Ba Gua Lesson 2: Ba Gua that works; and Ba Gua that doesn't

Whether you are a beginner or advanced practitioner, ONE SIMPLE DECISION will determine if you will be able to use your Ba Gua (baguazhang) in street combat.

How you make that simple decision depends on you understanding that an attacker, Or GROUP of attackers, is not going to stand still for you as you apply a series of fancy turns, locks and throws.

That decision is based on you understanding that close combat, whether against one attacker, or many, is chaotic, quick moving, and unpredictable.

That means, that in REAL COMBAT, YOU CANNOT STAND STILL IN A WIDE STANCE, Your opponent will not patiently wait for you to apply your skills against him.


 The solution is to learn to fight and move quickly while mastering a QUICK – BODY WEIGHT CHANGING PRINCIPLE  called EMPTY-FULL.  This determines everything. It determines whether you waste years training in ways that won’t work.  It may even determine whether you will survive.


You are here because you either 1) Want to learn more about ba gua for close combat / self-defense or 2) You have studied ba gua and you want to consider new ways to apply what you learned.

You are about to begin one of the most challenging martial arts adventures of your life: How to use ba gua, and for that matter, the other internal martial arts such as t’ai-chi (taiji) and hsing-i (xingyi) in close-combat.


The Four Essentials that make Ba Gua work in REAL COMBAT

  1. The practitioner must have background in AGGRESSIVE AND REALISTIC sparring and / or contact work against an opponent (SUCH AS BOXING). In order to apply ba gua (or any other internal art for that matter) but ESPECIALLY ba gua, you must be comfortable facing punches coming at you by someone who is trying to hurt you. You have to have this skill FIRST. If you want to fight with it, ba gua cannot be your only martial art. Boxing or martial arts experience against an angry or aggressive opponent is essential. This is true because, in order to apply the art, you must come VERY close to the opponent. You must know how to judge strikes and deal with your fear of getting close AND GETTING HIT. OTHERWISE, ba gua will NEVER work for you as an effective, and realistic, close combat art.
  2. We’ll go into more detail about the mechanics of ba gua shortly, but first it is crucual to appreciate that the way you hold your body up against the ground will determine your access to your power and ability potential. In internal martial arts terms, this has to do with what is called EMPTY-FULL principles. To be effective, you must understand and learn to apply EMPTY-FULL principles in close combat. This is a difficult challenge since the default for a person under stress is to use a fifty-fifty and fulcrum-based power. That kind of practice (which about 90 percent of YouTube B.G. demos includes -to their fault) means that POWER is torque and upper back / shoulder based. This means that, without empty-full ability under stress, you will unconsciously choose a wide, and less mobile stance when facing an opponent.

FROM JOHN BRACY’S NEW BOOK. SECTION VII, PIECE DISCUSSING EMPTY-FULL      This point refers to definitions by some schools, particularly Yang, which describe unique bio-mechanics of t’ai-chi and the internal martial arts. This way of applying force and effective technique is not over reliant on large muscle groups, for example, the use of fulcrum/ shoulder-based power of the trapezius muscles. This otherwise (for most individuals), habitual pattern of movement is replaced with integrated athletic connection expressed through a movable center vertical line called “empty-full”. The included photo of Yang Cheng- fu captures this principle in the “diagonal flying” posture. The photo indicates the forward of center “full” front leg weighting. The arrow in the middle of the photo indicates Yang’s center of mass. Related to the empty-full principle, “Base of the skull and the neck: The suboccipital triangle” and “The “Open” and “Vertical” in Contact Sports” are discussed in Section XI.

Empty-Full: Yang Chen-fu
in "diagonal flying" posture

One way of determining if a representation of empty full is being demonstrated in a particular presentation is to draw a plumb-line from the base of the skull to the base where the person is standing

An example of EMPTY-FULL training can be viewed at

However, ba gua is impossible to apply without the 3rd essential point:

 3. You must be able to stay calm under stress, especially when under the intensity of REAL close combat. This principle has to do with how you train your nervous system. In a nutshell, there are two competing aspects of the nervous system. One is called “fight or flight” and has to do with the stress and emergency management of the nervous system. That one is called the sympathetic nervous system. The other is associated with play, self-healing, and calmness. It is called the parasympathetic nervous system.

At no time is there only one of these nervous systems at work, they are always some degree of mix. However, the gracefulness of top athletes under stress, and especially as demonstrated by boxers such as Mohamed Ali, is the ability be calm in context of a stressful encounter and represents a mix that includes slight dominance of the parasympathetic nervous system. This principle especially applies to B.G. in combat because, if you are tense and stressed, you cannot access and employ subtle muscle groups – especially those associated with accessory muscle groups. In other words, you have to be able to consciously control muscles that aren’t normally under conscious control.

4. To apply B.G., t’ai-chi, and the “internal” representations of hsing-i, you must be able to present powerful strikes while at a very close distance…and of course, without the time or room to cock your arm back in preparation. This kind of power is related to point no. 2 and has a lot to do with dominance of intercostal (rib cage) muscles compared to trapezius / upper shoulder back muscle orientation – and of course, conscious control over these under conditions of close combat