Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Today's post: "Bagua's a Bitch!" or "My Quads Hate Bret's Guts!"

Baguazhang emphasizes lots of circular movements. It is very sneaky and deceptive, especially to anyone who thinks the art's signature circle walking is easy.

Since the start of the year, I've been focusing a lot on Hung Gar Kung Fu. It's a very demanding art that I knew would get me back in shape, requiring deep, wide stances and powerful upper-body movements.

Besides, I'm writing a young adult novel on a teenage boy who learns Hung Gar from a classmate at school. By brushing up on my own Hung Gar training, it gets me into the mindset I need to accurately describe that art on paper.

I supplemented that training with some silk-reeling exercises as I learned them from Ken Gullette. I found that the silk-reeling really helps to open up my hips making it easier to do the low stances required in Hung Gar sets.

Bret Bumgarner, a Tampa sifu of Gao-family Baguazhang Kung Fu, practicing with a Chinese cutlass called a dan dao. This photo demonstrates the flexibility demanded and developed by the practice of Baguazhang.

Also knowing that Nick Scrima is organizing an all-internal Chinese martial arts tournament in July, I thought it would be a good idea to hook up with Bret Bumgarner again. Bret, as a some of you might have read this past summer, is a local Bagua instructor. His Bagua impressed me as having both sound biomechanics and practical, aggressive, self-defense applications. It also has a strong Xingyiquan flavor, which I enjoy since I'm quite fond of that art.

So I went into Monday's practice at Al Lopez Park confident that the heavy stance work of Hung Gar would carry me through what I knew to be Bret's punishing Bagua training.

I was so wrong.

The workout included lengthy warmups. I was familiar with all those other exercises, but Bret introduced me to some additional exercises to loosen the hips and legs. I should have known it was bad news when he said "This is the fun part."

To be fair, once my back stopped going into spasms, I have to admit that those exercises did a lot to stretch out my lower body. I fully expect to add them to my workouts.

Sun Lu Tang, a noted author and teacher of the Chinese internal martial arts of Tai Chi Chuan, Xingyiquan and Baguazhang, demonstrates the San Ti or "Trinity" stance.

Afterward, we did a lot of movements from the San Ti (aka The Trinity Stance), which is usually associated with Xingyiquan. Those drills are some of my favorite parts of Bret's Bagua, though it does take a lot out of the legs and glutes.

A very good example of the circular footwork of Baguazhang.

From there, we went into some applications and closed with almost 20 minutes of "Walking the Circle," Bagua's signature exercise. That's where everything all comes together in that art. It is from the circle-walking footwork that Bagua people are most famous for their sneakiness and deceptiveness.

It's deceptive not only to an opponent, but also to prospective and beginning students who think that walking in circles for 20 minutes, while still maintaining Bagua principles, is going to be easy.

As my quads can attest to today, it's not.

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