~ translated by David Alexander
Many schools of Bagua Quan / Bagua Zhang have two categories palm style - Single Change Palm and Double Change Palm. However since most of them have different training programmes there are varying viewpoints on why ‘single’ and ‘double’ are used to differentiate between these two palm styles.
The Bagua Quan system which I have studied categorises Single Change Palm and Double Chang Palm as the two principle palm styles that lead the whole system. In this, Single Change Palm style trains Li (force) and Qi to unify and separate while Double Change Palm style trains internal Qi and movement to co-ordinate.
The main point of Single Change Palm style training is to lead, nourish and promote internal Qi by means of external Li, thereby enabling internal Qi to gradually cohere into available energy.
The main point of Double Change Palm style training is to co-ordinate the actions of the body and mind by means of available internal Qi into a directed and meaningful flow.
Therefore, Single Change Palm style is centred on Li while Double Change Palm style is centred on Qi. Li and Qi are the two most important constituents of martial arts training. Li is external and belongs to Yang while Qi is internal and belongs to Yin.
The Bagua divine ‘single’ as Yang and ‘double’ as Yin. So it is rational to call a palm style that is centred on Li and belongs to Yang ‘Single Change Palm’ and a palm style that is centred on Qi and belongs to Yin ‘Double Change Palm’.
But what is the meaning of ‘change’?
In walking palms when we walk circles, we alternately walk left circles and right circles. The methodology of change in the Bagua denotes the left as Yang and the right as Yin so, no matter whether Single Change Palm style or Double Change Palm style, the changes are all between left circle (Yang) and right circle (Yin). Consequently Single Change Palm and Double Change Palm are in fact ‘single change’ palm style and ‘double change’ palm style. That is to say:
- Single Change Palm is centred on Li and practices the methodology of left and right circle palms which enables Li and Qi to separate and unify.
- Double Change Palm is centred on Qi and practices the methodology of left and right circle palms which enables Qi and movement to coordinate.
This is what I have learned from the Bagua Quan system that I have studied. I provide this as a point of reference for martial arts practitioners.
Systems of basic tendons (strength) pathways of the body
1. Four years ago
My article “Essentials of Horse Stance” (further only Mabu Article) was published in 2001 in the [journal] Taiwan Wulin, No. 6. and during four years it passed through many hands, giving rise to [arousing] certain attention and discussions. Some practitioners responded [reacted]: “This article’s emphasis is on the connection of tendon pathways of dang in the lower body, so what about upper body?” In reality, the system of tendon pathways of the upper body compared to lower body is much more complicated, it is difficult to explain it clearly, but since some people were modest enough to ask people below [like me] [or: did not feel ashamed to ask people below – an expression of modesty], I just want offer my hat [out of respect - another form of modesty] and shortly bring up a little of what I have learned, on one side to make an explanation for those who seek knowledge, on another side it can also be a supplement and enlargement of Mabu Article.
Main point of Mabu Article is in the talking about the big tendons at inner side of both legs. These tendons [or is it just one tendon in two parts, in two legs?] not only connect three big joints of the both legs but also can penetrate [into] hipbone through perineum [huiyin] and [therefore] to bind mutually [both tendons into one], creating the structure of an arch that we call “dang”. This arching dang except combining both legs into one and its combining with pelvis also by dang’s centre (in the area of perineum/huiyin) creates energy pushed upwards, penetrating pelvis, following spine upwards. This is basic but important energy for [of] practicing martial arts, strengthening the body, practicing qi and cultivating Dao and also one of important reasons of [for] Horse Stance [practice].
OR (this is more clear formulation):
Main point of Mabu Article is in the talking about the big tendons at inner side of both legs. These tendons [or is it just one tendon in two parts, in two legs?] has three main functions:
1. they connect three big joints of the both legs,
2, they can penetrate [into] hipbone through perineum [huiyin],
3. and [therefore] they bind mutually [both tendons into one], creating the structure of an arch that we call “dang”.
This arching dang therefore has functions:
1. combining both legs into one,
2. combining [tendons of the legs] with pelvis
3. dang’s centre (in the area of perineum/huiyin) creates energy pushed upwards, penetrating pelvis and following spine upwards. This is basic but important energy for [of] practicing martial arts, strengthening the body, practicing qi and cultivating Dao and also one of important reasons of [for] Horse Stance [practice].
2. Pathways of tendons and pathways of qi (meridians)
After acupuncture became popular, everyone knows human body has twelve pathways of qi [meridians], but except these, there is also a system of twelve pathways of tendons. In qi-pathways there is qi circulating and they belong to yin, in tendons-pathways there is strength circulating and they belong to yang. If we say qi-pathways are copper wires transferring electric current inside electric cables, then tendons-pathways are just outer thickest rubber and steel wire of the wrapping bearing and pulling force during pulling electric cables.
The content of twelve pathways of tendons (also called twelve tendons-channels) is very broad and extensive, interested readers can consult “Twelve tendons-channels charts” [available] in the bookstores. Here I want sum up human body’s paths of tendons into six ones for practice but before this, it is necessary first to establish central axis channel of the body, this is around spine and forming channel. In Mabu Article described energy created by dang rises up through this channel. These six tendons paths [are] vertically around this central axis, there are small tendons pathways connections among them, and they are shaped in an area in the form of bucket. This area in the form of bucket is central [core] area of the energy of the body.
Simply said, these six tendons paths on the body are linked from hip joints to shoulder joints, and [they] again by shoulder joint connect arm, by hip joint connect both legs, this way it is possible to use four limbs and body combined into one.
3. Pulling apart bones [and, for] stretching tendons
For practicing tendons, it is essential first to relax the muscles, to lengthen muscles so they are not short, this is completely different from the present time ideas of muscle training of Western type. If muscles are relaxed, only then joints have space for stretching and pulling apart, joints can be open by pulling apart, only then tendons paths inside every joint have possibility to be connected, this is “relaxation” of the first stage of martial arts practice, with the aim of qi and strength sinking and entering into tendons and bones. At that time [This way] muscle groups mutually connect, they firmly wrap skeleton so that muscles, tendons and bones closely unite, only then can be accomplished beginning stage of “outwardly practice tendons, bones, skin”. Therefore tendons can not be pulled too much so that they become too relaxed, if they are too relaxed they will lose springiness, lose springiness cannot produce strength, this is necessary to notice.
4. Use strength to follow tendons
When important tendon paths of the whole body are structurally connected into single springy net, then various [different] connections of tendon paths will produce various [different] types of strength. Every joint is knot [nodal point] of the net, it is also a pivot [hub] of the controlling tendon paths. Different styles of wushu use different types of concepts and types of handling these knots [nodal points], some are simple, some complicated, some use straight lines, some use arcs and circles, some use spiraling, however, [the rule] “strength is created by tendons” is the same.
