Tai Chi Pluck Energy for Real Self-Defense

There are many different "energies" in Tai Chi and the internal arts. Cai energy is also called "Pluck." It is a sudden pulling action that can take your opponent off-balance.

Pluck can be done in a subtle way in push hands but in real self-defense, when your life can be in danger, it is not subtle and not especially pretty -- but it is definitely effective and it can be used against all kinds of attacks. 

Ken Gullette covers protectively against a sudden attack by Colin Frye.

Here is how to begin practicing this particular method of Tai Chi Pluck energy. Have a partner attack you without warning. Your first goal is to cover and block the attack. Instinctively, you should drop your weight and avoid the lifting of the body. This takes a lot of practice and presence of mind. In fact, it is a very good idea simply to react to an initial attack by practicing -- over and over -- the dropping and covering technique to protect yourself in the event of a surprise attack. 

Despite what some people claim, not all attacks are surprise attacks. Very often, guys will go into their "monkey dance," and give you some warning they are about to strike. Sometimes, the initial action will be to shove you back. Either way, once your attacker invades your space, covering and blocking is an appropriate response.

Pluck 2
As quickly as possible, grab and jerk downward, using internal body mechanics.

Next, as quickly as possible, grab the attacking hand (or foot if it is a kick) and give it a sudden, hard jerk downward. This will take your opponent off-balance, usually in a big way.

Internal body mechanics are required. To pull with sufficient force, you must be connected from the ground of the front foot through the hands. As you pluck, the whole-body connection allows the ground to work with the arms and the Dan T'ien rotation and you close powerfully into the kua (my right kua in the photos) as you jerk the opponent down.

Be careful when doing pluck in this way with a partner. You can literally give a partner whiplash by jerking quickly and powerfully. So make sure your partner is ready and take precautions that you don't cause injury.

Pluck 3
Pluck puts you in position to counter effectively.

This is an extremely effective technique for real self-defense. Remember, in the internal arts, your goals are to uproot and unbalance your opponent. You do that by neutralizing the incoming force and countering with good internal body mechanics. Tai Chi is not always gentle. It is a brutal fighting art. Pluck Energy is an excellent self-defense technique. Try it against all types of attacks. Pad up and use it in sparring. Try it against combination attacks. Any time you can grab your opponent, pluck is an effective way of disorienting him to set up your counter-attack.

The video for this lesson is in the Internal Strength section of my website at www.internalfightingarts.com. 


Baguazhang's Fierce Tiger Emerges from Mountain - One of Cheng Bagua's 8 Basic Palms

Cheng Ting-hua, one of the most prominent early Bagua masters (he was a student of Bagua creator Dong Haichuan) taught eight stationary Bagua postures to students. They were put into a form called the Eight Basic Palms form, which is practiced while walking the circle.

Bagua-Fierce-TigerThe first of the stationary postures is Fierce Tiger Emerges from Mountain. After the opening movement of the form, you walk the circle with your upper body turned toward the center of the circle and your palms downward, with fingertips of both hands pointing towards the other hand. Thumbs are angled downward.

The point of Fierce Tiger is to practice "downward" energy. The intent of the body -- the weight of the body -- is focused into the palms as they press downward. This press is not done with muscular tension, however. It is done by relaxing the shoulders, sinking the energy of the body (I often call this "sinking your weight" to avoid mystical interpretations) and putting your intent into the palms.

Bagua-Fierce-Tiger-2One of the self-defense applications for Fierce Tiger involves a low punch or kick to the stomach or groin. In the second photo, my friend Sean Ledig gives me a low punch. I put my weight into my hands and use the entire sinking of the body through the hands to knock down the punch. By dropping the body weight into the palms, it jolts his body off-balance and turns him slightly away, giving me the opportunity for a counter strike. Looking at the photo, the jolt of the redirection caused him to lean in, giving me an opening for an immediate elbow strike with my right arm to the left side of his face.

It is important to point out that both palms are not necessary in a fighting application. I can apply the energy from Fierce Tiger using only one palm, knocking down a low punch or kick while the other hand remains ready to counter or protect.

Fierce Tiger Emerges from Mountain is the first of eight stationary postures in the form. It is an important form that helps students practice circle walking along with the focusing of different energies with the palm postures. Complete instruction of the form and some of its fighting applications can be found on my Bagua Basic Skills DVD and on my Internal Fighting Arts website.

Some students rush through this form and, after they learn it they do not practice it often. I urge everyone to take their time. The circle walking builds leg strength and agility, and the holding of postures develops the ability to relax and use various "energies" of the palm postures. Breathe naturally, coordinate exhalations with "yang" movement, and focus on the martial intent and whole-body connection.

