KUNGFU, FORCE, PHILOSOPHY AND WEAPONS
Frederick Chu -- Shaolin Wabnam USA
18. Shaolin Kung Fu
The widest and deepest tradition of both force and combat application come from Shaolin kung fu. Historically, Baguazhang is itself a specialization from Shaolin kung fu. Baguazhang as a stand alone art is capable of many things in combat application, force, and very importantly, allowing its practitioners to be agile and mobile even into elderly age, though certain feats of force are beyond the scope of typical Baguazhang force training such as Circle Walking.
Shaolin Cosmos Palm (also known as Red Sand Palm) as well as Wudang Cotton Palm make for excellent methods to enhance the skills of a Baguazhang practitioner. My own personal experience since learning the methods of Cosmos Palm in 2016 from Grandmaster Wong have led to the flowing force I've developed from Circle Walking to be consolidated and to attain a certain power and solidity that I previously lacked.
19. Manifesting Force
Even as force, agility, speed, and all other important qualities are developed in stance training, flexibility, Circle Walking and its many variations, those qualities must then be manifested to be of any use to the Baguazhang fighter. In kung fu parlance, fajing refers to using the force developed by the above exercises, rather than raw and brute muscular strength, to injure an opponent.
The mechanics of fajing are typically described as physical movements starting from the legs and stance, being modified by waist rotation, and manifesting at the striking point, often the hand, finger, or other part of the body in an uninterrupted flow of movement and energy [1, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 16, 17, 18, 19, 22]. At first, these movements are much slower and weaker than simply shooting one's fist or palm out from the shoulder, but appropriate fajing brings into play the power of the entire body to be focused into a single striking point for devastating effect.
Much as the boxer trains their jab and the Muai Thai boxer sweeps their leg at a tree for hundreds of times everyday, the Baguazhang fighter practices their strikes, kicks, throws, and grips many times everyday to refine their skill. The Yin Fu branch has their Striking Methods, whereby each subsystem within the Yin Fu family has its eight favored attacks, as well as numerous variations on each fundamental attack, which are repeated over and over again so that any one of them can be used as a combat ending move .
Cheng Ting Hua's descendant branches, especially the Gao subsystem, is well known for its 64 Palms set which collects what they consider their most important techniques to train over and over again. The lineage of Lu Shui T'ien, currently headed by Park Bok Nam, has a series of exercises to build force at the palms, elbows, and other body parts which are tackled one at a time, with the student spending many months on each method before moving to the next [11, 12].
The Ermei Baguazhang school of Yang Jwing Ming and Liang Shouyu likewise have their fundamental techniques which are repeated over and over to exhaustion . One modern master, Ma Chuanxu of Liang Baguazhang, described that it was exceedingly important to have a decisive level of force and to be able to use it in fights; he advocated that rather than leaving "some bruises that can heal in few days [w]hen I strike my opponent I want him to spit with blood" . Another master of the Ma Weiqi tradition, Guo Shilei, outright stated that if one is unable to prevent an opponent from fighting further with a single strike, "Then your skills are no where near up to scratch." [4, 8]
20. Hitting Objects
Many teachers are divided on the matter of whether or not a Baguazhang practitioner should spend much time hitting various objects, such as bags filled with sand (or beans, rice, or other objects), wooden poles, punching bags, focus mitts, trees, and the like. Some schools believe that regularly striking at an object has a benefit in conditioning the palm or other body parts to be able to deliver a harder strike as well as to sustain the force of a blow it is delivering  while others state that correct practice of other fundamental exercises such as Circle Walking and Old Monk Presents Bowl will provide an adequate level of protection for the palm .
Some teachers state that hard conditioning of the palm to develop force such as Iron Palm or otherwise is meant more as a supplementary exercise compared to more important exercises such as Circle Walking [17, 19]. A few lineages have exercises performed both in solo as well as with partners to condition the entire body to take blows by grinding and striking various parts of the body against poles or one another .
Needless to say, anyone who undertakes hard conditioning training should exactly follow their teacher's advice in that regard. I would even venture to say that any lineage that performs hard conditioning without complementary exercises to preserve the body's normal function, including flexibility and sensitivity, is incomplete. Grandmaster Wong, for example, was kind enough to provide exact instructions for practitioners of Iron Palm as well as Tiger Claw to prevent accidental injury to the fingers and eyes over the course of training [18, 19]. Some schools will provide remedies such as liniments, herbal concoctions, or even modern commercially available products such as Tiger Balm to their students [13, 22, 23].
Regardless, all of my masters and all writings I have read that actually train towards the use of Baguazhang as a martial art have stated that, at some point, you have to hit something, be it your partner in realistic sparring, a bag, pole, or otherwise. The main disagreement is on how regularly to hit that object, and for what purpose and what purpose that serves in the modern era. For example, stories abound of past masters such as Cheng Ting Hua and his student, Sun Lutang, striking their palms on an old, decommissioned cannon on the Beijing city walls everyday on top of spending many hours on Circle Walking and other training .
