A new member of my membership website was asking about fighting with Bagua. He is new to the art and wants more material on Bagua fighting.
I have been shooting videos recently to boost the online content in this area, but I reminded the young man that before he learns to fight with Bagua, there are many other things to practice -- namely, the basics.
Anyone can throw a palm technique or do a joint lock and takedown. Doing it properly according to the body mechanics of a particular art is the difficult part. You can't breeze through the basics and expect to use the art.
Interesting research on the brain shows that we develop habits when they become ingrained in our basal ganglia, a cluster of brain cells that stores habitual acts and behaviors.
According to the book "The Power of Habit," you can put a mouse in a maze with a piece of cheese at the end. If you hook electrodes to the mouse's brain and watch as he enters a maze for the first time, his brain activity is very high. He's processing new information and trying to figure out where the cheese is located.
After the mouse finds the cheese, if you put him in the same maze day after day, something interesting happens. His brain activity decreases. Before long, he can find the cheese without even thinking about it, and it doesn't require much mental activity.
You develop the same type of habits and brain activity every day. You don't have to think about how to brush your teeth. It's habit. You probably can even drive your normal route to work and your mind wanders on other thoughts, or listening to music or an audiobook, then you arrive at work and realize you weren't really paying close attention to the driving. The brain does it for you, while you spend mental energy on something else.
This same principle must be used in martial arts. Step by step, we learn basic techniques. In Bagua that would be Internal Strength exercises, silk-reeling exercises, tea-serving exercises, mother palms, circle walking, other footwork, sinking your "energy" and remaining centered.
All this could take months -- even years -- to get right.
Then you work on forms and fighting applications. Only after using applications against a real sparring partner -- over and over and over, hundreds or thousands of times -- can you internalize them so that when you are faced with certain attacks, you can respond without requiring a lot of brain activity.
As a teacher, it can be frustrating for people to learn material enough to pass through a level, then a few months later you ask them to perform a technique they learned and realize they have forgotten it. This may have happened to you even as you practice.
This is the result of not internalizing -- simply not practicing enough. Learning a technique in class is only the beginning. Next, you MUST practice it over and over and over -- study it -- and apply it against a partner over and over and over.
In the movie "Enter the Dragon," Bruce Lee said, "I don't hit. It hits all by itself."
Once skills are internalized, "you" don't use them. The brain knows what to do. The technique uses itself. But getting there is where people have a problem. Practicing enough times to make it second-nature is the challenge we all face in our busy daily lives.
There is no short cut.