Baguazhang and Boxing
And so to the final part of this part of my project – looking at 5 hard and 5 soft Martial Arts. I deliberately saved boxing until last as it is quite controversial in its inclusion and also Baguazhang as I really struggled to find a fifth soft art to look at. Many that I initially researched were ultimately labelled “hard/soft” and, to be honest, I think most Martial Arts (dare I venture, all) would come into this category on a sliding scale. I really wanted to do Wing Chun but this definitely sat on the fence and so I landed on Baguazhang. As a report I found this entry (on Baguazhang) the hardest – partly because there are many variations or it practised, some of which don’t fit into my labels as nicely as others and also because I genuinely found the research confusing. It is, therefore, a mere scratch on the surface of what is a very complex and deep Martial Art and if it whets your appetite I would encourage you to study it further yourself – I really cannot do it justice here and am no way proficient enough to begin to fully understand it.
SOFT MARTIAL ART 5 – BAGUAZHANG
WHAT IS BAGUAZHANG?
Baguazhang is one of the three main Chinese Martial Arts (the other two are Tajiquan and Xingyiquan). Historically it can be traced back to its accepted founder Dong Hainchun, back in the early 19th Century. He trained other students who were already students of other fighting systems and he sought to add to and deepened their existing knowledge with his school of fighting. Hainchun had learned from Taosit and Buddhist teachers and it is here that the roots lie.
Baguazhang literally means “eight trigram palm” – referring to the trigrams of the Yijing (I Ching), one of the canons of Taoism, to explain the relationship of all natural phenomena, and Baguazhang seeks to be the physical manifestation of the properties. There are differing layouts of the eight trigrams – older and newer but each shows how the elements are linked and also their representation of yin and yang. This is a topic to be researched all on its own but if you are interested this site explains it more – http://www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/Chinese_Customs/bagua.htm
Nowadays there are many different schools of Baguazhang, as students of Dong Hainchuan took their own practises and formed new schools. The main similarities are their use of the palm techniques and the distinctive circle walking technique. Most styles use strikes with the hand (especially with the palm), fist, elbow etc as well as thrown and locks, but with an emphasis on a flowing style and spiralling practises, and body evasion. Baguazhang, as a martial art, is based on the theory of continuously changing in response to the situation at hand in order to overcome an opponent with skill rather than brute force.
BAGUAZHANG AS A SOFT MARTAL ART
Baguazhang is quite a difficult Martial Art to categorise as there are so many variations of it – each with their own styles and focuses. Generally, however, it is considered soft because of its emphasis on circular movements and evasive footwork – the Yijing trigram, as seen above, is from “The Book of Change” and it is this ability to change movement and direction and flow around attackers that defines Baguazhang and adapting the body to use energy most efficiently. As with other “soft” Martial Arts, Baguazhang does have hard elements – especially its palm strikes and its use of weapons from small, concealed knives to the large bagua sword. Different styles may place more or less emphasis on certain techniques – throws, grappling, locks, strikes, kicks etc – but they all have the circling, spiralling and palm techniques in common.
The circle walking avoids direct confrontation with an attacker and draws them off balance and off their centre so that they can be overcome with momentum and flow rather than strength. Baguazhang seeks to use an attacker’s aggression and energy against them and does not encourage power-on-power moves as this will disadvantage a smaller fighter.
Baguazhang was designed to improve the health of the student – both physically and mentally. Because of its foundations in the Taoist trigram, its aim is to harmonise all the elements – especially yin and yang, and to be able to balance the energy flow within. By being in tune with, and listening to, your internal side, your body will flow perfectly, the blood will circulate smoothly and you will experience heightened senses.
Baguazhang is a very internal practise, seeking to harness “neijin” or inner power (ki, qi chi), as well as promote a supple, flexible, adaptable body. It is concerned with the experience of change – coming from the Yi Jing, or “Book of Changes” – right from the atomic level in the makeup of our bodies to the vast planetary systems. Changes can be made from the smallest level in one’s life right up to universal level. Baguazhang is based on the 8 symbols, “gua”, that are the building blocks of the universe – heaven, earth, water, fire, thunder, wind, mountain and lake.
Effective practise of Baguazhang requires understanding of the trigrams and their relationship to each other and then be able to translate this externally to use angles and shapes and intuition to overcome an attacker.