5. Through tendons enter qi
I feel that at the “strength” and “qi” levels, practicing wushu is elementary kungfu [skill] of cultivating the Dao. Wushu student seeks strength and practices tendons as the principal thing, at this stage energy of the body pours into tendon paths more and into qi paths less, while [at the stage of] practicing qi and cultivating Dao then it is necessary that energy of the body pours into qi paths more and into tendons paths less, therefore martial artist who achieved accomplishment will finally abandon strength of tendons, letting energy enter qi paths and going the road [way] of practicing qi and cultivating Dao, this is “relaxation” of the second stage of martial arts practice. However, if person who practices qi does not have elementary kungfu [skill] of practice tendons, then qi paths often are not unobstructed [they are not clear, not open], it is like tangled [twisted] and intertwined electric wires and cables, not only electric current and signal will not be clear, but becomes place of blockage because electric resistance increases and will produce heat with the result of fire, therefore if practicing tendons paths will not turn into entering qi paths, in the advanced age the problems and pain of the dissolution of strength will happen, [and] if before practicing qi paths are not practiced tendons paths first, then most [practitioners of this type] enter fancy dreams and delusion, there is no way to success.
6. Points for attention
To practice strength of tendons is basic kungfu [skill] of martial arts practice, some old masters learned it from childhood not knowing how, [or] knowing how but not knowing why, [or] knowing how to practice it but not knowing how to teach it, but even if they understand it, they regard it a secret, do not transmit it easily, I think this has [because of] two basic reasons:
(1) If martial arts practice is based only on [muscular] strength and does not train strength of tendons, this practice is quick, hard, targeted [???], firm and vigorous [???], sufficient for usual people to defend oneself, although it can harm [other] people, but these injuries are mostly external, not very serious. On other hand, if using strength of tendons to harm people, it is easy to harm internal organs and blood paths, this is very difficult to cure therefore they do not transmit it to common students.
(2) During practice tendon paths, there happens a time when one feels the whole body is swelled by strength and sexual desire also becomes vigorous [exuberant], wanting to be completely released. If student’s ability of self-control is not sufficient or unwilling to submit teacher’s restrain and control, it is easy to become bellicose and fond of women, get into trouble, harm own body, abandon oneself to depraved life, therefore the teachers who understand will not transmit it easily.
This article briefly introduces the importance and ways of practicing tendon paths, hoping reader does not want to act with undue haste and be too eager for success because inappropriate tendons training can easily lead to injury. Previous generations used to say: “Shang jin dong gu yi bai tian = Injured sinews and broken bones [require] one hundred days [of healing]”, therefore please be very careful. If someone gains an inspiration from this writing for practicing tendons a achieving success, please be sure to exercise strict self-discipline, give up fighting and guard oneself against [too much] sex, otherwise [you will] injure both others and self, and author’s guilt will not be shallow.
Originally published in Taiwan Wulin, No. 26 (2005), pp. 68 – 72.
A posture is like a battle formation
Postures are an important part of Chinese martial arts. They are an indispensable part of the training in every school. In particular every school’s ‘basic form’ will contain the basic postures which are the ‘mother posture’ (also known as ‘original posture’) followed by several ‘son postures’ (also known as ‘variation postures’). As regards Bagua Quan every posture has the dual connotation of internally nourishing the body and externally dealing with the opponent. Here I will only touch upon the aspect of ‘dealing with the opponent’.
The posture in combat in fact equates to the ‘battle formation’ that both sides take up in war. There are various distinctions between the units in a ‘battle formation’ such as being regular or raiding forces, being in the open or concealed and being in standoff or close quarter positions. There is single line formation where the head and tail should correspond with each other, there is echelon formation to cut and breakthrough the enemy, there is pocket formation to lure the enemy in deep. In other words each unit is deployed, gives mutual support and defeats the enemy on the basis of a specific tactical concept.
The units that martial arts can employ against an opponent are the four limbs. Some people make the very appropriate analogy between Chinese chessmen and parts of the body with the general as the head, the guards as the shoulders, the ministers as the elbows, the chariots as the feet, the horses as the kua, the cannons as the fists and the soldiers as the fingers. So every posture is a different combination of limbs and forms a different ‘battle formation’ for dealing with the opponent.
“Single Whip “Posture and “Red Phoenix Faces The Sun “ are ‘single line formation’. When both hands are in front protecting the chest this is ‘echelon formation’. “White Crane Spreads Its Wings” is pocket formation. Empty Stance foot position is ambushing while the elbows, knees, head and shoulders are all raiders.
So a posture is like a chess game set up by the defender. However the attacker is by no means stupid. You should never make a move hastily. The attacker may use a deceptive feinting move or change his position to trigger off the defender’s battle formation and then look for an opportunity.
Another thing that must be understood is that a posture in Chinese martial arts does not just look to countering one single opponent but supposes that the opponent may have ‘raiding forces’. So in many postures in Chinese martial arts the hands are deployed in various directions –in front and behind, left and right, up and down – and the opponent is not necessarily assumed to be in front – the defender’s attention must simultaneously cover all directions.
This is the foremost function of ‘form training’. The form is composed of different postures. The ‘completing posture’ that finishes one move is the ‘preparatory posture’ for the next move. Moreover this is just one possibility. The student must study other possible variations just as a general in peacetime must study variations in battle formation and a chess player must study variations in a chess game.
The Chinese martial arts are not for creating fighters but for training human ability (human potential) in the abstract. Actually the character wu is inaccurately translated as “martial.” The word “martial” in English has to do with war, but the word “wu” in Chinese is one part of the wen/wu dichotomy. This wu means the basic ability of the person. Then wen is the biaoxian, the “demonstration” of this basic ability.
M: Does wu have to do with the body and wen have to do with the mind?
The general, the leader must have both. In the old time the training would begin with wu first, how to cultivate the body, how to jump, etc. But this wu training also included training of the xin, yi and shen.
Here is the split between modern times and old times. Today people do not begin by training this [general] ability, they instead learn skills first, specific techniques. Because the ability is not developed, they have nothing “in here” [patting chest]. A person trained in this way is controlled by the skill, they have no ability to go up to a higher level. For example, nowadays a kid is trained to paint. He can paint very well but he is weak in his body/mind [xin], so he can never be a great painter, he is too weak “in here” [patting chest]. In the old days, people were trained to be a great person first and then to be a great painter. Confucius, Laozi, Mengzi, they all followed this way. They were well educated, well developed.
Everybody can fight. The question is “what for” do you want to be a martial artist? Everything in life has a purpose. What is this purpose? The purpose is to make people live good. So the question is” “Will you live better if you are a fighter?”
If you are a fighter you will have enemies, you won’t have peace of mind, you won’t have good relations with others.
Everything in the world we create to make life better. In times of war, when there was the threat of bandits, then the purpose of martial arts was in the promise of a safe life. The purpose was not just to beat people, but to make one’s self have a better life.
The question is: “What can martial arts give us to have a better life?”
