“Bagua Daoyin is a body development system of boundless refinement. Those who have not yet experienced Bagua Daoyin may feel that it is impossible to enter through its gates. We have compiled this interview to encapsulate the questions that an ordinary person might ask – to cast a stone to find the way, to glimpse into the innermost recesses of Bagua Daoyin.”
Q – Taiji Quan and Bagua Quan seem to be closely connected. Why is it that Taiji Quan is widely known yet few people know about Bagua Quan?
A – Bagua Quan originated in Daoism. It was not until the middle years of the Qing dynasty, when Dong Haichuan gained a reputation as a master, that Bagua Quan emerged into the open world. However the subsequent three generations of masters – Dong Haichuan, Yin Fu and Gong Baotian – all worked within the confines of the Qing palace and it was not until the final years of the Qing dynasty when Gong Baotian retired and returned to his village that Bagua Quan emerged from the imperial palace the open world.
Q – So Bagua Quan was a secret passed on within the imperial palace? Could that be why it has been more difficult to popularise than Taiji Quan?
A – Each branch of martial arts has its own difficult aspects. Bagua Quan is very fine and is also very powerful in its application. In particular the system transmitted by my master is both comprehensive and huge.
Q – As I understand it you are the fifth transmitter, and it was only with you that Bagua Quan’s ‘bag of secrets’ was made public. So how can the ordinary person who has no foundation in martial arts study Bagua Quan?
A – The real ‘bag of secrets’ will not be understood by the ordinary person. However, no matter whether you are a high grade martial artist or an ordinary person, you will still use the same body framework. So the basic methods of operating the body are similar. Some basic movements practice these methods. These are very important initial steps which everyone can practice and everyone should practice. This is also the basis of the Bagua Daoyin which I present.
Q – What is the emphasis of Bagua Daoyin? Is it like the Qi of Taiji Quan?
A – Bagua Quan is the result of developing Chinese martial arts to a very high level so that what makes it up is a combination of Daoyin and Qigong and martial arts skills and it concentrates on simultaneously cultivating the internal and the external. The system of Bagua Quan is fine as well as huge. Bagua Daoyin is part of Bagua Quan’s internal cultivation.
Q – Are you saying that learning Bagua Quan includes combining all these things?
A – Some of the older generation in fact felt this way. However after practicing Bagua Quan they came to feel that other martial arts did not satisfy them. So in the past very few practitioners of Bagua Quan simultaneously trained in other martial arts while many practitioners of other martial arts simultaneously trained in Bagua Quan.
Q – At what age did you start to practice martial arts?
A – I started practicing Yang style Taiji Quan when I was fifteen. When I was twenty-three I met my master and began to specialize in Bagua.
Q – From your twenty to thirty years of experience how would you advise an ordinary person to start? Is there an initial stage? For example Taiji Quan has a 24-step form, 37-step form, 42-step form right up to 108.
A – There are many schools of Taiji Quan, some new, some old. But that is not the important point. In the past martial arts were a life or death skill, not a competitive recreation, so that practicing a martial art was a matter of surviving in combat through the effective use of yourbody. But if you are to use your body effectively you must first become aware of your body.
Q – Become aware of your body. So can practicing Bagua Daoyin enable you to become aware of your body? You just now referred to Bagua Quan as being very fine. In what way is it fine?
A – When we learn to develop limb movements we progress from big muscles to small muscles, from large joints to small joints. When we develop martial arts skills it is also like this. From large muscle and joint exercises to small muscle and joint exercises.
Q – Could you explain what are large muscles and joints?
A – For example, when we first start to learn how to exercise our limbs as a child we use our shoulder joints and our calf muscles. These are large joints and muscles. They are strong and easy to use. But when a child learns to eat with chopsticks and to write with a pen the fine muscles of the fingers are involved. These muscles are more flexible but need greater skill to use and develop later. This in fact is also the sequence for martial arts training which applies to everyone.
Q – So, although Bagua Quan appears to be very specialized, everyone can benefit from its body development aspects.
A – No matter whether you want to develop your body, practice martial arts or any other exercise, the important question is whether your method of exercise is correct, whether it is the most effective. So is Bagua Daoyin just a way in which people can practice how to effectively use their body? When you have learnt it you can use your body to take on any activity; it helps with everything.
