Elements of the Waist

Development of the waist is a central aspect of Yin Style Baguazhang. In all phases of practice – standing, turning, striking, and changing – the use of the waist is a primary theme and understanding how to coordinate it is critical for proper movement and emission of force.

In common usage the waist refers to the part of the body between the pelvis and the rib cage. In Chinese medicine it is associated with the Dai Mai, or the belt channel. So this is the location, but martial arts, and Yin Style Bagua in particular, are concerned with usage. Therefore we should consider the functional aspects of the waist, and this brings us to the lumbar spine.

In essence development of the waist consists of coordinating and developing the connective tissue and musculature around the lumbar spine. As such there are four primitive motions that should be considered. (This brief discussion about coordinate systems may be helpful.)

  • Up and down (y-axis) – The spine can be straightened vertically by pulling the crown of the head (Bai Hui – DU-20) up while pulling the sacrum down and tucking the tail bone (Wei Lu – DU-1) under. The lumbar spine flattens and curves in response to the tucking of the tail bone. This motion is akin to a sexual thrust.
  • Rotation (about the y-axis) – The spine supports the rotation of the body about itself to the left and right. Used in a more complex fashion this motion also allows for the lower part of the torso to rotate in one direction while the upper part goes in the other. When both upper and lower and unified we call this moving with [the force of the strike], and when they are opposed, we call it moving against [the force of the strike].
  • Side to side (x-y plane) – The spine can be used to tilt the body left and right, which in turn causes/allows one side of the rib cage to expand while the other contracts. Of course the intercostal muscles can and oftentimes should support this movement. Consider the Qian trigram Lion posture.


  • Forward and back (y-z plane) – The spine can be used to bend the whole body forward and back, tilt the hips in and out, and bow the thoracic region forward and back.

Of course combinations of any or all of these are possible and all attacks will exhibit each of them to some degree, though typically one or two of them are predominant in any particular strike.

However, regardless of the strike, the elongation and compression of the spine vertically along the y-axis should always be considered. Even when it is not directly driving the force, it will always play an essential role in connecting the legs, waist, and arms. As such this mechanic is essential for all force emission.

By analogy, if rotating the waist is an engine then the vertical aspect of the spine is like a transmission. You may have the most powerful engine in the world but without a transmission you’re not going anywhere.

Usage in Lion System

Lion system focuses on developing a unified whole body force that is driven by the waistThis includes rotation both with and against, bending of the body forward and back, and tilting. Four strikes have been chosen to illustrate this. They are rising sweeping, inside sweeping, upright chopping, and rolling shocking.

A bit of advice I got early on was to select some favorite strikes that exercised particular aspects of the waist and to practice them to the exclusion of everything else. In retrospect this was excellent advice.

The convention taken for describing the strikes is to start in a horse stance and consider a wind up for a strike with the left arm. Finally, when I write that something is “preferred” this is from a pedagogical standpoint. In the end preference is personal and ultimately dictated by usage.

Rising Sweeping

Rising Sweeping is the first strike most newcomers learn and indeed it is one of the richest strikes in the entire system. It is often said that all things in Yin Style Bagua come from this strike.

The wind up of the strike includes:

  • Rotating to the right. Make sure to keep the eyes of the hips forward so as to stretch the waist and hips. This is a developmental practice that can be relaxed in application and when adding footwork, but when training stationary strikes just do it.
  • One can tilt either left or right such that when the strike is executed it will contain either an slight upward to downward force. In my opinion the downward force should be preferred and can be achieved by tilting right on the wind up.
  • Bending forward, which is like doing a little crunch.
  • Elongating the spine

Delivery of the strike includes:

  • Rotating to the left.
  • Tilting the body so it is upright.
  • Unbending the body so it is upright.
  • Compressing the spine.

In this strike rotation is the primary mover and it can be done moving with or moving against, but moving with is preferred. Tilting and bending, while important, are secondary to the rotation. Of the later two I have tended to put more emphasis on the tilt, but recently have been experimenting more with the bend.

Some strikes to compare are opening hooking, rising cutting, and arcing chopping.

Inside Sweeping

The wind up includes:

  • Rotating to the left.
  • Tilting right. This movement also helps to maneuver your left arm around the opponent’s arm in order to set up the strike. It also brings a significant amount of force to the right arm, which should be used to transform the opponent’s force.
  • Bending forward (again like a little crunch).
  • Elongating the spine.

