Bajiquan & Piguazhang

by Robert A. Figler, Ph.D. & Tony X.D. Yang

PART II : Foundational Training Methods

In the previous article, Part I, it was concluded that the initial training phase of the bajiquan/piguazhang system of Li Suwen/Liu Yunqiao had yet to employ a complete practice routine. This serves to further highlight the difference between contemporary wushu and traditional wushu. Although both arts train intensely and produce energies, flexibility, co-ordination and even fighting activities, the amount of time in basic training before learning routines can be substantially longer in traditional wushu. This is an important point of contrast. Therefore, in this article the basic training of the baji/pigua system will be further elaborated along the lines of the neigong/qigong auxiliary conditioning - the externally appearing yet internally developing exercises of the daqiang (big spear), a discussion of the basic foundational routine called xiao baji jia, and the "yin" foundational training of piguazhang.

FACING THE "HURDLE"

Many beginning traditional wushu students, in particular those of a Western persuasion, often interpret the initial training phases (stance work and moving postures with no identifiable linked routine) of bajiquan as a simple test: a test of loyalty. It is believed that once the student endures this phase, the door will be opened and an almost magical transformation of skill will result from being taught the advanced forms or "secrets" of the system. Unfortunately the secret of the "secrets" is that most of the worth is found within the basic foundational training. Upon learning this, many students experience a sense of great disappointment and denial. It further becomes discouraging to learn that some of the basic training even has levels within levels of learning.

Adam Hsu, a prominent bajiquan/piguazhang teacher and martial arts scholar summarizes it well within the following: "The gap between the student and the instructor cannot be bridged without going through the step-by-step training process. You cannot hide from sweat, pain, or the labor of arduous training. There are no shortcuts. If you skip steps in the training process, you will have form minus the content. When you get into a real fighting situation, your lack of sufficient training will be painfully revealed. Students must realize that just as Rome was not built in a day, becoming a Kung Fu instructor requires years of dedicated practice."

The basic horse stance training and punching must be carried throughout the life of the practitioner and this will also hold true of most basic (jiben) training whether it is the big spear or pigua exercises. At a very superficial level the art appears to resemble the routinized patterns found in Western exercise systems.

It is at this point that the student may split into one of two directions. Some conclude that the teacher is holding back "secrets", so it's time to leave. While others retreat into the Eastern mysticism of the system in order to avoid enduring the hard training. Unwittingly they adopt the typical Western pattern of intellectualization, abstracting from the experience, and voraciously delve into the "classics", the I Ching, Five Element Theory and/or traditional Chinese medical theoretical literature. They sound good but their form lacks content.

Contemporary wushu may be very appealing because of its different training path. Contemporary wushu and traditional wushu both require great effort and commitment to attain skills. However, the goals and methods are different. Performance forms are available in contemporary wushu systems and so a sense of achievement is reached much earlier in contrast to traditional wushu.

In the traditional training of the bajiquan/piguazhang system it is at this early juncture that the "mysterious" and "mystical" internal training is also introduced. Many of the students who continue to stay on embrace this as a moment of redemption. Yes, some feel that "the mystical qi transforming exercises will now make the ordinary man into a god!" Yet it is important to note that Liu Yunqiao never really saw this phase of training as being highly differentiated from other phases of training. It was not until his latter years that he translated the material into modern neigong/qigong terminology. Collectively, these exercises are termed the "bajiquan harmonic method".

ENTERING THE "INTERNAL" PHASE

Li Suwen and Liu Yunqiao's bajiquan/piguazhang system employs a series of exercises termed "the harmonic methods". Mysticism and magic aside, the exercises stretch tendons and muscles, massage internal organs and coordinate breathing with movement. Some of the exercises are designed to exhaust the major muscle groups in order to develop the seldom used minor muscle groups. The primary purpose of these exercises is to help insure full body usage in the fighting applications of the system. Dissolving energies (hua jing) and an energy associated with short punches (an jing) are begun partially in this phase and are further developed in many of the two-person fighting application sets.

With regard to health, the exercise system also produces superb conditioning. The two primary exercises comprise the baji qigong set. Other exercises help develop relaxation and breathing coordinated with movements. Done properly, internal organs are effectively massaged and blood flows are shifted to areas seldom reached in modern Western exercise systems. Of these exercises, the most important are "reversing the spine" (ju bi hou shen) and baji qigong exercise.

1A1B1C1D
1E1F

Reversing the spine, figure 1A-1F, stretches the tendons, loosens the back, and requires coordinated deep breathing. The baji qigong exercise is simple in appearance but complex in effect. Like many modern qigong exercises, baji qigong combines all the internal strengths (hui yuan yi qi), masssages specific internal organs, and helps loosen and relax the body. Specifically, figure 2A-2G demonstrates the following internal theory:
(1) Wu Ji (nothingness) = abdomen
(2) Tai Ji (something)= navel
(3) Liang Yi (two ideas)= two kidneys
(4) Si Xiang (four images)= two arms and two legs
(5) Ba Gua (8 trigrams)= eight sections of the leg and arm
(6) LiuShisi (sixty four hexagrams)= combines all joints of the appendages
(7) Ba Gua
(8) Si Xiang
(9) Liang Yi
(10) Tai Ji
(11) Hun Yuan Posture (posture for nurturing the qi--combination of heaven, man and earth)


FIGURE 2A - 2G

According to Liu Yunqiao, although the movements of the qigong hun yuan set are simple, the blood and qi move through all the twelve meridians, three yin channels, and three yang channels. This is a nurturing method that turns essence (jing) into energy (qi) and finally into spirit (shen). This qigong exercise is especially of benefit for the practicing martial artist and further highlights the misnomer that bajiquan/piguazhang is an external system.

