Baguazhang and the concept of “play” in training

In its most simple sense, baguazhang likes to take things and play with them. The art is based on the attitude of play. You can play with forms, you can play with opponents and training partners, and you need to play with the tools of your training.

A simple example of playing with a “tool” in training is taking one basic form or fighting principle and varying it in a number of different senses. Doing this as a deliberate process allows you to get to the essence of that form or principles jin. You must take it apart so that you can see what it is, inside and out, and so that you can learn to put it back together in any form you want. Take our first houtian straight line form of kaizhang, or opening palm, for example. From the basic template, you can learn to practice it long for the training of power, or short for the expression of power. You can apply it with either hand, on either the inside or outside of your opponent. You can apply it driving forward or while retreating. You can use it to overwhelm or to flow around the strengths of your opponent. You can use it to enter high or low, or to force your opponent’s center high or low. You can step straight in or at angles around the opponent. You can strike with a palm, as in the basic form, or with a slapping hand, a fist, your knee, your elbow, etc.

Another example of a practice in baguazhang that used to be common, but that I don’t see often anymore, is that of free-flowing creative circle walking. Using the circle as a template and letting the jin flow out of your body, your mind and your consciousness was a common method of play in baguazhang when the art was first being disseminated. Beyond our own Yizong group, I have seen it practiced before in a couple Beijing bagua schools – I’ve seen Ma Chuanxu and Yang Kun do this personally, but it unfortunately does not seem to be as common anymore. And when it is done, especially in the West, it is often painfully obvious that it is being done too soon, without the foundation work in place. When the jin are not part of your body/mind, what comes out is just sloppy arm waving, not part of the art of Baguazhang.

Taking the basic essence of a thing and changing it big and small, forward and back, right and left, up and down, and more… this is the base of how we play in bagua. In a sense, the core jin of the moves we are trying to express is what is sacred, everything else is in flux, in change, in a state of play.

More later.

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About george

George Wood is the head instructor of Zong Wu Men Internal Fighting Arts, based in Northern Virginia. He teaches the martial arts of Baguazhang and Xingyiquan.

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4 Responses to Baguazhang and the concept of “play” in training

  1. jleeger says:

    This is the Yin and Yang of training…there has to be structure (forms) within which to play, but too much structure crushes the learning that comes about through play. In the same way, too much play leads to chaos, where nothing is learned…the balance – or, dipping into one, then the other – is where everything can be learned.

  2. george says:

    Awesome!

    You summed it up very succinctly and yet thoroughly.

    One of the harder things about play in terms of learning martial arts or a martial art like baguazhang though is that you do not always know towards what you are searching. That is where the teacher is invaluable, to help towards the balance and tell the student when it is time to dip his toes into another pool.

  3. maija says:

    Hi George,
    We met in 2004 in Maryland. Sorry it’s taken me this long to interact on your blog.
    Absolutely agree with your ideas about play. My eskrima teacher, Sonny said one learned more in a state of play because one’s mind was more open …OTOH like you said, this can also turn into delusional twirling if one is not careful. As with all things there must be balance, eh?

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