Video Highlights of New Kindle Ebook - Baguazhang Self-Defense

Here is a short video with highlights of some of the self-defense techniques in my new ebook - Baguazhang Self-Defense: Fighting Applications of the Cheng Style Eight Main Palms Form. 

The ebook has 380 photos and descriptions of 150 self-defense applications from this one Bagua form. Each application is discussed and shown with an emphasis on internal body mechanics. The ebook costs only $6.99 and is available on Amazon's Kindle Store. Many nations have their own Amazon stores (if you are outside the US, check Amazon in your country). Here is the link to the ebook on Amazon's store in the United States.

The video was done for still photo purposes, to illustrate how each movement in the form is used for self-defense. 



New Bagua Self-Defense Ebook -- 380 Photos and 150 Fighting Applications from One Baguazhang Form

8 Main Apps Ebook Cover 250My new ebook is titled Baguazhang Self-Defense - Fighting Applications of the Cheng Style Eight Main Palms Form. It contains 380 photos and offers a breakdown and detailed descriptions of 150 self-defense applications from the 8 Main Palms form.

The ebook costs only $6.99 and is available through the Amazon Kindle Store. Here is a link to the U.S. Kindle Store. It is also available on Amazon's site in the UK, France, other European nations, India, Japan, Brazil and more -- just search for it in your country's version of the Kindle Store.

There are three main goals in Bagua self-defense -- Uproot, Unbalance, and Control Your Opponent's Center. Sometimes, a Bagua fighter seems to disappear in front of his opponent, and the opponent finds that the Bagua fighter is behind him. Some of these techniques are included in the instruction.

8 Main Apps 7-48This ebook is a companion and reference to the fighting applications in the recently produced Bagua Eight Main Palms Form DVD, which is available through this blog (see the list of DVDs on the right side of the page) and through my websites and Amazon (Amazon charges shipping for my DVDs and I don't charge for shipping even on International orders).

Among the applications are palm strikes, punches, elbow and shoulder strikes, joint locks, kicks, sweeps, throws and takedowns. The techniques are explained with an emphasis on internal body mechanics, which give you a relaxed power.

There are eight sections to the Eight Main Palms Form:

1. Single Change Palm

2. Double Change Palm

3. Following Posture Palm

4. Back Body Palm

5. Turning Body Palm

6. Grinding Body Palm

7. Overturning Body Palm

8. Returning Body Palm

Some of the old Bagua masters claimed to be able to handle any attack with Single Palm Change, Double Palm Change, and Following Posture Palm. I believe it. Like all great martial arts, there is an amazing amount of information embedded and hidden within the fluid, graceful, flowing movements of each section.

In this ebook, I show 150 applications that are hidden inside the form, and I encourage the reader to use their creativity, take this information and build on it by searching the movements for techniques they discover on their own. That is one of my greatest satisfactions in studying the internal arts -- getting better at the movements from an internal perspective, and then finding new ways of applying the movements in self-defense.

It is in that spirit that I have written this ebook. 

How to Learn Advanced Bagua Self-Defense Techniques

Title Page PhotoA DVD customer sent me a message. He had purchased my Basic Building Blocks of Bagua Self-Defense DVD and he had this question:

Where can I find advanced Bagua self-defense techniques?

I asked him how long he has studied Bagua. His reply -- he is new to the art.

He probably has good intentions. I am sure he is a nice person. But the very idea behind his question is one of the frustrating aspects of teaching a martial art -- and especially an internal art.

It's the equivalent of a student walking into your school and asking, "How long does it take to get a black belt?"

Well, that depends. How much of your life are you willing to commit? How many years are you willing to spend thinking about, practicing, pondering, studying the art?

Bagua -- like Chen tai chi and actually any other fighting art or sport -- is a very complex art that requires specific body mechanics that take years and years of hard practice to develop. Asking for an advanced DVD when you haven't spent years practicing the basics is like asking for advanced video on Michael Jordan's best moves before you have learned to dribble a basketball.

8 main apps 4-73I have been involved in Bagua since 1988, and I'm still trying to work out the advanced techniques myself.

If you find video from someone who claims it is "advanced," the instructor is probably doing the "advanced" techniques against willing partners -- their students -- and the techniques demonstrated probably would not work very well in a real fight. You'll see his student throw a punch and stand there while the teacher winds and twists his way through three or four techniques that look pretty cool until you try them against someone who is not cooperating.

Or the instructor will try to appear supernatural, as if his "chi" gives him an edge.

