Thursday, April 13, 2017

Lineage Snobs!!!

We all know a guy like this.  He spends his day on the internet telling and re-telling stories about how his martial ancestors were the toughest fighters in the world.  We hear a bunch of stories about the ancestors and they all seem to imply or outright assert that their awesomeness gives the lineage snob the right to talk trash about other arts.   These guys are universally despised and, as a general rule, suck at martial arts.  Too much time on the keyboard and not enough training. But what if we understood that, while those guys suck, the need for lineage is real and can provide fantastic yardstick to gauge a school or martial artist?

There are going to be 2 basic responses to that statement.  The first usually comes from people who have created their own arts or know that their teachers weren't totally legit.  Their response goes something like, "All you do is talk about lineage!  Why are you judging me??  Bruce Lee said to follow your own path!!" Etc. The other response is "I told you so!!!" and is almost as obnoxious as the first.  This response usually comes from the lineage snobs I mentioned before and, remember, we all hate those guys. But both of those people are wrong and both know it deep down inside.

Lineage in martial arts has existed for a thousand years for very good reasons.  It's a solid gauge of the effectiveness of the art itself and also proof that there is a complete method for teaching and transmitting the art.  Effectiveness in usage and proof that the method can produce a strong next generation are vital, obviously  and those are two really powerful reasons to care about lineage and they are also more laid back than a lot of people realize. Let's use medical care as a simile here.  If you had a terrible disease and you had to pick a doctor for treatment, would you care where that doctor's education came from?  If your options were a Harvard graduate who has done extensive post-grad education in an effort to be on the forefront of medicine, or someone​ who took some courses at the community college and then spent some time surfing WebMD, which would you pick? More than likely, you would pick the doctor most prepared and able to save your life.  He would know the latest treatments and the best medicines to use. A doctor that provides a cure for disease is in some ways similar to a martial arts teacher who provides a way for you to protect yourself and your family - you want to choose the best, either way (well, if you have any common sense that is).

Why is the Harvard doctor the wiser choice?  It has to do with his knowledge, the work he put in to gain that knowledge, and his ability to apply that knowledge to saving your ​life.  To obtain that piece of paper on his wall, doctors who graduate from Harvard have to complete years of incredibly intense education, a program that is so tough that only 3.3% of applicants are even accepted.  Graduates go through long, sleepless nights where they work alone or with their classmates trying to understand important ideas and learn how to apply them.  They make massive sacrifices, both in time and money, and understand that they will be responsible for other lives as a result of earning their degree.  This makes the guy that took a few classes at community college and surfed WebMD look like a ridiculous choice.  His education is directed by what disease catches his eye, not a master instructor who has spent years honing his ability to communicate important ideas and practices.  Because of this lack of focused instruction he is often unable to help at all, he just doesn't have the basic tools needed to begin.  

Let's use another example from the internal martial arts to see if we can clarify even further.  Everyone who has read any sort of IMA text knows about the Kua, right?  The Kua is also called the inguinal crease, the section of the torso between the lower abdomen and the thigh.  All IMA teachers talk about the Kua but the self-taught teachers don't know that they show their lack of knowledge as they do.  Teachers without a good lineage will talk about how it's the source of power in Gong Fu but can't explain how or why it works, or even what muscles are involved in using the Kua.  Meanwhile, properly taught teachers can explain exactly how the kua works and why.  They know that the muscles that run through the Kua tie directly to the lower spine and pelvis, providing a strong path for force generated from the core to travel to the ground and back.  They can also provide a plethora of smaller exercises to develop this area and can easily explain the concept without using a slew of esoteric terms that the student doesn't understand.

I could go on and on with different examples of how lineage provides a great indicator of the quality of both the art and the teacher but, instead, I would like to provide some thoughts or ideas from other teachers.  Here is what Byron Jacobs has to share, Byron is the top tudi for Master Di Guoyong in Beijing.  

"The name of any style of martial art is in fact referring to a lineage.  That art cannot exist or be transmitted in any way without a lineage.  If someone is saying that their art is, for example, Xingyi, but has no link from the teaching line to an official lineage, and I mean officially, then it simply should not be called Xingyi.  the name is referring to a system and set of principles someone or some line has created and handed down.  It literally refers to a lineage. Xingyi is what came from Li Luoneng  and if it didn't come through him and his descendants, how can someone be sure that it is Xingyi apart from external appearances?  To assume that it is Xingyi without the link to the lineage is insulting, and deliberately misleading to people.  Of course, one needs to remember not all people in a lineage are the same level of skill, or as deep or good teachers, so lineage isn't an automatic way to get skill just like not all doctors with a degree are the same level of expertise or as good.  That takes practice, study, and I hate to say it, a degree of natural ability, both physically and mentally."  

