Double Palm Change
The Double Palm Change is the second of Ba Gua Zhang's eight mother palm changes and it contains the foundation of all the yin (soft) techniques of Ba Gua Zhang. The I Ching or book of change on which Ba Gua Zhang is based states that "the receptive (yin) completes the creative (yang)" and as such the Double Palm Change builds on and completes the Single Palm Change.
Where the Single Palm Change begins with the manifestation of yang energy, the double begins with the manifestation of yin energy. Yin energy is vital for developing and activating the natural healing mechanisms of the body, it also balances the mind preventing excessive yang emotions.
In terms of the physical health of the body the Double Palm Change is similar to the method of Taijiquan it emphasizes deep internal twisting and spiraling and a soft inward stretch rather than a yang expansion. This soft internal twisting massages and opens the body's internal organs and soft tissues. Where Ba Gua Zhang's yin techniques are slightly different than Taiji's is that they emphasize dispersal of energy rather than absorption. This is primarily due to the fact that the feet are generally moving in Ba Gua Zhang and generally planted in Taiji.
For martial artists the techniques of the Double Palm Change begin to expand to multiple attackers. It is Ba Gua Zhang's ability to fight multiple opponents at the same time that sets it apart from most other martial arts. Bruce wrote about his teacher Bai Hua who had first hand experience using Ba Gua Zhang against multiple attackers during the Cultural Revolution.
The rapid changes of direction and vertical dropping and rising within the Double Palm can greatly expand on the martial techniques developed in the the single palm change and really develop strong healthy legs. The addition of low stances and multidirectional strikes vastly increases the martial arsenal of any fighter or push hands player.
For students interested purely in the meditative aspects of Ba Gua Zhang the double palm begins the process of working with the etheric or "chi" body which directly effects many of the "lower" emotions.
For students who have learned the Single Palm Change, learning the Double Palm Change extremely valuable in that it will expose whatever gaps may exist with in the single palm and with practice begin to fill in those gaps. Only when the energies of yin and yang can smoothly mix and integrate can one begin to work on the manifestation of the other energies that exist within the remain six palm changes.
I was nineteen years old the first time I went to one of Bruce's retreats at Anvil Ranch. I had only been training with Bruce for a year and a half but the idea of doing a week of Spiraling Energy Body sounded like a great way to spend part of my summer break.
Part of what made these retreats special was the location. Just getting there was a bit of an adventure, especially in the early days. You had to drive up a windy dirt road, many people had horror stories of riding the airport bus up that little road. As I grew up locally I usually got my dad or a friend to give me a ride.
The view from the ranch was amazing all you could see for miles was a huge valley most of which was part of the ranch. The only noticeable building was a Buddhist temple all the way across the vast valley. Northern Californian is a magically place.
The accommodations were less magical. In the early days before they converted the barn into dorm people either stayed in a room in one of the two houses or camped. I camped under a fig tree in the little fig grove next to the second building. I was right outside Bruce's window which occasionally offered some added entertainment.
Classes were usually held up the hill from the living area in a grove of trees surrounding a large open dirt circle. A big oak tree in the middle had a sign on it with the words "Circle of Nature" on it, a reminder that we were indeed in California.
Some people camped up there on the edges but I never did because after a few days the porta-Jon up there got a bit ripe.
Sometimes when we could all fit and depending on the practice we would practice on the grass outside the main building. I always liked these session because I could lay on the grass during the break.
The typical day started at 6am with a morning meditation in the living room. Bruce would sit on one of the large couches and the rest of us would sit where we could, often overflowing into the hall and the dining room. I eventually got hip to getting there early so I could grab one of the big cushy chairs.
These meditations were some of the best sessions I ever had with Bruce, we did things like using sounds to release blockages, dissolving ghosts and exploring different energetic bodies.
After the morning session we ate breakfast, I missed the first couple years or retreats when the food was reportedly kinda bad, we had a wonderful lady named Marilyn who cooked, she got to know me real well. The food was good considering the number of people but after a few years I started bringing a stash of meat with me.
After breakfast, from 9-12 we had the morning class. The classes were similar to any of Bruce's classes these days only he was a bit more active in correcting people and he would do more dramatic demonstrations. Oh and there were no cameras!
The biggest difference was because we were so far out in the woods you felt protected and free to let things happen as the may. I can remember several times over the years when I had to wander off into the trees and scream, cry or laugh at the top of my lungs.