The remaining harmonic methods (with the exception of tai bi rao huan) are more oriented toward martial art application and training even though they involve slow movements and deep, coordinated breathing. Bai bi niu yao (swinging the arms and striking the waist, shoulder and back areas) is of a pigua nature and requires developing the waist so as to whip the arms against the body. Although it stimulates numerous acupuncture points and a number of organs, its primary purpose is to condition the body to withstand blows from an opponent and bring blood into the palm. Other exercises (zuo you cheng zhang, na bu gang chui, and zuo you deng tui) are variations of relaxed pigua palm strikes, employing the waist with a horizontal collapsing palm, punches with fajing from horse to bow to horse stance, and relaxed, slow heel kicks from front and side. From this point, one can proceed to the deceptively internal baji spear training methods.

BAJI METHODS: EXTERNAL, INTERNAL, OR BOTH?

The spear training in the baji system requires the use of, at a minimum, a ten foot tapered spear that is much more than a weapon: It represents one of the most significant methods for developing chan si jing, fajing, and overall internal/external strength. These methods are similarly found in both the Yang and Chen taijiquan styles(1). Without this training, the real potential for delivering power in baji applications is severely limited.


Figure 3A


Figure 3B

The first exercise (Figures 3A and 3B) requires the practitioner to hold the spear in a relaxed horse stance posture and then to move into a bow stance while simultaneously turning the palms and spear over while rotating and slowly thrusting the spear forward. From the bow stance, the spear is turned counterclockwise as the practitioner simultaneously returns to the horse stance posture. The chan si jing literally starts with rotation of the feet, dan tian, arms, shoulders and back. Although simplistic in appearance, it is one of the most superb conditioning neigong-like exercises (the breath is also coordinated with the movement). Many students are lucky to successfully execute thirty to a side, for the exercise requires far more than simple external strength. This exercise must be practiced daily for many, many years.


Figure 4A


Figure 4B

The second exercise, (Figures 4A and 4B) tong qiang, involves thrusting the spear forward from the horse stance position to the bow stance position and incorporates all of the movements from the previous exercise plus the explosiveness of the punch. The body goes from a relaxed state to a split second tightening in the explosive thrust and back to a relaxed state. In drawing back the spear, three circular spirals should be observed when the practitioner reaches a high level of practice. This exercise is similar to the basic static punching routine described in Part I of this article.


Figure 5A


Figure 5B


Figure 5C

Shaking the spear, Figures 5A - 5C develops not only external muscles i.e. forearms, back, abdominals, and kua area but also incorporates coordinated breathing. The practitioner holds the spear outward in a horse stance until the tip of the spear stops shaking and then slowly returns the tip to the ground.


Figure 6A


Figure 6B

A similar exercise, bong, is illustrated in Figures 6A and 6B. This involves moving forward while simultaneously circling the spear clockwise until the tip of the spear is thrust upward in a burst of power while the practitioner simultaneously sinks into a half horse, half bow stance. Although this appears external in nature, the practitioner must remain relaxed until the split second burst of power. Breathing is coordinated as in the other exercises. A final variation of the spear methods is presented Figures 7A through 7E. Advanced training requires two-person applications similar to the pictures found in Olson's book in the chapter on "Two Man Drills for the Thirteen Spear" (Olson, 1985, pp. 69-76).


Figure 7A


Figure 7B


Figure 7C


Figure 7D


Figure 7E

The big spear (da qiang) training is very intense and must be continued throughout the life of the baji practitioner and also done in conjunction with xiao baji jia routine. This training is an important point of contrast with the contemporary wushu player, for the energies and power produced by this type of training have no counter part in contemporary wushu training.

FOUNDATIONAL FORM TRAINING: XIAO BAJI JIA

The first complete routine in the baji/pigua system is termed xiao baji jia. Xiao baji is the routine upon which the structure or foundation is built, emphasizing a symmetrical squareness in deep postures. The practitioner is required to try to reach the point of holding eight breaths per posture for a total of twenty four postures. Three primary energies are developed: chen zhui jing (sinking, dropping); shi zi jing (crossing) and; chan si jing (spiraling, tangling). In each posture, eight breaths are directed one at a time toward one of eight body areas: the head, shoulders, elbows, hands, tailbone, kua/hip, knees and feet.

At the highest level of development approximately twenty four postures are held, making the routine last about twenty four minutes. The routine is also played without breaths while movements and postures are executed with fajing. Some of these postures are illustrated in Figures 8A through 8G.