That is a fantastic quote and should cause everyone reading it to think long and hard about where they stand or how they are presenting themselves.  

I would like to close with a quote from Voltaire that shows how people with a good lineage view this entire discussion.  "Cherish those who seek the truth, beware of those who find it."   A martial artist from a solid lineage knows where they stand.  We know our place in our families and are willing to humble ourselves in front of another human to learn and develop ourselves more.  We show respect to the ancestors because they have illuminated the path for us and have left us guidance to reach the same peaks they did.   The person who creates their own style or isn't honest about their art is claiming to have found a final truth.  They declare to the world "I don't need a teacher, I already know all there is to know.  In fact, I know so much that I can wing it from here"  Their methods and thinking are a dead end for any that follow them.  Consider that.

Jesse Conley is an Internal Martial Arts teacher in Vancouver, WA.  His school is called Stone Tiger Martial Arts and you can reach him with any questions about classes, this blog or questions in general at 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Learn Taiji to increase your striking power!

I know, I know, that sounds silly since most Tai Chi classes are aimed towards your grandmother not fighters.  Tai Chi first began as a potent martial art but 90% of Tai Chi practitioners today couldn't punch their way out of a wet paper bag.  So what is missing that originally made Tai Chi a brutal combat art?article-2098643-11A65347000005DC-873_468x347

Well, it's not relaxation because that's all the most Tai Chi people talk about these days and they don't have the skills that the older generation had and it's also not moving slow because that has become almost a competition between modern Tai Chi people of who can move the slowest and the slowest movers aren't turning into the best fighters.

So what is it and how can you bring it into your training?
The answer is the complete opposite of what people naturally think of when they think about striking harder.  It has nothing to do with adding more flex to your muscles but instead, it's about coiling the body like a spring and relying on your connective tissues like the fascia, tendons, ligaments and aponeuroses to store energy by wrapping and twisting them and allowing them to snap back with a massive amount of force.

This sounds strange to a lot of people but if we start looking into the function of these connective tissues, we see they possess very interesting qualities.  When 'aponeuroses' is looked up in Wikipedia, this is what we see under their function  "Like tendons, aponeuroses attached to pennate muscles can be stretched by the forces of muscular contraction, absorbing energy like a spring and returning it when they recoil to unloaded conditions".  The tendon systems are very similar, for a really fascinating read click here.
The article I referenced there also mentions how tendons can grow or atrophy depending on usage.  In the so-called 'Internal' martial arts, there is a massive emphasis on stretching and twisting the connective tissues (by stretching I don't mean to the extent that damage is caused but stretching in the same way yoga or other movement arts would).  Just like bones and muscles, the connective tissues can and will develop rather quickly, some estimates placing the remodeling stage at 10-12 weeks.  xing-yi-quan
The image to the right is an example of great posture for stretching and developing connective tissue and comes from a sister art to Tai Chi, a style called Xingyi.  Notice how the head is lifted, the back is straight and the shoulders down and forward.  This type of posture is excellent for stretching all the tissues of the back and developing them.
When we start to understand what is being developed and how the mechanics work, we start to get a very clear picture of exactly WHY the postures are explained the way they are.  Flattening the lower back makes perfect sense when we see that the aponeuroses in the lower back engages in the posture and transmits the force from the lower body to the upper very efficiently, similar to how a transmission works in a car, sending power from the engine to the wheels.
Wu Meng Xia
With this understanding, it's very easy to see how to start working with this concept.  You start by relaxing, twisting and stretching until your body feels like a giant rubber band stretched to it's limits then allow the soft tissues to unwind with their natural explosive snapping power.  The easiest example is to reach your right hand across to the left side, sink into the left hip and stretch and twist without losing your structure.  Then once you get the feeling of a giant rubber band stretching across your back, from left hip to right hand, release the stretch and you will whip out of that position and unwind very quickly and with power.  You will be amazed how little effort is required to create a large amount of force and the more you train this way, the faster and more explosive you will become without having to rely on large muscle groups to power your movements.
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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Releasing power by Mr. Bi Tianzuo

"The research of Bagua Zhang's power releasing

Bi Tianzuo

March 7 2012 in BeiJing

We know in martial art, good or bad of any technique should be judged
by the result of the attack. That mostly depends on how much of the
force releasing. How to get the maximum force out, depends on the
method of releasing and knowing where to pay attention to (while
emitting the force).