I remember one of the first times I had a major emotional release I was a little embarrassed but when I came back to the group one of the older women came up and without a word gave me a big hug. I realized that these people knew what I was going through and that it was just part of the process.
Years later I would joke that if I didn't have at least one big release per retreat, I didn't get my money's worth. I always got my money's worth.
After the morning class we would take our afternoon lunch break. The break usually lasted until 3pm which gave us time to go swimming at one streams or lakes on the property, take a hike, or usually in my case take a nap in the shade of the fig trees.
The afternoon class was usually from 2 or 3 - 5 or 6 depending on the heat. Because Bruce was also staying on the property and no one had any where to go things were often pretty flexible when it came to the schedule. This was in the age before cell phones and it was nice to be able to forget about what time it was or even what day it was. I can remember several times when Bruce realized we were a day behind or ahead of where we needed to be and either give us more time to practice or rush to fill in the remaining material.
When class ended we would all mill around and practice a bit until dinner. After dinner was my favorite time of the day, it was cool out and you could practice without sweating like a pig. But also it was great just hanging out with 60-100 other people who all share your same practice. I learned a lot over the years by playing with and talking to my fellow students.
Some of these people I can barely remember, others have hurt me, many have become lifelong friends, mentors, and even former lovers. All of them in their own way helped shape my view of world.
It still amazes me the variety of people that would attend, I remember many conversations where I was totally impressed how accomplished these people were. There were lawyers, writers, government workers, artists, wandering hippies, and of course some really good martial artists. It was inspiring to know that you didn't have to make this stuff your profession in order to benefit from it. I did anyway, but that is another story.
One of the most popular post dinner activities was hanging out in or around the hot tub. Bruce would often "hold court" in the tub and answer people's questions, tell stories, or tell jokes in a Hindi accent. If Bruce wasn't there you could still watch people practicing push hands, sparring or doing tuina on each other on the grass below. Another trick I learned was to use the hot tub on the days where the water had been changed.
The highlight of the week was the beach trip and party. Each year we would drive out to the beach near Stewart's Point, where as Bruce loved to point out you could buy guns and cheap wine. Always a winning combination. I won't tell you the name of the beach, some things must remain sacred.
The beach session were great lessons in how the energy of the ocean can teach you many things. Bruce would usually wrap up the weeks topic at the beach so it was quite often very intense. i remember one guy at the end of class just falling back into the sand like it was snow. The beach session were a great release after being in one place for a week, after class we would play on the beach for a bit then head into town for dinner. Usually a bunch of us would go to a small Chinese place in Anchor Bay. One year the owner recognized me and asked in broken English if "the big guy" was coming and when I said yes, she hurried into the back shouting instructions to her staff in Chinese.
I don't know if the food is still any good but I remember it being fantastic, but I had just come from a week of eating camp food.
Sometimes I would skip the Chinese and go to the Smoke house in the parking lot in Gualala super market. Eating a rack of ribs there with a couple friends is one of my fondest camp memories.
After dinner in town people would get supplies for the evenings entertainment. The parties were a lot of fun and people really cut loose often lasting way into the early morning and made the Saturday morning class a challenge.
People often showcase their talents during the parties, people would dance, sing, tell jokes (often very off color ones). Others would spar or push hands with a bit more gusto then they had during the week or do multiple attacker sparring. I myself remember waking up the next day with a serious hangover and multiple bruises of unknown origins.
The last morning was usually questions and answer and was patty mellow. Then we would gather for a group picture with camp call of "hip, hip, kwa!" Then we would say our goodbyes, with a lot of emotions and a lot of "if you are ever in ______, look me up" we all head our own ways until the next time.
Spiraling Nei Gong
It has been over 20 years now since the first time I did standing chi gung, it was like a spark was ignited and years of practice have turned that spark into a fire. When I first started I couldn't understand why I wasn't able to let go of tension, i though of it as if there was some magic switch I just had to find and then all my tension would disappear.
What I eventually came to accept was that there was no short cut I just had to practice more. Admittedly, I would frequently take classes that were over my head in the hope that I would get a little extra to feed the fire. And sort of like a child learning to stand sometimes I would fall and sometimes I would stand, both figuratively and at times literally.
