Tim Cartmell on Baguazhang’s Circle Walking Practice, Principles, and Applications

Hey everyone, here is another of my posts on Xingyiquan and Baguazhang specifically.  This time let’s discuss Tim’s view on the circle walking practice of Baguazhang.  All of this material was found on the Shen Wu Discussion Boards, this is just a small bit that I pulled off a few years ago.

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Circle Walking for Beginners

As I was taught, beginners walk slowly (sometimes extremely slowly) so that they can pay attention to their alignments and balance. Students that have the basics down begin to walk more quickly, normal walking speed. Training at this speed allows you to feel the flow of the movements and the interplay of the changing momentums. Advanced students can practice even faster, as a test of their agility and balance. But even advanced students can benefit from training slowly at times as well. The three speeds also correlate with the three traditional methods of practicing the palm changes, Fixed Step, Linked Step and Swimming Body.

It is generally easier to walk a larger circle, so better for beginners to maintain proper alignment and balance. The smaller the circle, the more one has to twist from the hips toward the center, this results in a greater degree of difficulty.

In most forms of Baguazhang, the standard is an eight step circle (for individual practice). Obviously, if a group of people walk together, the size of the circle will have to be increased accordingly.

Stepping

There are different types of steps used, and the depth of the squat during the walking can be varied as well.  The flat foot stepping method is one of several types of circle walk stepping, and is usually taught to beginners. The purpose is to assure stability in the steps and greater exercise for the legs. This type of step is not used in actual application of techniques.

The basic ways to step include picking the whole foot up and putting the foot down flat, sliding the feet along the ground without picking them up, picking the feet up then sliding the toe into the ground first as you step forward, lifting the foot up to about knee height then sliding the toe forward, and finally, normal heel to toe walking with the steps kept low. In Sun style Baguazhang, heel to toe walking is taught exclusively as handed down by Sun Lu Tang to his family.

Line of the circle

During the circle walk, all stepping methods follow the rule of slightly toeing in the outside foot and keeping the inside foot’s step parallel with the outside foot. If you walk on an eight step circle, you will essentially be moving over an octagon shaped pattern. The size of the circle can vary, a larger circle will have more “sides.” Most schools will aim toward walking a relatively small (eight step) circle because it teaches realistic footwork and body movement for technique.

Walking the “circle” actually entails turning the body through a series of angles. This occurs because the standard method of walking the circle in Baguazhang is done with the outside foot toeing in while the inside foot is always placed down parallel to the outside foot. Although the stepping methods vary, the angles of the feet do not.

Practical Application

Trying to slide the feet on the ground in a fight causes too much friction (makes steps slower) and uses an excess of energy (fighting is not the time for power training). Bagua is based on evasion more than holding one’s ground, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to run around the opponent. Walking the circle is a drill, I’ve never seen any trained Bagua fighter of any ability ever actually walk around his opponent in the ‘walk the circle’ form when actually sparring.

When fighting, the Bagua theory, at least as I learned it advocates (ideally) attacking the opponent first, then using his reaction to enter at an angle. Secondarily, if the opponent attacks first, the idea is to evade to an angle and enter simultaneously. Bagua techniques are designed to be applied from a superior angle, not necessarily all the way behind the opponent (although behind is best).

Getting a superior angle or getting behind the opponent will often involve connecting or coming to grips face to face, then applying close grappling techniques to move to the side or rear. Unless an opponent makes an all-out, committed attack, it is difficult to get to the rear on the first move. The standard rhythm of Baguazhang fighting strategy is: connect – obtain a superior position – issue force.

Ba Gua Strategy

            If you are inside your opponent’s arms in a grappling situation, there are several techniques that can get you to the outside or rear. The most basic techniques are the arm drag (pulling your opponent’s arm across the front of your body and moving to his rear) and the duckunder (pushing up the opponent’s elbow and then ducking under his armpit to come up at his rear). Another less often used technique is to ‘chop’ an opponent’s arm down and then move around it to the rear. If none of the above are possible, you need to be able to throw from a face to face clinch. There are quite a number of these types of throws in Ba Gua Zhang as well.

When fighting on the inside (and sometimes you have no choice) your opponent has just as much access and opportunity to attack your vulnerable areas as you have to attack his. If you are behind or outside your opponent’s arms, the opposite does not hold true. You have access and opportunity to attack his vulnerable areas, he has no access to yours. In addition, you have superior positional advantage to take the opponent down without much struggle, as well as the option to escape if need be.

I do think that it is important to end a fight as soon as possible, but in order to end the fight you need to dominate the opponent. If your opponent is bigger and stronger, or has some practical skills himself, it will often be very difficult to do in a toe to toe exchange. This is why when two people fight, the bigger and stronger fighter usually wins. If you are physically and technically far superior to your opponent, you can most likely put him down however you like. We always assume the opponent is dangerous (stronger and technically sound), and that having superior positional advantage may be the only way we can win the encounter.


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