Hands & Feet : Body Like Smoke
"If the Hand moves, the Foot moves."
- My Two cents on Baguazhang training-
Baguazhang is one of my true loves in the internal arts and I work and think about it often. I have been spending a little time lately re reading General QiJiQuan's book "Guanjing Jieyao Pian" and found a great line about how the martial arts of his time would have either great methods for the fists or great methods for the feet but never both. The idea of the Northern Legs and Southern Fists were present even back in his time in the 1500's. Ma family style I teach has as it's first tenet "If the hand moves, the foot moves." talking about the importance of coordinated work from one extremity of the body to the other. A more detailed explanation would be something along the lines of " The hands and feet must mutually coordinate and follow one another, remaining connected to the task at hand." Without this coordination martial skills are very much incomplete and even though it is always taught first in the style, it is rarely ever achieved.
Baguazhang uses this same ideology but in my opinion Master Dong Hai Chuan found a more integrated method for training it and working it more deeply into students bodies. From the very beginning he taught only accomplished teachers of other arts and then worked to fix their issues to make them great. From the looks of the arts they studied and the bagua styles they have descending from them now one of the main ingredients was the accomplishment of "If the hand moves the foot moves."
Interestingly the progression through baguazhang today, which is most likely the result of those students of Dong choosing to teach beginners the art, starts with the two parts separated. Generally standing training to gain structure and qigong to connect upper and lower body or circle walking to create a stable and moving foundation in the legs precedes palm movements. The palm changes which many people think of as baguazhang itself seem to be the intermediate level of training where the foundation of the floating and moving root of circle walking done well is integrated somewhat with the movements of of upper torso and arms. Internally one could say that Dantien or the pelvis and kua and Tan Zhong or centre of the chest (middle dantien) once connected become independent and yet mutually codependent during baguazhang practice. However at this stage in training it is very easy to walk the circle with good palm positions and then stop the feet during the execution of movements in the palm changes. In fact this is generally how the palm change forms are broken down to be taught and then are practiced sometimes for years without the integration becoming full between upper and lower body.
In my training, which has involved Cheng, Yin Fu and Baxian baguazhang it is easy to see how the mind and body can be disjointed and distracted from one another very easily during training. Stopping the feet to move the hands and torso (exactly how I teach changes to students) is a necessary evil to learn from but it is still incorrect. If the hand moves, the foot must also move must be deeply understood and looked at not only as large stepping movements but changes of angle from the ankle and foot itself and transference of weight at appropriate times. From my perspective this is the reason progression in solo training has to continue to Lianhuan or "connecting or linking" palms training.
Linking the palms together once the body mechanics are in place allows the player to look into the flow and connection of upper and lower body in a continuous motion without the "resetting" moment of walking the circle. I am not advocating letting go of circle walking nor the palm changes of any particular style but being able to link them together at will is much closer solo training to combat than having moments "in between" the moves. In usage the bagua player should be a whirlwind or tornado and not stopping their movement until the combat is done. What we see generally in modern day I suspect is not often like what Master Dong, Cheng or Yin would have looked like in combat.
I think the same can be said for most martial arts, students are seeking to be like the masters of old rather than seeking what they sought. Do not do the art of your choice to be like your teacher or some famous lineage master long dead. What are the ideals of the training and how can you accomplish them? Baguazhang to me has been a way to understand far more clearly the "Hand Moves, Foot Moves." of the family style I train and embodies itself an evolution in Chinese martial arts. Integration of the fists and legs as General Qi put it. Not a new problem for us as the living lineage holders of our arts. What are we doing to solve it?
I sure Love Bagua... like trying to hold smoke in your hand it always escapes.... wonderful!