Bagua Zhang’s Ji Ben Gongs—Plum’s New Project

    Here is a short interview with Ted Mancuso, Plum’s director, on his upcoming book/DVD project. Covid slowed us down, but now we are back at work again, and hope to have this finished in the new year. 

Q:    Your new book is on Bagua Zhang Gongs. What is a Gong?
Ted:     In Andrea Falk’s incredibly useful Chinese martial arts dictionary, she defines Ji Ben Gong as “basic skills, or basic abilities.” In our new book and DVD, we expand a little on the term Ji Ben Gong, or “Gong” for short, by saying that it has three components specific to the style you’re studying:

~A Gong is an elevation of a basic (ex: The Gong, Hawk Splits Sky has drilling and upward punch as basics.)
~A Gong is a physical representation of a concept (ex: Hawk Splits Sky has verticality as one of its concepts.)
~A Gong is a pathway to usage (ex: One of the usages for Hawk Splits Sky is infighting.)

Bagua Zhang bookQ:    How do you present this information?
Ted:     We present the Gongs from several different points of view: on the DVD, we demonstrate both instruction in how to perform the Gongs, plus we have added an unusually large section of Bagua usage related to the Gongs. In the text, there is additional information on walking the circle, plus articles on what Bagua actually is.

It’s a problem with most traditional styles these days—but even more so with Bagua—that players can look pretty good performing a form, but when they actually move, the key elements are ‘lost in transformation,’ so to speak.

Q:    So, the idea is to maintain the Bagua ‘flavor’ throughout your Bagua practice?
Ted:     Yes, and Gongs help you to do that. They are short exercises, or loops, that through practice help you to understand the attributes and qualities—the essence, essentially!—of your style. Honestly, I think just about every traditional Kung Fu style has a series of Gongs; Bagua, certainly, is rich with them, which makes it curious to me how little they are taught. In some senses, they are the true secrets to a style.

Q:    Certainly, it is common to see a student doing the form, say, a praying mantis routine. But as soon as you see the application or the usage or the exercises, they look very generic. Would you say that the Gongs keep the movement of Bagua from being generic, and make them specifically Bagua?
Ted:     Yes, I think that’s true, but it’s not because of the attempt to keep it pure. I mean by that, the Gongs help maintain the particular energies, strengths and movements of a form or of a style. However, even if they don’t move or hit or strike they still can persevere, because they can also feed the meditative aspects of our nature.

Q:     Would you say that that, even though you don’t emphasize this in the book, there’s also a qigong aspect to each of these Gongs?
Ted:     It’s somewhat like Adam Hsu says: if you want to erect a 10-story building, you start by digging.

Q:     That’s interesting, I think I see what you mean. So, the inclusion of Gongs into your practice builds the foundation of the style that you’re studying—in this case, of course, Bagua Zhang?
Ted:     Yes. This guy goes to his sifu and says, “I don’t want to stay in this style,” and the sifu says, “No problem if you decide to leave, but first wait five years so you know what you’re leaving.”

Q:     Let’s go deeper on this. We know that Bagua is circular—
Ted:     Circular, yes, but what does that mean? Imagine a student who has been practicing Bagua for a while, does her circle walking, etc. But does she have ‘circularity?’ I’m not trying to be cute or esoteric, I really mean it. How does she represent circularity? Has she incorporated the idea of 360 degrees multidimensionality? Does she defend her back as well as her front? Do her straight punches incorporate chan ssu jin? Does her torso move, and does she have twist? So, the Gongs actually teach you how—as in this example—to be circular, how to have Bagua-ness in every Bagua move.

Q:     And usage?
Ted:     In a way, that is the most exciting part of the project. We think we have done something different here—most instructional media, of course, is scanty on any usage at all, but those who do include it, most often do so by showing a move and then 1 or 2 applications of that move. Not bad, but also very stiff and, to my mind, a too-simplistic wrong approach, especially for something as sophisticated as Bagua.

To me, first, it is important to emphasize usage, not applications (yes, I know, you have heard this from me before!) Applications give a false impression, that there is a 1-1 relationship between a move and its attack or defense. Insert tab A into slot B. That’s lazy and, frankly, disrespectful of the traditional arts.

Every move—and this is especially true for Bagua—contains a myriad of so-called applications. Applications are good for belt-testing: “Show 3 applications for the spinning side kick.” Usage, on the other hand, demonstrates an understanding of the concepts inherent in each move. “Hawk Splits Sky,” the first Gong in our book, contains the qualities of piercing, drilling, verticality. Train the Gongs, incorporate the concepts, and you will be doing Bagua.

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4 Responses to “Bagua Zhang’s Ji Ben Gongs—Plum’s New Project”

  1. Bruce Jevne says:

    This sounds fantastic! Will you be including key motions as gongs? Liao, zhuan, ban etc..

  2. Plum Staff says:

    Hi Bruce,
    Thanks! At least some of those, for sure…
    Debbie

  3. Alan McVay says:

    I am interested in Ted’s Ji Ben gong. Let me know when it comes out.

  4. Plum Staff says:

    Will do, Alan, and thanks!