The practice of Eight Trigram Palms (Bagua Zhang) is gradually becoming more popular as a Mind & Body exercise alongside the other more recognisable Exercises of Taijiquan and Qigong which have been regularly practiced by thousands of people from all around the world for many years. The practice of the Eight Trigram Palms (Bagua Zhang) is famous for its twisting, Spiralling and of cause its circle walking practice, it can be performed slow or fast all according to each individuals capability and like the practice of Taijiquan it also develops each individuals balance, co-ordination, concentration and relaxation. But it offers a little more to the individual as it also increases their over-al joint, tendon and muscle flexibility, plus their cardio fitness and stamina.
It is through the practice of its Circle Walking practice that develops the individuals cardiovascular fitness and stamina. As the Circle Walking practice also combine two elements, firstly the upper body holds a certain Standing Post (Zhan Zhuang) static posture with the both arms creating a particular shape with the both palms pointing into the centre of the circle in a rounded shape, with the torso turned towards the centre, while the lower body is constantly moving, by stepping around the circumference of the circle using a variety of stepping methods such as the lion step (Shizi Bu) which is a fast heel/toe stepping action or the Mud Wading Step (Tangnibu) which places the whole of the sole of the foot onto the ground, extending the toes. Another Bagua Zhang Stepping Method is the Crane Step (He Bu) which lifts the knee up to hip height as if the individual is stepping over an object, obviously this particular stepping action will work the balance and develop greater leg strength.
The Bagua Zhang Circle Walking practice encourages the individual to hold a “Still” static upper body posture, while the lower body is constantly on the move. Hence combining t”Stillness with Movement”. The static holding of the upper body develops strength within the core muscles of the trunk and especially the shoulders and arms, whereas the constant stepping action of the legs develops agility and fitness which strengthens the blood and energy (Qi) circulation throughout the entire body.
Another great aspect to the study and practice of Bagua Zhang is that unlike Taijiquan it can be practiced within a small confined space because the size of the circle the individual walks can be made to fit the space you are practicing in. They say in Bagua Zhang the bigger the circle the more it will work your fitness, whereas the much smaller circle will stretch and work the joints more.
Over the many years that I have spent studying and practicing the Li/Lee Style Hand of the Wind Boxing (Lishi Feng Shou Quan-Kung Fu) I have seen many teachers (Shifu) and students perform this unique Chinese internal martial art placing great emphasis on the “Art” (Shu) form more so than the Martial (Wu). It’s a very fine path that we practitioners of this fascinating Daoist martial art that was passed on to us all by the late Master Chee Soo all walk. As placing great emphasis on making your Feng Shou-Kung Fu look graceful, beautiful and Artistic to the naked eye is good, as long as the individual as also developed a high level of “Martial” skill to back up their graceful, flowing actions, as if they cannot then their Feng Shou-Kung Fu is just a series of flowery hands & legs with no substance.
On the other side of the coin. If you simply concentrate on the “Martial” side of your Feng Shou-Kung Fu it can make each individual style of fighting look very rigid, hard, direct and obvious. Whereas, the highest form of Art is “Self-Expression” being able to fully express yourself honestly and naturally within your chosen subject hence “Feng Shou-Kung Fu”. Combining both your Martial skill with the ability to Self Express your own fighting Art using graceful, beautiful movements is the panicle of any practitioner irrespective wether it is an internal or external martial art.
Sadly for me to many of my former practitioners have spent a great deal of time learning and practicing this particular internal martial art and have placed to much time and effort on the Art side trying to look graceful and beautiful. But have not spent any time on developing the Martial aspect. As Master Chee Soo would always like to quote to me “Do not read a poem to a fencing master” literally meaning “Action speaks louder than Words”. It alright looking graceful and beautiful in your Feng Shou-Kung Fu fighting movements as long as you can back it up!
As I mentioned earlier in this blog, its-a fine path that we all walk, sadly some individuals have strayed off the path towards achieving the balance between “Martial” proficiency and “Artistic” self expression.
In the practice of taijiquan and qigong each individual begins to smoothly and precisely synchronise the movements of the legs, torso and arms together . At first the integration of the legs, torso and arm movements will seem rather dis-jointed at first but gradually over time through regular practice the unity between the legs, torso and arms will greatly develop and improve, the individual will then begin to sense and feel power and strength in their taijiquan and taiji qigong. actions. At first when a beginner performs their taijiquan and taiji qigong actions the strength used mainly manifests from the actions of their arms, meaning that the strength is obvious (Ming Jing) as they still hold tension within their arms and shoulders.