It is hard in a few short words to explain why standing is so important but standing helps all the other stuff to "gel." Initially, standing and moving are taught as separate exercises, later standing becomes the process for wiring in the internals of the physical movements.
In order for this to happen the body has to have become extremely comfortable with the standing dissolving practice, this is important for two reasons. First it acts as a safety mechanism the dissolving can put out the fire if things start getting to hot.
Secondly, it clears out any blockages which present a potential danger when energy starts rising in the body.
Once the dropping and rising of energy are balanced various internal techniques like creating circles, spirals, spheres are used to more deeply open the inner body and the awareness to the energy flows inside of us.
This sets the stage for eventually unifying the energetic body into one unit. This is done in Spiraling the same way the physical unification happens in every gates.
To become comfortable standing is no easy task, but when it finally happens it becomes an incredible oasis from the stress and chaos of the everyday world.
Xing Yi Quan or Mind Form Boxing is the oldest of the internal martial arts in China and also one of its most effective fighting forms ever created.
Xingyi fuses a relaxed open body with a clear focused mind free of any gaps in its intent. This creates the ability to react to a situation with the appropriate response to overcome the situation without ever losing control of the stable balanced mind. The goal of xingyi as a fighting art is to create an aggressive focused power without relying on an emotional spike to create that power. Instead of emotion xingyi relies on the use of the 16 part (or should we say 10 hehehehe) nei gong system to generate different types of power evenly in all directions. As Bruce used to say “There is no question of aggression in xingyi, it is pure aggression. But it is aggression without emotional content.”
The core of Xingyi and “secret” of many of China’s greatest martial artists is the standing practice of Santi. The Santi posture is a powerful method of body and qi development based on the Five Element theory of Taoism. Santi is a great compliment to any form of internal or external martial art or qigong practice as it develops an incredibly strong and stable body and integrates the inside and outside of the body and awakens the sense of feeling inside the body.
Another key aspect of Xingyi which begins in the Santi practice is that of recognizing the different elements within the body and how these effect the internal organs, emotions, thoughts and health of the body. For Instance: Pi Chuan and the posture of Santi teaches the practitioner about how to strengthen the metal element within the body, including the lungs and the spine.
Santi is extremely valuable to anyone who practices or wishes to practice baguazhang as it develops many of the same internal and external components as bagua’s circle walking but without the added strain and difficulty of turning and twisting the waist and legs to such a great degree. When i was struggling with Bagua’s walking the advice I was given was to do xingyi’s santi for at least a year before returning to circle walking. I followed this advice and when I did I noticed I was able to maintain power in the walking better than many of the students who did not follow this advice.
For practitioners of Taiji the santi practice can be a good way of developing leg strength, good breathing and the natural spring of the body; all integral to quality taiji practice. Santi can also be a good antidote to the “wet noodle” tendencies of some taiji pushing hands players, allowing the body gain flexibility by opening, connecting and twisting, rather than disconnecting and bending and wiggling. Wiggling may get you away from a push but it won’t stop a solid kick or prevent you from being thrown.
One of the most difficult aspects of learning Ba Gua is getting comfortable with the physical movements. This is true of all the internal arts but in Ba Gua this is a bit more challenging because the form movements are often way outside the scope of our normal actions. For example, rarely in our daily life do we turn our waists 90 degrees as we walk, but this is how we train in Ba Gua.
Most of what makes Ba Gua effective is not the amazing complexity of its external movements but rather the way the inside of the body connects with those moments. It is often difficult for beginners to see how the movements of Ba Gua stepping and changes translate to combat. To discover this, one must change their focus from the movement of the upper body to the stepping and movement of the lower body (legs, hips, waist etc). BK Frantzis teaches a four part stepping method to begin the process of connecting the inner body to the movements on the surface, first with stepping, then with fighting techniques.
Four Part Step
There are four stages to any Ba Gua striking technique (one for each phase of the Four Part Step). The first is the initial touch, when you first contact your opponent. This is the most important part of the technique because it is where it where you take a reading of the opponent, but it is also the shortest, often lasting less than a blink of an eye. As your foot touches the ground, you touch your opponents arm or body. This is where you connect to their center.
The second stage is to root or ground the force coming towards you. This happens as you complete the first part of the step and transition to the second (the first half of the weight shift). Here you simultaneously pull energy from your feet and absorb the energy of your arms into your belly. This will pull your opponent forward or ground them onto their front leg. Think if this as the loading of a spring. This is also the stage that you begin changing your angle for your attack. This stage is similar in function to Tai Chi's Roll Back technique but it requires no movement of the arms.
