by Dan Miller
[Adapted and re-edited by F. Hriadil]
Everyone who has ever practiced Ba Gua Zhang has been given the lecture about the importance of the Circle Walking practice. Stories abound about the old master having been allowed to practice only basic circle walking methods for the first several years of his Ba Gua training. While much has been written about the health benefits of the circle walking practice, many readers may still be wondering exactly how this footwork method is employed in a fighting situation.
Basic Circle Walking practice is primarily a training exercise that the beginning and intermediate level student practices to build a strong Ba Gua Zhang foundation. The advanced Ba Gua practitioner will also continue to practice the basic circle walk to reach deeper levels of internal awareness. No matter how long an individual practices the basic circle walk, there are always deeper levels to explore.
When Master Bok-Nam Park was training with his teacher, Lu Shui-Tian, he was required to practice the basic circle walking exercise every morning for one hour. At the end of one year, Master Park went to his teacher and said, “After practicing for one hour everyday for the past year, I now understand this circle walking practice.” Lu Shui-Tian shook his head and laughed. He simply responded, “Just keep practicing.” After another year of practice, Master Park went to his teacher again and said, “I know why you laughed at me last year when I told you that I understood the circle walking practice. After practicing for another year, my knowledge is much deeper and I can say that I now really understand this practice.” Again, Lu Shui-Tian laughed, shook his head, and told Master Park to just keep practicing. Master Park has now practiced the basic circle walking exercise for nearly 35 years (Editor’s Note: Now for more than 42 years as of 2006.) and he says that there is always something more to learn.
Although there are always deeper levels of experience to gain from the basic circle walking practice, a skilled Ba Gua practitioner engaged in a fight does not simply walk in complete circles around his opponent. This is just not practical in a realistic situation against a seasoned fighter. If you are fighting a skilled opponent and take more than two or three steps in a direction, you have set up a pattern that the opponent will immediately use against you. It is completely naive to think that you will be able to stalk your opponent by walking in circles around him, waiting for an “opening.” If this is your understanding of how Ba Gua circle walking is used in a real fight, you are going to be in for a rude awakening when you face a skilled opponent.
The key purpose in Ba Gua’s employment of footwork is to try to outflank the opponent or open up his center.
The intent behind Ba Gua footwork is not to try to move in circles at arm’s length around the opponent. Rather, it is to try to outflank the opponent or open up his center. In either case, as soon as you move, you are closing with the opponent, not running around him. The goal is to gain an advantageous angle of attack. Simply running around someone at arm’s length is a big waste of time. A skilled opponent will “eat you alive” before you can take your third step, if you try such a thing. The only time this type of tactic might be used is if you are trying to bait the opponent to set him up for a counterattack.
We can look at Ba Gua’s employment of circle walking footwork from two perspectives:
- When the opponent initiates the attack.
- When you want to initiate the attack yourself.
Preferably, you will initiate the attack yourself; or, you will bait the opponent into attacking you where you want him to attack so that you can set him up for a counterattack. The idea that some have of Ba Gua Zhang as a purely “passive” and “defensive” martial art is nonsense. If you are going to fight someone, you do not just “sit and wait” or “walk circles around him and wait” for him to attack. You move in without hesitation to destroy the opponent in the most efficient and effective way possible.
When the Opponent Initiates the Attack
If the opponent initiates the attack, the initial purpose of the circle walking footwork is to move you out of the way of the opponent’s attack. However, the goal is to not simply “run away.” The goal is to avoid the opponent’s attack while simultaneously putting yourself in a good position for immediate counterattack.
Evasiveness in Ba Gua is not about running away from the opponent. It is about closing with the opponent and destroying him as quickly as possible.
The Ba Gua practitioner does not apply force against force. He does not want to engage directly.and wants to be a somewhat covert or “stealthy” in how he closes with the opponent. The Ba Gua practitioner wants to use the opponent’s own force against him. And, he wants to use optimum angles of attack. All of this he wants to accomplish with no wasted movement and no allowance of gaps that the opponent can use. This means “moving around” the opponent’s attack and, at the same time, “moving towards” him to get inside his defenses. A skilled opponent will immediately take advantage of any gap in time or distance that he is given to work with.
The Ba Gua practitioner executes footwork, body movements, and hand methods such that the opponent has no time to react nor space to move.
While evading an opponent’s attack and instantly delivering a fight stopping counterattack is the ideal, more times than not, it is not reality. If the opponent is skilled, he will not let you get away with it. Murphy’s law applies here – if something can go wrong, it will go wrong. This is where having the ability to change direction very quickly, while remaining stable, becomes vitally important. When the Ba Gua practitioner is launching the counterattack against his opponent’s initial attack, he is already “thinking” about what comes next and is prepared for anything. (This “thinking” is more of a :”body knowledge” process than an actual thought process. In other words, the skilled Ba Gua fighter is prepared to continually attack, move, and adapt.)
