A DVD customer sent me a message. He had purchased my Basic Building Blocks of Bagua Self-Defense DVD and he had this question:
Where can I find advanced Bagua self-defense techniques?
I asked him how long he has studied Bagua. His reply -- he is new to the art.
He probably has good intentions. I am sure he is a nice person. But the very idea behind his question is one of the frustrating aspects of teaching a martial art -- and especially an internal art.
It's the equivalent of a student walking into your school and asking, "How long does it take to get a black belt?"
Well, that depends. How much of your life are you willing to commit? How many years are you willing to spend thinking about, practicing, pondering, studying the art?
Bagua -- like Chen tai chi and actually any other fighting art or sport -- is a very complex art that requires specific body mechanics that take years and years of hard practice to develop. Asking for an advanced DVD when you haven't spent years practicing the basics is like asking for advanced video on Michael Jordan's best moves before you have learned to dribble a basketball.
I have been involved in Bagua since 1988, and I'm still trying to work out the advanced techniques myself.
If you find video from someone who claims it is "advanced," the instructor is probably doing the "advanced" techniques against willing partners -- their students -- and the techniques demonstrated probably would not work very well in a real fight. You'll see his student throw a punch and stand there while the teacher winds and twists his way through three or four techniques that look pretty cool until you try them against someone who is not cooperating.
Or the instructor will try to appear supernatural, as if his "chi" gives him an edge.
The old school masters in China who know the advanced stuff don't teach the way we do -- they hold knowledge in and don't really do much in their videos except demonstrate movement (with no real teaching). The language barrier is also a problem. Let's face it -- they just aren't that into teaching you their advanced material. It's a cultural thing. They want your money, but don't expect to get much of their art in return.
As of the writing of this blog post, I have put together four Bagua DVDs -- the Basic Skills (crucial), the Basic Building Blocks for Self Defense, the Eight Main Palms Form and the Swimming Body Form. Both of the latter DVDs include instruction on the movements of the form plus some of the fighting applications. I also have two DVDs that teach foundational skills required for success in Bagua, Xingyi or Taiji -- my Internal Strength and Silk-Reeling DVDs. I began putting my knowledge on video 10 years ago, and it has taken me this long to even begin approaching the advanced material.
If you are really interested in learning Bagua, you'll need to spend months or years practicing the basic skills, just as you would spend months, or years, working on a jab, hook, uppercut and a right cross if you took up boxing. You would spend years working on dribbling, ball handling, a jump shot, and a layup if you took up basketball.
In the end, Bagua is just like any fighting art. It's a lot prettier in a form than it is in actual fighting, where it relies on simple concepts used in creative, fast-changing ways. In my opinion, the old masters who built reputations using Bagua in real fighting in Chinese villages were simply good fighters using simple techniques in skillful ways.
So how do you develop advanced Bagua technique? My first recommendation, if you really want to learn, is to focus on the basics and spend some time. As you do, the advanced techniques will be more clear. But you need to start by really studying Internal Strength (ground path, peng, silk-reeling, whole body movement, opening/closing the kua, and Dan T'ien rotation) before studying Bagua basics. And then you must work on circle-walking, mother palms, tea-serving, and a dozen other skills before you can even consider advanced techniques.
If you were handed a paint brush, would you be ready to paint a masterpiece? By giving you basic instruction on DVD and on my website, I am handing you the brush. I was handed this brush decades ago. How much of our lives we commit to that brush -- and struggling through the basic principles, strokes and techniques -- will determine if we will ever go beyond doodling.