The old school masters in China who know the advanced stuff don't teach the way we do -- they hold knowledge in and don't really do much in their videos except demonstrate movement (with no real teaching). The language barrier is also a problem. Let's face it -- they just aren't that into teaching you their advanced material. It's a cultural thing. They want your money, but don't expect to get much of their art in return.

BaguaDVD-1-250As of the writing of this blog post, I have put together four Bagua DVDs -- the Basic Skills (crucial), the Basic Building Blocks for Self Defense, the Eight Main Palms Form and the Swimming Body Form. Both of the latter DVDs include instruction on the movements of the form plus some of the fighting applications. I also have two DVDs that teach foundational skills required for success in Bagua, Xingyi or Taiji -- my Internal Strength and Silk-Reeling DVDs. I began putting my knowledge on video 10 years ago, and it has taken me this long to even begin approaching the advanced material.

If you are really interested in learning Bagua, you'll need to spend months or years practicing the basic skills, just as you would spend months, or years, working on a jab, hook, uppercut and a right cross if you took up boxing. You would spend years working on dribbling, ball handling, a jump shot, and a layup if you took up basketball.

In the end, Bagua is just like any fighting art. It's a lot prettier in a form than it is in actual fighting, where it relies on simple concepts used in creative, fast-changing ways. In my opinion, the old masters who built reputations using Bagua in real fighting in Chinese villages were simply good fighters using simple techniques in skillful ways.

So how do you develop advanced Bagua technique? My first recommendation, if you really want to learn, is to focus on the basics and spend some time. As you do, the advanced techniques will be more clear. But you need to start by really studying Internal Strength (ground path, peng, silk-reeling, whole body movement, opening/closing the kua, and Dan T'ien rotation) before studying Bagua basics. And then you must work on circle-walking, mother palms, tea-serving, and a dozen other skills before you can even consider advanced techniques.

If you were handed a paint brush, would you be ready to paint a masterpiece? By giving you basic instruction on DVD and on my website, I am handing you the brush. I was handed this brush decades ago. How much of our lives we commit to that brush -- and struggling through the basic principles, strokes and techniques -- will determine if we will ever go beyond doodling. 

Two Bagua Moves to Escape an Arm Lock - Baguazhang Self Defense

8 main 6-9Baguazhang is an internal martial art that relies on circular movement, turning, spiraling, and relaxed power similar to Taijiquan.

Many types of arm locks are used in martial arts. One of the locks that we use is sometimes called "Pat the Bull." Your opponent has you in the lock and has grabbed your shoulder to make it more firm.

In the Cheng style Baguazhang form "Eight Main Palms," two movements in the section called Grinding Palm are very useful for escaping this arm lock. The movements are called "Green Dragon Swings Its Tail" and "White Snake Twists Its Body." In the form, these movements follow each other. 

8 main 6-11

Photo 6-9 shows the start of "Green Dragon Swings Its Tail." You continue to turn, stepping your right foot around into a pidgeon-toe stance, and spiral the arm upward. You continue to spin for the movement called "White Snake Turns Its Body."

When you finish, you are standing upright again.

Someone who applies force to you is often thinking in one direction. An opponent who is applying an arm lock is trying to apply upward pressure on your arm, and in this particular case, downward clamping pressure to the shoulder.

Ken Gullette - Chris Miller Bagua-Arm-Lock-1To escape, go in a different direction. In the bottom three photos, black sash Chris Miller applies "Pat the Bull." In our practices, we don't want to let go - we try to make it realistic because we do not like to practice weak and ineffective techniques.

When I bend over to begin the movement "Green Dragon Swings Its Tail," I spiral the arm upward. Both of these actions relieve pressure. As I bend over, I am going in the direction he is applying to Ken Gullette - Chris Miller Bagua-Arm-Lock-2my shoulder, but my arm is turning and spiraling, escaping the upward pressure he is applying to the arm.

In the Bagua movement, the arm spirals straight upward, but as we all know, self-defense is not often as perfect as the form. The intent of the movement is to escape. Notice when I bend over, how the hand that had been clamping down on my shoulder is being moved in a different direction. I am neutralizing his downward pressure.

As I continue turning, I am suddenly in position to apply an arm lock or elbow break to Chris.

Ken Gullette Chris Miller Bagua-Arm-Lock-3This is a good technique to practice with a partner -- just be careful, as in all joint lock practice. You do not want to injure your partner, but it is important to apply enough pressure to the arm lock to immobilize your partner if possible.

Some of this silk-reeling movement takes practice, and is part of the Internal Strength, Silk-Reeling, Taiji and Bagua teaching that we do. It is an excellent technique and shows how relaxed internal technique can often overcome muscle and brute strength. 

