This page will document my experience and training in this fascinating and most difficult to master of all the internal arts. The close range rotational power that can be learned with diligent practice of this style will be a boon to any practitioner of any style and the cardio affect is second to none, closely matched by the Splashing Hands forms. But Ba Kua is another beast entirely.
Ba Kua is the art of the open hand, the sister art of Hsing-I; our style is the difficult to master Dragon Style, taught to Lao Tzu McNeil by Grandmaster Chiao and is characterized by the distinctive “Mud Walk”. It can be traced back from Grandmaster Chiao to his teacher, Yang Lu-Ling to Ma Wei-Chi to Tung Hai-Chuan and his Taoist teacher before him.
The style also includes Tenn Gunn; a chi kung and fighting form which combines techniques from Hsing-I and Ba Kua, the two-man fighting form and of course fighting techniques based on the turns or changes as it pertains to the I-Ching.
Anything past the most basic understanding of the I-Ching is way above my pay grade but I do know that the power and fluidity born from training in this most difficult method will add to the effectiveness and execution of any style. It teaches the practitioner to develop tremendous short range rotational power that partners well with Hsiao Chui Tien and Splashing Hands and the concentration of Chi within the body is second only to Shih Shui.
I love Ba Kua…it appeals to my ingrained desire for and tendency toward self-torture. This is in partial jest of course but I have always maintained that, for me anyway, it is the most difficult mentally and physically of all the arts Master McNeil teaches. I still to this day get “butterflies” in my little tummy before every training session with just the anticipation of the exquisite pain to come setting off that “fight or flight” response which must then be controlled…I love it!
I think it is the fact that you know there is no stopping, no rest until you step in to face into the circle on that final revolution. Of course this can be artificially created with any style simply by doing forms back to back, over and over but it is just not the same…you Ba Kua guys probably know what I mean.
With dedicated practice, of course the pain will subside and it becomes almost pleasurable in a demented way as a sort of self-hypnosis sets in. I also like the ritualistic nature of it with the circle and the meditative state that it invokes. I have had two times during my years of practice when something out of the ordinary happened.
One time I had been walking for probably thirty to forty minutes and I was well into the zone where the pain was gone. Suddenly all sensation of my legs was gone; not like they were numb or anything but all awareness of them had vanished. It was as if I was a torso floating around the room or like I was on a turn table with no physical effort necessary to propel myself forward. I was aware of the feeling but for once was able to heed Lao Tzu’s constant advice not to dwell and I settled into the feeling and went lower.
I was revolving around the room with no conscious feeling or thought and it was one of the few times I have been able to achieve parallel thighs for any length of time. Finally my excitement caused the feeling to slowly fade and I wrapped up the session feeling stronger than I had ever before after walking.
In stark contrast is how I felt right after finishing my longest continuous walking session to date; two solid hours under the critical gaze of our beloved Lao Tzu. I know it is nothing like the four plus hours that Lao Tzu has done but still not bad for an ordinary human.Yes, it was a curse and a blessing; thank you for the exquisite torture, Sifu! There is no doubt in my mind that I could take the most conditioned athlete and drop them in less than an hour with a PROPERLY walked Ba Kua circle.
It was while I was living in the house that Lao Tzu built up in the mountains in California; a special place to be sure and it is our tragic loss that the dream did not come to fruition. When he finally told me to stop I was so relieved, the stress induced flop sweats that I can build up while being critiqued by the big guy cannot be denied. I tend to lose a lot of water when he is teaching me.
Then the wave of nausea hit me like a motion sickness headache but I wasn’t dizzy and it only lasted a few minutes and then I felt AWESOME! When I noted the length of time I had walked I was pretty happy with myself but as I contemplated from the perspective of what it must have been like for Sifu with Master Chiao I quickly got over me.
The second and strangest event happened just this past year while training here in Arizona. I had been very consistent with my Psychic Healing exercises for awhile and was experiencing some successful dream experiments. I have a few different routines that I use when I am training my Ba Kua; one involves just the normal walking of the circle, training the technical aspects of walking which demands constant attention and endurance. Sometimes I just practice the turns with minimal walking in between and then other times I train on the heavy bag utilizing the strikes from the forms; sometimes it is a combination of the last two.
I was using the first method, walking for endurance and I was about 30 minutes into it. The usual procedure was 10 to 15 revolutions one direction then changing direction with a turn and then another 10 to 15 revolutions and then the next turn. I try not to think about counting too much but still strive to maintain a balance walking both ways around the circle. Once I reach the last animal, Monkey, I go in reverse order 5 to 10 revolutions each animal, each direction, back to the first palm change to finish. This will take from 50 minutes to an hour and a half, give our take. Again, Ba Kua guys and gals will know what I am talking about.
I was walking with my arms outstretched in the Phoenix form on the first run through. I had done about 10 revolutions and I began thinking about turning to repeat Phoenix to the other direction. I turned and began walking the other way with a sudden ease that was rather strange. I completed around 10 revolutions when there was a flash of light in my eyes, my mind’s eye? I found myself walking back in the direction that I had previously turned from, with no recollection that I had turned again. I was confused for a moment but then just thought that I had last track and not turned yet from the original direction.
So I turned and did 10 more revolutions of Phoenix then turned and finished the workout without a second thought. I always time my workouts so I have a good sense for how long it takes to do 10 revolutions. My total training time was over by the amount of time it would have taken to walk 10 revolutions. What I believe happened was that I came out of my body and did the second set of revolutions without my physical body actually turning, probably when I began thinking about the upcoming turn.
When I thought I made a mistake and did the second set of 10 revolutions, that was actually the third set and the second set was performed by my Astral body while my real body was still walking in the first set, which was why the second set felt so easy. This would also explain the extra time that it took to do the work out. It may sound a little confusing, especially if you do not know Ba Kua or don’t use a similar method of practice. Of course I was very excited and told Sifu about it and I got his usual response, “Don’t dwell on it but I think you’re making progress.”
It didn’t take long to realize the potential for fighting that is contained within that simple exercise of walking a proper Ba Kua circle and the whirling rotational power that can be steadily built up in the turns that emanates from within like pulses of the mind. Once the initially painful beginning stage is surpassed, given a continued regular practice, the practitioner will most definitely feel stronger after each session than before they started.
What sets Ba Kua apart from the other styles in our Little Nine Heaven system and yet allows it to compliment them as well is the gliding, “hovering” attitude adopted by the feet where the feet lose contact with the ground as little as possible yet still float without scraping. The hardest strikes are made with the feet flat to the ground, watch video of some of the greatest of all time; Joe Louis “The Brown Bomber” or the greatest of them all Rocky Marciano and of course Mike Tyson, although they varied their footwork using Splashing Hands side shuffle type positioning with the rear heel elevated and the ball of the foot digging into the ground; the initial power burst come from the foot flat against the surface and then flowing up in a wave. Marciano would launch his whole body of the ground in time with his devastating punch and be solidly rooted again. It is easy to see the similarities of execution in Splashing Hands with a little thought.
I try to adapt this same gliding footwork to all my movement so that I can move with speed yet I am never far from rooting instantly for maximum power. I practice all my forms this way, even Splashing Hands, although it transfers less to aspects of Splashing Hands because of the jumping and bursting involved but if the reader studies the Splashing Hands Training Manual and follows the Splashing Hands online training program they will quickly see how elements of Ba Kua work within the Splashing Hands system. Stand by for more.