What can I say? I’m delighted with Liang-style bagua. As a system, it’s got everything I’ve been looking for. In fact… twelve years after I arrived in Singapore with a rudimentary knowledge of Cheng Man Ching’s taijiquan, a period in which I’ve always felt that I’ve been searching for something which nothing I studied quite gave me… this is it. This is what I’ve been looking for, the whole time. Wow.
The tools I’ve been using are:
- Tom Bisio’s online bagua course, Intermediate level.
- Zhang Quan Liang’s DVDs.
- The first two of Tom Bisio’s three DVDs.
- Tom Bisio’s book on bagua circle-walking neigong.
- Li Zi Ming and Vince Black’s book on Liang-style bagua.
I started with the online intermediate-level course. This runs via the Gumtree app, or the Gumtree site in-browser. This provides access to. ten PDF books (including two that are for sale on Amazon; the remainder are for students’ use only), three guided meditations in MP3 files, and 122 video files.
After that, I got a Chinese-speaking friend to order me the full 11-DVD set of Zhang’s DVDs from Taobao. Finally, I ordered two of Tom’s DVDs from Plum Publications, via Amazon – which got to me in China from the USA really quickly, and well-packed (thanks, Plum Publications!). The books I’ve had for a few years, and brought back from Wales when I visited last year (I was already planning to sign up to the online course).
The PDFs and the MP3 files can be downloaded and saved on your local drive, but the videos can’t. I haven’t found this to be a problem except when I’ve been on a long train journey (as often happens) and my phone connection is unreliable. Even then, with a little forward planning I can pre-load the files I’m likely to want to watch into separate browser tabs on my Mac, and watch them that way. Gumtree is generally problem-free; my major gripes are a) that the file names are truncated both on my Mac and the iPad app, and b) that, on the iPad, the menu can only be viewed in ‘Page’ orientation – although the videos, once downloaded, can be viewed in ‘Landscape’ orientation.
So much for technical issues, what about the content?
Well. This course is huge. There is so much material here!
Because one my immediate aims is to lose weight, I’m diverging from the suggested progression, and concentrating on learning the Lao Ba Zhang, so that I can get a real aerobic routine going. I’ve looked at some of the other material – a qigong routine, some of the linear 64-movement material,basic staff and sabre techniques, elbow-striking techniques, and lots of qin na – and I’m looking forward to trying it all, but it’ll be a while!
Similarly, with the DVDs from Zhang Quan Liang, I’ve been concentrating on the Lao Ba Zhang, learning each Palm sequentially alongside its equivalent from Tom’s online course.
So far, I’ve reached the fifth palm. It’s quite clear that the moves in the online course are less complex than those in Zhang’s DVDs – although the latter are the same as the forms shown in Vince Black’s book on the Li Zi Ming version of Liang-style bagua.
This difference bothered me a bit. Although I’m happy to learn the two forms in parallel, I had hoped they would be the same. However, this was resolved when the two DVDs produced by Tom arrived yesterday. At the time of writing this, I haven’t had time to give them more than a quick look. However, on the second DVD – covering the Lao Ba Zhang and Linear forms – I noticed an option for an “Alternative Lao Ba Zhang”. In this, Tom performs almost exactly the same form as Zhang, with only minor variations, and explains the background to the difference in the two forms. Problem solved; now I know the context (and I’m the sort of person who likes to have these explained).
Of the of the other DVDs in Zhang’s set, I’ve taken a look at most of them, and am also adopting the Post-Standing forms; I’m finding it very effective. Another really exciting discovery is that this DVD, after teaching the 8 Pole-Standing techniques, introduces two separate moving-linking sequences for them, which also incorporate palm strikes, elbow strikes, and lots more. One of these is very, very reminiscent of the ‘Wuji Long’ form that I studied with Master Zhou Yue Wen in Singapore, years ago.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m using the Ding Ba Shi – the 8 walking postures – from Tom’s neigong book, linked with transitions that I learned when I was studying Cheng-style bagua. The form in Zhang’s DVDs is a bit different, so I haven’t tried to work on that, expecting that Tom’s DVDs, when they arrived, would be my topic. Actually – although I need to re-watch more closely – both DVD sets seem to show the same Ding Ba Shi set, with the book being different. I wonder what the Foundation level of the online course uses? Anyway, for the time being, I’ll stick with what I’m doing, and will come back to the DVDs’ version some time in the future.