In the third stage, the force from your arm through your body to your feet and into the ground creates a bounce which is what moves your arm forward for the first half of your strike. This is the unloading of the spring energy you’ve built up in the previous stage. This forward movement continues into the final stage where the pulling in of your back foot first completes the strike of the first hand and if needed can bring your back hand in for a second strike. In order for this to happen smoothly the movements of the arms and legs must be connected to the spine.
Opening the Spine
These four stages of the four part step can be abbreviated or modified in a myriad ways but no matter what the technique an internal connection to your spine has to remain constant. Without this there is no way to make the internal changes inside your body express themselves in the outer movements. This is what gets lost when we think about our hands too much. The phrase my teacher uses is: "Kick them with your hand!" This made no sense to me in the beginning, but after some years of practice I began to feel how no movement of my hand is independent of my feet. I had to discover what was in between my hands and feet.
As I began to fill in the gaps in my intent and opened the spaces inside my body, these connections began to happen on their own, until I could feel how my spine linked my hands to my feet. It was opening up my spine that released my arms and legs not the reverse. At this point techniques stopped being about movements and starting being about changing and balancing the way force moved through my body. There are various techniques for achieving this connection including Taoist breathing, reverse breathing, pulsing the spine and both inner and outer dissolving which should ideally be learned from someone who has gone through it, and not from a book or video.
Compassion from Stability
It is one thing to become integrated, it is another to stay integrated when you change directions. In order to remain stable with in a change you need to have a point of stability. The spine is the first place that stability need to be developed. Every step and every change of direction in Ba Gua is a chance to reconnect to that stable point.
The constant reconnection to a stable center creates an internal balance which the ancient Taoists believed was the key to cultivating compassion. Not a compassion based on someone else's words or a compassion from a sense of duty, but a true compassion from within, free of your own judgements and desires. Which is something most would agree the world could use a little more of these days.
Circle walking begins with a single step. In the beginning this step is often unstable but with practice we become more comfortable in our bodies and in our walking. As our comfort level increases layers of tension and stress begin to appear like layer of an onion. Dissolving these layers is the first step to releasing our attachment to the physical world and opening up to the natural flow of the Tao.
Like so many things in life this is easier said than done. At first dissolving while moving can seem next to impossible but as the mind relaxes it becomes easier to do and with each “release” our physical movements and the motion of our minds becomes clearer and more stable. Often when this clarity and stability increase we begin to recognize not just the layers of physical and energetic tension in ourselves but the emotional tension as well.
Dissolving emotions can be extremely tricky. Positive emotions can lead to feelings of excitement or euphoria which can pull us away from the present and we can miss what it happening in the moment. Negative emotions can also bring us out of the present and can activate our inner critic or cause our minds to become fixated on an event or problem in our lives. These are just two examples, emotions can take infinite forms and manifest in 10,000 different ways. It is in dealing with these emotions that the "inner-dissolving" method becomes infinitely valuable.
Entering into and releasing our “inner-space” can often bring new insight into our practice and our daily lives. It is within this space that we can begin to become aware of the place where we cease to be "in" the world and become "of" the world.
At this level we can begin to take Circle Walking to a level where our minds and the bodies begin to act as single units controlled by the flow of Chi in our 8 bodies.
Ultimately the journey through the eight bodies comes back the physical. It is our physical bodies which root us in this time and place. This reality that once we reach the end we return to the beginning is mirrored in our Circle walking as each step ends another begins and as we reach the end our circle we are brought back to the beginning and we are given another opportunity to bring ourselves closer to the Tao.
Revolving around a central point is at the core of Ba Gua Circle Walking. Revolution after revolution, we continue to circle around a central point in space that remains stable and unchanging. With each rotation we find ourselves traversing the same ground as before, yet every time it is a new experience. We trace the same steps over and over but each second greets us afresh.
In a sense, we are circling a point in time as well as space, for as much as things change, the moment we are in always remains the same. There is no past or future in Circle Walking, there is only the eternal present, the space where what is to come flows into what has gone.
In Taoist Circle Walking, the endless chatter of our mind begins to soften its grip on us. Again and again we return to the present, to the awareness of our breath, of our sensations and our energy, alive within our bodies. There is a flow of feeling as each inch of the foot contacts the ground, accepts the weight of our body ounce by ounce and then the spring as it releases and lifts to step again.
