Ba Gua Zhang Training Tips #1: Conditioning

Dave Jones Ba gua zhang circle-walking

Now that we have this wonderful forum to use, I feel obliged to make the most of it.

One thing I intend to do regularly is post on subjects directly related to the Gao Ba Gua we teach here at PATHS Atlanta Kung Fu.

I will try to focus on areas that are generally pertinent to any student at any level, or to address frequently asked questions (FAQ). So, for this first post in the "Training Tips" category, allow me to digress for a moment on the subject of Basic Conditioning:

One thing that surprises many first time students in our Gao Ba Gua class is that we don’t spend half of our class time doing calisthenics. By this I mean the push-ups, sit-ups, and other (primarily) body weight exercises that many martial arts schools have as a mandatory regimen. Don’t get me wrong, a good Ba Gua workout, especially after the student has acquired good circling abilities, can be as demanding, intense and beneficial as any other mode of exercise. But, you may ask, where are the sit-ups, push-ups, et al.—aren’t they important?

In a nutshell, yes. But when I teach a class on the Ba Gua system, that is exactly what I want to spend our time on—the system. And that system does not have a rigidly codified set of calisthenics in its syllabus. I suspect this is because the rigorous practice of the movements of the system itself are the best way to improve those specific movements. As in the case of push-ups, they will build arm and chest strength but not necessarily teach you how to punch properly or for maximum effect.

Despite this, arm and chest strength ARE necessary to punch properly and effectively (although not as much as some might think). So how does a new Ba Gua student acquire the overall strength and stamina required by the art?

One simple answer is, "do the damn push-ups, sit-ups, etc. on your own time!"

Yeah, I’m being glib, but the fact is that by adulthood most of us have been exposed to some sort of exercise regimen that would fit this basic conditioning bill. I don’t think the average student wants me to spend half of their paid class time expounding on how to do exercises that their gym teacher should have shown them when they were 12.

Basic exercises are not rocket science, folks. Any balanced daily regimen will do for general purpose conditioning and fitness.

But what if you just can’t get motivated to DO them on your own?

Well, on the one hand, the Ba Gua system we teach is geared toward adults (or at least what we could call "mature people") and if you can’t bring yourself to do some basic exercises on your own, what are the chances you will spend the hours of solo practice required to master something more sophisticated—like a single palm change?

On the other hand, I am being a bit harsh here. Human beings are social animals and often do their best work in a group environment. And the more rigorous calisthenic disciplines almost require a "drill sergeant" to press you past your self-imposed limits and on to success.

Well, good news here. These programs exist and are widely available. In fact, you can access some of them through PATHS. Any good yoga, dance, pilates, parkour, or other such program is a fantastic way to cross train with your Ba Gua. And if you want something more martial arts specific to supplement your Ba Gua training, I strongly recommend doing the open door Northern Shaolin Kung Fu program taught by our own Sifu Kiessling.

Completing this program will give the student ALL of the basic skills, stamina, and flexibility required by the Chinese Martial Arts and two of the most widely used and recognized training "Sets" extant, Lien Bu and Tan Tui. Even if you never intend to learn the "closed door" system, the "open door" will prep you beautifully for ANY CMA system. I can attest to this because I did it myself.

But here is my biggest secret for conditioning. Follow the Pleasure Principle.

If jogging, gym workouts, or any other exercise feels like a chore you will be much less likely to continue them over the long haul.

In my own life I have found things that I enjoy so much I will do them almost compulsively, keeping it up till I am about to drop purely because I am having so much fun.

A few examples are things like chucking frisbee with friends, playing pick-up basketball, or walking my insane dog to the park and throwing the ball till he is ready to puke.

Find these activities in your own life and include them in your regimen. For the things you do where you want the results but find getting them difficult, get into a group class. Having the friendly competition and support of your peers can make even the most difficult exercise more enjoyable.

As a final note, I want to reiterate that our Ba Gua Zhang system is excellent for conditioning, and we give many suplimentary exercizes for required Ba Gua skills you might NOT pick up in any other conditioning program. One example is the 7 to 10 pound rice bag we toss to develop our peculiar grabbing methods. There are many others.

In the end, my personal journey through martial arts has lasted this long because no matter how hard the workouts were, I was loving every minute of it. Who says you can’t mix work with pleasure?

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