Certain schools even have a graded program of different objects to strike, such as bundles of paper, wooden or metal poles, bags filled with rice or beans, and so forth to develop different types of striking force, such as a strike that only injures the surface of an opponent, a strike that penetrates deeply into their body, a strike that pushes an opponent away harmlessly, and so on [11, 12, 13]. Yet other schools will have a practitioner use a bag filled with rice or sand, for example, but have the practitioner treat their hands with various herbal concoctions with the idea of stimulating energy flow and the development of a certain degree of striking power [17, 23].
A few schools will even use a striking bag filled with a paste made from various herbal and animal products in a bid to infuse certain characteristics to the practitioner's hands and body . I do not have any personal experience with these herbal concoctions, nor do I have personal contact with anyone who has used them for a long period of time. The practitioner is encouraged to be critical and to mind their own safety in these and other matters.
Regardless of the methods used to achieve these ends, Baguazhang practitioners who have succeeded at their training are capable of using the form of what appears to be a simple and straightforward palm strike to inflict all manner of unpredictable harm on their opponent. Having been on the receiving end of some masters who, in rapid succession, inflicted hard strikes that knocked me down, soft strikes that knocked the wind out of me, sinking strikes that made me collapse inward on myself as though a heavy weight were pressing down on my shoulders, and releasing strikes that sent me hurtling five or more feet away, I can speak to the existence of these skills hidden in the palm of a master's hand.
21. Brains as well as Brawn
While decisive force and effective combat application form the two pillars of any good martial art, they are not the end-all and be-all of fighting. Beyond merely possessing enough force to knock someone out with a single blow as well as having a technique for any conceivable situation is the knowledge of how to best effectively lever one's abilities to survive fighting unscathed. This knowledge takes the form of appropriate tactics and strategies. In Chinese literature, the most famous scroll of strategy is Sun Zi's The Art of War, often quoted and cited for every situation, be it combat, love, trade, and business.
Baguazhang lacks a broad classical literary tradition, with its main body of written advice to future students taking the form of the 36 Songs, which describe advice given to beginning Baguazhang students, and 48 Methods, which describe specific fighting situations and recommendations to intermediate and advanced students [1, 7, 15, 22]. An in-depth analysis of each separate Song and Method goes beyond the scope of this work, and interested readers are encouraged to read the works of Grandmaster Wong, Yang Jwing Ming, Liang Shouyu, Frank Allen, and Tina Zhang who have covered this subject in excruciating detail.
21. Palms like Iron, Blades of Steel
Baguazhang, despite being a young art barely over a century old, inherited a rich tradition of skills, tactics, force training, and culture from other styles of kung fu. Like any fighting art, it had to respond to the needs of the day, including the most common weapons wielded by enemies in all circumstances. Certain Songs and Methods of Baguazhang state the importance of force training [7, 22] as well as developing the decisiveness and courage needed to fight empty handed, if needed, when weapons are drawn.
Dong Hai Chuan's personal weapons were the deer horn knives , also known as the mandarin duck knives due to their silhouette resembling a duck and for the cultural motif of mandarin ducks mating for life [1, 17]. Aside from the handle, virtually every surface of the weapon has a point or edge, making it difficult to disarm. However, so many points and edges may pose some danger to the practitioner themselves, leading to certain characteristic Baguazhang maneuvers, such as whirling the palms around the body, being unavailable without significant modification.
Yin Fu, who trained in both Dong's Northern Shaolin as well as Baguazhang, was also known for a paired weapon, in his case the scholar's needle . The scholar's needle, also known as the judge's pen, was a long, thin metal rod that was pointed at each end. The needle had a small ring in the middle to allow the weapon to be worn by the middle finger and extended along the forearm while being concealed in clothing such as the robes worn by imperial bodyguards. Such needles gave extra penetrating power to the thrusting palm strikes favored by Yin Fu Baguazhang practitioners, besides providing a metal surface along the palm to provide a measure of safety in batting away an opponent's weapon.
Fu Zhensong [1, 24] was well known for his overly sized saber nearly as tall as he was. The weapon's creation story is as ridiculous as its size and weight: supposedly when Fu dictated the dimensions of the weapon to a blacksmith, an accounting error akin to mistaking inches to feet was performed, resulting in a weapon some five feet long . Whether or not the weapon was actually used in combat is a matter of some debate, but the gigantic weapon is so well established in Baguazhang circles that it became known as the bagua dao.
The weapon that most enhances and brings out the character of Baguazhang is the Wudang sword . While there are many different lineages of swordsmanship, much like how the Shaolin tradition is said to be the best staff, Wudang holds the title for possessing the finest sword. Being a relatively lightweight weapon, hard clashes and cleaving blows as seen in the saber are entirely absent from the sword. Excellent footwork, subtle wrist motions, and the agility required to entirely avoid an opponent's weapon while simultaneously delivering death within three inches are necessary when wielding the sword. In all of these venues, Baguazhang excels.
Not only does Baguazhang training with internal force, agility, and subtle body mechanics transfer over into enhancing one's swordsmanship, the pinpoint accuracy, flowing movement, and the principle of making the entire body into a single flowing entity brings empty handed Baguazhang up to an even higher level. If one were going to learn just one weapon, it is difficult to argue against learning the Wudang sword.
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