QA: Bagua Mud-Stepping

qaDear Sifu Mancuso,

I have a few important questions as a novice practitioner of Ba Gua Zhang.

First, although one of the principal features of Bagua is Tang Ni Bu (Mud-step walking) why is it that when you watch the films of so many teachers, you do not see them doing this step? Please understand: I’m not questioning, or putting down, I just want to understand why, so often, I see raising the heel and dragging the “ball foot.”

I have also seen many teachers, in different styles, performing different forms of Bagua. I have no objection, I do not question, but I have a sincere desire to understand and understand them.                                           ~A. S-H

Normally when I answer a question like this, I don’t tend to remind people that the following is my opinion. But this time it is important, that this is my own viewpoint.

The purpose of mud-stepping is to streamline every aspect of legwork. The question is not which variation of mud-stepping I practice, but what am I practicing? Let’s break it down. Any mud-step has three components: lift, glide and plant. If you know this, the only other thing you have to know is that every step in Kung Fu is a kick.  Every kick in Bagua should be some form of mud-stepping. Bagua, and its sister, Xing Yi, promote the fastest leg actions in all of Kung Fu. They are close to the ground, highly direct, and almost invisible in application. One sign of a good practitioner is the intent he brings to his stepping practice.

So, paradoxically, what you are most likely SEEING is actually what you are NOT seeing: that the principles and benefits of learning and practicing the mud-stepping is already incorporated into the actions of the teacher. Lift, glide and plant are all evident, because the step is efficient in the Bagua manner.

Of course, if you are talking about keeping perfect heel while fighting, let me just comment that it is very cumbersome to move formally while doing applications. However, I think people miss the point. The timing on cocking the ankle just right, for the step, is very very difficult to do 100 perfect times in a row. But if the practitioner is using the correct muscles for the step, mud-stepping is a by-product you can eventually forget.

As far as variations among different Bagua Zhang styles, there must be 30! But each should be done with concentration and, frankly, despite visual differences, the principles remain the same.

I hope this helps! As a matter of fact, if you allow us, we would like to post this to our weblog as a question-and-answer (we would not use your name, of course, and would also change the question to not include any other names of teachers.) Please let us know if this is ok, as we feel many people will benefit from this discussion.

Yours in the martial arts,

2 Responses to “QA: Bagua Mud-Stepping”

  1. Michael Smith says:

    Very interesting. Sun Lutang supposedly changed the bagua stepping he learned from cheng tinghua from the more traditional tang ni bu to more of a heel- toe type step because he viewed it as being more natural and faster (and sun was known to have very fast footwork) but I wonder if that modification was possible for him only because of the skills he had already developed through the mud stepping. I also wonder if the tang ni bu is more a developmental process for training when working on circle walking or doing forms that (like any other form) can be modified and adapted by the individual when performing applications.

  2. Ron Cheswick says:

    With little knowledge and less skill I hesitate to offer a comment. However, bagua stepping has occupied much of my training because of the climate of my residence, Fairbanks AK. Around here we are walking on ice for at least half of the year. The gliding mud-step or something very similar is the only stable way to move on smooth glare ice. The benefits of this are equally obvious on wet grass, oil coated asphalt,etc. On the other hand if you are maneuvering on uneven ground with ruts, large rocks, patches of vegetation, holes,etc. you will be high-stepping. The mechanics in the ankle may be the same but the appearance will be very different.

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