The wise Ba Gua practitioner never assumes that his first technique is going to work
There are many martial artists who feel that they can hit so hard that one shot is all it will take to defeat the opponent. There are others who think that they have some special techniques that on one can counter. Both are horribly misguided. If an opponent is skilled, it will be very difficult if not impossible to land a first shot and it will be even more difficult to land a direct hit with full force. The Ba Gua practitioner trains to be prepared to continuously attack while continuously changing and adapting to the situation.
Master Park teaches that, when training to fight, you should always imagine that your opponent is much bigger, stronger, faster, and at a much higher skill level than you.
You must also consider that what can go wrong, will go wrong. Your mind must stay clear and one step ahead of your body at all times. You must use your “listening skill” to sense how the opponent is reacting to your attack. Then, you must immediately change and adapt to continue the attack.
The art of Ba Gua Zhang is philosophically and principly rooted in change, and physically rooted in the footwork and the use of the palm.
The ability to change direction rapidly with balance, stability, and power is what makes the skilled Ba Gua Zhang practitioner so effective as a fighter.
All of this is derived from the Ba Gua circle walking methods and it is a focus of advanced Ba Gua Zhang fighting training.
When You Initiate the Attack
In the second instance where you inititate the attack, the same principles apply. Initiating an attack is a three step process:
- Gain a reaction.
- Bridge the gap.
- Finish the opponent.
The first step is to gain a reaction from the opponent. This can be accomplished in any number of ways. It can be viewed as a “set up” or a “jab” with one distinction – it is not simply a false ploy. It is generally a realistic movement that will hurt the opponent if he does not respond to it. Nevertheless, you should always assume that the opponent is a good fighter and that he will be able to successfully counter your initial attack or movement.
The next step is the “bridge.” The bridge is used to “open up” the opponent to get inside where you can do serious damage. The type of bridge which is used will depend upon the opponent’s reaction to your first move. If the bridge is successful, you can follow up with a finishing technique. If the opponent is skilled, you may need to employ several quick, repetitive bridging maneuvers before you can get inside or outflank him. Also, once inside, you may need to apply a series of fast, powerful finishing techniques before the opponent is thoroughly defeated.
Once the Ba Gua Zhang practitioner gets inside of the opponent, he stays inside until the “job” is finished.
There is no bouncing in, striking once, and then bouncing back out as in point sport sparring. Once you are inside, you stay inside until the opponent is put out of commission. What keeps you inside is the Ba Gua circle walking footwork.
A skilled opponent is not going to let you continue hitting him from a vulnerable angle. He is going to move. By using Ba Gua footwork, you stick to the opponent like glue. Where he goes, you go. And, you don’t let up until he is rendered harmless. Master Park calls getting inside of the opponent “opening his door.” He teaches that once the door is open, you do not let the door close until you have finished the job.
Skillfully executed rapid changes of direction, in conjunction with the palm changes and the use whole body power, provide many excellent opportunities to bridge the gap, “open up” the opponent, and conclude any fight.
If you can execute rapid changes of direction, in combination with stable stepping and flanking movements, it will be very difficult for the opponent to keep up with you. This is why “change of direction” training is so important in Ba Gua Zhang. In advanced circle walking practice, the circles become smaller and smaller, and the changes of direction become more and more frequent.
In advanced circle walking training, the practitioner learns to change direction rapidly, with changing palms. while maintaining balance, stability, and full body coordination.
While these concepts are usually introduced during the basic circle walking practice, they are not fully explored and developed until the advanced practice – where, instead of just simply walking in a circle, the practitioner walks around the center while also moving towards the center. At this level, the circles become very small and the walking patterns change into “figure eights” or spirals. Nevertheless, due to the difficulty of walking in tight circles and changing direction rapidly with balance, speed, and coordination, all of the fundamentals and concepts that are developed during the basic circle walking practice must be in place before the practitioner can move on to advanced circle walking training.
[In Part II, in the next edition of the FYIPage, we will get into more specifics of advanced circle walking training for fighting, including the use of pole training]
[ Above is an adaptation and re-editing of the article “Advanced Circle Walking: Training to Fight” by Dan Miller that originally appeared in the PA KUA CHANG JOURNAL – Vol. 4, No. 6; Sep/Oct 1994. The Journal was published by High View Publications . It is no longer being produced; however, all back issues are currently available on CD-ROM .]