Bagua-a fighting art designed for multiple attackers

wing chun fighters

I recently came across a youtube video by Lyte Burly which piqued my interest.

Lyte Burly is a controversial and (to my view) charismatic practitioner and proponent of the Martial Arts Style called “52 blocks”.

He has been putting out a series of videos which are critical or largely critical of Traditional Chinese Martial Arts. In particular he criticizes the CMA’s for their lack of a “long range game”, as opposed to boxing and “52” (which is largely derived from boxing). Burly claims that Bagua (also known as Baguazhang) is one of these Arts that doesn’t work in real life, however he says that if you have mastered another art, Bagua concepts and techniques can add to your “game”.

Before watching the video, I had heard of Bagua but had never paid much attention to it. Some research revealed that Bagua is a completely Taoist based martial art. It is one of the 3 so-called “internal arts” of Kung Fu. The other internal martial art that we have all seen is Tai Chi (although Tai Chi, originally a true martial art with fighting applications but these have fallen by the wayside). Bagua is a relatively new CMA, dating back to the 19th century, when the founder combined the Taoist circle walking meditation principles and Taoist energy principles to his own (unknown) style of Northern Shaolin to create a completely new and uniue style. At one point in time, all of the Emperor’s guards were required to be Bagua experts. Baguazhang is a fighting art which combines striking techniques with grappling techniques, including throws, takedowns, joint locks, and submissions. The style is based upon circular movements, circles within circles, and spiral movements within the circles.

Interestingly, Baguazhang is the only fighting art I know of which was specifically designed to fight against multiple attackers. Like Tai Chi, there is a primary form, which is variously called the “single palm change” and the unique exercise of “circle walking”. This form and the circle walking exercise are designed, among other things, to train circular evasive footwork, the ability to change directions unpredictably, and the development of the peripheral vision. There is also a mental training component to the form, which is supposed to train the student’s ability to “remain calm in the midst of motion” (interestingly enough one of the sayings of Wing Tsun).

The bagua fighter never stands still, even for a moment which is vital for survival against multiple opponents. The complex circular footwork, based upon circles within circles and spirals within circles, along with constant movement and the ability to change directions quickly and unpredictably, makes it difficult for the attackers in the group to track the bagua fighter. Experts in this art claim that they can strike with power even while in the middle of a step, because the power comes from the Dantien, not from the ground.

Because multiple attacker situations are even more chaotic than one on one fights, the ability to remain calm in the midst of a chaotic multiple attacker confrotation is an absolute necessity for survival. The Bagua fighter trains his peripheral vision as part of the circle walking exercise and never actually looks directly at any one attacker. The style correctly points out that, because of the distribution of rods and cones in the human eye, peripheral vision reacts much quicker to moving objects than does “central” vision (when you are looking directly at an object).

The first video below shows techniques from the Cheng lineage, in which the grappling aspects are emphasized. At least to my eye, these techniques look graceful, fluid, and effective. I especially note the quick precise steps and their timing with strikes, and the instructor’s use of “fa-jing”, or short range shock power. The video also shows how spinning techniques, not used in Wing Chun, can be pulled off using positioning and timing.

The second video is from the movie “The Grandmaster” and is a fight scene between Yip Man and a female BaguaZhang stylist. I think what the actress is doing is very beautiful and at least some of it looks like it might be effective in a real life situation.

The last video shows how Bagua uses their own version of chi sao to train throws. Throws can be effective in real fighting because if you are skilled very few people know how to defend, even more so with the unconventional throws shown here.

Paul Matthews

Comments on this entry are closed.