In physic: F=ma, it's the power equals mass times acceleration. In
most cases people gain power from the acceleration, to get more power,
then need more speed, need more speed in turn need more acceleration.
Which results usually people need to bring the fist back, then punch
out with acceleration. But this has its limits in the applications.
For example at the clinching, you wouldn't have much chance to bring
your fist back, once you did, you opponent's attack would arrive. So
how to release the power effectively will be a question.

Bagua zhang also be called Chan Zhang(winding or sticking palm), so
the more (you and your opponent) sticking or clinching together, the
easier to use its advantage. This because you can use the character of
Bagua Zhang power releasing.

We mentioned F=ma, in Bagua Zhang the mass(m) get more attention,
bigger the mass, more power will be get. So one need to active the
most of body mass to generate power. Generally the average body weight
of people be greater than 50 kg, if one can use most of that weight
and get the power to the hand, the power will be much greater than by
just using the hand or arm alone( with the same acceleration). Then
the question is how to get the most of the body weight behind the
attacking hand? Generally speaking, power start from the leg, through
the waist to the hand, then landed on the weak parts of the opponent's
body, like the rib or the chest etc. you can put your hands directly
on your opponent's body without any clearance, then push the power
from the feet, body should be a solid structure without any loose, to
transfer the power to the hand without any lose, then land the power
on your opponent's body. The penetrating power is very strong, even
with pads, it still can hurt the internal organs without obvious
wounds. If the power releasing is hard enough, it will even break the
ribs. By using this method, you won't need to bring back the hand( to
wind up), but release the power directly. So it will seems very fast
to your opponent, also it can be one attack after another to make him
doesn't have chance to fight back. Like the Kai palm, Peng palm, Dun
palm etc. in Bagua Zhang,they all use the Knocking as the last strike.
We know this kind of movements not be seen very often in our daily
life, people get used to move by individual part of the body, like
using the hand to pick up an object, using the foot to kick the ball
etc. But rarely see a person move by the whole body, one part move
with whole body move. So in order to release this kind of power, one
has to train to get the habit to move this way. Also has to stick to
the basic requirements for the body postures of internal martial art.
It's to pull up the head and neck, sink the shoulders and elbows,
hollow the chest and round up the back,tight up the anus and stick out
the belly, sink the Qi to Dantian, to make the body a solid piece
during the strike. But have to be solid instead of rigid, have to get
the 6 harmonies for the technique. This is the key to this kind of
strike of Bagua, so a lot of attentions have to be paid. In this Bagua
system, the "pre heaven" and "post heaven" as two parts of the system
have been intentionally arranged. The reason of needing a long time of
Pre heaven training is laying on this. There are 10 movements in total
for the pre heaven, they are: Single palm change, 4 animal shaped
changes, 4 body changes plus 5 dragons wave tails. The core practice
of this is to walk the Deng and Tang steps correctly, all the
movements involve the Deng Tang steps. It will build a foundation for
the power releasing and the 64 palms, 8 sticky palms of the post
heaven by training this 10 movements thoroughly. The Bagua Zhang is a
complete martial art system, the design of the system is rather
scientific and logic, it is worth to be reserved and further

There's another power releasing method in Bagua called whipping power.
It's in like Jie palm,Tiao Palm,Diao palm etc. In Jie palm, The fist
instead of palm is used. In Tiao and Diao palm, the palm is used.
These changes coordinate to different striking methods. The reason of
why the palm is usually used in Bagua is, by using the palm, one can
avoid to use the fist as a connecting point, the power can be released
directly through the hand heel. Without going through the wrist, it
will reduce the power lose, be more stable and easier to emit. But the
Jie palm is a side way whipping, so the palm is not being used.

For the so called whipping power, the arm and hand need to be relaxed
to maximum, should be as soft as noodles, and then whip out. The
principle of this striking method is to change the energy into force.
We know the relationship between the (elastic energy ) and Work is
W=Eep2-Eep1, the difference of the elastic potential energy changes
into Work. When we practice the Jie palm, if using the right fist, we
need to turn the body left to compress the body to get the elastic
potential energy. Then quickly relax the body and turn right to whip
out the right fist. In order to get bigger elastic potential energy,
one has to compress the body tightly; the left side of the body
doesn't turn much, but use power to press the right part of the body
to your left. The harder the pressing, the bigger the elastic
potential energy can be get. By releasing the part of the elastic
potential energy, the W(work) can be achieved. Then how to get bigger
striking force? We know Work equals Force(F) times distance
traveled(S). W=FS, so the force F=W/S. In order to get bigger striking
force, if the work was the same, shorter the distance traveled, bigger
the force can be generated. So when practicing the Jie palm, pushing
the leg and turning the body, use the whole body mass to get the power
to the hand, whip the fist, the striking distance cannot be too long,
otherwise the force will get reduced.