As I am struggling to fully understand and explain Bagua I will add a description from a long time practitioner of Chinese internal Martial Arts, Gwilym Panah Williams:
“Bagua is more than a mere martial art, it is a complete system, a scheme: and as such is a repository for many important disciplines of ancient and authentic Chinese culture: the metaphysics, the traditional medicine, and the philosophy and spirituality. It is more than mere actions and movements: its forms and internal practises seek to infuse the practitioner with celestial energy drawn from the eight primordial energies. Their very qi, or life force, is inside Baguazhang!”
POWER GENERATION AND EFFECTIVE TECHNIQUE
As Baguazhang is by far the most “internal” Martial Art that I have looked at, much of its theories of good technique and power generation are concentrated on harnessing QI from inside. I do not pretend to fully understand this but will attempt to give a basic explanation.
Externally, Baguazhang is characterised by continuous flowing movements, with the body constantly changing direction and twisting and turning – the footwork is highly evasive and the body almost snake-like.
There are 3 physical fundamentals to learn in Baguazhang although there are many, many more techniques than just these – but these are what set it art from most other Martial Arts:
Circle Walking: Although there are many variations in styles of Bagua because Dong Hainchuan adapted each training to the style of his students, each variation includes circle walking. It is what is says – literally walking in a circle while executing the upper body techniques and forms. This trains the legs to generate power but also to have quick footwork for evasion and the control the body. The student walks round the edge of a circle in low stances, while periodically changing direction. It is important to keep the body engaged the whole time so that you can then apply the feeling to the rest of your movement. In circle walking you aim to connect the whole boy from the feet right u to the skull and allow the blood and qi energy to flow round.
The body is kept open and upright, breathing is from the dantian (lower abdominals) and the feet are rooted and the legs engaged. It also helps teach control of the body through twisting motions, which improves flexibility but also uses the torque of the body to add power. The circle itself adds a layer of power through the use of centrifugal (which draws a body away from the centre of rotation) and centripetal forces (which keep the body moving along a circular path, towards the centre of the circle).
Here are 2 different Youtube videos of circle walking: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RquLh85KaoI
Circle walking is believed to be a Taoist form of meditation – to focus minds and gather energy from around you to heal and energise.
Stepping: Obviously a key component part of the circle walk is the step. In Baguazhang there are many different steps to be learned but the fundamental one is known as “The Mud Slide Step”, from which all of the steps are spawned. This step is also the root of shin kicks, ankle stamps and many leg sweeps. The step is important as it is used to train balance and stability but also how to thrust power up through the legs and to engage energy flow from the feet upwards.
The feet are always kept close to the ground, and usually flat and parallel so that in the event of an attack both feet can be quickly put in a string position back on the ground. This method of walking also trains the leg muscles to be fully engaged and powerful as they have to lift the entire leg rather than coming up onto the toes.
The foot can be slid forward over the ground which is useful for those who like sweeps or trips or it can be lifted slightly and hovered over the ground in the forward step.
Using the palms: Baguazhang places a great emphasis on the use of the open palm as a weapon rather than a closed fist. There are 8 fundamental positions – each based on one of the signs from the trigram, and each 8 positions can be practised in 8 different easy (based on different animals e.g. the bear or the snake) which leads to a huge variation of applications. The palm has more options than a fist – from sharp fingers of a spear hand to the wide surface of the palm, as well as the sharp blade edge of the palm. Defensively the palm can scoop, lift and grab while the hand is open and relaxed and this relaxation helps speed and momentum rather than a tight closed fist which is more likely to tense up the shoulders. The palm movements and shapes are practised in a form known as “Eight Mother Palms” – but it is done whilst circle walking to engage the legs and feet while using the hands.
The eight animal models – (I won’t list them as they vary in different styles of Bagua) each focus on a different aspect – for example the lion is Yang – hard, powerful, fierce and derives power from the waist whilst the snake is more coiling and develops the back and arms and is especially suited to using knives.
Internally Bagua, and most other Chinese Martial Arts, include:
Qigong: – this is breath control and visualisation which helps to increase circulation and awareness. It seeks to control breath and movement together to develop qi. It is typically practised with rhythmic breathing and fluid movements while visualising the qi flowing through the body.
Neigong: this is also breathing and meditation with deliberate movement, designed to relax but also to learn to have awareness and control over every aspect of your body, even parts which are usually unconscious. Practitioners believe it will lead to health benefits such as faster healing as well as more flow and flexibility.
Waigong: the external element – balance, agility, strength, posture all come under this heading.
All these elements need to be combined and an appreciation of one will lead to insights in the other areas as all are connected. The aim is to develop QI – which is a combination of mind, breath and body – all need to work in harmony and co-ordination to maximise the power from one’s own life energy.
