and it
is natural that this has happened. Putting it in terms of Buddhist meditation,
it would have been the same as thinking that an art is a dead body, a
substantial thing.... but it is not, an art is continually modified. A certain
teacher and his students make me laugh when they say that their art is true
bagua, not bagua-xingyi... Really? Then how do we take it when we see that one
of the first techniques I saw this teacher use is JI, a tool (to Press) of Taiji?
The reality is that in this world everything is influenced by everything and the
people that deny it are often in self-contradiction. My philosophy of life is to
move towards freedom, the Liberation. And this should go for everybody.
Regarding Kungfu, the old Chinese saying is still valid: in the beginning you
are free, then, when you start to learn you are not able even to go out of the
door, you don't know how to do anything; until you return to freedom, but with
quality, not the same freedom as the initial ignorance.
1) a letter from
Luigi Zanini (Vicenza)
In a recent essay on the Yijinjing that I have presented in Scotland I wrote that the Yijinjing, in its "real"version , as it is for instance used by the academy of Chinese Traditional Medicine of Nanjing, is a method of transformation of tendons and marrows of tremendous difficulty, based on almost athletic performances of the body. I offer then that Chinese Tuina resolves a lot of pathologies!Many people don't want to know this aspect of the Qigong, preferring to stay in a circle that allows them to relax and to get well with calm, without sweating and with the feeling of being cuddled. Stress is a subtler and more destructive enemy than physical fatigue. Qigong itself has been turned into an endless series of movements. Which are the true ones? Those that we do "from inside."
In the same way, I would speak so for Baguazhang and for every martial art. The meaning is inside the person, it is in its search, rather, in its daily personal odyssey, in its opening to dialogue and its determination to pursue its objectives. Which are the objectives? We also need here to be honest. Not all we were born for fighting in every moment of their lives. The veterans of Vietnam are not able to live a normal life anymore.Our ancient nervous structure of instinctive reaction is still founded on two principles, "fight or flight", you fight or you escape. Our daily life forces us to keep on mediating, to accept what we don't succeed in understanding, and to change what is possible to change, even if at times it is not the correct thing. In short, stress belongs to our driving car, to answering the telephone or in a line at the supermarket. This is where the contortions of the modern world are born. All is governed not by values, but from exploitation. There is no more space for that magic 1+1=11, everything has to produce at least 2, better 3, even also 4. But we have lost sight that it was easy with very little to produce 11.
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