Tiao palm has some differences with Jie palm, It gets potential energy
by raising up the hand. Ep=mgh, Ep is the potential energy, m is the
mass, g is the acceleration duo to gravity, h is the height. Under the
same other factors, the higher the hand to be raised, the more Ep will
be get. But the hand can't to be raised too high, it's because if the
hand be raised too high then the shoulder will be raised, then the
basic structure will be broken. It needs to keep sinking the shoulders
and elbows, during the strike, don't raise the shoulders, need to sink
the elbow and stand up the head. Using the left palm strike as an
example, first turn your body to left, and use the right arm to
support your opponent's left arm, then turn the body to right
slightly, throw the left hand heel downward to smash your opponent's
chest. During the smashing down, the hand has to be hold back ( at the
hitting point), don't let it go too far. There is a difference in
height between the position of the hand(h2) to the opponent's
chest(h1), the energy released is Ep=mg(h2-h1), it turns to Work,
W=FS. Then the force to get is F=W/S. So the S( distance) can't be too
long, if It is too long, the Force will get smaller. There's very
limited perceptual in daily life. Only by long time and repeated
exercises, one can understand and use it at will."

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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Is your Kung fu Authentic?

Authentic: true to one's own personality, spirit, or character, conforming to an original so as to reproduce essential features <an authentic reproduction of a colonial farmhouse>, made to be or look just like an original 

So is your Kung Fu authentic?  I know many people will say "Absolutely" then proceed straight to telling me or other people that our version isn't, but that really proves one of the points of this post.  No one can claim to have the only authentic martial arts of their lineage or style.  Authentic by definition is not the same across the board.  Every person can have authentic Kung Fu as long as they understand that they will never copy their masters exactly, but do their best anyways, using their own unique personality and understanding to create the copy.  There are so many people who talk about traditional and orthodox Kung Fu, but they don't understand that there can be no such thing by simple definition of those words.  The arts change a little bit every generation, no matter what people want to believe.  We can look at a myriad of martial arts, but lets use the ones that I know best, Xingyi and Bagua.  Neither of these arts are exactly the same as they were when created, most notably Bagua, which has undergone MASSIVE changes since its creation.  It doesn't matter which lineage you follow, we all know that the arts are different from when they first appeared.  So can anyone claim to have "orthodox" Bagua?  Nope, no one can.  By simple definition it is impossible.  We can share in the traditions of our teachers and practice their movements, but can we ever express them the same as they do?  When we look at people as the sum of their experiences and factor in different body types, abilities, health, etc........It only proves that it is impossible.  I have a great teacher, but I will never match his movements completely and as much as you hate to hear it, you can't match your teacher exactly either.  It's impossible.  So how can you have 'traditional' or 'orthodox' Kung Fu when you can't copy one generation prior to you?

Now I don't mean this to cut anyone down, it is just a simple fact.  But what each of us CAN do is authentically try to re-create what our teachers are doing.  But this requires each of us to understand that since we are vastly different from our teachers in many ways, that it cannot ever be done perfectly.  I think the old masters knew this, that is why they stress the core ideas and functions of their arts more than making sure the "signature" they left in the art stays there forever.  Dong Hai Chuan didn't demand that his students never change the styles of Bagua he helped create (not getting into alternate origins again, just going to use the commonly accepted founder), in fact he watched as his art changed before his eyes and never once said "Stop".  I believe that is because his intent was not to create little clones of himself, but to show the diversity of his art, that it can be practiced correctly in many different ways.  But it is important to note that each of his students practiced and taught their arts in an authentic way, in that they were authentic to themselves AND their teacher.  Each of them took his art and combined it with another art they had mastered and they were very successful doing it.  

