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The Circle of Death -- Empty-Hand or Weapons Practice for Taiji, Xingyi, and Bagua

Circle-of-Death-1 In our practices in the Quad Cities, we enjoy doing the Circle of Death.

One person gets in the center of the circle and has to defend as one-by-one, the people on the rim of the circle attack.

Sometimes we do it empty hand and the defender must defend with just Hsing-I, just Tai Chi, or just Bagua techniques.

Circle-of-Death-2 Sometimes we do it with weapons, as we did tonight. We each took turns in the center (including me) and defended with one weapon as others attacked with different weapons, including staffs, broadswords, straight swords, and elk horn knives.

It's always fun, and it gives you a chance to think on your feet and learn how to respond to different attacks.

It's important for the instructor to watch carefully, and if a student doesn't get a reaction right, they should be asked to do it again. The importance of this drill isn't to humiliate the student -- the importance is to have them internalize the actions that it takes, and the techniques required, to defend against different attacks.

What Exactly Does "Jin" Mean When Talking about the 8 Energies of Taijiquan?

GroundPath250 The Chinese language is complex to Westerners, and some of the terms of the internal arts such as Tai Chi, Hsing-I and Bagua are misinterpreted because of the way the words are translated. As a result, the internal arts are often described as "mysterious" or "mystical." That makes them seem out of reach. It harms our practice and our understanding, and these injuries are self-inflicted.


In Taiji, there is a concept known as the "energies," that include peng (ward off), lu (roll back), ji (press), an (push), etc.

The most important of all these is peng jin -- peng energy. It is one of the key elements of every movement, even when you step. You should never lose peng, and that is something that I see missing when I meet Tai Chi students, particularly those who have not studied Chen style. If you have studied Taiji and your teacher hasn't stressed and shown you how to maintain peng in all movement, you should be asking some serious questions about the quality of what you're learning.

So what does the term "energy" or "jin" mean when applied to the 8 Energies (there are more than 8 but I'm keeping it simple, hopefully)?

It does NOT mean what when someone is attacking you, you shoot energy out of your body. It does NOT mean that there is a specific type of energy in your body called "lu" energy that is scientifically real.

The term "jin" can be more accurately described as "technique used in a strategic way to adapt and respond to an opponent's force."

When force is coming at you, there are stages in the process of self-defense that occur quickly. You must recognize the force. You must intercept and neutralize the force or lead it into emptiness. You must adapt and counter-attack (if neutralization isn't enough).

The techniques that you use are in response to the opponent's action -- the "energy" or "force" coming at you. Your strategy, of course, is to neutralize the force and cause your opponent to become unbalanced. From there, you counter to defeat your opponent. Only in the most abstract way can you describe your response as "energy." Naturally, it requires energy for you to move. The eight energies are more a description of technique and strategy in response to force -- NOT actual "energy."


I've put together many resources related to these concepts -- they are on my online school and in my DVDs, including the Internal Strength, Silk-Reeling and Push Hands DVDs. There are more to come, as we continue to delve into these internal arts. But one thing I want to address is the "mystery" surrounding these arts. Most of the mystery comes from our misinterpretation of language and the teaching of instructors who learned from instructors who either didn't know themselves or refused to instruct these concepts.


Skill in Tai Chi, Hsing-I and Bagua comes in the same way as skill in any other activity -- through correct body mechanics that comes from years of practice and very hard work (kung-fu).


An Editorial -- We Need to Dispense with the Tai Chi Fantasy in the National Magazines

There has always been a strange willingness in the national Tai Chi and Kung-Fu magazines to print fantasy as if it is fact. They have shown frauds and con artists posing as "chi masters" knocking people down without touching them. Anyone with an ounce of intelligence or reasoning skills understands that this can't happen. Yet the magazines allow almost anyone to claim the most miraculous of powers.

In the two recent issues of Tai Chi magazine, there have been photos that are absolutely impossible to achieve in real life unless you have a partner who is willing to bend the truth and play along on your behalf.

