The Thirty-Six Songs, discuss and clearly explain how to properly train Shen Fa, footwork (Bu Fa), movement and rotation, and the pathways of Qi and walking circle, pathways of Jin and the connection with techniques. This can guide students and give them greater access to the mysteries of Ba Gua Zhang.
Guo Gu Min’s disciples say that the “The Forty- Eight Methods detail the secrets of the hand methods so that future generations can fully understand the keys to application. If students and teachers can learn from each other by exchanging the viewpoints and ponder over the techniques, their abilities will reach a higher level. The Forty-Eight Methods must not be neglected by martial arts students. The principles and mechanisms of the palm can be mastered through comprehensive study. The Forty-Eight Methods are rare and profound keys to thoroughly understand this art.”
Many years ago, my friend Huang Guo Qi and I translated the 48 Methods of Ba Gua Zhang. While our translation was adequate, I felt it could be improved upon. I consulted five other translations and the commentary on the 48 Methods by Guo Gu Min’s disciples (included below) in creating this new, and I hope much better, translation of the 48 Methods.
1. Body Method (Shen Fa 身法)
Hand and foot methods must follow each other,
Power will surely be weak if the hand reaches, and then the foot lands.
Even if the hand and foot arrive together, if the Yao lacks power,
Going out will be slow and late and it is difficult to withdraw.
This verse discusses the requirements for the body method in fighting against an opponent. The “hand method and foot methods must follow each other” refers to the cooperative combination of hand, eye, body method and step. When hand and foot arrive, the body also arrives. If the hand arrives and the step does not arrive it is not possible to actualize whole-body power; power will dispersed and weak when striking. Additionally, the movement of the hand and the foot depend on the power of the waist. Therefore, the hands and feet are said to be controlled by the Yao. If Yao power is not applied, the attack will be slow and too late, without speed and power, and will be difficult to withdraw the hand and arm. The body method occupies the first position of importance in attacking and defending skill.
手法步法要相随，Shou Fa Bu Fa Yao Xiang Sui,
手到步落力必微。Shou Dao Bu Luo Li Bi Wei.
手脚俱到腰欠力，Shou Jiao Ju DaoYao Qian Li,
去时迟慢难抽回。Qu Shi Chi Man Nan Chou Hui.
2. Observation Method (Xiang Fa 相法)
When encountering a group of enemies first observe the situation,
It is natural to retreat before advancing.
Step backward to examine the situation and the changes and transformations,
Wait leisurely for the enemy to exhaust himself and lead him effortlessly.
In confronting a group of enemies it is necessary to use careful observation to figure out the enemy’s weak point. In attacking it is necessary to be able to advance and retreat naturally. By retreating before advancing and by inspecting the situation, it is possible to know yourself and know the enemy, and you are able to lead the enemy to miss their attacks. You are able to beat the opponent by smart force.
With regard to the opponent’s attacking, regardless of the number of opponents, one must first observe the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses in order to understand the actual situation. One must understand how to retreat before advancing, not because one fears the opponent’s power, but because retreating allows leeway to examine the opponent’s posture and movement and creates possibilities for change and transformation. In this way I gain a surplus, while the opponent is deficient immediately after his attack. At this moment I can control him, because he is deficient relative to my surplus. This is called “cleverly moving a thousand kilos with four ounces” or “accomplishing a great task with little effort by clever maneuvers”.
3. Foot Method (Bu Fa 步法)
Before moving the tip, first move the root,
Fast hands are not as good as the half-step.
With only a half-step enter, exit advance and retreat,
To control the hand, evade attacks, with a calm spirit.
The stepping method is very important in Ba Gua. In striking a person or releasing power use the root section, that is the stamping power of the foot should be transmitted to the waist and then to the tip section. The step method in attacking technique relies upon the rear foot, which drives the front foot forward. This footstep should be used in either advancing or retreating. After this step is practiced perfectly, it is possible to use it naturally and freely.
When moving the tip you must first move the root. However roots and tips are not fixed. When the hand is the tip the shoulder is the root. When the hand-tip goes outward, the foot is the root. Fast hands are not as good as following with a half-step, which has victorious power. If you desire to control the opponent’s hands and avoid his attacks you must use the power of the half-step. If this important method is neglected it is like seeking something that is far away (unattainable).
4. Walking Method (Mai Fa 迈法)
Gong Fu derives from curved steps,
Changes in the two hands follow from the steps.
Lifting upward, pulling downward, covering transversely and evading,
Pushing, upholding, carrying and leading don’t leave the chest.
In the attacking and defending techniques, not only are there advancing and retreating steps, it is also necessary to attack the opponent with the curved step in accordance with the opponent’s standing position. Curving the step is also the basic step method in the circle walking of Ba Gua. The hand and foot should necessarily arrive at the same time and follow each other. It is necessary to change according to the situation in fighting. In fighting it is necessary to make changes accordingly and to do whatever you want freely. The positions of the movements and the movements of attacking, defending and retreating should not be too much. The hand methods should not stay too far away from the body.
