Sunday, October 26, 2008

Review: Liu Bin's Zhuang Gong Bagua Zhang

There is something about Bagua...
Even though I have dabbled with Bagua Zhang (Eight Trigram Palm) since I started Tai Chi Chuan in 1996, I am still a beginner at this art. It's methods are diverse and it's styles are many. At one moment it appears to be like Aikido, at another it can resemble other styles of Chinese boxing. It's hallmark is the twisting, coiling and nearly constant circular movement. I have to say, I am fascinated by Bagua and have never had any other art provide such an energetic release from such seemingly calm yet kinetic movements.
Zhang Jie is a practitioner of Chinese Martial and Healing Arts in Seattle, and has written his first book in a series on Bagua. As I have said above, there are many styles of Bagua but nearly all Bagua lineage goes back to the legendary Dong Hai Chuan, teacher of Cheng Ting Hua. Cheng Ting Hua was a renound wrestler, and many techniques of what is now recognized as "Cheng Style" reflect the grappling and throwing methods of Chinese wrestling.
Zhang Jie's new book, "Liu Bin's Zhuang Gong Bagua Zhang" presents yet another sub-set of the Cheng style. As Zhang describes, Beijing's South District Cheng Bagua was split into two schools. One was called "Flowing Water Bagua" or "Liu Shui" Bagua. The second was "Zhuang Gong" or "Strong (tree) Root" Bagua. It is the Strong Root, Zhuang Gong system that the author details in this book.
Zhang Jie gives a good overview of the history of Bagua, followed by his personal journey - which includes his description of the harshness of the Cultural Revolution. Zhang does a good job of explaining the philosophy of Bagua as it relates to the I Ching, Chinese culture and the various elements and animal systems. Zhang answers some of the questions on why Bagua creates such an awakening within the body; not only are the external parts of the body (bones muscles and tendons) strengthened, but the coiling and twisting movements massage the internal organs, including the sex organs. Zhang explains how this stimulates the hormonal and lymphatic systems, leading to improved health. Zhang further details how acupressure points and meridians are activated within the movements, and provides a series of Chi Gong postures that prepare the body for the more complex palm changes.
Another thing Zhang answered for me is the relation of Yin and Yang to both the direction being walked in the circle, as well as which foot is yin/yang and the transition of this dialectic through the palm change.
As with many martial arts books, photos at times can not do justice to complex movements. Bagua Zhang contains internal movement, circles within circles, and multiple direction changes. The material in Zhang's book should be seen as an addendum to a practitioner's basic knowledge of Bagua movement, but a beginning student could pick up quite a lot also. It would really be nice if authors would market a package deal, with both book and video DVD of movement, technique and concepts.
Zhang Jie presents the foundation of his Bagua system in this first book, with a second book in the works. I look foward to that second book, and am pleased to see that Zhang Jie teaches in the Seattle area where I may be able to meet and train with him. His book is both a good introduction to Bagua as well as a source that answered some of the very complex questions I had about details of the system.
You can find out more at the website for Blue Snake Books, a publisher of many titles and martial styles, available at THIS LINK. The direct link to find "Liu Bin's Zhuang Gong Bagua Zhang" can be found HERE.

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