Q – You just now referred to shoulders. Could you explain how to effectively use your shoulders?
A – Most people think that the arms start from the shoulders. In fact the shoulders have two locations. Close up to the neck there is the area which takes the load when we are carrying something heavy – or stretch to take out our wallet. However the arm in fact starts at the shoulder blade in the back; this enables the arm to stretch across the body. So if we want to use the arm effectively we must first effectively use the shoulder blade. But this part of the body has for a long time been overlooked by most people.
Q – So the arm can be thought of as similar to a chicken’s wing.
A – This is a very good analogy. The root of a chicken’s wing is like a human shoulder blade. When a chicken flaps its wings it uses this part.
Q – Normally we only occasionally use the shoulder blade. However, can basic training in Bagua Daoyin open out the numerous parts of the body which we have neglected?
A – We consider that the body has four main joints, the two shoulder blades and the two hip joints. These are the key joints that connect the four limbs to the body. When you begin Bagua Daoyin you will certainly open up these joints.
Q – How does opening up these four joints benefit us?
A – Joints enable us to move easily. However, they can degenerate if they are immobilized for a long time or if their turning range is restricted. This can affect not only movement but also the circulation of the Qi and the blood. So when we open up a joint and enlarge the gap in a joint and its range of movement it makes it easier for us to move smoothly.
Q – The Taiji Quan that we usually see seems flexible and agile, as if the body had no bones, but has a limited range of joint movements. Would it be improved if it were combined with the joint movements of Bagua Daoyin?
A – Although I have long specialized in Bagua, I have practiced and studied Taiji Quan for over thirty years. In particular practicing Bagua Quan has deepened my anatomical understanding of Taiji Quan to a degree that would not ordinarily have been possible. To sum up, even if you do not practice martial arts, if you open up your joints, you will, at the very least, give yourself a lively and free body.
Q – So is the purpose of practicing martial arts to give your body the means for greater freedom and self control?
A – My master said that the purpose in practicing martial arts was to seek a state of freedom and ease, so that we should develop towards a state of freedom and ease within our body and mind and in our relations with others.
Q – The state of freedom and ease that you speak of seems closely linked to the adaptability and resilience of the body and mind. This seems completely incompatible with the attitude which is prevalent nowadays of ‘I can do anything that I want to do’. Could you elaborate on this?
A – Confucius said ‘when following the directions of the mind, do not transgress what is right’. This ‘following the direction of the mind’ is a state of freedom and ease. But it takes place within the framework of a set of rules. As far as our body is concerned, the degree of turn of the neck determines the field of vision. If you have difficulty in turning your neck, your field of vision will not be free and you will not be able to see what you want to see. Your mind will not be at ease. So if your body can achieve what your mind desires it will be a body in a state of freedom and ease. On the other hand, if your body does not obey the mind it will be difficult to achieve the state of freedom and ease.
Q – Nowadays many people suffer from back ache. Is it difficult for them to achieve the state of bodily freedom and ease?
A – If you wanted to go abroad on holiday today but you could not lift things or raise your legs, your body would be impeding you so much seek a state of freedom and ease, so that we should develop towards a state of freedom and ease within our body and mind and in our relations with others.
Q – Usually we are only aware of the body’s existence when we are ill. We are only aware that our hands exist when they hurt. Can Bagua Daoyin enable us to be aware the body’s existence?
A – Yes. Not only that, we will also be aware of the body to a finer degree. If our movements are coarse, then our mind will also be coarse; if our movements are fine, then our mind will be fine. Bagua Daoyin uses fine movements to train the mind to be fine. This is the first
step to learning ‘the unity of body and mind’.
Q – I understand that you followed your master for twenty-three years and were extremely close to him. Could you tell us something about your master?
A – Traditionally, becoming a disciple of a master was a mutual relationship of deep conviction. This is something that people today have great difficulty in understanding. However in the past it was a way of establishing a very close interpersonal relationship. I had this sort of relationship with my master, and my master with his master. When my master Gong Baozhai was young, he was sickly and was called ‘coffin fodder’ since people did not expect him to live for long. My master’s uncle and my master’s master, Gong Baotian, both worked in the palace, so my master was introduced to Gong Baotian to improve his health. From that time he was in and out of Gong Baotian’s home just like a member of the family. In fact the relationship was closer than with his own family. This continued until he went out to make his own way in the world in his thirties.