Now before anyone gets the idea that I am suggesting tossing our teachers material, don't get ahead of yourself.  What I am saying with that example is that great martial artists have always been authentic to themselves as much as they are authentically re-creating their teacher's art.  They aren't polar opposites at all.  We can do our best to honestly pass down the arts we have received without changing a thing but also do that in a way that is authentic to ourselves.  We can used different explanations to show why practices are important or use other knowledge that we gain to tie practices together or better understand them.  For example I was explaining how our style of Bagua practices stepping, and I jokingly used a reference to the old cartoons where you see a wolf in a Zoot suit strolling down the street (Mostly because I just watched that cartoon with my children that morning).  After everyone had a good laugh, I pointed out that even though it is a cartoon, his weight is back, his hips are opening and allowing a long stride that is also relaxed.  Of course that isn't a perfect example, but every one of my students will remember it, simply because it was different but explained a traditional idea.  What started out as a joke wound up being a 'somewhat' good example of my teacher's methods, but it is something he probably never would have said.    I'm sure most of you can think of a time that you have explained something totally different than your teacher might have, but still taught the core idea correctly.

Part of this blog is to make the point that we all have to stop using the terms 'authentic', 'traditional', and 'orthodox' as clubs to beat other martial artists over the head with.  It is easy to see that none of use are truly traditional since our arts could almost be unrecognizable to the original founders (there is absolutely NO way to know if you move the same as the first generation).  Not one person can honestly say or truly prove that their method is the same as the original if their art is more than 50 or 60 years old.  Just can't be done.  But what we can do is show that we are trying to create an authentic copy of what they were doing.  But in admitting that you are doing that, you lose the ability to insult other practitioners, since you have to admit that your art is different than the original.   That will be hard for a lot of people I think.  But the other point of this is to point out that the success stories of the past can help us move into the future and let our arts spread.  It is very easy to see that as a general rule, schools who claim to be 'the most orthodox' are also the schools who are dying out the fastest.  This isn't an insult to the teacher's abilities at all, but more a commentary on the fact that students are attracted to authenticity in people more than claims of being 'better than others'.  Let's take a look at a well known teacher that I have used in examples before.

 Novell Bell is a martial artist based out of New York City who learned Bagua, Xingyi and Tai Chi from great teachers and shares what he learned, but with his own unique flavor.  A lot of people try to cut him down for different reasons, but the pure fact is that he has become MUCH more successful and reached MANY more students than most of us ever will.  I personally would chalk that up to the fact that he is 100% authentic to himself as he shares his teacher's knowledge.  He teaches the same palm changes and forms as his teacher, but in a different manner, one that reflects who he is as a person and allows him to really teach from the heart.  This is very important to spreading martial arts, one of the most important factors in my opinion.  The greatest compliment that I have ever gotten was that several of my students decided to stick with the arts I teach because I was so passionate when I teach that they WANTED to stick around.  But I will freely admit I am not the best practitioner or teacher in the world.  I know of several friends, past and present, who are better teachers than I am but since they refuse to be authentic to themselves have never really been able to gain traction when starting their school.  

Motivational speakers, business advisers and life coaches across the globe have always said one of the most important factors to success and personal happiness is being authentic to yourself in every aspect of your life.    Kung Fu seems to be one of the rare places where people are told to 'change how you think and be like someone else'. Maybe this is why so many schools are failing, because all of the martial arts we have today came from people being authentic, and were improved by people being authentic.  So why now should we NOT be authentic?  My teacher once told us to "be good copy machines of the art".  But he has never once told us to "be good copies of me, my teacher or my grand-teachers".  Can you imagine if there were 10,000 copies of Wu Mengxia running around?  The skill would be great, but there would be non-stop brawling!  Wu Mengxia was a great martial artist, but he had somewhat of a short fuse for silly people. The end point is that if you open your eyes and look, the greatest success we can have as martial artists is to take what our teachers share of their skill and pass it on while we are being true to who we are.  Give it a shot, I think you will love how your school grows because of it.  

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Sunday, May 5, 2013

 An Open Letter to the Older Generation

Many people know that I am a regular contributor to several online forums and I have made it a goal of mine to reach out and make contact with as many great teachers as possible.  I have been doing this for my own personal progress as a teacher, so I can better learn how to teach and pass on the arts that I have learned.  So I spend a lot of time watching people and their words (when I'm not arguing with random people).  All this watching has started to come together lately and I have been noticing several problems, one of which I would like to explain and see if I can offer a solution.

