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Step  +  Body  +  Hand:  The Key to Superior Ba Gua Zhang Fighting Skill

By Francis Hriadil

Lu Shui-Tian often compared a martial art method/technique to a tree bearing fruit.  “In order for a tree to bear fruit, it must first have a good root and a good branch — only then will good fruit be produced.”  Similarly, for a martial art method/technique to be good, the body must have a good step and a good hand.

Superior Method/Movement  =  Step + Body + Hand

This comprises one of many trinity relationships in Ba Gua Zhang.  Each element alone can provide a measure of effectiveness in attack and/or defense but none alone can match or surpass a method in which all three are applied together in the proper way.

Applied To Defense

In Ba Gua Zhang, defense is more important than attack.  The reason, as Master Park frequently states, is that “without a good defense you may not have any opportunity to attack”.

Consider the situation where an opponent attacks  What defense options are available? 

Single Elements

  • Hand Only Defense – Opponent Attacks. Defender defends by blocking with his hand
  • Body Only Defense – Opponent Attacks. Defender defends by turning his body
  • Step Only Defense – Opponents attacks.  Defender defends by stepping out of the way.

Paired Elements

  • Body + Hand Defense – Opponent attacks.  Defender defends with Body and Hand.
  • Step + Body Defense – Opponent attacks.  Defender defends with Step and Body.
  • Step + Hand Defense – Opponent attacks.  Defender defends with Step and Hand.

Trinity Elements

Step + Body + Hand Defense – Opponent attacks.  Defender combines all 3 elements for defense.

While all of the other individual or paired elements provide some form of defense, what is different and unique about the trinity defense, in which all three elements are utilized, is that the defense is optimized and possesses inherent redundancy. Specifically:

  • The defender is completely removed from the opponent’s line of attack.
  • There is defensive redundancy. If, for example, the defender misses with his hand block, he is still protected because of his stepping, pivoting, and body turning.
  • The defender is clearly in a superior position to counter-attack.

Where does this principle come from?

The philosophy and principles that form the basis of Ba Gua Zhang were derived from nature.  As a result of man’s study of nature and the world in which he lives, two universal tenets have been identified:

  • The “Trinity” is a fundamental principle in nature.
  • The “Fundamental Trinity” of principles in nature consists of:
    • The Principle of Yin and Yang
    • The Principle of the Wu Xing (Five Elements)
    • The Principle of Continuous Change (from the Yi Jing, or I Ching, — Book of Changes)

Ba Gua Zhang was built upon and embraces these principles.  The trinity concept has been identified as the key to the strength and flexibility of Ba Gua Zhang.  It even manifests itself in the structure of the diagrams (i.e. the Trigrams) that comprise the symbol for Ba Gua Zhang itself.

While researching and studying these concepts can be an intellectually satisfying endeavor, unless they can be applied efficiently and effectively in the physical world, they offer little benefit to the martial artist involved in a confrontation.  The Ba Gua Zhang method of Lu Shui-Tian as taught by Master Bok-Nam Park stresses the internal and external manifestation of the trinity concept in all aspects of training and fighting.

With respect to self-defense specifically, the Ba Gua Zhang method of Lu Shui-Tian identifies the following fighting trinities:

  • Fighting Skill  = Method  +  Speed  +  Power
  • Method  =  Movement  +  Target  +  Accuracy
  • Movement  =  Step (Foot)  +  Body  +  Hand

Within this framework:

  • Method is the key to superior Fighting Skill.
  • Movement (Step + Body + Hand) is the key to superior Method.
  • Stepping is the key to superior Movement.

The most important thing that a Ba Gua Zhang fighter does is Step.  Everything else in Ba Gua Zhang derives from the step.  As a result, the Stepping Methodology of Ba Gua Zhang  is very sophisticated – involving linear, angular, and circular methods derived from the underlying natural principles.  [For a more detailed discussion, refer to the article, “Martial Balance Through Ba Feng Gen Bu – Eight Direction Rooted Stepping“]

All of the stepping methods comprising Ba Gua Zhang, when performed in a continuous and fluid manner, provide the Ba Gua Zhang fighter with the lightning fast speed and unpredictable movement ability that typifies Ba Gua Zhang and has surprised many an unwary opponent.

Another Self-defense Example

Here is another fighting example in which a counter-attack is immediately carried out.  Consider how step, body, and hand are applied.

Step #1

The opponent attacks.  The defender steps and intercepts the attacker’s strike with his arm.

Step #2

The defender turns his upper body to deflect the attacker’s strike.

Step #3

The defender moves forward, grabs the attacker’s rear arm while sliding under the attacker’s front arm.

Step #4

The defender drops low, presses downward and traps both of the attacker’s arms, steps behind the attacker’s legs, and reaches down to grab the attacker’s rear pant’s leg.

Step #5

The defender presses his body forward to throw the attacker  back.

The “Real Thing”

Many people have asked Master Park what makes Ba Gua Zhang different from other martial arts and how can they be sure that they are learning the “real thing”.

His response is always the same.  “This is not a difficult question to answer with regards to my system of Ba Gua Zhang because every method or technique that is used satisfies the natural and universal Trinity Principle and the Fundamental Trinity of Yin and Yang, Wu Xing, and Continuous Change.  Otherwise, these methods or techniques would not be balanced, complete, or effective.”

In the Ba Gua Zhang method of Lu Shui-Tian as taught by Master Bok-Nam Park, it all begins with the proper utilization and integration of:

Step (Foot)  +  Body  +  Hand

This is the key to superior Ba Gua Zhang movement, method, and fighting skill.