Q – So was it the same for you, for the twenty three years that you were in and out of your master’s home?
A – Yes. After I became a disciple my master’s home became the same as my own. I went in and out freely, I ate there, slept there, mopped the floor, washed the dishes, put out the rubbish. This was all natural for the master–disciple relationship.
Q – This is certainly very difficult for people today to understand. Nowadays when you learn a skill, you have fixed hours of study and the relationship ends when studying is finished. If Bagua Quan cannot keep to this method of study, will it become a lost art?
A – This sort of study cannot be standardized and systemized. Unfortunately, to learn the real essence it is necessary to follow this method of living the life, what I call the osmosis style of study. With the evening class type of tuition of nowadays it is very difficult to pass on this sort of spirit. So if the heritage is to be passed on I recognise that we need to return to what I call the ‘life for a life’ form of teaching.
Q – If people nowadays are unable to receive this form of study, will not Bagua Quan slowly disappear?
A – I acknowledge that an art can disappear, but the truth contained within an art cannot disappear. When its time comes the truth will appear in another form. So what is important is not transmitting the art of Bagua Quan but passing on its spirit and attitude to life. If people today do not understand the ‘passing on a life’ way of living many things will fail to be passed on, which will create problems in people’s lives and interpersonal relationships.
Q – This is an attitude towards responsibility in life. But people nowadays have a lot of complicated personal relationships. If they do not want to take on this sort of relationship can they still study Bagua Quan?
A – This sort of study is not a responsibility or a burden, it is a sort of guide to feelings and emotion. How can we study this sort of feeling? We first need to study our feelings towards our own body, to pay attention to it, to put this attention into our own body. This is the way forward.
Q – How can we begin to study to pay attention again to our own body?
A – As far as techniques go, Bagua Daoyin has some methods to guide you. Buddhism has a famous saying about life, ‘during the time for eating – eat, during the time for sleeping – sleep’. Which means that whatever you do, put your whole mind into it.
Q – Is that the same as the Buddhist saying, ‘life is for the present’?
A – Those who practice martial arts are the most likely to live for the present, since their life is on the line. The crisis and response are all in the present. Only if they handle the present well will they have a future.
Q – Although people nowadays have a complicated life and complicated interpersonal relationships, can they still master Bagua Daoyin and study how to ‘live life in the present’?
A – On the first day of studying Bagua Daoyin, we practice putting your mind into the most basic movements. Life nowadays is very complicated but in fact it does not need to be so complicated. Returning your mind to the present is the first step.
Q – You have spent such a long time studying martial arts, and now you have put such a lot of mental effort into this book. Have you not thought about having some repayment in terms of fame and fortune for this effort?
A – If you use your martial arts training to seek fame and fortune the return on your investment will be very low. Just consider, it takes thirty years of training in a skill before you get a return. How stupid can that be? I remember my master used to say ‘everyone wants fame and fortune, but let other people scramble for fame and fortune. True fame and fortune is what others give to you’. However since everyone wants fame and fortune, why would they give it to you? Because the more
people you help, the more people will give you fame and fortune. So we only need to think about how to enable more people to gain benefit and not think about how to gain fame and fortune for ourselves.
Q – Bagua Quan is an ancient martial art. What do you think is its greatest benefit to people of today?
A – I earlier mentioned Bagua Quan’s function of uniting body and mind. This is very important for people today, because society is becoming more and more complex, and changing faster and faster. If people do not know well their own body and mind, they can easily be torn apart by circumstances and will not become integrated people.
Q – What is an integrated person in terms of martial arts attainment?
A – Man only has physical and mental capabilities. So if we can successfully develop and control the abilities of the body and mind, we can be considered to be an integrated person.
Q – How in essence does Bagua Daoyin benefit the body and mind of people today?
A – Bagua Daoyin promotes harmony and balance in the body and mind. If you can attain this state of harmony and balance over the long term, not only will you have a healthy body and mind, you will also have a happy life.
HeJingHan BaguaQuan, Baguazhang Teaching Taipei.
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Bagua Quan Foundation Training