I will be the first to point out that most of the trolls and mouth-breathers who make life hard on forums are young people, my generation.  But we are also the group that as a whole gets along the easiest despite our style or geographical differences.  I have made many good friends on those forums and I can say that it is very common to meet a young teacher who thinks his style is the best hands down, but is completely willing to accept that others feel the same about their style.  We can share points and training methods, provide honest opinions on where progress should be made in each others arts, and walk away completely happy and not the least bit insulted.  With the older generation, that would be unthinkable!  There are many great teachers and good people from the older generation that I have met, but more often than not, they are the most set in their ways and VERY quick to dismiss new ideas or thoughts that don't meet their standards.  They are also very fast to say that a younger person won't ever understand unless they obey the word of the older martial artist.  There is a mindset of  'I have been there and if you don't do what I say, regardless of your style, you are an idiot and it's not worth talking to you'.  Often times this leads to a blind refusal to acknowledge that there are MANY different ways to skin the same cat (to use an odd reference).  This mindset also very quickly leads to the older practitioner REFUSING to hear that their art isn't perfect or that something might be missing.  Now please, don't take this as me being rude to older martial artists, NOT AT ALL!  But as I will show, this is leading to a serious issue that will only end badly for all of us if we can't bridge the gap between generations.  

So yes, I made the point that old people are stubborn.  That isn't really news to anyone is it?  But the new generation of teachers seems to be working on a different wavelength and the two aren't compatible at all.  Let me explain.  I know lots of great older teachers like I mentioned.  They all have one thing in common, they were lucky enough to train under a great teacher in person, a true master of Kung Fu that could teach as well as apply their art.  The arts were passed in a very traditional method.  But that is the main problem facing my group.  There aren't as many teachers available to pass on their arts with the same quality and skill as when YOU were first learning.  We all know that the number of good teachers is dropping, so how can the younger group learn?  Most of us have families that we can't uproot and drag across the country for martial arts training on the off chance that the Master they have heard about is the real deal.  For many, it seems like a dead end as far as learning real martial arts, regardless of style.  But that is where our young, bull-headed thinking comes into play.  We aren't deterred by that.  We have gone out of our way to use new technology and social networking to find teachers across the world to try and learn from.  Many older teachers think that online training is worthless, and I will be the first to say that it is very limited.  But it is truly better than nothing.  It lets many people who have no local teachers start to explore and learn, and the greater number of people we can expose to the traditional arts, the greater chance we have of finding more people who will carry the banner in the future, right?  It also lets the current generation of masters really influence the next generation with ideas that we haven't been exposed to and most likely won't be.  Now I am not saying at all that someone can learn everything from a computer screen.  That simply can't be done.  But in the absence of a qualified teacher, what is the alternative?  My generation is also much more open to different ideas or concepts from different styles being introduced and tried as an experiment.  If many of my friends have issues in training, they are very open and honest about it and many have cleared their training hurdles with help and advice from people of the same generation, not the older one.  

So we see that there are two distinct groups operating here, the older teachers who have been training in the same art for a long time with one teacher, and the younger teachers trying to make their way without that benefit so easily accessible.  The older group CLEARLY has the knowledge and skill that the younger group desires, so why are there so few connections between them?  I think I can answer that.  Since the new group is trying to learn and share in ways that have never been done before out of necessity, they have little in common with the standard bearers for the old arts.  When a younger person shares a video of their practice or asks for help, it is rare that the older teachers jump right in and try to help.  More often they say that "You can't learn online, so stop trying".  People of the same age range are usually the ones to provide the most support and offer the most help.  This is the problem.  As the newer teachers are progressing, they are seeing and feeling little support from older players and this leads to a lack of bonding and often respect for them.  Why would I listen to a teacher who dismissed me when I was younger and needed help, but after years is more open to me and my practice?  In a way, the older group is ensuring that their knowledge won't spread like it could simply because they aren't open to new ideas on training or at least introducing the arts.  I am not saying that established teachers have to change everything for the younger group.  But we have to understand that times are changing and we don't live in the same world you grew up and practiced in.  There has to be a continuation of development.  This will require a lot of hard work from younger people and a lot of patience and flexibility from older people.  But please remember this the next time you dismiss a younger teacher who is struggling to learn...............If you don't reach out a hand and try to help him, can you honestly blame him for not knowing or developing?  The arts are firmly in YOUR hands right now.  The future of Kung Fu is yours.  But if you don't find ways to influence younger people, you will take all your knowledge with you and your arts will suffer because it wasn't passed on.  Remember that one day, the young whipper-snappers will be in your position and will hold the future in their hands.  If you don't do your best to influence and help them, it won't be their fault if the arts are lacking.  It will be yours.  

