A unique aspect of Yin Style Bagua is that its basics, the 64 attack methods, are organized according to function. They include slicing, dodging, pushing, penetrating, and whipping. Each emphasizes a distinct quality of force and each has a specific function with respect to an opponent. Consider slicing. There are many ways to slice, but they all share a similar essence, that of a long cut through the opponent, not unlike how one might use a chef’s knife to slice through a chicken breast.
However there are many ways to slice. Staying with cooking metaphor, one can use different tools, for example a paring knife instead of a chef’s knife, or different methods. Consider the difference between slicing through a chicken breast with a chef’s knife and using a paring knife to slice the skin off an apple. So it is with YSB’s attack methods – the essence of slicing can be achieved using different shapes and structures and can occur in different directions, but regardless of these the essence and quality of force associated with the attack method remains.
A consequence of focusing on function first is that the same shapes and structures recur across attack methods. Consider the similarity between a rising slicing strike and an upper penetrating strike. When viewed statically at the end of their motions, these two present an identical shape, however when viewed from their origin, they are clearly distinct, as the one moves across the body from bottom to top in a wide arc while the other fires straight in. And this is just the beginning of their differences. One could consider differences in how the waist drives them, the use of the back, and several other factors.
Like structure and shape, similarity of direction also reoccurs across the 64 attack methods. For example, inside slicing and inside pushing move from the outside of the body inward, but despite sharing some commonality of structure, they make use of distinct types of force and have relatively disparate applications. Some other examples where direction is similar but shape/structure and function differ are – forcing transforming and rotating pushing, whirling dodging and hacking chopping, and the list goes on.
Yin Style Bagua’s focus on function first can be contrasted with martial systems that focus on direction or structure/shape first. Indeed focus on these other aspects seems far more common than a focus on function, though it’s not clear that any of them is correct as all three aspects – function, shape/structure, and direction – are important for making any technique work. Each of these perspectives is beneficial, though Yin Style Bagua’s approach appears unique and especially useful.
We often use the phrase “usage is primary”. The way I had first interpreted this was that application was central to all movement, and while I still believe this is to be correct, in retrospect it’s an overly narrow interpretation. Application is a natural component of the functional approach to basics, which seems to me a broader way of interpreting what it means to make usage primary.