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Detailed Analysis of Guo Gu Min’s Ba Gua Ding Shi Form by IAI Instructor Keith Norris

       Keith Norris (Rhode Island)

I asked for a homework assignment and was given the task to review Guo Gu Min’s Ding Shi form, practice it, ponder it, and come back with my observations to discuss with Tom Bisio and to publish on the IAI website.

My responsibility in the NYIA/IAI organization is two-fold:

  • As a practitioner, to continually practice/ponder the internal arts and use every practice session as a learning opportunity to grow deeper in these arts.
  • As an instructor, to help existing practitioners and new students understand and preserve the internal arts through proper practice, correct feeling, and direct interaction.

So often in the practice of internal martial arts, it is difficult to put into words the feeling of movement and the practice of these forms. To quantify these feelings, I have to put into words a representation of internal/external actions outside of the body to convey an idea of what it feels like on the inside of the body and how that translates to the outside of the body.

I would also like to clearly state that none of the ideas represented below were my own “revelations”. I have the opportunity to learn the opportunity to learn  from many different great individuals with the ability to convey ideas in a practical sense. I have had the luxury to attend many seminars and practice sessions, ask many questions, review videos, then practice and ponder what I have learned over along period of time.

This article is a result of my observations while practicing the Ding Shi form from Guo Gu Min for a limited time.

In practicing any internal martial arts form, we must begin with the “Initial Principals” to arrange the structure, breath, and mind intent before we start the first movement of the form.

Guo Gu Men’s Ding Shi form is no exception. We must start with the initial principals.

  Initial Principals

  • Aligning the structure while standing in a “Wu Ji” posture
    Tom Bisio and Keith Norris with the Mandarin Duck Knives
    1. The spine opens upward and downward
      1. String at the top of the head
      2. Sit the seat (slightly tuck the pelvis) like sitting at the edge of a stool
    2. Arc the back/sink the chest
      1. Shoulder blades sink and spread outward naturally.
      2. Create space in the arm pits
    3. The Huiyin lifts naturally and automatically when enabling the concept of “string at the top of the head”.
    4. Tongue touches the roof of the mouth to complete the “Mag Pie Bridge” and allow the microcosmic circulation in the Ren Mai and Du Mai vessels to flow.
  • Kidney breathing
    1. Spend some initial time priming the pump for the microcosmic circulation
    2. Coordinate the Open/Close of the Mingmen (Life Gate) in all directions
    3. Make the breath silent, long, smooth, relaxed, natural, and continuous.
  • Calming/Focusing the mind or intention for the task at hand
    1. Be in the present moment
    2. Feel everything around you in the present moment
    3. Give in to the fact that you are in the present moment and nothing else matters (past experiences, future worries).
  • Mud Stepping
    1. The Kou Bu step forms the outer cylinder and the ability of the inner cylinder to move inward which creates a closing/compressing within the whole body.
    2. The Bai Bu step allows the swing and release of the inner cylinder to move outward within the track of the outer cylinder and creates an opening/expansion within the whole body.
    3. Both the Kou Bu and Bai Bu Steps are coordinated with the movement of the Yao. The movement of the Yao creates the movement of the step.
  • Holding the posture in “net-neutrality” while walking the circle
    1. Energetic net-neutrality is balanced expansive/compressive force within the posture in all directions.
    2. This leads to the ability to relax in the postures
    3. This also leads to exploration, feeling, and ultimately understanding of your maximum spiraling potential in the horizontal and vertical planes of your body while maintaining structure, breath, and mind intent.

Summary statement for Gou Gu Min’s Ding Shi form:

If I could state one sentence that sums up the feeling of the transitions in this form, it would be the following:

“The Yao must drive the coordination of upper and lower movements in the changes of the Ding Shi form.”

Four Concepts for the Ding Shi form

There are four concepts that are highly emphasized in this form as well as all other internal martial arts forms and practice routines.