Please don't take this as a condemnation of anyone.  I only want to make a simple point about interactions between teachers of different generations and how to improve the existing situation.  I mean no disrespect to anyone.  But a strong point has to be made, so I hope I tread the line well.  I would appreciate any feedback you are willing to share.

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Saturday, May 4, 2013

Here is a video my teacher made when all of his students came together in Denver for our yearly training session.  We all make time once a year to get together as a group and train as a family!  Here my teacher, Yang Laoshi, is explaining the basics of Internal Power and how we train it, I hope you all enjoy!

Introduction to Internal Strength

Sunday, April 21, 2013

An Alternative History of Baguazhang

I already know a lot of people, as soon as they read the title of this article, will immediately give a condescending laugh and say something like "Idiot".  Because who in their right mind would think that Bagua has other origins that what is commonly accepted?  That Dong Hai Chuan came out of nowhere and somehow took a circle walking meditative art and turned it a fearsome combat art, does that sound about right?  That is a great origins story, in line with a lot of the other great arts, a story that has lots of mystery, many people claiming exclusive rights to the truth and few verifiable facts.  Now before I go any further, I REALLY want to stress that I am not insulting anyone else's history.  I am also not going to state that anyone is totally wrong.  What I am going to suggest here is that maybe there is more to the story that we previously thought and that there are well respected names and locations that we can easily find that tend to point towards a different version of history.  So, again, I want to state that I will never take any credit away from Dong Hai Chuan or belittle his skills because even he said he didn't create the art.  We have just given him credit since he never identified who he learned it from.  

Ok!  Now that I have covered my bases and made sure no one gets their feelings hurt by the suggestion that there is more to the story, lets dive in to what we know about the origins of Baguazhang.