After a while as the individual gradually begins to loosen and relax (Song) the obvious tension and strength used will slowly diminish from their taijiquan movements and through the smooth integration of the whole body actions a more hidden and refined power (An Jing) will begin to manifest and over time greatly develop within each individuals taijiquan and taiji qigong movements. Once this internal power (Nei Jing) begins to move inside the individuals body they will begin to experience a strong tangible sensation of tingling, heat, thickness/fullness and heaviness moving into their limbs as their Qi and blood circulation greatly improves.
Through the actions of the legs the power is drawn upwards through the centre of the ball of the foot (Jiaodi) were it then travels upwards to the “Sea of Qi” (Qihai) located below the navel, were the waist then guides and leads the power into the shoulders and arms to enter into the heart of each palm (Zhangxin) were the power is them emitted outwards into the air. Once the individual begins to sense the movement of their inner power, especially into the heart of their both palms they will also experience a constant feeling of great warmth or heat in their palms and a feeling of holding a small Qi ball in each hand.
In the practice of taijiquan and taiji qigong the legs and torso move first, while the arms & hands follow this allows for the power generated in the legs and waist to be guided and released out through the both hands through the filling, emptying, opening, closing, rising and sinking actions of the joints of the legs, torso/spine and arms smoothly, connected and unified together in their actions.
There are three hand shape methods used within the practice of the Original Feng Shou-Kung Fu which can be used both defensively and offensively to defend oneself against punches, kicks and many types of grips and holds. One of these particular hand shapes is known as the Crab Claw Method (Xie Zhua Fa) which uses the thumb and index fingers to seize and grasp the opponents joints, energy points, tendons and muscles to apply joint locks, chokes & strangles. The Crab Claw Method can be used alongside other striking and kicking techniques to enhance the control and power using a single or double grasping methods that can be applied either on the outside or inside of the opponents limbs.
Usually the Crab Claw Method is used to seize & grasp the fingers of the opponent and apply painful, fast finger locking techniques, it can also be used to seize the opponents windpipe to apply a quick and effective choking technique or to seize the muscles and tendons of the neck to slow or stop the blood flow. Another aspect to the usefulness of applying the Crab Claw Method is to seize & grasp the energy points (Qixue) located on the limbs, torso and neck to effect the circulation of the opponents energy (Qi) to either slow or stop its flow.
Out of the three main seizing & grasping hand methods the Crab Claw Method is the weakest of the three as it only uses the thumb & index fingers. Whereas, the Tiger Claw (Hu Zhua) and Eagle Claw (Ying Zhua) all use more fingers and hand to seize & grasp making them more powerful in their usage. So when applying the Crab Claw Method it is combined with other defensive Ward offs and deflections, usually the Ward Off or parry would be used to connect to the incoming blow and then divert it away from its intended target, were the Crab Claw Method would then be used to seize & grasp the opponents limb to further control it and then a series of follow up strikes, kicks and joint locks can be used.
It is also important that each student begins to learn and understand the energy pathways and the more important energy points located on them to be able to attack and disrupt the opponents energy flow by using the Crab Claw Method to seize & grasp the energy points by digging, pressing or squeezing your thumb and index fingers or nails into your opponents energy cavities (Qixue) to cause great pain that numbs the area causing Qi disruption. The Crab Claw Method of seizing & grasping is a very useful tool for every student of the Original Feng Shou-Kung Fu to develop and become skilful in its usage.
For any individual who begins their study and practice of the ancient Chinese mind, body & spirit exercise known as “Qigong” (energy work) for them to connect and awaken their life force or Qi can be a gradual processsion that can take many weeks, months and even years for them to actually experience the first sensations of their Qi moving inside themselves. Over time as the individuals body, mind & spirit becomes more profoundly connected into an integrated whole through the regular practice of qigong they will notice certain changes in themselves such as that they seem to become more relaxed both physically, emotionally and mentally, their vitality levels have grown stronger, their body has become more supple and pliant.
One of the best aspects for anyone wishing to take up the study and practice of qigong exercise is that no matter what your age or health condition are, you can still start your Qigong practice at anytime in your life and help to improve your health and wellbeing. The practice of qigong can also help to heal and manage many types of ailments that many individuals suffer with such as arthritis, hypertension, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, diabetes etc.
To tangible be able to sense, feel and experience your life force Qi moving around inside your body while performing your Qigong movements. Means that you have to place your mind inside your body and begin getting used to looking inside of yourself using your mind, concentration , Intention. Rather than looking outside at the external world, allowing your minds thoughts to become distracted, confused and stressed causing the mind to become more disconnected from the body. Through your Qigong practice your minds intent will begin to gradually grow the more you can release and free the mind of distracting thoughts the more focused and calmer it will become. As the mind becomes more still and focused it can then begin to listen, feel and connect to the tangible sensations of your life force Qi as it move throughout your entire body.
