Strike training is one of the four cornerstone training methods of Yin Style Bagua, and consists of drilling the same technique on both sides of the body either in a stationary posture or with one of several predefined footwork patterns. This type of training develops the ability to generate and emit force with appropriate timing, and builds strength and endurance.
This article will focus on the stationary training method, while the basic footwork methods will be covered in future articles. However, regardless of whether or not footwork is employed several rules apply.
First, practice should be done evenly on both sides of the body. This could consist of alternating from left to right or performing some number of strikes on the left side followed by the same number on the right.
A reason for developing both sides of the body evenly is that Bagua employs footwork that often requires a change of the lead leg. Attacks tend to arise in the midst of footwork, as what was once the lead hand becomes the rear hand and vice versa. The tendency, and it is certainly not absolute, is that the hand that is becoming the lead hand attacks, and the hand that is becoming the rear hand transforms and controls. Without even development of techniques on both sides of the body, executing combinations effectively is impossible.
Another core aspect of strike practice is that it should not be conceptualized as repeating the same strike over and over. Rather the practice should be understood as a continual refinement of a technique, and each repetition should attempt to improve upon the previous one. This method requires the development of a highly refined sensitivity. One must bring awareness to all parts of the body, and discover ways of eliminating extraneous movements and directing one’s energy more effectively. Strike practice is mindful repetition.
Last but not least, strike practice should be used as a vehicle to hone your intent. An application of each movement should be firmly planted in the mind’s eye and it should be rehearsed and refined each time the movement is executed. At first this can be awkward, but the ability to visualize will be improved by mindfully practicing applications with another person. Over time visualization can become a powerful tool for exploring new techniques. However beware, these fantasies should be grounded in practical application and frequently tested on another person.
Stationary practice uses a horse stance that is slightly wider than what one would use comfortably when stepping and slightly narrower than what one would use for standing practice. It is about four of ones own feet wide or about one and half shoulder widths, more or less.
Start with your feet together and your hands at your sides. Step to the side with your left foot into a straddle, or immediately into the horse stance as described below. The toes should be pointing forward, but note that the feet are not rectangular, and so one could think of pointing either the medial or lateral aspect of the foot forward. Somewhere in this range is appropriate. Personally, I tend to use the lateral aspect as a guide, but this preference is derived from my background in Wing Chun, which uses a heavily pigeon toed “goat riding” stance.
As you step to the side you should keep your eyes and head looking straight ahead. Do not look down when you step, but rather try to feel what is happening and work to rely on that. To practice stepping appropriately, apply the following methodology:
- Stand feet together looking forward
- Step out with your left leg (it’s worth doing this toward the right as well)
- Feel where you are, adjust your stance to what you feel should be appropriate
- Look down and check it
- While looking fix it
- Look ahead and feel the position
- Repeat until you step to the correct place most of the time. Ideally after step #3 you should not need to feel like you need to adjust and after looking your eyes should confirm the same. Try for 9 out of 10 correct, then 99 out of 100, and so on.
The primary concern here is that you should train to develop and rely upon your somatosensory awareness instead of your vision in order to gauge your own movements. Your vision should be reserved for gauging an adversary.
When stepping out it is important that your energy drop directly into the ground and that there are not extraneous motions. For example the center of mass should not shift over the stepping leg, but be centered with respect to the final position and sink straight down. To help achieve this do not simply teeter over to the side, but step out and have the intent of the stepping foot actively meeting the ground. Turning also helps develop this ability.
Having completed the step, bend the knees if not already bent, elongate the spine, round out and fill the abdomen, round out and expand the back, grip the ground with the feet, tuck the tail bone under and uplift the perineum, drop the ribcage and hollow the chest, relax and bend the knees, and finally press the tip of the tongue to the roof of the mouth. All of this can happen simultaneously. Also note that the degree to which each of these is present will vary between animal systems.
From here you can drill the strike of your choosing, being aware to observe the following guidelines.
First, follow your striking hand with your eyes. This can be done in one of two ways, the first being to track your hand from the time it begins a strike to the end. The second way is to track the old striking hand as it transforms into a support role and then to shift focus to the new striking hand about half way through the motion.
The first method of tracking the hand with the eyes is a little easier and suggested to begin with, while the second method requires that one attend to how the striking hand transitions to become the support hand. The second method also implies that one’s eyes would continue to stay on the opponent throughout the entire motion. Tactically both have something to offer.
Next, while striking it is important to train the development of a whole body force, the details of which vary significantly between animal systems and even subtly between strikes within an animal system. However, regardless of the precise details, the ideas is that the legs, waist, spine, back, shoulders, and arms are all engaged appropriately for what is being trained.
Finally, when you complete a strike your body should be as when you originally settled into the horse stance to begin strike training. The spine should be slightly elongated, the abdomen round, etc.
Overall, stationary Strike practice is a great way to develop the basic characteristics of Yin Style’s 64 attack methods and is a staple training method. It is not uncommon to execute 500 or more of several different strikes or 1000 or more of a single strike in one practice session.
Indeed it is said that it requires 1000 repetitions just to develop a basic understanding and ability to perform a strike, and practicing a personally chosen core set of strikes several tens of thousands of times is typical for most dedicated practitioners.
Strike practice eventually requires that one bring focus to a single strike for an extended period of time. Often this constitutes training that one strike an hour or more per day over several weeks or even a couple of months. It’s hard to put to words, but this type of training not only develops depth in the area trained, but it also spills over to other aspects of your training and brings improvement across the board.
As a final warning, one should not begin this type of training until a solid understanding of the movement to be practiced has been developed. You must have a clear idea of what you are practicing before you begin, as the practice will heavily ingrain whatever motions are trained.
Then from your set of favorite strikes, pick one and pick some number of strikes, say 10,000 and get to work. Practicing one hour a day it should take less than two weeks to do 10,000 strikes, even after accounting for taking one day off per week.