The Whirling Circles of Ba Gua Zhang

Let me begin by saying that books are very important to me. My books are like my relatives, each staring down at me with their own ideas and expectations for me. And like relatives, there are those that I would prefer to see only once a year on Thanksgiving. That being said, I have a whole shelf of martial arts books that make me feel uncomfortable and for whom I am embarrassed.

I love baguazhang. When I pick up a book about it, an intense struggle begins. For the last month I have been struggling with The Whirling Circles of Ba Gua Zhang, The Art and Legends of the Eight Trigram Palm by Frank Allen and Tina Chunna Zhang. I wish I could write an objective review of it, but I care too much. If you love baguazhang, you need this book. It is clearly one of the best books on the subject written in English.

I'm going to spend a few days talking about the book, but more importantly the book is a good jumping off point for my own ideas.

Since it is late, and I haven't published a blog all day, Frank Allenlet me begin with the superficial.

Frank Allen can really manifest the different qi qualities of the various palm changes but that doesn't really come across in the photos. Photos of applications are of little use, applications must be felt because in Baguazhang they rely not on the movements, or which foot is where, but on the quality of movement in contact with an active opponent. To photograph it well would take a very skillful photographer who understood what they were trying to capture. Also, what is the point of photos of a bagua form? Or in this case three forms. I don't get it. Nobody can learn a bagua form from a book. A book like this should be a collaboration with a great photographer or the photos should be left out.

I asked a non-martial artist what she thought of the picture of Frank Allen with all the tattoos doing roushou with B.K. Franzis and she said, "Oh, is he a Hells Angel?" So I showed her the picture in the back of Frank with his reading glasses on and she said, "He looks like a guy in the advanced stages of Wise Man Syndrome." So if the authors were shooting for funny, they got funny. (Note to Frank, I think it's the hair.)

If you practice Baguazhang, buy the book and we'll talk about it more tomorrow.