Delivery includes:

  • Rotating to the right with a moving against type of motion. This simulates the idea of stepping behind an opponent.
  • Tilting to upright
  • Unbending the spine
  • Compressing the spine and sitting down

The mechanics of this strike differ from rising sweeping in the following ways.

  • Unlike rising sweeping, which is delivered from inside to outside, inside sweeping is delivered outside to inside (thus it’s name).
  • By default it uses a moving against movement of the waist, whereas rising sweeping using a moving with.

Compare with inside hooking, inside cutting, and hacking chopping.

Upright Chopping

The wind up includes:

  • Rotation of the wast to the left
  • Tilting to the right and opening the left side of the ribcage.
  • Bending slightly backward, which causes the abdomen to elongate and the spine to bow.
  • Elongating the spine. This contains a pressing of the arm that previously struck and a pulling up of the arm that will strike.

The delivery includes:

  • Rotating to the right
  • Changing the tilt from right to left. Unlike with the sweeping strikes that end in an upright position, this one will end tilted in the opposite direction.
  • Bowing the spine forward to a slightly crunched position.
  • Compressing the spine and tucking.

Like rising sweeping this strike makes use of a moving with rotation of the waist. However, unlike both the rising sweeping and inside sweeping strikes, which made use of the forward and backward bending motion (y-z plane) of the waist by going from bent over to upright, the upright chopping strike uses this motion in the opposite way by starting with a slightly backward bend of body and then transitioning to a forward bend. This is somewhat like a tennis serve.

Compare with point cutting, low hooking, and rolling shocking.

Rolling Shocking

The last strike to be considered is rolling shocking. Overall it’s mechanics are similar to upright chopping, but unlike upright chopping it emphasizes the tilt of the waist rather than the bend.

The wind up for the strike includes:

  • Rotation of the wast to the left
  • Tilting to the right and opening the left side of the ribcage.
  • Bending slightly backward, which causes the abdomen to elongate and the spine to bow.
  • Elongating the spine. This contains a pressing of the arm that previously struck and a pulling up of the arm that will strike.

The delivery includes:

  • Rotating to the right
  • Changing the tilt from right to left and ending in a left tilted position.
  • Bowing the spine forward to a slightly crunched position
  • Compressing the spine and tucking
  • Upon contact rolling the forearm. Note that overall there is a rolling motion of the entire body that is punctuated by the forearm.
  • The ending posture is identical to the representational posture.

Despite rolling shocking’s mechanical similarity to upright chopping the quality of force associated with it is unique. Indeed, the first four attack methods (sweeping, smashing/cutting, chopping, hooking) develop a force that is emitted over a relatively large angle, which implies a significant follow-through of the strike after initial contact is made. In contrast, shocking force is emitted over a relatively short angle and should send the energy into the target despite the lack of any perceived follow through.

This short force is often emitted by timing a sharp articulation of the wrist, elbow, or other part of the body with the full power of the waist. In the case of rolling shocking the rotation of the forearm is used for this purpose. The technique is tricky. You’re on the right track when you can hit someone’s arm and see the effect in his neck.

Once the shocking force can be emitted correctly it can be readily incorporated into the first four attack methods.

The shocking force is related to Tai Ji’s concept of fa jin, which is a violent emission of a penetrating force over a short range. However, despite this similarity, Yin Style Bagua makes several fine distinctions about how power is generated and emitted, so that to simply call the shocking force fa jin would be to convolute it with several distinct concepts.

Indeed the shocking force associated with Lion System must be contrasted with that of Bear and Phoenix which have their own shocking methods, and Rooster system overall, which makes use of a shocking (scorching) force in all of its force emission. And of course Dragon system has its own take on shocking. This is a fertile area for thought and perhaps a future article.

Parting Thoughts

The strikes discussed above were selected to provide an example of all of the mechanics laid out in the first section and to show how these various mechanics can be used on both the wind up and the release.

Certainly different strikes could be selected for the same purpose, but nonetheless the body skills exemplified by the above strikes are the foundation of Lion system and indeed all eight animal systems in Yin Style Bagua. Time spent developing these body skills is critically important.

The thoracic spine will be considered in a future article.


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