1. Using the Yao

The Yao is the steering wheel to drive the movement in all the changes in the form. The Yao is an area containing the curved horizontal area of the lower back. This contains the entire moveable surface area of the Mingmen (between L2 and L3 on the lower lumbar spine) and radiates outward side to side as well as up and down like the bottom arc section of a steering wheel. This steering wheel allows you to turn the entire torso as one unit horizontally between the body Kua’s.

2. Using the breath/intention to pressurize the waist and torso

Use the breath and mind intent to fill up (pressurize) the waist and torso.

3. Closing/Opening the Body Kua’s

Opening and closing the Kua creates the ability to wind up/unwind the internal spring in the body and in combination with the Yao moving horizontally, produces vertical spirals in the upper and lower body.

4. Vertical spiraling through the upper and lower body

Vertical spiraling through the upper body is a translation of directed spiraling energy that starts at the Mingmen, travels upward through the back and ribs, to the top of the head, across the shoulder blades, and through the shoulder, elbow, wrist, and finger joints. This energy is felt in Ji Ben Gong in the pierce palm exercise when you overturn the pierce palm from palm up to palm down and back to palm down before retracting the arm.

Vertical spiraling through the lower body is a translation of directed spiraling energy that starts at the Mingmen, travels downward through the back lumbar vertebrae, sacrum, coccyx tip, hips, knees, ankles, and toe joints.

The Vertical spiraling in both the upper and lower body happens simultaneously and evenly.

These concepts were presented to me over various stages of my martial arts experiences. This form really emphasized the need to embody the above principals, otherwise you were off-balance, un-coordinated, and scattered.

Here are some comments on applying the four concepts as discussed above.

Using the Yao

Right out of the gate, with the “Preparatory Form” and the first change with “Downward Sinking Palm”, if you were not using the Yao to drive the movement, you were off-balance in the coordination of the spiraling energy translated into the upper arms and lower stepping in the body. This principal was required for all the other changes as well.

Tom has stated this fact same fact multiple times in every single one of our seminars and practice sessions. He would have us place our hand on his Mingmen as a walked the circle to feel the movement. I can hear him saying this in my memory because he said it so often. I am thankful for these experiences.

Steering the body horizontally with the Yao is coordinated with all of the other principals including initial principals, pressurizing the ball/cylinder, closing/opening of the body Kua’s, and the directed spiral release in both the upper and lower parts of the body. They all work together to form one continuous movement within the body for each change.

To coordinate all these movements, you must begin with feeling, moving, then controlling the movement of the Yao. The key word is feeling, because when you can feel something, then you can move it. If you can move it, then over time you can begin to control it. When you can control it, then you can coordinate with the compressions/expansions and spiraled releases into the upper and lower portions of the body.

In summary, spend a lot of time with moving the Yao to understand the function and practice moving it as well as coordinating it with all the other movements over time. After sufficient practice, it will become part of your normal day to day movements and so you will not have to consciously regulate it. This is easier said than done, so in the immortal words of Sun Lutang, when asked by his disciples what the secret was to the Chinese Internal Arts, he stated on his dying bed, “There is only practice”. Pay attention to these words if you want to succeed.

Using the Breath/Intention to Pressurize the Waist and Torso

The Mingmen surface area can expand in all directions including up, down, left, right, in, out. This is creating a surface area section of a sphere. When I use Kidney breathing, my Mingmen is expanding in all directions on the inhale, it is producing an effect of creating a pressurized ball in the pelvic cradle. This would be traditionally called expanding/contracting the Dantian. This pressure feels like it can also translate vertically through the torso, feeling like a pressurized cylinder.

