Circular Thoughts

S. and I went out for dinner in Nanluoguxiang on Friday night to catch up. She’s working hard on her baguazhang and meditation, with only a few forms left to learn before she’s mastered her teacher’s full repertoire. She’s indefatigable, training for hours almost every day. Her meditation and qigong are progressing by leaps and bounds as well. It helps that’s she’s fluent in Mandarin, of course; she hangs out socially with her Chinese kungfu brothers and sisters as well as training with them. Heh. Later on, we were walking near the Drum Tower, looking for a taxi after watching some Mongolian throat singers in a small restored siheyuan, we passed a local hutong-dweller in shorts and vest, taking a swan for a walk. As you do. This is why I love living in Beijing.

I had a good yiquan class yesterday. I’ve not been for a while – mostly because work has left me feeling so drained that I’ve just been sleeping when I get free time! Anyhow, Master Yao gave me a call on Friday just to check everything was OK – he’s like that, a really considerate teacher. Yesterday, there were all new faces, so it was a basic course showing the progression of yiquan practice from health forms to force-testing to push-hands; good to review. When it came to the tui shou, it was interesting to practice with the new-comers. There was a fair spread of ages, and most of them were clearly physically quite strong, but they were really stiff – and I realized that’s how I was when I started. I actually seem to have learned something, and am much more relaxed than a year ago!

During the session, I also found that the yiquan ‘friction stepping‘ finally clicked; I could feel that I was getting the isometric tension pretty much right.

Anyway, it got me thinking. I deliberately stopped training baguazhang entirely last winter, because I could see that the yiquan was giving me insights into the neijia methodology that I’d never got from my taiji or bagua classes. I decided to focus entirely on yiquan until I knew enough to apply these techniques back into the other styles. I don’t think there’s any conflict there – I think it was Tim Cartmell who, in Jess O’Brien’s Neijiaquan, points out that once you’ve understood the principles, there’s no real difference between the styles. The more I learn, the more my own thoughts go that way. (And the more often I re-read that book, the more I realize how much wisdom it contains!)

So, talking to S. made me think that maybe it’s time to think about getting back into the bagua again. By chance, Liu Jing Ru’s disciple Kong Cheng called me the other day as well; he’s back from Europe, so we’re going to meet for lunch soon. That seems to confirm that the time is right to begin circle-walking again! I’ll talk it over with him. I think I need to attend classes where there are other foreign students. Unlike S, I don’t speak good Mandarin, so although my Chinese fellow-students (for example at Master Yao’s academy) are very friendly and supportive, I’m not able to chill out and socialize with them – and I’m beginning to really feel that lack. Hopefully he’ll be able to make some suggestions.

With that all on my mind, after yesterday’s yiquan class I headed to Ditan Park, and spent a while going through the bagua Eight Mother Palms as static qigong – just holding each position for a while on either side, and treating it as I would yiquan’s zhan zhuang. I got some interesting results, noting where my weight was, where felt stretched, where there was a strain… I missed all this subtle feedback when I simply trained by walking. Hmmm. Well, watch this space.


  1. Hi, nice post, and great blog. I agree that Tim’s comments are pretty right on, and it’s likely he got this attitude from Luo De Xiu who also espouses the unity of the IMA after a certain point.

    Both good guys to train with, who are interested in the beauty and wonder of it all above and beyond the brutality!

    Thanks also for your kind words about Nei Jia Quan, it was a fun project to put together. Many of the teachers were putting out their real hearts and ideas. I was quite surprised at the time, I expected people to be more guarded, but they really did say many worthwhile things. I think it will guide me for many years to come, I feel that it’s a different book each time I read it!

    Take care and keep up the good training!

    Jess O’Brien
    Oakland, CA


  2. Hello Jess O’Brien,
    It’s funny how you happened to post today considering I just bought your book a few days ago. It was a really interesting read, I finished it in 2 days! It was great seeing the different perspectives people had on the IMA, although I don’t necessarily agree with all of the statements. Tim had some insightful remarks such as the ambiguity of forms and how one needs to see the underlying principles, not just one or two techniques. One thing is strange to me though. If Tim spent a lot of time practicing and researching the internal martial arts why does he teach the more modern MMA stuff at his school? Wouldn’t it just make more sense to teach BaGua because there are enough “UFC” schools around. Grappling and hitting pads is common, I just think Bagua should be propagated more.
    Great book anyways, I’m sure it helped many people understand the philosophy of IMA and maybe got some people to look for an instructor! One of the most important characteristics of a good book is the more you read it, the more things you begin to pick up. Nei Jia Quan definitely has that trait.
    Good luck,


  3. Hi Circling Taoist,

    Glad you liked the book! It was aimed at guys like us who are crazy about IMA. Many of the teachers in the book contradict each other, yet you can’t say one or the other is wrong. It really helped me see how these arts are not definable. They are truly vast studies that incorporate many different things, making it so there is something for everyone.

    I’ve been down to train with Tim a number of times, and it’s always fun. Great workout, and good fighting techniques. All of the stand up fighting is drawn directly from IMA, and many are from Luo De Xiu’s Ba Gua that Tim learned. Terrific stuff, straightforward, intuitive and conceptual so that the movements can be used in so many different ways.

    Since Tim is in Southern California, the mecca of fight sports, his market is almost entirely people who want to train in that way. Since the techniques are the same either way, and Tim also loves fitness and grappling, it’s the perfect fit for him. Anyone who learns the Shen Wu method will be a true internal practitioner with or without any classical forms.

    It’s worth noting that he himself went the classical route to end up where he is. It just goes to show that you can do this stuff in different ways for different reasons. Some of his guys have done really well in MMA and he’s done amazing in the BJJ competitions.

    There’s a lot to learn from the sport fighters of the world. Fight sport and martial arts are two entirely different worlds. However, they do cross over in some ways and the sparring in particular is a wonderful way to improve your own game.

    Hope you get a chance to check out Tim and the others in person. All are great teachers worth visiting.

    Take care,

    Jess O


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