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Guo Ge Min’s Basic Requirements for Ba Gua Zhang

After decades of practicing Ba Gua Zhang I still find small gems that increase my understanding of the art in books by different Ba Gua Zhang teachers. In this brief discussion of the legendary Guo Gu Min’s Basic requirements for training Ba Gua Zhang, excerpted from Writings on Ba Gua Zhang Skills (八卦掌术集成) by Guo Gu Min (郭古民), there are many helpful details that can benefit both students and instructors.

1. Requirements for the Palm (Fig. 1)

1) Stretch the palm forward with the thumb at the at the height of the nose and the index finger at the level of the eyebrow.

2) The eyes look through Hu Kou (Tiger’s Mouth). The nose is aimed at Hu Kou. (see the first of the 36 Songs):

Leave the chest empty, pull up the crown of the head, and settle down the waist,

Twist the steps, Squeeze the knees, and grasp the ground firmly.

Sink the shoulders, drop the elbows and extend the palm forward,

The eyes look through the Tiger’s Mouth.

3) The palm of the front arm extends outward naturally and the crook of the elbow faces upward. It seems bent, but is not bent. It seems straight, but is not straight. The shoulder is the root of the palm and its Jin promotes the palm. The arm is loose and relaxed (Fang Song)

4) The front palm stretches out in front of the chest with the elbow bent approximately 140°.

5) The elbow of the rear palm protects the heart. The crook of the elbow faces upward, the palm is vertical and the wrist sinks down. The tip of the forefinger stretches toward the right elbow, and should be no more than 2-3 inches away from it. (see the 2nd of the 36 Songs):

Fold the rear elbow to protect the heart,

Turn and settle (sink) the rear hand and extend it forward.

Extend and reach toward the front elbow to create embracing power,

The front and rear hands gather together to unite the spirit.

6) The waist, shoulder and knee drive and support the palm by twisting and turning. Turn backward until the rear palm and rear heel are in a line.

7) The foot strides forward but the step should not be too big. One’s body condition determines the length of the step.

8) When stepping forward the body should not lean or sway. One should use the mud wading step and scissor step, as steady and stable as riding in a sedan chair. (see the 3rd of the 36 Songs):

Extend straight forward and walk with a curved step,

Like pushing a millstone.

Twist the waist, bend the knees, the hips follow,

The eyes watch the three directions and the body does not sway.

2. Palm Shape

From a flat standing palm (Fig. 2), sink (collapse) the palm so that the fingers are vertical and point upward. The tiger’s mouth is round. The palm heart (palm center) faces outward. The middle finger and ring finger are spread apart. The other fingers gather and combine (Fig. 2). The five fingers separate and the palm is vertical. (see the 10th of the 36 Songs):

Hu Kou should be stretched and rounded,

Spread and open the middle and ring fingers.

First poke then strike with the wrist bone.

Relax the shoulders, lengthen the waist and use the follow step to drill forward.

3. The Three Basins

The basins are divided into upper, middle and lower, related to the height of the center of gravity and the level to which the legs bend.

1) Upper Basin

The legs are in a configuration like walking and are slightly bent (Fig. 4).

2) Middle Basin

The middle basin and upper basin should be clearly differentiated. With regard to training, the middle basin (Fig. 4) is the foundational training method. This is explained in the verses on the training methods as follows: When walking the circle, begin with the middle basin. Step by step one can sink to the lower basin. The 8th of the 36 Songs explains the importance of the middle basin, in rising, falling, and advancing and retreating steps:

In walking do not sway the body,

All depends on exchanging firmly from the knees down.

In the lower basin kua and knees are level,

In the middle basin one should also sink the legs and waist.

 

3) Lower Basin

The lower basin verses say: in the bottom basin the knee and shoulder are level. This is the standard criterion for training the lower basin. Relative to the middle basin the steps are larger (Fig. 6).

4. Stepping Requirements

1) Kou Bu (Hook Step & Bai Bu (Swing Step)

Kou Bu (Hook Step)

Kou Bu (Hook Step) is used to turn around (change direction) quickly. Kou Bu must be small. In kou bu, the rear foot passes the front foot it turns inward to face the other direction. The tip of the toe turns 90° to the other foot, or it passes the 90° angle to turn more (Fig.7). The gap between the feet is about 4-5 inches (10-15 cm).

Bai Bu (Swing Step)

In Bai Bu, the step drives the whole body to turn around in a unified fashion. Bai Bu requires that you first lift the foot before striding forward. As you step, the tip of the foot opens outward. The size of the step is dependent on the body size, but if it is stable it can be large. In short the step must be agile and precise (Fig.8).

2) Requirements for Waking Forward (on the Circle)

When walking in a circle the feet press and advance with curved steps. The training method is mentioned in the 3rd of the 36 Songs:

Extend straight forward and walk with a curved step,

Like pushing a millstone.

Twist the waist, bend the knees, the hips follow,

The eyes watch the three directions and the body does not sway.

The inside foot (the foot closest to the center of the circle) walks straight ahead (Fig. 9). Take care not to violate this rule. The inside foot should not curve towards the center of the circle. (Fig.10). In order to turn around the circle, the outside foot hooks as it lands. The shape of the feet is a little like the character “eight” – 八( Fig. 11).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3) Lifting the Foot

When walking the circle the foot must lift so that it is level and even. Don’t show the sole of the foot. In training Ba Gua Zhang, this stepping method is different from ordinary walking. The two feet must be level and even when the steps rise and fall. The main point is to not show the sole of the foot. In order to attain the ability to have the steps rise and fall levelly and evenly, first lift the big toe in order for the other toes to lift upward. This makes it easy to avoid lifting the rear heel first. In Ba gua zhang, one should not lift the rear heel as in Fig. 12).

In both lifting and setting down the foot, one should not show the heel. When the foot lifts and as it advances and moves forward, the five toes go toward the arch and as the foot lands they grasp the ground. It is like they sink into the earth one will not violate the rule and show the sole as in Fig 13.

5. Turning Encircling Hand

In Ba Gua Zhang training there is a common saying: learning the turning encircling hand is difficult even for a celestial immortal. This saying illustrates the importance of the turning palms. The arm rotates inward and the arm rotates outward, hence the name 转环手Zhuan Huan Shou. For example, the right palm extends and opens with the thumb upward (Fig. 14).

1) Arm Rotates Inward: The thumb, forearm and upper arm turn inward (leftward). This is called Inward Rotating Arm (Fig. 15).

2) Arm Rotates Outward: The thumb, forearm and upper arm turn outward (rightward). This is called Outward Rotating Arm (Fig. 16).

Note: 转环手 Zhuan Huan Shou: Turning (Rotating) Ring (Encircling) Hand. The primitive meaning of Huan (环) is of a jade bracelet, but it can also mean to circle and return.