The Gong Fu of Turning Palms palm rotation comes from walking the circle with curved steps. After developing power through extensive training, the hands will naturally develop the ability to change and transform. In every case, the changes derive their power and force from walking the circle. The techniques and Jin of the two hands depend on changes in the steps, and following the opening and closing of the steps. Techniques and power (Jin) are like water flowing in a channel, going from high to low, lifting upward, pulling downward and dodging sideways, with pushing, upholding, carrying and leading power. The application method lies in a unified Heart-Mind.
5. Linking Step Method (Lian Bu Fa 连步法)
It takes time and effort to learn to link the steps.
This enables the hands to be simple and natural.
When extending the hand, turn body, and the hand becomes insubstantial,
This opportunity is appropriate for those with Jiang Hu skills.
When using the Ba Gua martial skills, the step must be active, and should not be limited to certain rules. The hand should come out simply and effectively, with the real purpose hidden within false purpose, which can mislead the enemy so that he cannot understand what you are going to do. For example, when the enemy attacks, I just turn and walk away to induce the enemy to miss his strike. Then when he is not ready, I take advantage and turn backward to strike him. This is also the means of older skillful masters. In the 64 Forms this method can be seen in “departing horse turns back” and “body escaping and shadow changing.”
Translators Note: Jiang Hu (江湖) refers to the bandits of the rivers and lakes (from the classic: Outlaws of the Marsh), who were wandering martial artists with high levels of ability including the ability to use deception and unexpected stratagems against the more conventional tactics of the officials and their soldiers.
6. Step Gathering Method (Dun Bu Fa 囤步法)
When gathering steps the feet cannot be on the same line,
Front foot empty and rear foot substantial must be distinct.
If standing together you can fall forward or backward,
Moreover the Yao will be short and lack agility.
Storing means to pause the step. In attacking techniques, it is necessary to shift between true and false. In pausing for a moment, the two feet should not stand on the same line. One foot must be in front and one in the rear. Movement should be contained in stillness. Advance and retreat with continuous intention even if the power breaks, and do not double-weight. Otherwise you will be deficient in Yao Jin (Waist Power).
In Ba Gua Zhang walking and rotating, without fixed postures is of primary importance. However during an encounter, the changes and transformations of walking there is a momentary instantaneous pause – this is called a pause step. But in the changes of circle walking, there would be pause, just an instant pause, termed pause step. At this moment one foot must be in front and the other behind. The front leg is empty and the rear foot is substantial. Then the one can advance and retreat quickly and nimbly. If the two legs are even on the same line with no difference between front and back positions, the result is that one will fall forward or lean backward. This is not suitable. Moreover if there is not clear distinction between the empty and substantial legs, the Yao will not be nimble and lively, and power will be lacking.
7. Hand Method (Shou Fa 手法)
Leaning leads to double-weighting and stagnation,
Hard outside, soft inside like the posture of holding a spear.
Pushing transversely and hooking inward are controlled by the body,
Merely suck with the hand and follow with the Yao and abdomen.
One must avoid double-weighting in the hand and foot methods when applying techniques. One must be empty and one must be substantial. Only through clear distinction between the empty (false) and substantial (true), can one have the ability to adapt to the changes and transformations. One must also be firm externally and supple internally, which means interplay and mutual assistance between firm and supple. When the opponent comes with a crossing hand, I just push it; when the opponent attacks inward, I hook it, in order to change the direction of the opponent’s power. Then I can be stable and suck (absorb) with the hand by drawing in the chest together with the waist and abdomen in order to defeat the opponent.
In the methods of Ba Gua Zhang, one must avoid double weighting or inclining to one side. If double-weighted, the opponent can control you. If double-weighted, or weighted equally, it is not easy to move and turn, resulting in sluggish movements. Although one must be firm on the outside, one must also be to be supple and soft internally. This is like rotating a spear tip to follow the opponent. When encountering a crossing move, one must push it. When meeting the opponent coming inside, hook to change the direction of the incoming force causing him to shift his center of gravity so that he falls into emptiness. Using the body in this way is an excellent method of getting the upper hand. In this method, one subtly employs the “sucking hand” and the Yao and abdomen follow along with it.
8. Power Method (Li Fa 力法)
People talk about cold, elastic, rapid hard, and crisp power,
I say cold and elastic are the same.
There is no distinction between crisp and hard,
Releasing power completely depends on the unity of heart-mind and force.
Sudden, spring, crisp, fast and hard refer to the five kinds of power in Ba Gua Zhang, particularly in Yin style Ba Gua. Spring Power is composed of sudden and fast power. Crisp Power does not mean “not hard,” and Hard Power does not mean “not crisp.” In Ba Gua Zhang, attacking and defending techniques, intention and image must unite when releasing power (Fa Li). Movement must be fast and power integrated. It is also necessary to distinguish the three sections – the changes and usage of the root, middle and tip.