Anyone who has ever been in a real fight knows that another man who is motivated does not generally go down easily, and when adrenalin is flowing, sometimes he doesn't even feel pain as he normally would.

So the magazine prints articles written by students with photos showing their teachers demonstrating impossible feats of "chi." The student/writer plays along in the photographs. Of course he does. If he shows that his teacher has miraculous powers, doesn't it follow that the student himself is developing the same powers?

Fantasy-Taiji-1 The two photos we shot for this article are similar to a couple of photographs in two recent issues. The student presses on his teacher. The teacher hardly moves and the student is flying away, tossed into the air.

I'm not sure who is more dishonest -- the teacher who claims to be able to do this type of thing, or the student who plays along and pretends it's true.

Everyone wants to be a wizard. I'm sorry, but Fantasy-Taiji-2 Harry Potter doesn't exist, and that could be why MMA is kicking our asses right now in popularity. We've let the nut jobs run free in magazines. The editors should take responsibility for this. The very job of editor is to edit out garbage. For every legitimate article with sound advice from a legitimate Tai Chi master such as Chen Xiaowang or Chen Xiaoxing, Chen Zhenglei or similar outstanding masters, the magazines will also put articles that spout fantasy and shouldn't be used to line a bird cage. The editors fail when they let this happen. Tai Chi, a powerful martial art, suffers as the result, because intelligent people understand the difference between -- as Bruce Springsteen might put it -- what's flesh and what's fantasy.

The internal arts are based on solid body mechanics and many years of hard practice. It takes a lot of physical pain and strength to develop skill. In a good tai chi practice, you'll sweat and you'll nearly fall over from leg fatigue.

You can't move an adult without using force. You can't cause an adult to fly up in the air without a tremendous amount of force and movement. In the internal arts, force is applied through relaxed strength and many principles that are sometimes written about in an abstract way. Because it has to be shown, and can't be understood through writing, the average person misunderstands. And because the majority of tai chi training is so poor -- focusing on "chi cultivation" and ridiculous, bogus scientific principles instead of internal body mechanics -- the mythology continues.

It's time for editors of national publications to get real or go out of business. They do no one any good when they print fantasy as if it were fact. Just ask the Chi Master who fought the MMA guy. The video is on YouTube and also in another post on this blog. That's reality, and it's what happens when honesty meets the Big Fraud.

A Clear Connection Between Chen Tai Chi and Baguazhang

Dragon-Baguazhang I began studying Bagua in 1988 and was introduced to Chen tai chi 10 years later, after studying Yang style for over a decade. I left Yang style when I met Jim and Angela Criscimagna, and realized after only one hour that the body mechanics of "real" internal arts are very different than what most Americans are learning.

There is a new book out called "Fu Zhen Song's Dragon Bagua Zhang," by one of Fu's disciples, Lin Chao Zhen. It offers a very honest and realistic picture of the early days of Baguazhang, and one of its great masters, Fu Zhen Song. He was born in 1872 and developed Fu style Baguazhang as he got older.

When he was a young man, around 16 years old, his village -- Ma Pe village in Henan province -- hired a master from the Chen village -- also in Henan province -- to teach the men of Ma Pe a martial art -- Chen Taijiquan. The master they hired was Chen Yang Xi, the father of Chen Fake.

Back in the 1800s, martial arts masters were hired by other villages to come teach the art of self-defense. Tai Chi was known as a powerful martial art -- that's why it was created, not as the slow-motion exercise for "health" that its image has unfortunately become (spread by people who can't fight). Chen Yan Xi taught the villagers to defend themselves against thieves and bandits.

So here is the lineage -- Chen Wangting created tai chi. Eight generations later his descendant was Chen Yan Xi, followed by his son, Chen Fake (pronounced "fah-kuh") who was one of the greatest tai chi masters of history. Two of the most prominent Chen masters still living are Chen Xiaowang and Chen Xiaoxing, the grandsons of Chen Fake and great-grandsons of Chen Yan Xi. I have had the honor of training with both Chen Xiaowang and Chen Xiaoxing (who stayed in our home for a week when I sponsored his visa to visit the U.S. in 2006). I was introduced to the Chen family by my instructors Jim and Angela Criscimagna. They were inducted as disciples of Chen Xiaowang several years ago.