So, currently, I’m working on:
- the Post-Standing techniques from Zhang;
- the Ding Ba Shi from Tom’s book;
- Tom’s Lao Ba Zhang;
- and Zhang’s Lao Ba Zhang.
It’ll be a few weeks before I’ve got these learned; then I’ll need to more time for fine-tuning. Once that’s done, I’ll probably work on the Dragon Body exercises, the 8-elbows sequence, and Zhang’s ‘Eight Door Conditioning’ exercises. That’ll be followed by the linked-post sequences. After that? Time to think about the linear form, and the weapons…
Another thing that really, really pleases me is that in both Zhang’s Post Forms, and in some of Tom’s qigong exercises, there are elements that are very, very close to things which I learned in my Yiquan classes. There are minor differences, but the family relationship is very clear, and so I’l be able to integrate insights I had during my Yiquan training.
Similarly, there are points – particularly in Zhang’s material – where I can see clear overlap with qigong exercises I used to do with Master Sim at Nam Wah Pai in Singapore – and with what I’ve read in Master Mantak Chia’s books. This means there’s scope for deeper qi work to be integrated.
Another interesting point to explore will be the qin na; having looked at a few of the clips about this from the online course, I was intrigued to hear Tom describing the theory of qin na in terms which are very familiar but from systema, rather than from anything I’ve heard in Chinese martial arts! That’s going to be a really interesting area of overlap to explore.
Essentially, what I’m finding – between these various sources – is a full system of effective qigong, varied and challenging circle forms, a practical linear application, and extensive qin na: all clearly explained from first principles to usage either in English or with subtitles. Many things that I’ve learned at different times, from different masters, at different places, all seem to be coming together and integrating in this style. And, with specific supporting material in the PDFs and MP3s! Wonderful! Finally, the full, integrated system I’ve been searching for!
I realized shortly after posting this that I’d forgotten to note down the effects that seem to be emerging from this practice.
When I first decided to return to bagua, I was observing heightened internal body temperature, and other effects. Then my practice dropped off, as a new relationship got under way. Now, with Ms. B. away for a while, I’ve been practising more intensively again. I’m not noticing those effects so much this time, although I’m still drinking much more water than usual.
I’ve been experiencing quite a bit of pain in my back, and my left insole, as my body is rebalancing and straightening, and muscles/ligaments etc which haven’t been carrying their fair share of weight for a very long time are now having to do so. This is pain in a good way, and is already decreasing. The easing of tension in areas which have in the past been chronically overloaded is, no doubt, also having effects, but not ones that I’ve generally been able to feel – though there’s been a very noticeable release of tension in my jaw.
After practicing, I’m able for some hours to feel a ‘tingling’ of sorts throughout my internal organs; the exceptions seem to the heart and brain, but that’s probably only because my mind is less trained to sense them.
Also, after circle-walking, I used to experience a pain in my right knee due to incorrect posture (it was one reason why I gave up bagua in the past). That’s not happening now; it seems my posture is correct.
Some aspects of the pole-standing exercises in Zhang’s DVD seem to be setting the scene for Iron Shirt/Golden Bell methods.
My work shirts are hanging looser. I haven’t been training long enough to have aerobically burned fat away, but the muscles from my kua upwards, around my abdomen, are tightening up. Can’t wait to start burning fat; that’ll start happening when I’m confident I have the Lao Ba Zhang right, down to the fine details, and can start to pick up the pace during the circle-walking.
I should also add that in recent days I’ve been experiencing many vivid, intense flashbacks from moments in my past. This is something I normally associate with periods of deep meditation. I think that this is a side-effect of focussed attention during the time that I’m circle-walking, when the mind is effectively stilled. This is also a very positive, and actually quite an exciting, development.