In America’s old west, people like John Wayne settled their problems with guns. But when law came to the west, then a good shooter was a dead man [i.e. taken out by the higher power of organized law enforcement]. It is the same thing now, so why do you want to learn to be a fighter? If we have a war, OK. [But now….?]
If you follow the training, you will know how to fight. You will know how to use your body well [in general].
These martial arts forms, they are a presentation of your ability. If you can open your body, then you have power.
Look at how the nobility of old would train their inheritance. They train their kids in this way [wu as ‘general ability’ first, then wen] to make sure they can keep the kingdom safe. They would only train their servants – their soldiers – to be a fighter. Even the army has the difference between a general and a soldier, why is there this difference?
J: But what about the idea that training to face the reality of violence is necessary to be any kind of a good person. The best general is the one who understands the reality of war through experience. It is also said that it is necessary to be able to fight in order not to have to fight. For example, they say dogs can smell fear, so the only way to not fight with a dog is to have confidence that one can beat him.
H: Violence. This is one way to face the situation. But it is not the wisest way. It is not the best way. For example, should we [in Taiwan] have a war with Mainland China? [NO!].
Most situations can be settled before they come to violence. Training wu is about training the quality of a person. A person can have confidence and courage, can control himself well, be calm and peaceful … that is what the person can use to deal with a barking dog.
J: Where can I find written discussions of the meaning of wu?
H: The meaning of wu is discussed in the Ming Dynasty text Wen Wu Lun. The most popular text is the articule Liu Hou Lun, which can be found in the [contemporary] book Guwen Guangzhi. Also you can read anything by Mozi. Every disciple of Mozi learned martial arts. Sunzi also has it.
Unfortunately, history doesn’t mention training. They are interested in what people have done, but not so interested in how they could do it. But in history we find people who in peacetime they were workers, salesmen, “little potatoes.” But in wartime they became great generals. Why could they do this? Because they have that kind of training. When you have that kind of training, no matter what you are, if you are a butcher for example, then you are the best one.
J: Is there any way to know if you are on this path or if you are not on this path?
H: If you reach the point, then you will know.
The difference is in the teacher, in what direction does the teacher lead the student to. A teacher can lead the student to a tree. If they are a carpenter, they can show the student how the tree can make a good house. If they are a painter, they can show the student how to see the tree as a painter …
The whole thing is there in the Chinese martial arts. I feel it is very sad that people now will use them in the wrong way, in the low-level way.
You can see in the biography of the general in time of the war with Japan, from their childhood they were trained in the same way as nobility. In ancient Greece too, from 10-12 years old there is the same thing, training the kids in running, how to throw a spear. Train the body first. Only when the Christians come in do they start to train the wen first.
When people are trained in wu, then the quality of those people changes. A cultivated person cannot easily be controlled. So there is no regime that likes the wu training.
When we train martial arts, we are concerned with how the movement influences me, not with how the movement influences the enemy. If you open yourself, you have the power.
J: But sometimes it is just a technical matter of fighting, and I want to learn to fight now. Life is short …
H: No! Life is long. And continuous. It is such a precious thing. What it is that we want to train is that thing that can be more and more throughout the whole of your life. This is a wisdom. It is the same as how you use your body. So the masters can fight very well when they are old. Maybe they can’t fight when they are 30 ….
The problem is: “What is your goal?” For instance, consider a lady who joins the beauty contest. She wins the Miss America crown. Is she the most beautiful lady in America? No. She is the winner of 20-30 ladies, she is not the most beautiful lady in America. To enter the contest does not prove anything. If you want to get fame, or win some money, it is OK, but …
There are some kinds of knowledge/ability, they melt into your body. They become yours.
J: I have a friend who was in the army, and he is a very good fighter. He can always beat me. But he thinks martial arts are just for fighting. How can I believe in the idea that martial arts are ‘bigger than’ fighting if someone who has mastered the ‘small’ art of fighting can always beat me?
H: To have that kind of ability, you have to become that kind of a person. If you are a lion (i.e. you can kill without concern), you can fight like a lion. And if you fight like a lion, you are a lion.
Did you see the movie Gladiator? He is a farmer first, then becomes a fighter. But he doesn’t lose himself. His quality is that of a general. The others, they are very easy to become a killer.
Some of the old teachers, they don’t have a very good old age. Maybe they are good fighters, but they don’t have good family relations, they don’t have good friends, they are isolated from society. They can’t trust people, they can’t have good relations with people, not even with their wife and kids. Remember, ONLY if you ARE a lion, you can fight as a lion. The hero of the movie Gladiator, he has a kindness in fighting. He won’t become a real lion. He fights with his wisdom, with his brain. He fights not as a lion but as a wise person.
So we are very careful about what we do. Because what you do will change your quality. If you sell drugs, then you will become that kind of a person. Now there are many girl students at university who earn money with sex. They think they will just do it for a little while then stop. They are wrong. Even if you can quit the job, the habit is into you. You become that kind of person. The behavior will change you. You join the context.
If you don’t have the intention to injure & kill, then you won’t win. The most important thing is intention, not skill. If your opponent has the intention to kill, then they will win.
As society has changed, the intention of the criminals has changed too. Before the police could arrest a thief just with simple techniques. Now the thief will have the intention to kill the police officer.
My teacher always told me, martial arts is not for beating people. Why? Because their intention is so important. You can learn the same thing, the same movement, but the intention will change everything. The intention will change your movement, it will change your quality, it will change your mind.
To give a punch with the intention to adjust yourself, this is one thing. To give a punch with the intention to hit a person, this is not the same thing. It only looks the same.
In a good training, a training for a disciple [as opposed to training for a servant/soldier], the intention to fight is wrong. Only if the training is for a fighter is this intention right. It all depends on what you want to do. The intention is key.
Intention to eat triggers the lion to kill. How he kills is not important. If you have the intention, you can fight. But the question is: “Do you want to be that kind of a person?”
A well trained soldier who has never been to war, they are never a good soldier in the first battle. But they will be in the second and third battle. Why? Because he has seen people die, so now he has the intention to kill (in order to protect himself).
They have the same gun, the same ability, so what makes a soldier lose or win? To be a fighter, to be a killer, the very first thing is to despise the other’s life. The army will teach you that the enemy is not the same as you.
J: But in submission fighting, two people can both have the same intention to beat each other, and yet only one of them will win. Doesn’t this show that some part of fighting is purely a matter of technique and skill?
H: Martial arts is a way to deal with a situation. Did you see the movie Home Alone? This is the solution. Violence is always the lower ability. To beat children is one way to train them, but we all know it is not the good way. A good martial artist can use the other way to cease the fight. This is why these martial arts were developed, the purpose is not to injure other people.
