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.