Closing/Opening the Body Kua’s

Closing/Opening of the body Kua is started by moving the torso horizontally with the Yao. In walking the circle, this opening and closing is accomplished also with the Kou-Bu and Bai-Bu steps when mud stepping. The body Kua is the inguinal fold in the hip and coordinates up the torso to the crease/fold in the shoulder. The body kua feels like an elastic pocket that your entire torso can wind into like a spring (close/compress) and then unwind (open/expand) into a directed spiral movement within the horizontal and vertical planes within the body. I emphasize “directed” spiral movement because you can choose and control (through mind intent) the direction, speed, and power of the opening/expansion. When you use the breath to pressurize the internal ball/cylinder and then move into the body Kua (elastic pocket), you are creating a buildup of potential energy that can be directed kinetically through the body in any direction. This energy is like a wave that can translate through both the upper and lower sections of the body.

In the first change of Gou Gu Men’s Ding Shi form, while holding the Downward Pressing palm (walking counter -clockwise), we Kou-Bu with the right foot and face the center of the circle. The Yao keeps turning Clockwise causing the torso to fold into the right body Kua and in coordination with the arms moving to the top of the vertical circle. The left leg/foot feel like they are moving and compressing inward inside the right kau. As the left foot then opens/expands into Bai Bu, the continuation of the vertical arm movement from top to bottom occurs simultaneously. The foot has not set down yet, which then sets the stage for rolling the pencil under the foot and the next vertical circle with the arms.

Vertical Spiraling in the Upper Body

This energy is understood and easily felt in the Ji Ben Gong “Pierce Palm Exercise”. When we complete the pierce palm exercise in the horse-riding stance, we steer the Yao horizontally between the left and right kau. There is a point which we cannot continue the horizontal movement anymore and the pierce palm has twisted with the palm up. To continue the overturn of the pierce palm from palm up to palm down requires that we continue the movement which transfers vertically through opening the ribs, spine, upper back, neck, shoulders, and arms. The pierce palm overturning with palm down happens for a temporary moment, then settles back to palm up. We then move the Yao horizontally in the opposite direction to retract the pierce palm and setup the next movement.



Vertical Spiraling in the Lower Body

This energy is understood and easily felt in the Ji Ben Gong “Spring Toe Kick”, “Forward/Backward Stomps”, and “Filing Kick”. Each Kou-Bu or Bai-Bu step can turn into any of the kicks when the vertical spiraling energy settles downward with intention and power.

When mud stepping on the circle, we also use this directed spiraling energy that starts at the Mingmen, travels downward through the back lumbar vertebrae, sacrum, coccyx tip, hips, knees, ankles, and toe joints. This vertical spiraling/opening downward creates a slightly extended mud step. I am naming this mud step extension “Rolling the pencil under the foot”.

Rolling the pencil within the Gou Gu Men Ding Shi Downward Sinking Palm change starts the movement of the opposite vertical arm swing. This movement and the stepping up to beside the next foot are coordinated with the vertical arm swing from bottom to top. The continuation of the step through is coordinated with the vertical arm swing from top to bottom and settling into Downward Sinking Palm.

The Rolling of the Pencil under the foot also occurs in coordination when you use the Yao to turn to the center of the circle in the Downward Sinking Palm and start walking in the other direction.

Four Forces in the Ding Shi Form

The initial principals and four concepts discussed above also lead into the proper execution and feeling of the four forces (twisting, drilling, wrapping, overturning) that characterize spiraling within the body. Each of Gou Gu Min’s Ding Shi transitions also has these four forces and the feeling that the transitions are like a variation of the single palm change.

Beginning with the End in Mind

I am an Engineer and I like to take things apart, see how they work, and understand how each individual piece makes up the whole. The principal items that I just discussed above are taking individual pieces apart and looking at them individually. There is still an “end result” that we must strive for.

The “end result” is the merging of the above stated principals into a stable, structured, and continuous flowing stream of movement that does not stop. There are compressions, expansions, and spiraling that merge into each other while walking on the circle. It is like following a string of pearls in an endless loop or surfing an infinite wave. Your structure, breath, and mind intention must be active in the present moment to make this a reality. Keep practicing!