In Ba Gua Zhang when using power (Li) we must speak of five kinds of power. Cold Power and Quick-Sharp Power mutually combine to create an elastic force. On the surface, Crisp and Hard are not alike, but it is difficult to differentiate Hard and Crisp. Crisp is not Hard, but it is also difficult to differentiate it from Hard. In general, the releasing primal force is completely dependent on accumulating and storing the power of the Heart-Mind.
9. Power Storing Method (Cun Li Fa 存力法 )
If one only knows how to use power, but not how to reserve it,
Then power goes out just like an arrow leaving the bowstring.
This in not only ineffective but also harmful,
At best you will lose, at worst you will be injured.
In releasing power one must understand how to reserve some power, in order not to release power completely, all at once. Once power is released all at once, it is like an arrow leaving the bowstring; it is not possible to take it back. If power is released this way, will be impossible to defeat the enemy; instead you will be conquered by the enemy. Those who lose a little [power] will lose the opportunity; those who lose a lot of power will lose their balance. Power should not all be released at once. It is necessary to always reserve some power. Releasing every bit of power like shooting an arrow that doesn’t return is very risky. When the opponent punches, I use his inertia so that he misses his strike and loses his balance. Simultaneously, I must make sure that my punch cannot be countered. Those who release all their power at once do not understand whole body power, and do not understand the principle of empty and the substantial force.
Once the strength is released, it is able to move objects. When the moving object desires to stop, this also requires power. If there is only the ability to release power, without the ability to retain and accumulate power, success will be impossible. If power goes through, like an arrow flying away from the string, without retaining an ability to also accumulate, it is not only useless, but also bound to fail. It can lead to injury and make defense difficult.
10. Power Continuing Method (Xu Li Fa 续力法)
When power lands, the opponent’s root has already been broken,
If power continuous it is difficult for him to escape.
At this moment just dash forward,
Lengthening both shoulder and Yao in unison.
In combat, if I can draw the opponent’s strength, he loses his balance and is uprooted. At this if I can the advantage and chase him, he will retreat allowing me to advance quickly. If the opponent bends forward, I just retreat with a half step and continue attacking with the rest of my force. Simultaneously, relax the shoulder and lengthen the Yao to add power to the attack.
When the opponent applies force, we draw and absorb his attack lured leading him off-balance so that his root is broken. At this moment if I continue to apply power it will be difficult for the opponent to resist. How can I extend my power? Do not use wrist strength. Instead dash forward while simultaneously extending the Yao and lengthening the shoulder. How can the opponent resist?
11. People Conquering Method (Jiang Ren Fa 降人法)
Do not boast of beating slow with quick,
Strong defeating weak is not special.
The best is to have superior technique,
Carefully observe, maintain a stable center, and [power] is not issued in vain.
To beat slow with quick, or defeat the weak with the strong is not real skill. Good skill can only be obtained by painstaking practice and the instruction of knowledgeable teachers. So if you train harder than others, you will achieve the bility to defeat opponents. Then it is possible to be calm and do what you want in attacking the enemy; advancing and retreating, retreating and advancing will not miss.
To beat the slow with quickness and subdue the weak is a simply a natural phenomenon between people and objects. It sounds similar to clever skill defeating awkward dullness, but they are not the same. Clever skill is not related to the quick and the slow, nor is it related to the strong and the weak; it has its own exquisite aspect. Clever skill is more effective than clumsy awkwardness and turns the strong into the weak. The superior method does not rely on being strong or weak, instead relies on careful observation and maintaining stable and accurate power, ensuring that power is not released in vain.
12. Victory Ensuring Method (Jue Sheng Fa 决胜法)
When his power is heavy as a thousand pounds and quick as a weaver’s shuttle,
Quickly evade by follow his strength.
Even if thousands of opponents, only three or five can get close to me,
It is not difficult to defend, just extend the hand and foot slightly.
In fighting with the enemy, no mater how powerful and skillful he is, I just stay calm and observe his techniques and tricks. I must be quick and nimble in my footwork. Even if there are thousand enemies around me, only a few of them can get close to me. Then I just extend my hand or foot slightly to release power against them, and I can be confident in emerging victorious.
Commentary 2: Although the strength of the enemy is strong and fast, I am not afraid. When the opponent comes with strength and power, I just follow his strength and dissolve it, so that his force is useless. If the opponent comes as quickly as lightning, do not panic, and control him by displacing and transforming his force. This method elucidates how to conquer the enemy. If there are many opponents all around you, carefully observe the situation and find the weakest opponent. Although other opponents gather in front, ignore them for a moment and simply extend the hand or foot to deal with the weak opponent.