While Ba Gua Zhang is an effective martial art system, its benefits extend far beyond fighting and self-defense. It is also well regarded as method of self-cultivation, meditation, health and longevity practice. While my initial interest in martial arts came from a strong desire to learn self-defense, I soon realized that I was looking for something beyond just fighting techniques. I was drawn to the Chinese martial arts, in particular Ba Gua, because the philosophy and practice methods have the ability to create an inner transformation. I was interested in exploring how to apply the principles of this martial art beyond the “training hall” and into the realm of daily life.
Through regular training, I believe that Ba Gua has a calming affect on the nervous system, which allows the practitioner to feel more relaxed, centered and calm in daily life. This is accomplished through following the principles of deep diaphragmatic breathing, or kidney breathing, proper body alignment, and mind intent, while the body is engaged in movement. This trains the nervous system to remain calm and relaxed, in both stillness and movement. Also, the twisting, coiling, and spiraling movements opens up the meridians and facial network throughout the body, freeing up any restrictions, and enhances the ability to move with greater ease and fluidity. I’m sure everyone has experienced that when the body is free of pain and movement restrictions, the mind can think more clearly and respond more rationally to situations.
Herbert Benson coined the term “relaxation response”, in which the autonomic nervous system comes back to neutral and there is a calming affect in the mind and body. Practicing Ba Gua Zhang creates a relaxation response and establishes a powerful mind-body unity that is at the core of internal arts practices. Ba Gua’s cornerstone practice of circle walking, or Ding Shi, is an excellent way to facilitate the harmony of mind and body. One unique quality of this practice method is that while the body is in motion, the mind remains still. In other words, the mind is focused, calm, and aware. Often times, a practitioner will walk around a pole or tree and put their gaze on an external focal point, which can help bring the mind to even greater stillness. After practicing Ding Shi for an extended period of time, there is a feeling of tranquility, inner harmony, and a greater ability to interact with the outside world with greater clarity.
As a martial art, Ba Gua relies on learning principles, body shapes, and patterns of movement, and embodying them through continuous training and practice methods. Partner drills that develop sensitivity, body awareness, and timing are practiced that teach and refine these principles. While specific applications and techniques are taught, the focus is on understanding the principles behind the technique, and being able to apply them in different situations. As a result, an intuitive awareness and flexibility of thought processes are developed, and the mind-body connection is enhanced. Rather than memorizing techniques for specific situations, the goal is to have the ability to adapt to the energy that your opponent, or partner is giving you, and respond spontaneously in the moment. By developing sensitivity and awareness, we have a greater ability to be in tune with ourselves and the world around us.
Ba Gua is also a comprehensive form of meditation with practice methods that involve standing, walking, and dynamically moving the body. The benefits of meditation have been widely known and researched extensively around the world. Having the awareness to focus on your breath, center yourself, and calm your mind and body allows us to adapt to changing circumstances much more easily. In many ways, this is no different than staying calm and relaxed while practicing your forms, sparring, or realistic self-defense situations. Instead of letting the body tense up and the mind freeze under pressure, your regular training enables you to stay fully connected to the present moment.
By embodying the philosophy and practice methods of Ba Gua Zhang, we can adapt to change more smoothly and with less resistance. Ba Gua teaches the practitioner to sense and change direction, to work with instead of against whatever comes our way. When challenging situations arise, I now look at them as an opportunity to practice the principles of Ba Gua, and do my best to adapt and change with whatever circumstances or obstacles come my way.
Eric Deutsch in an IAI Foundational Ba Gua Zhang Instructor in Southern California. Find his contact information on the IAI Instructor Page HERE.