First off, lets tell people who are not practitioners of Baguazhang what we are talking about.  Baguazhang or Bagua for short is one of the 3 main Internal Martial Arts from China and arguably is the most complex and in depth of the three, which also includes Tai Chi and Xingyi.  Bagua is easily identified by the basic exercise of Circle Walking, where practitioners move around a circle, generally facing towards the center.  There are usually 8 or 9 different sets of movements to change direction, depending on the school you practice at and in-between changes the body is held in a static position.  This exercise is where students train power and tendon development with combat applications being done later.  For people who have never practiced Bagua before, the training I just described sounds silly, but when done correctly is physically exhausting in a short period of time since it is a practice that uses the whole body, leaving nothing un-trained.  That is where the similarities end though, with each school using different movements, postures and each having unique practice requirements to be correct.  
The founder of Bagua was named Dong Hai Chuan and sometime around 1864 he showed up in Beijing and got a job working at the Palace where he impressed a group of party guests with his skill at moving through the crowd and when they asked him to demonstrate his kung fu, he obliged and the rest is history.  When he was asked where he learned his art from, he said, "A Hermit".  We know that Dong Hai Chuan only taught 3 palms in the beginning and would create other palms to fit his students needs, since he was making each version unique to the student he was teaching.  But why would it be called Ba Gua Zhang or Eight Trigram Palm if he only had 3 original palm movements?  Just as an FYI, he originally only taught the Single Palm Change, the Double Palm Change and something called a Smooth Body Change.  So instead of just asking leading questions and feeding you the answers, lets examine what we do know about Dong Hai Chuan and ask ourselves if the suggestion I am giving here isn't remotely possible.  We know that Dong Hai Chuan traveled far and wide as a young man, but never really gave an account of his travels, but he was exposed to many martial arts teachers and styles.  He was also illiterate, which puts serious doubt towards him being able to create an art as deeply rooted in Taoist religious practices as Bagua is.  We also know that he only taught a few students who carried his art on, eight students who started their own lineages, and each was taught a vastly different art.  Each of these eight students passed on extremely different practice methods so we know that they weren't taught a standardized training program.  Also each of the eight lineages VERY quickly started expanding and adding different practices to train and focus on different areas.  To many people this suggests that Dong Hai Chuan didn't teach a complete martial system to his students, but only showed them how to improve the art they started with.  So each student would have to create and add exercises that fit their needs.  
Most people know that to create a martial art requires a person to fill three distinct and specialized roles in order to create a well rounded and martially sound fighting system.  They need to be a fighter, a technician and a teacher all in one.  The fighter role is obvious, someone needs to prove the art is effective to draw in students and to promote the art's standing within the martial arts community.  The technician role is required to fully understand the exercises, create new practices, learn every single detail and also connect these physical practices to esoteric ideas (Like the I Ching and Bagua).  Technicians also must know how each exercise fits into the whole art and also how to train correctly to avoid injury and gain steady progress.  The last role is the teacher, who is the one to pass the information on to many people and spread the art.  The teacher is the public face for information about the art and must be a skilled communicator or the art won't spread very far.  Each of these roles is a must in martial arts.  Many people can only perform one role, say for example there are many great fighters who can't teach to save their lives.  Or teachers who aren't the greatest fighters.  This is totally normal, each role requires vastly different mindsets to be successful.  Now I'm not saying that a person can't have some skill in each role, but its very difficult to be great at each, I am sure that is common knowledge.  You might be asking what this has to do with Dong Hai Chuan, so lets apply these roles to him and lets see what seems logical.  Dong Hai Chuan was a great fighter, that so commonly understood that I won't even address it here.  But was he the best technician or teacher?  Since we know he taught a bare bones art that his students had to add to immediately to suit their needs, we can safely assume that he might not have been the greatest technician, since that role would have left many exercises for each student.  So the students wouldn't have needed to add things so quickly.  Being illiterate he wouldn't have been able to connect the circle walking practice to deep, mystical ideas in Taoism either.  We can also assume he wasn't the best teacher, since he only had success with master level martial artists as students and never was able to teach a large public group and sustain it, even with his amazing reputation.  Again, this isn't being rude to Dong Hai Chuan, it is a logical look at what we know, ok?  
But here is where it gets interesting and where new information comes into the picture that suggests where Bagua came from and what the art may have been intended to resemble by its founders.  Again I am NOT claiming to have an exclusive on the truth and I'm not saying anyone else is wrong.  There is a lineage of Bagua called Gao Bagua after its first public proponent named Gao Yisheng.  Gao was originally a student of  Song Changrong and Cheng Tinghua, but broke with them for an unknown reason.  He then studied Xingyi with Li Cunyi and that influence is apparent in the martial art he left behind.  But the really interesting part is that he claimed to have met a hermit from Guanghua Moutain name Song Yiren who taught him a linear version of Bagua.  This type of claim isn't unusual since many Chinese martial artists claim to have learned from mythical or hidden characters to provide legitimacy to their art and in fact the name Song Yiren is the Chinese equivalent of saying "John Smith", it is a very vague and general name.  It sounds like a strange name, but it would have fit perfectly for a monk who had given up his original name to shed ties to secular life.  We see that there is perhaps some truth here because a different martial artist named Han Jinyong was studying Bagua with a different teacher under Dong Hai Chuan, but left to study with a monk from Guanghua Mt named Ying Xia.  When Han Jinyong finished his training, he was so impressed with his teacher and art that he changed his name to Han Muxia which means 'Admires Xia'.  This is no small compliment in Chinese culture, family names are very important and rarely are changed and would never be changed to support an imagined mythical source.  When Han Muxia started publicly teaching, he quickly became famous for beating a Russian strongman who had been beating the local Chinese challengers.  Han Muxia and Gao Yisheng never met each other, but each publicly taught very similar linear Bagua forms, and each learned from a different teacher.  The fact that the linear forms are slightly different implies that there were several teachers on Guanghua Mt that taught linear Bagua, as each teacher would practice and share their own version.  If Gao and Han had created the forms together, they would have been taught identically, right?  Guanghua Mt also had several Taoist groups that used circle walking meditations if I understand correctly and if the name Song Yiren was a pseudonym, then that might be what Dong Hai Chuan meant when said he learned from a hermit and didn't identify him.  Why would you tell people you learned martial arts from someone named 'Teacher John Smith"?  There is one more piece of evidence that hammers home this idea.  Both Gao Yisheng and Han Muxia were famous teachers and each had famous students.  But they shared several well known students, most notably being Wu Mengxia and Bi Motang, both being famous for martial arts but also for personal character.  Each of these students swore up and down that they believed their teachers had learned from separate teacher on Guanghua Mt and that there was no doubt in their mind of anything to the contrary.  This is very important evidence since the word of a martial arts teacher was considered to be very important and would not have been given lightly.
So with all these facts put together, we can start to see that there is more to the creation story and history of Baguazhang than is commonly known.  I truly hope I haven't offended anyone by this, but I felt it was a very important article to write since any good information about our common art of Bagua should be shared with everyone who is interested.  

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This is a blog devoted to the Chinese Internal martial arts. Our school is located in Vancouver, WA and currently accepting students for group classes, and limited private sessions.