A Personal Treatise on Baguazhang
I was first introduced to baguazhang the night of January 17th, 2003, at a location known as the Dragon’s Den in Calgary, Alberta. I had no idea what this style of martial art was about. I originally went for the Yang tai chi which at the conclusion of that the instructor, Sifu Muri Parsons, invited me to hang around for the next class immediately following which was baguazhang. The other students, all of whom had done the tai chi the previous hour, encouraged me to stay. It would be an introduction class which was free of charge so I agreed to do so completely fascinated by the energy and enthusiasm that permeated the atmosphere of the Den. I remember the first moments of walking the circle and learning how to hold the cover hands while keeping the waist turned inward toward the center. After a moment I would learn the first change step as Sifu instructed us to stop with the right foot forward, which was our outside foot on the circle, and then pivot both feet so that we were facing the opposite direction on the circumference. For several long moments we walked around this large circle doing these inside change steps and shifting the cover hands.
I was intrigued but I was not entirely sold on the idea of baguazhang yet.
Sifu directed us to pick partners. We would continue these same movements of walking the circle with with the cover hands and doing this inside change step in a kind of cat and mouse game. The person opposite me was much taller with a lean frame that exuded athletic ability. I could imagine that he could be quite imposing but with a patient grin he maintained this exercise at a pace that I could follow, change stepping slow enough that I could mimic his steps on the circle. Both Sifu Muri and this gentleman encouraged me that I was doing well which was a relief since I had no clue what was going on. Although I had played with a tai chi form from a video for several years I had no previous martial arts training. I was about as green as anyone could be when it came to kung fu.
About half an hour into this class I was officially introduced to three of the eight striking palms that make up the core of baguazhang. Patiently Sifu walked us through the following application. It was a left angle step with a connecting thunder palm. Stepping forward in a circular pattern with what I would come to know as a right hook step planted directly between the feet of the opponent immediately compromising the center line accompanied by a striking fire palm. That hook step would then be directed over or around the opponent’s leg in behind in what I would come to know as the post step while that fire palm transformed into a right extended heaven palm over the adversary’s left shoulder while turning our waist to the left taking the opponent over. With the right leg behind the assailant’s along with that heaven palm powered by the waist turn the results were astounding and most obviously plain to see as the attacking partners landed on the floor everywhere… including me.
For the first few moments I was on the receiving end of this application as I directed the right hook punch at my companion. Then we switched so that I could see first hand what it felt like to take that first angle step and connect with my first thunder palm to his deltoid. Hook stepping through the center line while placing the upraised fingers of the fire palm on the upper strernum of my partner. Stepping over his leg while extending the heaven palm over his left shoulder and even though I turned my waist with awkward effort and in spite of the fact that he was a good head and shoulders taller than I was, I will never forget the ease with which he went over. Of course I thought I did something wrong as I helped him up apologizing quickly. He just laughed and told me that I had done well. Sifu Muri Parsons watched me carefully throughout my first introduction class and told me that it was obvious that baguazhang agreed with me.
I remember the final demonstration which was what I can only describe as a gauntlet routine where one person was surrounded by multiple opponents. I watched in fascination as one individual stood against many. The tight circle stepping reminded me of the Tazmanian devil from looney toons. It was like a dance of fluidity and grace with these opened palm strikes and post steps sending opponents to the ground like scattered leaves.
By the end of that class I was sold. I knew that I would be coming back. I would go home that winter’s night and spend hours walking the circle.
It has been nearly ten years since that first introduction class and I am still walking the circle making baguazhang a part of my daily life.