The Chen style that Fu learned starting at age 16 was unique for its spiraling movements called "silk-reeling," or san ssu chin. No one knows exactly how long he studied Chen tai chi, but it is believed to be a number of years.

After Chen Yan Xi left Fu's village, the village hired a Bagua master, Jia Qi Shan to teach in the village. Fu Zhen Song came to embrace bagua as his primary art, but he also embarked on a long and distinguished life devoted to the study of several martial arts, primarily internal arts. Eventually, he developed his own style.

It wasn't unusual for martial artists to develop their own styles in China. They would learn from a master and then go off and practice -- often combining their own artistic expression and knowledge and techniques from other martial arts. Over time, an art would be called "Yang" tai chi or "Cheng" bagua or "Fu" bagua or "Shanxi" Hsing-I. Sometimes it was named for the village or province where it was practiced. There were many similarities in the arts, but they changed over time because of the personal style of the master.

Fu was well known as a fighter. He is said to have left his village after it was attacked by a group of bandits. Fu Zhen Song stood up to them armed only with a spear, injured several and killed one of the most feared of the leaders. He fled to avoid being charged with murder (yes, even if you killed a bandit you could still get in trouble back then).  

Over the years, as he moved around and spent a lot of time in Beijing, where he became friends and studied and traded techniques with famous masters such as Yang Cheng Fu (Yang tai chi) and Sun Lu Tang (Hsing-I and Sun Tai Chi), and many other masters of all styles of kung-fu.

The Chinese kung-fu arts are very interesting in the way they were created and cross-pollinated to develop a new style. Chen style was definitely a major influence on Bagua, and it has definitely influenced the way I do Bagua. In fact, when I began studying Chen taiji, I began changing my Hsing-I to reflect the same body mechanics that produce the relaxed power that are the hallmark of Chen Tai Chi. Some of the Hsing-I you see doesn't have a lot going on internally (to be honest, a lot of tai chi you see doesn't, either). In my own teaching, I've tried to express each art as its own, while making the body mechanics consistently internal.

Fu settled in the city of Guangzhou, where he died in 1953, the year I was born, just a few hours after giving the final performance to a grateful crowd in a city park.

This is an interesting book. I highly recommend it. 

As I studied Chen style, it became apparent that Bagua borrowed a lot from Chen tai chi, and I've wondered about it ever since.

How Tai Chi, Hsing-I and Bagua Techniques Overlap in Self-Defense

Heng-vs-Kick-1 In class the other night we were practicing Heng Chuan, Hsing-I's "Crossing Fist," against a roundhouse kick. The photos are shown here.

In photo one, the attacker (Leander Mohs) throws the kick.

In photo two, I absorb the kick with my left arm and cross my right arm under the attacker's calf.

Heng-vs-Kick-2 In photo three, I apply pressure to the outside of his leg and push inward, bending it at the knee.

In photo four, I apply a paring, splitting palm to the knee and he goes down. He has to go down. He has no choice.

When you practice this, you realize that the application is the same as the opening for the Chen Tai Chi movement "Fair Lady Weaves at Shuttles."

Heng-vs-Kick-3 And this is something we see across the three internal arts that we practice. Several of the principles and palms of Bagua are also in this application, including Blocking, Twining or Snaking, Upward Palm, Outward Palm and Splitting Palm. Dan T'ien rotation is always applied, regardless of the art, and when the kick comes in, I sink my energy and "borrow" his as I block with my left arm.

Heng-vs-Kick-4 The photos here are from the video we shot of this technique for my online school. The video shows the technique in regular speed and slow motion.

A couple of years ago, I released a 2 1/2 hour DVD on the fighting applications of the Five Hsing-I Fist Postures. It explores the applications and the body mechanics that give them power.

If you study Taiji along with other internal arts, look for the similarities that exist both in technique and body mechanics. It's true that Xingyi appears a bit "harder" than Taiji, but the mechanics are quite similar.