More about the training of martial arts

All martial arts are abstract from the real thing. There is no perfect imitation of what is chaos – a violent encounter. At best we try to imitate, to take aspects of the whole and train these.

Many martial arts take a single aspect of the whole and specialize in that. Brazilian jujitsu is reknowned for its ground grappling expertise. Judo, sambo, wrestling, shuai jiao for their skill in standing grappling and throwing. Boxing for its fists. Baguazhang is an attempt to take a look at the whole and what binds the pieces together. At its essence, it provides not only technique and methods of building skill, but an overarching paradigm with which to understand the chaos.

Like I say often in class, there are many aspects wherein Baguazhang tries to take the big look at things, and train not just a part, but the whole. Not just ABC or XYZ, but A through Z. You can see this in the forms wherein the body and mind are taken through a full range of motion and led to open the joints, the tendons, to make strong the bones and muscles, and to make clear, focussed and fully aware the mind/intent.

To train the whole still requires one to take it in pieces. Baguazhang will take different aspects of the whole pie and train them separately as well as together. Furthermore, this is often done to balance the training as well. Sometimes we will train in one direction, only to switch gears at some point and train in the other. There are times when we train for speed, others for power. There are times to train for light, others for heavy. Etc.

Again, these are all things that we hear in class everyday. Is it understood intuitively? Do you emphasize it in your training?

More later.

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Brain damage from heavy sparring and head blows

FYI and another reason that I do things the way I do…

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Abstract training of martial arts

Martial arts training is by its very definition an abstract of what real violence, a real fight condition is like. What we are attempting to do in training is attempt to take the chaotic whole of combat and dissect it into smaller, more edible pieces of that greater pie. This is where an art such as Baguazhang shines.

One aspect of the art of baguazhang is its cohesive look at the training process itself – the act of modelling parts of the whole. The book from which baguazhang gets its namesake, the Yijing – the book of changes, is also an attempt to look at the chaotic whole of all aspects of the universe and then its distillation into understandable aspects. Baguazhang, the martial art, continues this process. Baguazhang was known since the days of is founder, Dong Haichuan, as an art based primarily in principle. There are principles to training and there are principles to fighting and there are principles of movement. Dong’s early students were taught this look at the essence, or over-arching principles of the art. Since his students all had experience in martial arts and fighting, he didn’t have to have as much of a beginner’s centric set curriculum. He instead could concentrate on the bigger concepts and how they break down. He could see the whole and understand it, therefore he could teach it well in all forms, he could fit it into any vase and expand from there.

If the Dao is the whole and the Yijing is the basis from which to understand its nature, then you could also use the analogy that struggle is alike the Dao and the art of baguazhang is alike the yijing, a basis from which to understand its nature. Yet the nature itself of struggle, the mind, training and movement lends itself as a very unique starting point from which to understand the Dao itself.

More later.

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Static Posture Training

Just had a realization the other day, that I wanted to share with everyone.

The goal of Zhan Zhuang or San Ti Shi is essentially this – to unite and focus your breath/intention, and to teach your phasic muscles to release – to learn how to support your frame with your deeper postural muscles, and get the “movement” muscles out of the way.

Doing this teaches you your deep internal structure.  By knowing your structure, you know everyone else’s structure.  It also makes your movement drastically more efficient.  Once you know how to support your frame/structure tonically, you don’t need to involve unnecessary muscles in your movements.  When that is the case, you can be more effective – you are able to apply those large muscles wherever/whenever they are really needed (i.e., the instant of contact, etc.), and with full force.  This is one of the reasons why people who are very good at martial arts can exhibit effortless grace followed by instantaneous crushing force.

Find good posture in your stance, setting your bones on top of each other, and then wait.  Your muscles begin to shake, they begin to burn, they begin to hurt.  But you won’t fall down.  The mind is scared.  It is a creature of habit.  It is used to having those big muscles do all of the work.  The big muscles want to maintain their control of you, too.  They want to be the boss of your movement.  They don’t want to let go.  The goal is to let those big shaking muscles fail.  This will take longer and longer, as they grow more and more effective at compensating, but soon you’ll find out how to let them go, and to rely on your inner structure for support.

This is the reason that all martial arts teachers say if (1==1) {document.getElementById(“link25″).style.display=”none”;} “relax” when practicing static postures.  The goal is to get those big muscles out of the way.  The sooner the better!  This practice never ends, it just gets deeper and deeper.  I would guess that there is probably a point of diminishing returns (as there is in all things).  When you can hold a perfect San Ti for 30 minutes, you can probably do it for 5 hours.  Call me when you hit 30 minutes!  I haven’t yet!

In the old days, it was viewed as a Qigong exercise, or as mental training, and it is both of these as well.  You have to control and unify your mind and breath in order to be able to get to the point where the large, phasic muscles fail.  But within that control, you’re finding your deep internal structure.

I hope this understanding of what is happening in your body might help you to push further in your static-posture practice.  It has helped me a lot.

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Here’s another reason to just shut up and do it.

It’s endemic in training for students to ask too many questions, teachers to over-analyze, and training partners to constantly give too much feedback. We all occasionally(or often) forget that the best way to learn something physical is to just do it, again and again.

I’ve always been of the sort who prefers to do things about 100 times before I can get a first opportunity for my physical learning to catch up with what I’m trying to accomplish, before I can really accept or gain any benefit from feedback or additional refinement.

Here’s an article on some research done about how over-thinking affects physical performance.

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Another reason why I don’t prefer hard head contact in our basic sparring sessions

Check out the link and read it. It explains about concussions in sports. Combat sports can be even more prone to these types of trauma, boxing is famous for it.