So – I have not really dwelt on the actual fighting techniques of Baguazhang and in fact, hardly any of the information I researched was about specific techniques but overwhelmingly the importance was placed on the foundations – the circle walking, the palms and the use and harnessing of QI.
http://youtu.be/cSg6fUhXNig – Training and moving
http://youtu.be/E6FyX0ICcxo – This one demonstrates applications
WHAT IS BOXING?
I decided on boxing as one of my hard martial arts almost straight away but when I researched it on the web there seemed to be a lot of dispute as to whether it counted as a Martial Art at all. In the NO camp is the idea that boxing is merely a sport – you train to fight in competitions where there is a clear winner and loser and the objective is to only win the fight or “beat someone up.” Martial arts practitioners also look at the philosophy behind the art and learn to use their skills for self defence and have to weigh up when and if to use their skills in earnest, and would think about the consequences and any alternative strategies. Without this element to training it is seen as just a fighting sport.
However, the YES camp would classify it as a martial art as it is a recognised fighting system, albeit less ritualized than many Oriental styles. It still follows a specific system and can be very effective in teaching self defence. Historically, particularly in Western countries, boxing and wrestling were taught as self defence methods. Also, they would argue that boxing is not merely “slugging” that there is a mental skill involved which takes it beyond a purely physical pastime.
So – I am choosing to look at boxing as a form of Martial Art, albeit not one that possibly fits the category so obviously.
Boxing has been around for thousands of years – originally in African and Egypt before spreading to Europe where the Greeks, notably, picked it up and included it in their Olympic Games in 688 BC. It started as bare knuckle fighting – often a fight to the death – and it was not until the 18th Century that it began to be controlled by rules. It was starting to be the boxing we know today – a stand up fight, with the two participants wearing padded gloves fighting in a ring seeking to punch their opponents’ head and torso only. Today there are amateur competitions where the emphasis is on points scoring and professional bouts where they are more keen to seek a knockout.
BOXING AS A HARD MARTIAL ART
The aim of boxing, and the underlying goal, is to punch your opponent into submission or unconsciousness. In amateur matches where points are scored – these go to the most aggressive fighter and the one who can land the most clean techniques. In my mind, this has to be classified as one of the “hardest” Martial Arts as it is uncompromisingly direct and, apart from when in defense, the intention is to hurt and debilitate your opponent.
“Boxing is the art of hitting an opponent from the furthest distance away, exposing the least amount of your body while getting into position to punch with maximum leverage and not getting hit.”
Probably because of the reasons why there is dispute as to whether boxing is a Martial Art, I found it difficult to find a true underlying principle or philosophy. Unlike many of the Oriental – Japanese and Chinese arts – which have roots in religions such as Buddhism or Zen, boxing has not grown out of such foundations. However, this does not mean that boxing students do not try and apply their commitment and dedication to other aspects of their lives. There has to be commitment to training and improvement, there has to be self discipline in training and also outside in terms of keeping healthy and fit and one is always seeking to move up to the next level of fighting – self improvement.
Two quotes I found try and explain this:
Joyce Carol Oates in her book “On Boxing” – Boxers are there to establish an absolute experience, a public accounting of the outermost limits of their beings; they will know, as few of us can know of ourselves, what physical and psychic power they possess – of how much, or how little, they are capable.
Gordon Mariano, a boxing trainer and Professor of Philosophy – While Aristotle is able to define courage; the study and practice of boxing can enable us to not only comprehend courage, but ‘to have and use’ it. By getting into the ring with our fears, we will be less likely to succumb to trepidation when doing the right thing demands taking a hit. To be sure, there is an important difference between physical and moral courage. After all, the world has seen many a brave monster. The willingness to endure physical risks is not enough to guarantee uprightness; nevertheless, it can contribute in powerful ways, to the development of moral virtue.
POWER GENERATION AND EFFECTIVE TECHNIQUE
In my opinion boxing is “simpler” than many of the other martial arts I have looked at, in that it has a much smaller bank of techniques that are called on. The boxer’s main arsenal consists of four punches – the jab, the cross, the hook and the uppercut (ring any bells, Kickboxing form fans?). There are, of course, variations of these (such as the bolo punch or check hook) and also infinite combinations, but the basic toolkit is as outlined above. Defensively there are more options – slipping the body, ducking, bobbing, parrying and blocking, covering up or clinching, although this is only a shortlived defense and can be penalised in matches.
However – as with other Martial Arts, good technique and power begins at the feet – with the stance. A good stance will give you:
- Power & Defense
- Range & Balance
- Flexibility & Security
- Stability & Mobility
It needs to be a compromise of stability for power but also lightness for mobility and should enable you to land a variety of punches from different distances. Basically, feet should be should be width apart with the toe of the front foot roughly in line with the rear heel – this turns your body providing a smaller target ad also allowing you to pivot.