The feeling of being a living being in motion draws us back out of the fantasies and obsessions that our minds constantly create and destroy. Yet, inevitably we again drift off into the nether realms of our minds, the endless array of images that crowd our consciousness. Again and again we recognize each arising thought for what it is, and return to what is actually happening. For the experience of our actual aliveness is a reward far richer than the most opulent imaginings.
Again we step and turn around the middle point, the stillness at the core of all movement. The center of the circle as well as the central axis of our own body, around which our muscle, tissue, bone and chi continuously spirals. As we walk the circle, our bodies are continuously in motion, a never ending cycle of energy flowing in it’s natural pattern, balanced by the utter stability of it’s central core.
If we are able to calm our minds in the midst of this walk, on this path that is always changing yet ever present, we are able to recognize more and more of what is present in our minds and bodies. Who we are, what we are made of and what surrounds us. Without the endless stream of images blocking our view, we can come to a much deeper awareness of life as it really is. At times like these we catch a glimpse of that still center, that unchanging axis around which everything is moving and manifesting. And in that still space there is a moment of deep satisfaction and openness, an appreciation of things as they are, and a joyfulness that comes from simply being alive and unique in this time and place.
1995 Anvil Ranch Retreat
My Training History with BK Frantzis
I first met Bruce "Kumar" Frantzis in February of 1992. My friend Dave Shuck had met Kumar a few months earlier through his co-worker the late Frank Tamits. When I went to my first workshop Opening the Energy Gates which was held in Kumar's basement dojo I was struck by the wide variety of people. Being seventeen, I was the youngest person there by a decade (except for Dave) there were people ranging from 30 - 80. When the workshop began (it was a Friday night) I expected to be "thrashing bozos", when all we did was stand I kept thinking, "when do I get to hit someone" but something "hit" me when I went home that first night I had a spring in my step which I had not felt in years, if ever.
I had never been an athletic or physical person and I was on the road to the "rock n' roll" lifestyle but something in me was hooked. The next day we began with a short standing session and then a question and answer session. Kumar asked us "what would you rather have a soft body or a hard one?" I was the only person who answered "hard." This was a defining moment - I realized that I had finally found what I had been looking for, what exactly that was i still wasn't sure.
A few months later I took another weekend seminar with Kumar, this time it was "Bend the Bow - Shoot the Arrow", during this workshop I first learned the techniques which I would ultimately use to heal my scoliosis, which at the time was quite severe, being young I was able to fix the majority of it before it got worse. It was at this second workshop that I first felt "internal power" when Kumar pushed me. The push incredibly soft yet it picked all 200 lbs of me off the ground and sent me flying about 10 ft into Dave who being 50 lbs lighter then me, failed in his attempt to stop us from slamming into a wall. Doesn't sound like much now but at the time, wow!
The following Fall (1993) I enrolled in Kumar's weekly classes. At the time Kumar was teaching only Taiji, Push Hands and Ba Gua. I first took Ba Gua and push hands and later took the short form class taught by Craig Barnes and other students of Bruce’s.
It was Joe Z. that would later that year convince Kumar to begin to teach Xing Yi Quan in the weekly classes. These classes were my first exposure to the fighting side of the internal martial arts, I had some in the Ba Gua class but most of it was beyond my grasp at the time. I met many of Kumar's more advanced students at these classes and was fortunate enough to have several of them tutor me in the fine art of taking a beating.
For the next 10 years I continued to attend Kumar's weekly classes, long after many of the senior students had "moved on." In these classes I would eventually learn the Wu Long Form, Xing Yi 5 elements, Eight Drunken Immortals (as far as I know this was the only time BKF taught this), Ba Gua Zhang, Tui Shou (Push Hands), Rou Shou (soft hands) and Yi Chuan. I also attended "Kamp Kumar" every year where I took each of his core Nei Gung sets a minimum of two times. In addition I was certified to teach Dragon & Tiger Chi Gung in 1996, the Wu short form in 1999, Marriage of Heaven & Earth in 2004 and Ba Gua in 2010.
In 2008, I joined with my long time training partner Jess O’Brien in hosting Bruce’s Bay Area Seminars and we are continuing to develop a strong group of committed practitioners and friends.