Connecting with Your Opponent's Center in Taiji, Bagua and Xingyi - Building Internal Self Defense Skills

Ken-Gullette-Jerit-Gendreau-1When you and a partner are doing push hands, or if you find yourself in a situation that calls for self-defense, one of your primary goals is to "remain centered."

Remaining centered requires you to maintain your mental balance and physical balance. If you lose your balance -- mentally or physically -- you are vulnerable. The same is true for your opponent.

This means that one of your goals when facing an opponent is to find his center, connect with it and control it.

On my website there are videos related to this topic. You can meld with your opponent's center as it is turning, helping it continue in the direction it is traveling. That's my favorite way to control an opponent's center, but there is another way.

Ken-Gullette-Jerit-Gendreau-2When you practice push hands with a partner, you try to remain sensitive, and you do not want to give him an opening. You hide your internal strength from him. You are relaxed but aware, connected through the body, but you are flexible, moving, and able to respond and spiral when he exerts force.

When you cannot move -- when you are put into a position from which you can't defend yourself -- you are "double weighted." That is actually what double-weighted means in Taijiquan. It does NOT mean having your weight distributed equally on both feet.

In the photos here, Jerit Gendreau and I are pushing hands. I am remaining flexible and connected. Then I find where he is weak, and as I press inward, I connect his arm and torso to his center. He is in a position from which he cannot defend. So I push him off-balance, and from there, in a self-defense situation, there is a window in which I can counter and finish him.

There are many ways of connecting part of your opponent's body to his center. I recommend practicing with a partner and working to help each other understand this concept. When you connect with your partner, you feel a stiffness between the part of the body you are contacting and their Dan T'ien area. At that point, they are ready to be defeated.

For more understanding, try two weeks free on my website. You really can't lose on the deal. I won't let you lose. You get two free weeks of complete access to more than 600 video lessons, plus pdf downloads and a private discussion board. It's a step-by-step learning situation for Taiji, Xingyi and Bagua -- but you get access to all material all at once. 

When your opponent attacks you, he has lost his center -- his connection with you. By considering himself separate from you, he has stepped out of harmony with nature. By connecting with him, you can bring him back into harmony, and this is a good way to practice as you begin learning internal self-defense.

Cheng Style Baguazhang 8 Main Palms Form - New Kindle Ebook

Bagua 8 Main Ebook Cover 250The Cheng style Baguazhang 8 Main Palms form is the focus of my eighth Kindle ebook, available now in Amazon's Kindle Store.  This ebook has 340 photos and step-by-step instruction on every movement in this important Bagua form.

The 8 Main Palms form is the first major Bagua form that I teach my students after they have learned basic bagua skills. There are eight sections that contain a lot of information. This form is considered the essence of Baguazhang.

Each section includes a sequence that is performed twice -- once on each side. The photos show a detailed breakdown and instruction of each side.

My goal is always to create books that I would want to read as a student. One of the things I have seen in martial arts books over 40 years is a lack of detail on movements that appear to be "transitions." I try to include that detail so readers know how they get from one movement to the next. I try to leave nothing to guesswork.

The instruction focuses on body mechanics, stripping away the mystical, abstract nonsense that is in some internal arts books. A lot of that type of vague instruction is confusing and leads to misinterpretation. My goal is always to use plain language that clearly communicates the movement and mechanics.

This is Volume One of a two-part series on the 8 Main Palms form. The second volume, available by the end of the month, will focus on the self-defense applications of each movement. The ebook costs $4.99 and is available in Amazon's Kindle Store. Follow this link to read a sample and to get more information.

The ebook is a companion to the 8 Main Palms form DVD that includes step by step video instruction on the movements and their fighting applications.

Bagua Swimming Body Form - New DVD Teaches the Cheng Style Bagua Advanced Routine

Bagua-Swimming-Body-DVD-Cover-2-250It seems as if we've been working on the Bagua Swimming Body Form DVD for two months. The DVD is finally done and all the video is also on my online resource for members.

The Bagua Swimming Body Form DVD includes 90 minutes of detailed instruction on this advanced Cheng Style Baguazhang form. It includes demonstrations of the form in normal and slow motion with names of each movement. Also, you can learn in a school environment by watching and practicing as I teach a student who is new to the form. Colin Frye is the student in the video who is learning the form. This style of teaching helps show viewers some of the mistakes that are made and they learn as I drive home details on camera.

The Swimming Body form is smooth and connected, flowing from one movement to the next. Most of the time, you are walking the circle. As usual, I emphasize internal body mechanics on the DVD. This DVD is devoted mostly to the form instruction. A future DVD will explore the fighting applications for these movements.