Chinese martial arts: an investigation into how they developed from hard to soft and into their current status
Human culture has arisen for the purpose of resolving problems in order to satisfy needs. This article takes this as a premise and investigates the development of Chinese martial arts. What martial arts (as well as every culture) aims to resolve is the problem of existence and what they aim to satisfy are the needs of life. The methods employed are positive as well as negative. The positive methods produce aggressive, offensive behaviour; the negative methods are employed by the victims of aggression as defensive behaviour. There are some who reckon that migratory herdsmen tribes are more aggressive and that settled farming tribes tend to be more conservative. This is also a basic difference between western and eastern cultures. The Chinese people have had agriculture as the foundation of the nation for over 3,000 years. On this background has been created the development of government, economy, army, national defence, philosophy, ethics, art etc. They probably all have conservative traits.
The strategic scenario of Chinese martial arts Under this premise the ‘strategic scenario’ of Chinese martial arts is that they are defensive in nature with the objective of resisting aggression and protecting the territory and the way of life handed down from generation to generation.
The problem facing the defender is that the initiative is in the hands of the attacker. Given the premise that the defender has no way of anticipating the time and place of battle, the best method is to make preparation for war part of daily life. Consequently China historically has had the practice of ‘soldiers turned farmers’ and the system of stationing troops in frontier regions and not the policy of endlessly raising armies for war
In contrast to a defensive strategy the attacker can choose the time, place and method of attack. His strategy consequently can set objectives in advance and then according to the requirements of the objectives undertake effective and directed training and preparations.
For example a present day woman is worried about being assaulted and takes training in female self-defence skills. In a state of crisis awareness she makes an effort to train for three months or a year. Walking home at night she is full of confidence but as time passes the imagined crisis does not happen. One day when the self-defence skills she has learned have been forgotten - one, two, three or even seven years later- a mugger suddenly appears and she has no way to protect herself. So if she really had crisis awareness about self-defence she should change her training into an interest, into part of her life, so that when the occasion arose she could apply her skills since short term concentrated training will never be suitable for her needs.
Chinese people through the ages have faced an identical problem. Generation after generation, day after day, going out to work at sunrise and going back home at sunset, they have known that apparently peaceful days might all turn into a crisis at any time. In that era of inadequate fighting resources in the villages, of tensions among clans,ofWill-o'-the-Whisp bandits and highwaymen and marauding bands of troops, of jungle rule and the absence of law, they knew that the individual had to rely on himself. Martial arts became the choice, became an activity of everyday life
The martial artist himself had to resolve the problem of the defender having to be prepared for war at all times and not knowing when, where or how the aggressor would attack.
When he was young and strong he could meet the emergency but when he was old and infirm would he be still effective? What is more the attacker would always appear at the time that the defenders were weakest
Soft tactics developed from defensive strategy There is a saying by Lao Zi ‘A violent wind does not last for a whole morning; a sudden rain does not last for the whole day’. Most attackers use the method of ‘violent wind and sudden rain’. This method needs to be backed up by enormous energy. For example a present day athlete who preparing for a competition can according to the date of the contest calculate the amount of training and training methods needed, and tune himself up to reach his peak exactly at the time of the contest.
The defender is not so lucky. He cannot always keep himself at his peak. He can only live a normal life if maintains a steady level. However the energy in these ‘steady level’ preparations will certainly not match the ‘peak level’ preparations of the attacker.
What can be done?
The Art of War by Sun Zi says:
‘All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near. If the enemy is greedy, use baits to lure him. If the enemy is in disarray, attacked him. If the enemy is strong and have no weaknesses, be well prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, avoid engaging him. If the enemy is easily angered, arouse his anger. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are least expected. These strategies, leading to victory, must not be divulged beforehand.
In all fighting, the direct method may be used for joining battle, but indirect methods will be needed in order to secure victory.
In battle, there are not more than two methods of attack--the direct and the indirect; yet these two in combination give rise to an endless series of manoeuvres. The direct and the indirect lead on to each other in turn. It is like moving in a circle - you never come to an end. Who can exhaust the possibilities of their combination?
Military tactics are like water; for water in its natural course runs away from high places and hastens downwards. So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak. Therefore, the adept at warfare avoids engaging the enemy when the spirits are high. Only attacks them when their spirits are sluggish and the soldiers are homesick. This is control of morale factor.
Disciplined and calm, to await the appearance of disorder and hubbub amongst the enemy: - this is the art of retaining self-possession. To be near the goal while the enemy is still far from it, to wait at ease while the enemy is toiling and struggling, to be well-fed while the enemy is famished: - this is the art of husbanding one's strength.
To refrain from intercepting an enemy whose banners are in perfect order, to refrain from attacking an army drawn up in calm and confident array: - this is the art of studying circumstances.’
Since the defender can meet with conditions in battle when a weak force is fighting a strong enemy and a small force is opposed to a large one, he must abandon the methods of frontal assault and matching strength with strength and instead adopt the strategy of resourcefulness, deviousness, overcoming action by inaction, being near the goal while the enemy is still far from it, waiting until the enemy is exhausted and avoiding what is strong while striking at what is weak.
This is the origin of the principle of Chinese martial arts of ‘achieving softness from hardness, achieving wisdom from strength’. From this Chinese martial arts created its own distinguishing characteristics.
Sun Zi knew that if people became enemies through war whoever gained victory would pay a greater price in the future. He therefore advocated:
‘In war, to capture the whole nation intact is the best strategy; to ruin or shatter the nation is a weaker option. To capture the whole division intact is the best strategy; to destroy it is a weaker option. To capture the whole battalion intact is the best strategy; to destroy it is a weaker option. To capture the whole company intact is the best strategy; to destroy it is a weaker option. To capture the whole section intact is the best strategy; to destroy it is a weaker option. Thus to fight a hundred battles and win a hundred battles is not a reflection of the most supreme strategy. The ability to subdue the enemy without battle is a reflection of the ultimate supreme strategy’.
The great masters in Chinese martial arts also understood this principle so they considered martial arts to be for self-defence and resisting attack. They emphasised that ‘It is easy to kill but hard to wound someone; it is easy to wound but hard to capture someone, it is easy to capture but hard to make someone submit’. Because of this they developed many ‘peaceful’ attacking and defending skills. These are the most advanced and difficult part of Chinese martial arts and also their distinguishing characteristic.
Soft combat skills developed from soft tactics Because of the above needs martial artists had several problems to resolve:
1. Will not strength weaken with age rather than increase?
A powerful young body as strong as an ox is of course good to have but past middle age people develop flabbiness and loss of strength that is impossible to remedy. Take a look at the photos of Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone after middle age and you will see this.