It obviously takes time, so be patient in your study and practice of your Qigong exercises and gradually you will begin to experience the life changing sensations of your Qi moving around inside yourself. Every day it will grow stronger and stronger improving your over-al health, vitality levels promoting a long happy life.
In today’s very fast and sometimes often violent world the need to learn a practical and effective self defence method is just as important in today’s society as it was in the past. Especially when you hear of people being attacked in their homes, age does no longer matter as the very old are attacked, the young are dying because of gang fighting and innocent individuals are all caught up in it. To the Chinese the practice and study of taijiquan is all about learning how to strengthen and improve one’s health, and wellbeing to live a long and peaceful life.
But in the spectrum of practicing taijiquan the importance of learning how to protect yourself is at the extreme end of the spectrum. As when you are attacked by a violent individual it can greatly effect your health if you are lucky enough to survive the assault. For many individuals who have been violently attacked they suffer still long after the actual assault, their bruises, cuts and scrapes can heal, their bones can be set. But their emotional and mental anguish can last for many years causing them to become fearful, timid, insecure lacking any self confidence etc.
Learning Taiji Qin Na-self defence does not mean that the individual has to learn to fight to the death. But to learn techniques and methods that could help them to break free of many types of holds and grips and to then apply punishing, painful joint locking techniques that use little strength to apply that are easy, practical and effective ways to break free and escape. Learning the self defence training of taijiquan is just another means to learning how to maintain your health & wellbeing and to protect your life, it is just as important as any type of exercise that develops your fitness like dance or jogging, but it offers you more in being able to protect yourself if needed.
At any time in your life there is always a possibility that you may be assaulted by some violent idiot. Many believe that it will properly happen in their youth, but you are more than likely to be attacked in your old age and learning taijiquan for self defence is just as important as studying it for its health & wellbeing benefits as it all about protecting your life, health and self.
The study and practice of all Chinese internal martial arts involves the development of two individual practices. Firstly the practice of energy cultivation and circulation (Neigong) both for the purpose of strengthening the connections between the mind & body, health maintenance and the development of internal power source for martial arts usage. The second method of development within the internal martial arts is the external or (Waigong) which is building and strengthening of our fitness, flexibility, tendon and muscular strength. For many within the Original Feng Shou-Kung Fu they seem to spend more time practicing and developing their external (Waigong) side of their training, rather than equally spending the same amount of time also developing their internal (Neigong) training side. Basically within the study of the Chinese internal martial arts they consider the internal training development as (Yin) and the external training development as (Yang), so to bring the body & mind into complete balance and harmony in the study and practice of the Original Feng Shou-Kung Fu each practitioner must be equally practicing both the internal & external aspects.
For many individuals who are studying and practicing the Feng Shou-Kung Fu within many of the association and organisations that promote this particular Chinese internal martial art. It seems that not many have developed a strong internal energy cultivation practice that can be taught to their students to develop their internal cultivation alongside their external practices. Sadly to many teachers only teach their students maybe one or two martial guiding and leading exercises (Daoyin) ever to their students and usually these two particular exercises are the “Four Position Breathing Exercise” or the “Five Lotus Blossom Breathing Exercise” sadly these two Exercise are not enough for any student to strongly cultivate their Qi. Students need a more complete practice that involves a series of exercises that they can perform on a daily basis to strengthen their health, promote Qi circulation and martial power.
Within the LFIAA students are taught the “Eight Standing Post Qigong Methods” (Ba Zhan Zhuang Gong Fa) which are a series of eight exercises using such stances such as the Bear, Dragon and Cat each involves stretching movements that not only help to develop each persons joint, muscle, tendon flexibility they are also used in conjunction with the breathing and concentration to guide & lead the Qi into the extremities. Once students are taught the Eight Standing Post Qigong Exercises they are expected to maintain it’s practice on a daily basis to develop their mind, body connections, plus their Qi strength for health & wellbeing as without it they will not be able to study and develop this unique Chinese internal martial art.
In the above photo that accompany this blog Shifu Garry Owen is seen practicing one of the Eight Standing Post Qigong exercises which are performed on both sides to promote both energy and blood flow, whole body flexibility & strength. The exercise can be practiced either as a static “Standing Stake” exercise or as a “Moving” practice. It is important that all practitioners and students of the Feng Shou-Kung Fu study and practice both the internal & external disciplines equally, simply practicing two breathing exercise only when you attend your class is really not developing your internal practice.