The DVD is on sale today through Cyber Monday (through Dec. 2, 2013) -- 25% off the normal price -- marked down from $19.99 to $14.99. That's a lot of instruction for a low price, and free shipping is included anywhere in the world. Click on this button to buy at the discount.

Check out the video below to get a sample of some of the instruction on the DVD. 


Tai Chi, Bagua and Hsing-I - The Difference Between Fighting and Art

Black-Dragon-1I received an interesting email from a website member in the United Kingdom. It started as a discussion about Hsing-I and the relationship of the Five Fist Postures to the 12 Animals. It went on from there to discuss the evolution of fighting movements into art.

In our 21st Century, MMA-obsessed culture, traditional arts are often criticized or brushed off as ineffective. That's pure B.S. of course, another one of those "my style is better than your style" type of arguments.

These are called martial "arts" for a reason. The styles that I study are internal martial "arts." The movements in Hsing-I, Tai Chi and Bagua can be used for fighting, but the word "art" is part of the name. Over the past 40 years of practicing, the reason has become more clear to me.

Black-Dragon-2Let's look at a movement in the Bagua Swimming Body form called "Black Dragon Slashes Its Tail." It's part of the 3rd section of the form. I just put a long video lesson up on the website last week with detailed instruction. This movement involves a sideways step and a coiling of the right arm, then a cross-step and a coiling of the left, then a coiling of the right arm and a strike with the left in a cross-step.

You don't have to perform the movement artfully in order to pull off some fighting moves. The self-defense applications can be practiced without looking real good. In fact, applications are never as "pretty" as a form.

But to do the movement well in a form requires a flowing, connected energy from the ground, spiraling through the body, turned by the Dan T'ien and flowing through the legs, body, shoulders, elbows and hands. How well am I using silk-reeling through the body? How well am I connecting the ground with whole-body movement? Am I spiraling from the leg through the body, shoulders, elbows and hands in a flowing, connected way? Learning and practicing the body mechanics to do the movement in a beautiful, connected way is the art. It also makes your application more powerful. Building skill takes hard work and time (the very definition of "Kung-Fu"). It also takes time to learn the self-defense applications well, but you don't have to look good to do that. You just have to be effective.

Black-Dragon-3I was watching a video online of the founder of Aikido. It reminded me how unrealistic a lot of fighting applications are when they are dependent on students who are playing along. Demonstrating these movements helps explain concepts, but where we go astray is when we think that even what O'Sensei (or any teacher) uses in a demonstration is effective against a motivated adult who is attacking you to do violence. A lot of fights can be ended with one good punch. The simplest techniques are often the best. But concepts such as  the sphere of power or the capturing of an opponent's center are important and must be shown.

In my own videos, I try to make the applications realistic. I'll admit when an application would be difficult to use in a real fight, but I will teach it if the concept is solid. Sometimes, an application is more "art" than fighting. It's okay as long as you understand that. There are some Bagua videos that I see where a student punches and the teacher deflects the punch, snakes his arm around the student's neck, and then gets him into a choke or a throwing position with very little reality-based response from the student. Naturally, they're not going to make it difficult for the teacher as a real opponent will. But the video is useful in showing you concepts of the art.

For those of us who have been in real fights, we know that some of these moves are extremely difficult against a motivated adult. At the very least, you would have to soften them up with other techniques (punches, knees, elbows, kicks) to employ the element of surprise in pulling off the more complex movements. So you have to keep this in mind when watching movements and demonstrations of fighting applications. In fact, at your next practice you should put on some pads and tell your partner not to play along. Then try to do some of the more complex moves of your art. I guarantee a big difference if your partner is not cooperating.

I never expect to be in another real fight. I am prepared if that happens, but over time, your focus shifts. When I began studying in 1973, I wanted to learn self-defense and philosophy. As I learned self-defense, my confidence grew. Now, I love to improve my internal mechanics to smooth out my movements so they flow with relaxed power. It involves self-discipline and self-mastery, the same benefits you receive when you excel at anything, from gymnastics to basketball, from golf to being really good at your job. Those who do anything well are artists. They have "kung-fu."

The usefulness of a painting is the message it conveys and how it blends with its surroundings. The usefulness of a martial arts move is in the self-defense application.

A painting that is low quality to the eye of an art critic can go very well with a room's decor, and if you don't know what good art is, it might seem great to you. Remember the black velvet Elvis and the dogs playing poker?

An internal technique done poorly can still be effective in self-defense. But the skill of the painter in the brush strokes, the application of color and capturing the message he intends to convey -- that is the art, just as the connected, coordinated, flowing strength, and fajing of Bagua, Tai Chi and Hsing-I movements represent a more complete expression of skill.


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