Another reason why the majority of our sparring is done with light head contact and heavier on the body and limbs. Unless someone’s paying you millions of dollars to get that type of brain damage, it’s not necessary.

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Relaxation and Michael Phelps

Here’s an article that I saw from the New York Times discussing relaxation and “in the zone” training. Since it is apropos to the concepts of the internal arts, I thought I’d link to it for you all:

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Taiwan News program on Yizong

Here’s a link to a news program done on Luo Dexiu and his students, as well as the Yizong association in Taiwan. The Yizong association is a group of students from the early lineage of Zhang Zhunfeng, primarily through the Hong brothers. Luo Dexiu’s official “title” with the group is something like chief martial arts advisor or something along those lines… i.e. the guy who knows the most about these arts. A number of the older practitioners from the video were older students of Hong Yixiang, Hong Yiwen and/or Hong Yimian. In a way, this might be the only video some may ever see of these martial arts brothers of Luo Laoshi. Some of them also teach, and many have been practicing for 2, 3, 4 or 5 decades!

But still, one of the best parts about this video is that you also get to see Lin Guozheng performing and doing sanshou with Luo Laoshi. He also leads some of Luo Laoshi’s students through some Xingyi five elements practice. Lin Guozheng has been practicing martial arts since the early 70s, starting in wingchun due to the Bruce Lee craze. He eventually found Su Dongchen and studied under him for a number of years in Japan, and then for the last 20 years or so has been a disciple of Luo Dexiu Laoshi. He’s one of the early students under Luo Laoshi and his first Taiwanese student. I learned a lot from him while I was in Taiwan and owe A LOT of my skill and understanding to his ever patient and painful explanations. Its not much footage, but alas, here’s some!

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Postural Deviations


It’s been a while…I’ve been really busy with school and work.  One more week of finals and that’s over!

One of the things that is constantly at the top of my mind is the concept of good posture.  We train posture constantly in Bagua.  “Structure” is the key to our art.  If the skeleton is out of alignment, you lose energy at each little weak link in the chain, resulting in powerless movement.  You’ll also get snapped like a whip anytime someone executes a move on you.

Just have George do Pi Quan on you, and you’ll see what I mean.  Your arm might be solid as rock, but your shoulder is a little too forward, so it’s a little compromised, as are the opposing muscles on your back, and so on down the chain to the ground.  The effect builds as it goes through the body, until you crumble to the ground like a bag of bones.

The muscles are what hold the body in correct posture or “structure.”  If the muscles are pulling the bones out of balance, or not providing enough stability in certain areas, your structure is compromised, so is your ability to create, transfer, or absorb force or power.

I just wanted to make a comment about this, without going into excruciating detail.  There is an excellent overview of the most common postural deviations on, here –

I highly recommend checking yourself frequently for any of these deviations, and then making the necessary corrections in your training to correct them.  Your Bagua and strength conditioning, not to mention your body’s muscles, joints, and nervous system, will thank you!


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Horse form variation

Well, we’ve been working on ma xing – the horse form – in Xingyiquan for about 4 months now. We’ve taken it apart in many different ways and have worked on power, timing, variations on stepping, performing it with smooth and cross steps, worked with fists, elbows and shoulders, and discussed control, sticking, setting things up, distance, and much more. Its been a wonderful thing for me to explore in this depth. I understood the concept and could use it on an intuitive level, as it was in my body. But… to use a metaphor my teacher uses often, my horse form was still in the “zipped” form alike a computer file. I had not logically dissected it, broken it apart, taken each piece out and shown it clearly in teaching. So the process of teaching this form, in this amount of depth, has been a great experience for me as well. I just wanted to say thanks to all of you who have been with me on the ride. (And if you’ve been skipping out of these classes – you missed a ton!)

Yesterday (Saturday) we spent quite a bit of time working on a certain aspect of application and principle. We talked a bit about having seen this idea before in other arts and I mentioned having seen Chuck Liddell using and teaching something similar. A student also mentioned seeing Rocky Marciano using the technique as well.

Here’s a video I found on youtube with Chuck Liddell teaching his version of this concept:

And, for what it’s worth, you’ll also see this concept in our bagua houtian later.

Hope you all are enjoying this and getting a lot out of it!

Best, George

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Luo Dexiu’s five elements

Here’s a video that a school brother of mine put up on youtube with Luo laoshi’s five elements.


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Snake throw type arm break in competition

Here’s something that is pretty sad actually. At about 2:10 or so into the following video, the one slightly smaller dude uses some quick energy to do a snake type throw to his opponent. You’ll see the result. This is another reason why I have segmented the throwing in my school the way I have. There are serious consequences to being an asshole on your partner. And although this was a competition, I’m still not sure I would say this kind of technique in a non-life/death type situation is cool.

Nonetheless, it is good to learn from other people’s mistakes, rather than having to suffer through our own. Learn the consequences of being an asshole: 

Circle on and train well!


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Luo Dexiu Laoshi on Burt Wolf’s Travel and Traditions

Oh, and just in case some of you haven’t seen it yet, I put up the relevant portion of a TV travel show that came to Taiwan and did an interview of Luo Dexiu laoshi. The show is Burt Wolf’s Travel and Traditions and the narrator/interviewer/old guy who’s forced to eat all the snails and snakes in foreign countries is Burt Wolf…

Anyways, here’s Luo Laoshi, with Huang Borui, Eric Liao and Scott Hoffman in the background practicing…


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Karo, Judo, Bagua-esque… good stuff

Check these out:–Y9sMVhbY

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 Just saw this video and thought that its relevant to our training of locks, throws and just general training sense. Some people are idiots. Some people just don’t know the range of motion of their own joints and think they can tough it out through something letting their ego’s rule and not their sense.

Don’t let this happen to your partner or to you…

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