The back heel should be slightly lifted off the floor to maximize mobility and even on the front foot which is more planted the weight should be towards the ball. The knees remain bent to spring for power but also to absorb punches and aid balance. Weight is generally distributed 50/50 to keep an even spread. If the feet are too wide it will mean you have to take larger steps to move and are more likely to be caught out in the middle of a step, when you are weakest.
Moving up the body, it is important to keep the shoulders and arms relaxed with the elbows tucked in and the hands up to provide body cover.
Power in a punch starts from the feet up, and depends on leverage and body rotation, using the twist/torque of the body from the hips especially on cross and hook punches. The body rotation and transfer of power from the rear to the front foot adds impact.
There is also a Physics equation I have found that can help to explain how to maximize power:
Power = speed/velocity x mass – so heavier fighters can still have power even with slower punches, and counter to this, a lighter fighter can increase power by their use of speed.
Having said this, some very successful boxers haven’t been the most powerful. Precision and exact placement of a punch can have devastating effects and secure a knockout, even if not at full power – punches to the chin, temple or liver can be as useful as pure power punches.
There are some building blocks in getting the most power in your punch – the most important of which is good technique. This means that your punches actually land and cause damage – they are not able to be defended because telegraphing is minimised. Good technique also puts the whole body behind the punch to maximise mass – exploding up from the balls of the feet.
Control behind technique is also essential – that you keep your balance if a hit misses, or if it connects that you have the stability to follow up with another powerful punch. Once control is established, speed can be layered in – which increases power and also reduces the chances of it being blocked or evaded.
Once speed and mass have been exploited, what else is there that can add power? The answer is timing, strength and flexibility. Timing can be used to use an opponent’s mass against them – as they move forward as you land your punch then their mass can be added to the equation. This is a harder trick to master as actual contests tend to be quick and dynamic, rather than drill training, so reading the opponent is essential.
Strength, rather than huge muscle mass, is sought by boxers, as they prefer to have a better power to weight ratio and huge muscles counter this. Strength is especially focussed in the calves, quads, abdomen, shoulders, chest, lats, triceps and forearms – delivering a pathway for power to travel through.
Flexibility allows a greater range of movement, can maximise leverage and will also contribute to an increase in speed.
Finally, breathing on the punch will give that final element of power – holding your breath will slow your body and tire you out, whereas exhaling on the effort will concentrate the move.
Defensively it is important to have good technique too – as the aim in boxing is to hit without being hit – the best delivered punch is no use if the other guy gets you first! Footwork and the ability to correctly move the head (with the rest of the body following) are the main skills in avoiding an attack and need to be as honed as delivering a killer blow.
Footwork: going away – easiest way of evasion, can tire an opponent by making them chase but can tire you also and puts you out of range to counter
Footwork: going around – more akin to tai sabaki, using angles and pivoting which keeps you in attacking range rather than a step backwards but leaves you vulnerable on the move and uses more energy.
Footwork: going forward – smothering punches with your body or “clinching” by trapping their arms with yours, and is good against taller opponents but is only a temporary strategy.
Blocking/Covering Up – keeps you in range but using your gloves/arms to cover your head and body and you can add to this by using your hips to turn and roll the attack away. This is effective, particularly against jabs, but does leave you slower to counter and also might result in you being pushed back or even broken through by stringer opponents.
Parrying – deflecting a punch rather than receiving it straight into a block. This is useful against larger attackers and can render them off balance using their own weight and momentum against them. It works best against straight punches and against opponents who throw themselves into a punch.
Rolling – A step up from parrying, this is using the body to deflect attacks. Rolling the shoulders deflects a punch but leaves your hands free to counter
Slipping/Swaying/Fading – This also rotates the body but so that a punch is evaded by turning the head or body to the side.
Ducking/Bobbing/Weaving – other body evasion moves – ducking under a punch, bobbing the head sideways and under a punch then weaving back upright using the legs to lower and raise the body.
Surely the quote that sums up these two, contrary sides of boxing is Muhammed Ali’s famous, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. His hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see.”
A successful boxer must have powerful, accurate punches but also be nimble and light enough on their feet to avoid injury. A perfect combination of power and grace.
http://youtu.be/qMWs6rYMvwM – Knockouts, good examples of the “hard” nature of boxing
http://youtu.be/woTLysKIQVM – Mike Tyson using different evasion techniques