Martial artists discovered that strength in fact came from the elasticity of the tendons so they found a means of shifting the energy of the muscles to the tendons. However localised tendons are too short and their strength is limited so they found a way of joining the interrelated tendons of the whole body into a single system ( tendon connection system) to produce sufficient strength. From this were derived the concepts and training methods of ‘Yijin’ (tendon-bone strengthening exercises) and whole body power (zheng jin)
2. How can the tendons be exercised?
It is only by relaxing and stretching the muscles to a sufficient degree that limb movement will relate to the tendons. In other words when the muscles contract the tendons will relax and when the muscles stretch the tendons will be able to tense. This is the rationale for the requirement in Chinese martial arts to ‘relax’
3. How should the tendons be maintained?
Growing flesh is easy, growing tendons is hard. Strengthening muscles can be effective in the short term but strengthening the tendons deeply layered in the muscles requires ‘simmering over a slow fire’. This fire is the blood. The tendons will rely on the temperature of the blood to soften them and also provide nutrition, otherwise they will be both difficult to exercise and easy to injure. If muscle movements provide too much blood supply, the blood allocated to the tendons will be reduced and the temperature of the tendons will be insufficient so that they will easily become stiff. The stimulation of the blood depends on Qi and the stimulation of Qi depends on breathing in and out. So the majority of Chinese martial arts place great emphasis on training in breathing and even greater emphasis on the cultivation and application of Qi.
4. Where does power come from?
What is called the ‘Tendon connection system’ is a dynamic system composed of ligaments, tendons and muscular mantle. Through their differing directions of movement these tissue combine in different ways but, in simple terms, the Tendon connection system is a system that links together each of the joints. For these tissues to be connected together, in addition to relaxing the muscles the joints must also be relaxed and stretched. This exercise of ‘pulling joints to stretch tendons’ is also a special feature of Chinese martial arts. Other cultures of course have soft body exercise methods which involve pulling tendons but almost all put emphasis on increasing softness whereas the main point of the exercise of ‘pulling joints to stretch tendons’ lies in the flexibility produced by opening and closing the joints. Flexibility of the tendons is the prerequisite for producing power. However the intensity of power is determined by how long and how harmoniously the tendons can be unified and linked together. For this we must examine the question of ‘integration’.
5. Where does integration come from?
The objective of ‘integration’ is to ‘concentrate a small force into a major force’ and allow the practitioner to use the smallest effort to produce the greatest strength. The object of integration in terms of limbs are the three arm joints (shoulder, elbow and wrist), the three leg joints (hip, knee and ankle) and the three trunk joints (neck, waist and coccyx). In terms of movement it produces the ‘six harmonies’. These are the ‘internal three harmonies’ (harmony of mind and intent, harmony of intent and Qi and harmony of Qi and force) and the ‘external three harmonies’ (harmony of hands and feet, harmony of elbows and knees and harmony of shoulders and hips).
The demands of the ‘external three harmonies’ allowed the great martial arts masters to develop a rich template of postures (moves, postures and forms) to train his students’ ability in the static and dynamic coordination
The demands of the ‘internal three harmonies’ led the great martial arts masters to derive nourishment from Chinese philosophy, medical science and Daoism and through this precipitate the transformation of the innate character of Chinese martial arts.
The demands of the ‘six harmonies’ increased the depth and level of difficulty of Chinese martial arts in order to attain the unity and harmonisation of the internal with the external and the body with the mind, in order that the smallest effort could be used to achieve the greatest effect and in order that an opponent could be repulsed in the shortest time.
Many martial arts schools individually developed unique methods to train tendons, Qi, mind and intent. Chinese martial arts by not confining themselves to the single function of ‘fighting’ acquired an extensive and profound set of attributes and entered upon a phase of ‘exquisiteness and refinement’.
After Chinese martial arts becomes refined --- The process of becoming ‘exquisite and refined’ is a matter of culture or, in a martial arts school, a matter of the long-term development of skills. So it goes without saying that its achievement represents the crystallisation of human culture. In any long-standing civilisation we can see examples of refinement from utensils used in daily life down to artistic objects. However refinement always comes up against popularisation, that is to say refinement is a state which can only be achieved through long study and practice whereas most people want to achieve gratification with only limited effort. The situation with Chinese martial arts is that for many people today the reason that they hold them in deep respect is because they have heard stories about the exploits of martial arts masters of the past - who could fly over eaves and walk on walls, were invulnerable to sword and gun, who could beat cattle on the other side of the mountain , who always defeated the enemy no matter the odds, who could land blows on much younger opponents, who overcame hardness with softness, who were matchless in every battle and so forth. However when these people have stood in the horse stance for a few days or looking for facts by visiting teachers and friends , they discover that ‘noviciate monks are more numerous than hairs on a cow but those who achieve enlightenment are as rare as hen’s teeth’. Disappointed they totally reject Chinese martial arts or take their skills off in search of another teacher, not realising that these special abilities of masters in the past belonged only to a small minority of martial artists and were not something that anyone could put their hand to.
When Chinese martial arts enter the stage of the internal three harmonies, acquisition of skills is slow but sure on the basis of ‘methodical work yields fine products’. Each of the four aspects of force/power, Qi, intent and mind is cultivated, practiced and applied in a lengthy and finely detailed process. Their final ‘integration’ is the great project of ‘unifying body and mind’. No one can hope for success without great determination, willpower and sacrifice.
However the attributes and attitudes of Chinese martial arts appear to be incompatible to those of other martial arts in today’s world, especially to those of competitive martial arts. This is because almost all other global martial arts are aggressive. The scenario of their strategy, tactics and fighting techniques and their requirements for body and mind are all different; their requirements on the internal three harmonies either do not exist or are very perfunctory. Consequently they do not require and have no time for ‘simmering over a slow fire’. They are still ‘unifunctional’ martial arts. They do not understand and do not accept the multifunctional nature of Chinese martial arts.
What should devotees of Chinese martial arts do?
Option 1: integrate into the world and fight for position
This represents the official practice of the People’s Republic of China. With the aim of promoting Chinese martial arts to the world’s stage they have changed Chinese martial arts to accord with Asian Games rules. They have excluded all non-competitive content, strengthened or increased moves conducive to competition and formulated an official ‘competition martial arts’.
Advantages: this makes Chinese martial arts an official international sport (although despite many years of effort it has still not been accepted by the Olympic Committee) and enhances the athletic status of Chinese martial arts.
Disadvantages: this strips Chinese martial arts of their essence. It is a ‘Chinese martial arts’ with no Chinese connotation or characteristics which has lost its special value in the world
Option 2: increase competitiveness and prove existence
This is almost the same as option 1 except that what is participated in are combative contests to prove that Chinese martial arts and competitors have in themselves the ability to confront other global martial arts.
Advantages: emphasis on displaying the fighting ability of Chinese martial arts, concentration on the study of fighting techniques
Disadvantages: in order to train quickly it would not be possible to undertake the ‘three internal harmonies’ and many of the fine points of limb training. Ultimately it would result in a muscular slugging match with the loss of the refinement and unique qualities of Chinese martial arts.
Option 3: position themselves for a new beginning
Recognise the history and special achievements of Chinese martial arts described above and with self-assertion progressively develop the set of attributes and values of Chinese martial arts.
Advantages: maintains the ‘exquisite and refined nature’ of Chinese martial arts, safeguards this crystallisation of human culture.