Figures 8A through 8D

8E 8F 8G

This routine is practiced for three years on a daily basis, three times a day, with at least three sets per session and in conjunction with spear training. Beyond this, advanced baji forms include:
1) da baji
2) liu da kai (six big openings)
3) baji lei huan
4) baji pigua combination
5) baji five movements, six shape fists
6) continuous fist baji, and
7) ba da zhao.

Baji also contains significant elements of shuai jiao, two-person fighting (san shou) and post and bag training. In the highest levels of baji, the jings of both baji and pigua are expressed in the techniques and applications. Few practitioners ever reach this level. An example of #4 of liu da kai is found in Figures 9A through 9H.

9A9B9C

9D9E9F

9G9H

PIGUAZHANG TRAINING: THE "YIN" SIDE OF THE SYSTEM?

Most of the training that has been described up to this point could be labeled the "yang" side of the baji/pigua training system. A primary focus up to now has been the effective delivery of punching power expressed in fajing along with full body movement and utilization. In pigua training, something new appears: the waist must be loose so as to guide the whipping force of the arms and palms. Chopping is often seen but it is done in a relatively relaxed state. Four of the basic movements are:
1) pi (split) - Figures 10A - 10E:

10A10B10C10D10E

2) bao (hug, embrace) - Figures 10F - 10J:

10F10G10H10I10J

3) cheng (prop up, support, with reference to the palms) - Figures 10K - Figure Ten O:

10K10L10M10NTEN-O

4) kao (lean) - Figures 10P - 10T:

10P10Q10R10S10T

Liu Yunqiao's piguazhang system contains only two routines but a significant number of single moving exercises. The piguazhang conditioning also includes the infamous "dog skin" hand training. This is accomplished by striking the inside of a dog skin and requires no medicine. The exercises can be performed without the dog skin and is used to develop the whipping relaxed chopping power. This is all driven by the waist and dantian. The two of the four basic training exercises are illustrated in Figures 11A - 11H.

11A11B11C11D

11E11F11G11H

After three years of baji training, the practitioner is directed to train only in piguazhang for six to nine months. After that time period, the practitioner returns to baji training with his power even more developed and deepened.

CONCLUDING NOTE

All advance bajiquan/piguazhang requires solid systematic training in the basic fundamentals. For modern day practitioners, this could take as long as five to eight years. Nonetheless, should the practitioner complete their training, they will find themselves to be superbly conditioned with a substantial amount of punching power that would even rival some of the best boxers. The punching power would also include the "yin" chopping strategies of the piguazhang system resulting in a very formidable fighter.

It should become quite clear to the reader how fundamentally different contemporary wushu is from traditional wushu. Contemporary wushu players may indeed have power and fighting ability but they are not the same as those who trained in completed systems of traditional wushu. Any claim of traditional authenticity on the part of contemporary wushu is clearly misguided and confused, for the foundational training methods are completely different. However, it must become imperative that the holders of traditional wushu come forth and clearly differentiate themselves from contemporary wushu by revealing and teaching their system's traditional training methods. To relinquish this responsibility is to condemn traditional wushu to a slowly disintegrating loss of identity and to eventually deprive the world of one of China's most prized treasures.

N O T E S

1The text compiled and transcribed by Stuart Olson illustrates principles and concepts similiar to those found in the bajiquan/piguazhang system of da qiang training. Herb Richie's site on Chen style taijiquan has a training section devoted to the "big pole" training. Without this type of training it is hard to imagine how anyone can approach advanced levels of skill in taiji or baji. A great source further elaborating the baji qiang training is found on James Guo and Allen Chen's website JiFeng Martial Arts Club. Over the past few years, in Toronto, Canada, they have sponsored an international da qiang seminar and tournment. Video clips from the tournament are available for viewing on this website.

R E F E R E N C E S

Figler, R. & Yang, T. (1999). Bajiquan and piguazhang - Part I: Foundational training methods. Journal of Asian Martial Arts, 8(3), 74-95.

Guo, J. & Chen, A. JiFeng Martial Arts Club

Hsu, Adam. (1998). The Sword Polisher's Record: The Way of Kung-Fu. Tuttle Martial Arts. pp. 94-95.

Olson, Stuart. (1985). The Wind Sweeps Away the Plum Blossoms: The Principles and Techniques of the Yang Style T'ai Chi Spear and Staff. Winnipeg, Manitoba: Bubbling Well Press.

A C K N O W L E D G E M E N T S

The primary author wishes to thank his teacher Yang Xiaodong (Tony) for sharing and willing to make public the teachings of the late Liu Yunqiao. The author also acknowledges his deep appreciation of instruction in xiao baji jia provided to him by Mr. James Finley. Mr. Finley together with Yang Laoshi have provided this author with a very deep understanding of the power system in baji and its common link to all Northern Chinese martial arts. Photographs were taken by Mr. Andrew Lianto of Indonesia and Dr. Kenneth Dunning of the University of Akron.

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Originally published in the Journal of Asian Martial Arts vol.8, no.4, 1999. Reprinted here with permission.
Journal of Asian Martial Arts, Via Media Publishing Co.