My Bagua Book #2: Hitting My Friends

My manuscript is nearing its finish and now is the time to fill the remainder of the designated vacant white squares with photographs. Bagua Kicking @ plumpub.comDebbie and I drive up to the home of my friends and long time students, Travis and Sheri Rath. Both of them have been practicing Bagua for a time (They have poles in their yard!) with backgrounds in Shaolin Kung Fu, Tai Chi and more.  The light is perfect; just overcast enough to let us work outside.

Martial photography is a special skill in which Debbie is expert. Decisions abound:  what is left in the frame or out? is the lighting good? what’s the best angle to show the most information? There’s also the problem that fidgety martial artists love to MOVE. Instead, when being photographed, we all must practice standing, remaining perfectly still as the photographer checks details.

The idea is to capture Bagua style through the fighting moves. My partner Travis can sense the torque through my hands, but how to show that in the flat book? Though present, It can be as elusive as a ghost.

Watch and decide.  Sheri is a fine kicker and a skilled artist. When she kicks her husband she smiles a little. Later, reviewing the batch,  I find the photo so good I think I’ll keep it.

Decision point: When Travis and I walk the circle we crank to exaggerate the turn of the torso. How much exaggeration? We want to show what the camera might be too lazy to pick up but not to go overboard; that’s the trick.

There are all sorts of little questions in each filming session. Is it good for the book if I let Travis beat me up? I mean fair is fair. But I’m the author! truly, a stupid internal argument. How much do we grimace? You can either act as an unflinching mannekin, or you can do some method acting and pose like the crazed villain in a movie ad for a StreetFighter sequel.

Then there are the slips and slides. I catch Travis with a cutting palm in the ribs. He grunts, eyes turned downward. Now here’s the sick martial part: should we try to duplicate that reaction, just with another shot? But it’s got to be unexpected for the full effect and how do you manufacture that?. Sometimes it comes from the other end of the camera like the old DeMille gag (1.). We finish a complex shot use using poles and switching, then reversing, and all that entails. When we’re done, having just put it all together, Debbie realizes that from her angle—two decks above—we look like battling badgers due to the foreshortening.

But for all that we’re lucky. The light’s perfect, everyone caught on to that break dance type movement when you pose, move, pose for the shots. Two hours of this and three hundred plus pictures later we are ready for Sushi and Sake.

At home I use Photoshop to cull through the 300+ photos. Here is our attempt to capture a style, the instant of conflict, the cooperation in an exercise, the line of a body kicking, the sequence of a technique. I hold my thumb down as the elevator crawls through the pictures and suddenly its like a dozen flipbooks strobing through their movements all at once. No one will ever see them this way but me and it will be my job through careful picking and discarding to bring this motion into a book.



1. Cecil B. DeMille is filming the biggest scene of its kind for his masterpiece Intolerance. It is a  one shot with thousands of extras, horses, armies clashing that they can never duplicate. It comes off perfect but when DeMille goes to his first camera he learns the lighting is bad. Shaking his head he asks the second assistant only to hear that some sections were probably out of focus. It’s all up to the third camera man to have caught something or the shot is ruined. When he gets to number 3, before he can even open his mouth, the third man turns to him and says, “Ready when you are, Mr. DeMille.”

4 Responses to “My Bagua Book #2: Hitting My Friends”

  1. Ken says:

    nice to see that Travis and Sheri still working out with you merry x mas

  2. Jeff says:

    Two thoughts:

    Have you considered doing action shots instead of posing? After a recent tournament, one of the black belts was looking through the photos of her sparring match and was amazed by the perfection of her form. There were some beautiful shots of her kicks, and she said, “I never thought my kicks looked that good.” The reason is because she’d never seen them in action. When you’re looking at your own kicks, usually you see them posed in a mirror, frozen and held. But martial arts is about movement, and movement is best expressed while moving.

    Rather than photographing, have you thought of filming the session and then capturing frames for the photos? This is what I do when I learn a new form from a video. It’s impossible to take the video out to the backyard to practice, so I load it into video editing software, scroll through and capture the best frames as images, which I then assemble into a poster or group of pages.

  3. John says:

    Thank you for sharing.

  4. Plum Staff says:

    Tai Ki Ken
    You are right, Jeff, it is a good idea and it was forty years ago when Kenichi Sawai came out with his great book TaiKi Ken where not one fighting picture is posed. But for every one person who likes this there are at least thirty who don’t and can’t easily follow the photos. So we’ll probably mix a little of the “action shots” in with the others. Just like your film idea; it’s been done, but it’s still a nice effect.

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