Disadvantages: it will be necessary to seek a new classification and orientation for Chinese martial arts, making sure to steer a true course. It will be necessary to establish Chinese martial arts own values within the flow of mainstream values. Those willing must take on the dual role of passing on the heritage of Chinese martial arts and opening it up in new ways.
Every devotee of Chinese martial arts understands the predicament of Chinese martial arts in the present age but no one has the knowledge or ability to find a method to resolve the impasse. In every method there are aspects that complement each other and incompatible aspects that oppose each other. In any event they are all valuable to one other as a reference.
The aim of this article is not to discuss ways of transformation but only to explain the unique characteristics of Chinese martial arts and to provide a reference for devotees of Chinese martial arts. I hope that it helps towards the understanding of and perpetuation of Chinese martial arts.
 a legendary martial arts skill showing that you could strike your opponent from far away
Image and action are two separate things
When in earlier times I studied ‘Later stage Bagua Quan’ my master often said “Image and action are two separate things ”. For a long time I didn’t understand. Afterwards I gradually caught some of the meaning and then passed over the threshold of ‘Later stage Bagua Quan’.
What my master spoke of as ‘image’ is the visible external form of an object while ‘action’ means the inner driving force which produces this image and creates changes in the image. This is the difference between ‘shape’ and ‘substance’.
Everything in the material world is inseparable from ‘shape’ and ‘substance’. Some things have the same shape and form but differ in substance; for example although identical twins may be difficult to tell apart their temperament and sex can be completely different. Some things are the same substance but are different in shape and form; for example the three states of water – ice, liquid and vapour – have different forms but are in fact all water. The similarities and differences in objects are all in ‘shape’ and ‘substance’.
‘Earlier stage Bagua Quan’ starts with ‘practicing shape’; once ‘shape’ has been properly formed this leads on to
the correct ‘substance’ . Consequently ‘Earlier stage Bagua Quan’ has very rigorous requirements concerning posture:
- How to align bones and muscles from a static state
- How to bring about a dynamic ‘finishing point’ pathway
- - Where to use force
Everything needs to be clearly understood. The student therefore gradually acquires experience and knowledge of the ‘substance’ of ‘action’ so that when he reaches the level of ‘Later stage Bagua Quan’ he can ‘give up image’ and concentrate on studying ‘action’.
Every school and branch of Chinese martial arts distinguishes between ‘shape’ and ‘substance’.
Most schools that developed in earlier times, although differing in ‘substance’, had the same ‘shape’ and laid emphasis on developing this ‘shape’. It is because of this that the moves and postures in Chinese martial arts are so colourful and varied so that right down to the present day they can be said to be the richest form of physical movement in the world.
However man only has four limbs and the combination of movements is naturally limited. So the schools of Chinese martial arts that developed in more recent times mostly emphasise the development of substance. In other words although their moves and postures might be similar to those of other schools their methods of manipulating the limbs were very varied and this was especially apparent in internal martial arts.
The nub of Bagua Quan is in its special methods of exercising the limbs and trunk and not in moves and postures. It focuses on the ‘action’ within the ‘image’.
‘Later stage Bagua Quan’ requires the student go beyond ‘image’. Whether a change is correct or not does not lie in the ‘image’ but in the ‘action’. The genuine Bagua Quan student will devote himself to studying ‘action within image’ and, not letting himself be confused by ‘image’, will grasp the meaning of ‘action’
For the student ‘image’ and ‘action’ are to begin with one and the same but later become two separate things.
Bagua Quan is a subject about which it is easy to get confused.
Translated by David Alexander
Bagua Quan is a teaching system (I believe that other martial arts should also be like this). In my first book (Bagua Quan Foundation) I explained things through the medium of text and illustrations. However martial arts is like a kind of pictorial language in which knowledge depends entirely on ‘physical experience', Words and illustrations are only a way of noting things down and do not make it easy for a person to understand. Consequently I am making public (via youtube video clips) the principal empty-hand training forms in Bagua Quan. I hope that those interested will be able to study them further.
Throughout the history of martial arts written description has not in the main been used. Most written records have been secondary sources. The amount of really ‘believable and verifiable’ historical material in Chinese martial arts is in fact extremely small. However we can still infer cause from effect and like archaeologists unearthing ancient artefacts deduce the actual facts of history, often thereby overturning the theories of historians.
For the past few years in offering my inheritance of Bagua Quan I have been like a collector of antiquities. In text and images I have offered a range of hitherto unearthed material for research into Bagua Quan (or Bagua Zhang) and clarified some controversial questions - or at least led to some martial arts enthusiasts looking at them anew.
The Bagua Quan system is like a ‘Bagua tree’ which grows upwards following the sequence of Taiji → Liangyi → Sixiang → Bagua.
The ‘Eight Mother Palms’ system is eight branches and from Eight Mother Palms the two systems of ‘Paochiu external training’ and ‘Bazhang Quan internal cultivation’ spread out.
The external training part develops upwards into eight independent Palace forms. These are eight ‘mothers’ each producing a ‘child’ and also the ‘flower and fruit’ of Bagua Quan application.
The internal cultivation part, however, via Bazhang Quan, Sixiang Quan and the Art Of Liangyi reverses course to the Bagua, the Sixiang, the Liangyi and the Taiji source.
It is only by completing this up and down double-ended journey that you can gain a rough idea of what Bagua Quan is.
For people who study Bagua Quan these relationships are clearly evident; for example there is a clear thread running through the basic ‘mother styles’ which represents and interrelates with the Liangyi, the Sixiang and the Bagua.
Consequently the system gives an explanation of controversial points in Bagua Quan (or Bagua Zhang).
1. Why is Bagua Quan called after the Bagua?
It can be seen from existing material that this system is from top to bottom, from principles to skills, constructed on the theory of the Bagua which is based on the Taiji, the Liangyi, the Sixiang and the Bagua. Therefore it is naturally named after the Bagua.
2. Was Bagua Quan created by Dong Haichuan?
Looking at the system this is not too likely since its development is very mature and moreover has close links to Daoist methods of cultivation. For example the methods of training in Yin and Yang Qi in the Art of Liangyi are a clear proof. I think that the system must have been conceived by Daoist hermits.
3. Was Lohan Quan added by Dong Haichuan, Yinfu or yet another person?
Looking at the system the ‘principles’ and the ‘skills’ in each form work closely together. This can only be the result of the originators of the system electing to use the ‘image’ of Lohan Quan (the action in its moves and postures) to express the ‘substance’ of Bagua Quan (its connotation and power method (jinfa))
4. Why are the Eight Mother Palms called ‘mother’?
It is only when Eight Mother Palms in the system are examined in conjunction with the ‘mother-son relationship’ in other forms and the contents of the corresponding ‘Bagua attributes’ that the rationality of ‘mother’ in Eight Mother Palms becomes apparent.
