How can anyone say “The Art of Change” remains unchanged?
Baguazhang was the topic of discussion this morning amongst some of my friends and colleagues. In particular a couple of references that made little sense. The first was that a particular Baguazhang lineage was completely pure and “untainted by other martial arts.” This is a claim I have not come across in decades of hanging in the dingy corners of the martial arts world. followed by another claim that this lineage had secrets no other masters know about the art.
Another usual suspect from the dark times of the 1980’s. When martial arts business boomed with fraudulent teachers galore. I find it very strange to see these kinds of advertising claims surfacing again. When I was young, pre internet, these fraudulent teachers flourished. As the internet became more widespread many of these claims disappeared from advertisements. Times had changed and the students they were trying to attract were able to do some research. This of course led to other methods for them to stay afloat, but I digress. First, I will address the “untainted” claim before commenting on “secret methods”.
It is impossible for a martial art to be completely pure and unchanged from its original form. Each generation knowledge is passed on it will mutate. Either in body, shape, or mind, or application. No matter how pure we try to keep it. Now consider how many generations of teachers from the original founder and their teachings you are. Each generation will change and influence the art even if they try not to change anything to better suit their own understanding of the The Art. Choreographies change, explanations, forms get added from other arts or removed. Martial Arts to remain forms of Art have to be arts of self expression through mindful movement. Robotic imitation of the teacher without any personal input, is a sign of ego limited thinking.
In Baguazhang itself we have many ‘styles’ of Bagua right from the first generation of students. Yin Fu and Cheng Tinghua may have learned exactly the same thing. But what they taught, demonstrated and fought with was HEAVILY influenced by their previous training in other arts. Which is why we now call different ‘styles’ of bagua by their names. This means that no one is sure what Dong Haichuan taught to those few students of his. We have a good idea only of what they themselves taught and their differences. There is no pure baguazhang of Dong Haichuan then to learn at all anymore since none of us can train with Dong.
Dong Haichuan himself is not all that well documented. From the research anyone can do on google it is easy to find references to him having learned martial arts as a young man. Before moving around and going to wudangshan where his enlightenment experience took place. This allowed him to meld the rotating in worship of heaven practice of the Long Men Taoists with the Martial Training he previously had.
Baguazhang is a martial art created from other arts. Only in Dong Hai Chuan’s own mind could we have found pure bagua training. Experiencing his teachings first hand would be the only way to have encountered ‘pure’ baguazhang. Each generation will flavour the art with their own identities.
While it was some kind of miraculous paradigm shift for Dong Haichuan that created his style. It was also a result of previous martial training. Flavoured by his own mind, and subjective, and likely spiritual experiences. Without his previous martial training. Dong Haichuan would not have had the fertile soil of martial background to grow his Baguazhang.
My first bagua teacher told me that a bagua “master” was a person who could make their own eight palms. That is a tall order indeed and has a lot of depth to that level of project. He had to show his eight to his master in Beijing to be ‘recognized’ and so on and so forth. This means that Baguazhang – known as “The Art of Change” is custom designed to break a student’s rigid attitudes. A path towards changing the way a person thinks through integrating more fully with movement.
How can anyone say “The Art of Change” is unchanged?
Secondly, the advertisement of ‘secret methods’ has been a lure for students for hundreds of years. Every person interested in the martial arts has a desire they feel training will meet. Most of the time there is a quest for personal power in the beginning of their training. The promise of “secret” or “devastating” methods is a sign of a teacher with little confidence in their abilities. Rather than letting their skills speak and set an example. The promise of secrets becomes a carrot for students to concentrate on.
There are Samurai writings that date back hundreds of years about schools of swordsmanship doing this in the past. Business is business. One of the writings of Musashi is about other schools of swordsmanship. He had a disdain for ‘secret techniques’
“Some other schools have a liking for extra-long swords. From the point of view of my strategy these must be seen as weak schools. This is because they do not appreciate the principle of cutting the enemy by any means.”
Cutting the enemy by any means is the freedom to release yourself from tradition, posture, or any unchanging rigidity of body or mind. Any means implies there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way, no ‘secret’ or ‘non secret’ way. A student would never be advised to enter a competition and rely on a ‘secret technique’ to win. Why imply that is how the martial arts work? Even martial teachers that are first cutting their teeth would never coach a student to do this. Why? Because there are no secret or non secret techniques.
Different tools for different jobs.
Mushashi was a master of change himself, does this make him a bagua master?