Translated by David Alexander
The process of studying Baguaquan is first to train ability and then to study methods of application. Ability includes basic ability -i.e. basic skills – and applied ability – i.e. forms, San Shou, weapons etc. If applied ability is insufficient then the student must backtrack to reinforce basic ability and go to and fro like this several times, like kneading dough or forging steel. When the student is proficient in ability the teacher will introduce methods of application and do some demonstrations of applications so that the student can learn by analogy and understand fully without the need for words while being flexible and adaptive.
This is a process of acquiring skills in small incremental stages. Subsequently the student will perhaps leave the master and make his own way in the outside world, learning from actual experience and progressing as far as he can go.
When Zhu Geliang [i] was living in seclusion in Long Zhong village he must already have acquired the ability to come down from the mountain. Afterwards he devised the strategy of the tripartite balance of forces for Liu Bei, a man without authority, power, territory or wealth. It cannot be denied that Zhu Geliang was a man of great ability and that he had also during those years ‘written and painted with ease’ (displayed his talents) and developed his abilities to the full. However it is a pity that Liu Bei died earlier than him, after facing an incompetent and foolish inheritor, and Zhu Geliang’s abilities were stalemated.
People in the past did 80 dollars worth of business with 100 dollars worth of capital; they acquired abilities before making their way in the world and looked for stability and security. People today do 1000 dollars worth of business with 100 dollars worth of capital; they want to run when they have only learned to crawl, they seek to snatch victory amid danger, to be enterprising and forge ahead.
Some abilities can be learned while they are being applied and applied while they are being learned; for example animals in the wild are like this; the lucky ones win every fight, the unlucky ones die young.
In ordered nations there is a well defined system of promotion for civil and military officials. This trains their abilities through step by step advancement so that when they finally hold the highest posts they cannot enjoy the privileges of office without doing a stroke of work and bring calamity to the nation.
There are some people with insufficient abilities; for example the second and third generations of rich and powerful families who take high office at a young age; they have tangible abilities such as good education and breeding but there are many intangible abilities that cannot be trained, such as breadth of mind, compassion and wisdom, and they ultimately fail due to these factors. The saying ‘wealth does not last beyond three generations’ largely comes from this.
There are others with insufficient abilities who by a sudden lucky stroke of fate or through force or trickery rise to high position. But fame and fortune can reverse and ultimately they may lose all their standing and reputation, harming themselves as well as others.
It is said that many big lottery prize winners do not in the end enjoy the rewards of their good luck since it needs exceptional ability to cope with the circumstances that follow the advent of fame and fortune and it is by then too late for them to cultivate this.
The majority of experts at extreme sports are in fact very knowledgeable people but if, driven by their passion to win at all costs, they blindly imitate others they will surely die an unnecessary death.
There is a saying “10 minutes in the limelight followed by 10 years out of the limelight”. We cannot just yearn to be in the limelight, we must learn to work silently out of the limelight, ploughing and weeding. Let us cultivate our abilities so that we can endure the stillness of life out of the limelight. My saxophone teacher told me that he often had young students who after studying for a short time would ask him when they could go and earn money playing in restaurants.
Confucius said: “If people do not recognise me and I do not feel offended, am I not a man of noble character?”. In other words such a man has ability but is just content to stand in a corner. Perhaps as a substitute for being in the limelight this is not as good as receiving public acclaim but it needs great accomplishment in self cultivation.
Whether through our own free will or by compulsion, our abilities need opportunity before they can be applied but we ourselves cannot determine when such an opportunity will arise. We can only prepare for the eventuality.
The most famous examples of seizing the opportunity are of course the acts of valour in the ‘age created by heroes’ but I think such heroes needed exceptional abilities since with the changing situation after the age had been created the load they had to bear was often excessive.
The ruse of ‘relinquishing military command over a glass of wine’ [ii] was used to summarily expel people since ‘ruling the country’ required different abilities.
Martial arts in the past were a matter of risking one’s life. The warrior would learn and apply skills at the same time only if forced to do so in the chaos of battle, otherwise he would practice his abilities before he dared to apply them. The mushroom picker says: ‘Every type of mushroom can be eaten but some can only be eaten once’.
You cannot afford to risk your own life and those who become masters even more so cannot gamble with the lives of their students.
Nowadays in this time of peace anything is possible. Since nobody will die you can study martial arts for a few days then put it into use and never in your life understand what ‘the training of ability’ means.
Time passes quickly
Information is exchanged quickly
Fame and fortune pass quickly
But life is still measured in minutes and seconds
Control your impatience
Let’s practice well the horse stance
Zhu Geliang was a famous general and military strategist in the 3rd century AD during Three Kingdoms period. He was living in seclusion in Long Zhong when emperor Liu Bei visited to ask him to join in his reconquest of the Han empire. The emperor visited three times but for the first two times Zhu Geliang was said to be not at home but in the mountains. On the third time they met he agreed to help Liu Bei. Liu Bei died after his defeat in a battle against the kingdom of Wu
In 961 AD emperor Song Taizu wanted to remove a threat to his rule by dismissing his military commanders. He held a banquet and tricked them when drunk into giving up their powers and returning to their provinces