5. Since the truth of Bagua Quan is ‘change’ are there no set formats?
There is a saying that ‘nothing can be achieved without norms and standards’. The basis of ‘change’ is ‘permanence’. Although the Iching (the Book of Changes) discusses the ‘changeable’ it does not ignore that before the ‘changeable’ there was the ‘unchangeable’. What is presented in the Bagua Quan system is a structure of the ‘unchangeable’. The ‘changeable’ is the applied part which develops upwards beginning with Eight Palaces forms. This applied part makes up most of the various Bagua Zhang schools. The ‘changeable’ and the ‘unchangeable’ each have their own value but for a long time most people have preferred ‘the application of the changeable’ and have neglected the foundation of the ‘unchangeable’
6. Can people practice the postures and forms with their own interpretation?
Looking at the individual levels of application the moves and postures in a form will of course vary with each person. However if we look at them as a whole system then they all need to work in concert with each other. The moves and postures in each form have their own place and meaning. They cannot be changed arbitrarily since they belong to the ‘unchangeable’ part which is not the same as application which is ‘changeable’.
My aim is not personal show but to supply the material. So the outcome it does not depend on whether the exercises are good or not. There is much scope for improvement in many of forms being practiced including my own. However at least those who are interested will be able to get an inkling of what the system is about and that will be enough to satisfy me.
The value of traditional martial arts lay in their teaching systems. Even if a martial artist trained to the highest level of ability, if he was unable to produce a method of teaching to guide later generations to reach this level his expertise would follow him to the grave and would have little effect on mankind’s culture.
The sole reason that any school of traditional martial arts has been passed down through the generations is because it developed its own ‘teaching method’. What was preserved and handed down by each generation’s ‘transmitter’ was precisely this ‘teaching system’. The knowledge and understanding of each generation of followers might vary and their attainments differ but with the teaching system as a foundation the cultural value of a school could stretch out in a continuous flow.
Right down to the present day it has been difficult to explain what in fact a ‘teaching system’ for martial arts schools is. This is because for a long time many martial arts students have been function orientated - only studying what they need - so there are many people who study several schools at the same time and few people who study a complete system from beginning to end. Consequently the former only experience a limited range of moves, postures and forms in isolation with fragmented explanations. As a result some people say that forms are no use and some arbitrarily change the movements of moves and postures since they cannot see the wood for the trees and do not know the design of the complete jigsaw puzzle.
If we are only speaking of the functions of combat, keeping fit or exhibition then anyone can make changes to meet their own needs at a given time and place. So we have ‘free combat’ ‘Taiji for health’ and ‘sport wushu’ , none of which is my concern. However if we turn our attention to ‘preserving the basis of culture’ then we must be modest and prudent since when it comes down to it the lifespan and influence of a culture are much more long term than an individual person’s.
When in the past I have pointed out misconceptions in the world of martial arts about moves, postures and forms in the school of Bagua Quan’ it has been based on this understanding and not a nitpicking criticism of any one individual. I also think that quite a number of fellow martial artists do not put enough value on traditional culture and that this has led to a number of traditional martial arts being changed beyond recognition.
What is called ‘traditional’ is to link yourself between the past and the future and to start to carefully and prudently assume responsibility for the heritage. If an individual mentally loses this ‘feeling of linkage’ or deliberately avoids this type of relationship, the issue becomes very difficult to handle.
I am trying to give a brief explanation of the structure of the ‘Bagua Quan system. I realise that my own ability has limits and I cannot be certain that I have enabled everyone to understand. However I will try my best.
BAGUA QUAN The 8 trigram martial art
He Jing-han started to study Yang Taiji Quan at the age of 15. However after 6 or 7 years of studying he started to stagnate and he did not know how to proceed. At the age of 23 he was introduced to master Gong Bao Zhai and started to specialize in Bagua Quan.
Master Gong Bao Zhai inherited the Bagua Quan system from his teacher, grandmaster Gong Bao Tien, who was a direct student of grandmaster Yin Fu. Both of them were renowned martial artists and were instructors of the emperor’s personal bodyguards. He Jing-han became a disciple of master Gong at the age of 24. Since then the house of his master become his home.
What is the difference between the internal and the external in the martial arts?
What does the internal and the external mean in the martial arts?
We call the internal neijia and the external waijia. However, the Chinese character neijia could in fact mean also “inside the family” and waijia “outside the family”.
The characters have different meanings. Some people say that Neijia was something which has been kept inside the family while Waijia originates from the outside of the family sources. Others say, for example, that Neijia is for the monks in the monasteries Neijia while Waijia is for the people from outside. Another definition mentions the internal as something which was kept in the emperor’s palace while external was suited for the people outside of the palace. Another theory originates from the Ming dynasty – some people were devoted mainly to the studying, such as writers, doctors, painters etc. These people used their internal strength to keep a good health. They concentrated on a Chinese style of the meditation aimed to develop good personal traits and strong character. They applied this ability also into the martial arts.
So there really is a study process which leads from the internal to the external.
For example - as each and every one of us has already experienced – when we were young we were full of energy, we were constantly trying to show off. When I was young I had the feeling that the whole world belongs to me. In the middle age we know much more and we understand things better. We are not that aggressive, but have become calmer and seemingly not as strong as we used to be. However, if we want to do something we are prepared to do so.
There is both the internal and the external. The martial art has been divided into the internal and the external only recently. Someone stays with the external training while others may skip this phase and go directly to the internal training. So it may happen that you can see someone who practices internal styles but does not have enough strength from the previous external training. On the other hand, others who practice external styles and insist on being big and strong may find themselves in their middle age not knowing where to go, or how to develop further. That is why some of them start to practice for example Taiji Quan.
Is every Chinese martial art directed from the external to the internal?
No. The Chinese martial arts have been developing during a large period of time. It is like a development of the human muscles.
A child first moves with the help of the big muscles. Later on it learns to use also even smaller and smaller muscles, e.g. for using a pen.
In the times of Rome there were many fights. Large muscles were used for that. Later on also smaller muscles were being developed through art work – painting, ceramics, etc.
The same applies also to the martial arts - from the large muscles to the small ones; from the external part of the body into the internal.
The Chinese martial arts are also unique in the way they use the principles of the Chinese philosophy and the Chinese medicine and are inspired by them. The usage of these principles allowed the Chinese martial arts to achieve a substantial level of development. When these principles were added into the martial arts, people understood that there exists also a body which we do not see but which is more important than the one which we can see.
Thanks to Daoism they have discovered that they can start with the internal. It is about the yin principle where the yin part is more important than the yang part.
Its purpose lies in the internal organs, blood and the “soft way”. We use the so called soft way to deal with problems instead of a hard way. All these concepts are contained in Bagua Quan.
What would you recommend to people who start to practice Bagua Quan?
We never say that Bagua Quan is an internal martial art. The training process starts from the external. The beginning is connected with the development of Li. Only after that you can start to work with Qi.
Are the muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia.
Qi is life energy. According to the Chinese medicine it circulates through the body along the meridians.
The system of Bagua Quan is very clear: you start with Li and then use Li to build Qi. We can not practice Qi directly. All movements in Bagua Quan originates from the muscle movements. But we use the muscles in different way than in the other martial arts.
We try to develop so called Jing and we call it the Jing system. It consists of muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia. Thanks to this system we can connect each individual joints. When the tendons are short this connection is not possible. This means that we use muscles by stretching them.
What makes Bagua Quan so exceptional?
What is the difference between Bagua Quan and the other martial arts? All of them use kicks and hits, anyway. So what is the difference?
The Bagua Quan´s foundations lie in the Chinese philosophy of bagua (8 trigrams). So even when this style uses forms – perhaps from Lohan Quan or similar styles – it changes them through this philosophical concept.
All the direct lines are changed into spiral. You can see it on blocks, hits or kicks. Change the direct line into spiral. If you change this everything changes.
What could Bagua Quan offer to people in comparison to for example boxing or kickboxing? Why do people practice such a vast and complex martial art?
Bagua Quan emerged during the Qing dynasty. The development of Chinese martial arts has in its long history only several peaks. The martial arts were on very high level during the Qing dynasty.
This also means that the Bagua Quan masters were very well trained and prepared. It was neither simple nor easy to stand against them. This is the reason why the masters of Bagua Quan had to be very precise and go into details. Nowadays the people who practice martial arts are mainly sportsmen.
Sportsmen are prepared for:
So if you want to fight in a ring you do not need Bagua Quan. If you want to get ready for the competitions in martial arts you should train according to the rules by which you would like to fight.
- Victory according to the previously defined rules.
- They fight against people on more or less the same level.
Bagua Quan does not have these rules. You do not train in order to win a competition, you just prepare yourself. You are trying to get ready for a situation which you might not be able to handle. This is a concept of Bagua Quan.
Thank you for the interview.
Translated by David Alexander
The process of studying Baguaquan is first to train ability and then to study methods of application. Ability includes basic ability -i.e. basic skills - and applied ability - i.e. forms, San Shou, weapons etc. If applied ability is insufficient then the student must backtrack to reinforce basic ability and go to and fro like this several times, like kneading dough or forging steel. When the student is proficient in ability the teacher will introduce methods of application and do some demonstrations of applications so that the student can learn by analogy and understand fully without the need for words while being flexible and adaptive.
This is a process of acquiring skills in small incremental stages. Subsequently the student will perhaps leave the master and make his own way in the outside world, learning from actual experience and progressing as far as he can go.
When Zhu Geliang [i] was living in seclusion in Long Zhong village he must already have acquired the ability to come down from the mountain. Afterwards he devised the strategy of the tripartite balance of forces for Liu Bei, a man without authority, power, territory or wealth. It cannot be denied that Zhu Geliang was a man of great ability and that he had also during those years ‘written and painted with ease’ (displayed his talents) and developed his abilities to the full. However it is a pity that Liu Bei died earlier than him, after facing an incompetent and foolish inheritor, and Zhu Geliang’s abilities were stalemated.
People in the past did 80 dollars worth of business with 100 dollars worth of capital; they acquired abilities before making their way in the world and looked for stability and security. People today do 1000 dollars worth of business with 100 dollars worth of capital; they want to run when they have only learned to crawl, they seek to snatch victory amid danger, to be enterprising and forge ahead.
Some abilities can be learned while they are being applied and applied while they are being learned; for example animals in the wild are like this; the lucky ones win every fight, the unlucky ones die young.
In ordered nations there is a well defined system of promotion for civil and military officials. This trains their abilities through step by step advancement so that when they finally hold the highest posts they cannot enjoy the privileges of office without doing a stroke of work and bring calamity to the nation.
There are some people with insufficient abilities; for example the second and third generations of rich and powerful families who take high office at a young age; they have tangible abilities such as good education and breeding but there are many intangible abilities that cannot be trained, such as breadth of mind, compassion and wisdom, and they ultimately fail due to these factors. The saying ‘wealth does not last beyond three generations’ largely comes from this.
There are others with insufficient abilities who by a sudden lucky stroke of fate or through force or trickery rise to high position. But fame and fortune can reverse and ultimately they may lose all their standing and reputation, harming themselves as well as others.
It is said that many big lottery prize winners do not in the end enjoy the rewards of their good luck since it needs exceptional ability to cope with the circumstances that follow the advent of fame and fortune and it is by then too late for them to cultivate this.
The majority of experts at extreme sports are in fact very knowledgeable people but if, driven by their passion to win at all costs, they blindly imitate others they will surely die an unnecessary death.
There is a saying “10 minutes in the limelight followed by 10 years out of the limelight”. We cannot just yearn to be in the limelight, we must learn to work silently out of the limelight, ploughing and weeding. Let us cultivate our abilities so that we can endure the stillness of life out of the limelight. My saxophone teacher told me that he often had young students who after studying for a short time would ask him when they could go and earn money playing in restaurants.
Confucius said: “If people do not recognise me and I do not feel offended, am I not a man of noble character?”. In other words such a man has ability but is just content to stand in a corner. Perhaps as a substitute for being in the limelight this is not as good as receiving public acclaim but it needs great accomplishment in self cultivation.
Whether through our own free will or by compulsion, our abilities need opportunity before they can be applied but we ourselves cannot determine when such an opportunity will arise. We can only prepare for the eventuality.
The most famous examples of seizing the opportunity are of course the acts of valour in the ‘age created by heroes’ but I think such heroes needed exceptional abilities since with the changing situation after the age had been created the load they had to bear was often excessive.
The ruse of ‘relinquishing military command over a glass of wine’ [ii] was used to summarily expel people since ‘ruling the country’ required different abilities.
Martial arts in the past were a matter of risking one’s life. The warrior would learn and apply skills at the same time only if forced to do so in the chaos of battle, otherwise he would practice his abilities before he dared to apply them. The mushroom picker says: ‘Every type of mushroom can be eaten but some can only be eaten once’.
You cannot afford to risk your own life and those who become masters even more so cannot gamble with the lives of their students.
Nowadays in this time of peace anything is possible. Since nobody will die you can study martial arts for a few days then put it into use and never in your life understand what ‘the training of ability’ means.
Time passes quickly
Information is exchanged quickly
Fame and fortune pass quickly
But life is still measured in minutes and seconds
Control your impatience
Let’s practice well the horse stance
[i] Zhu Geliang was a famous general and military strategist in the 3rd century AD during Three Kingdoms period. He was living in seclusion in Long Zhong when emperor Liu Bei visited to ask him to join in his reconquest of the Han empire. The emperor visited three times but for the first two times Zhu Geliang was said to be not at home but in the mountains. On the third time they met he agreed to help Liu Bei. Liu Bei died after his defeat in a battle against the kingdom of Wu
[ii] In 961 AD emperor Song Taizu wanted to remove a threat to his rule by dismissing his military commanders. He held a banquet and tricked them when drunk into giving up their powers and returning to their provinces