Webmaster's notes: I found this article on the web a while ago. I thought it was a good piece on Luo Dexiu. Don't know when it was written.
Bagua Training with Master Lou De Xiu
By Mario Sikora
This article was originally published in The Edge Self-Defense and Fitness Quarterly.
The student gets up and attacks again and the master moves slightly and slams his palm into the student's chest. There it is again, the resounding thump. The master spins him around and deposits him on the floor. The moves are impressive enough, but it's the sound of palm hitting chest that gives you pause. And the way the student's head jerks back when the master grabs his arm and yanks him off balance. Your body starts to ache just watching.
This is bagua, an internal martial art. The internal arts are supposed to be slow and gentle; great for health, great for people who don't like to fight. Then comes the thump again and the student is tossed like a rag doll. He struggles to look serene, but you know it's an effort.
Unless you've been involved in the martial arts for a while you've probably never seen or even heard of bagua zhang. If you have seen it, you've probably wondered why those guys are walking in circles and doing those weird things with their arms. There aren't many bagua instructors around, and those that are are less than impressive. As a matter of fact, they start looking downright silly after you see the real thing.
Master Lou De Xuo recently gave a bagua demonstration in Philadelphia, and everyone there knew that any bagua they had seen before was mere imitation. His art is a fighter's art, seeming to contain principles from a number of other more modern arts. Only his art was graduate school to their junior high. One gets the impression that a lot of the young bucks out there claiming to have combined systems and created new martial arts are just reinventing the wheel.
Master Lou also took some time to speak about his art.
He started his martial arts training, studying bagua, tai chi, and hsing-I in 1970 as a teenager in his native Taiwan. He says he didn't have much focus on what he wanted to accomplish; but he did like to fight. In the early 1970s, Taiwan was the host of a number of full contact tournaments that allowed Lou to satisfy his desire to fight and test his skills.
The rules of the tournaments were simple: the only protective equipment was a pair of thin cotton cloves, you could do anything except poke to the eyes or strike to the groin. (Animated throughout the interview, Lou really comes alive as he describes these tournaments through his interpreter, thrusting at the interpreter's eyes and groin. The interviewer slides his chair back slightly.) The winner was the last man standing.
The tournaments were open to all styles and Lou found himself fighting boxers, wrestlers, Thai boxers, and karate stylists. Eventually, the enormous number of serious injuries to participants (even the winner could barely walk the next day) caused the government to crack down on the tournaments and enforce more rules and the use of safety equipment.
After military service in 1978-79, Lou decided to devote himself to bagua. Even though he had been victorious in all the bouts he had entered, he was on the small side (although he is not small anymore) and didn't have the confidence he felt he needed when fighting a larger opponent. He believed that the body movement of bagua would give him the skills and the confidence for which he was searching. Watching him demonstrate his art leads one to believe that it did.
The exposure to real fighting in his early training made it easier to understand the theories of bagua that he learned later on, says Lou, but he would not recommend the same approach for everyone. It's just how it worked out for him. He advises others to explore the theory, philosophy, and meditation aspects of the art as well as the combat aspects if they want to reach the higher levels.
Going in Circles
So why do bagua practitioners perform their forms while walking in a circle? Lou offers a simple explanation: the art is based on angulation--moving off your opponent's line of attack and placing yourself in an advantageous position to counter-attack. The counterattack is usually linear, coming straight from that advantageous position. Bagua also has numerous linear forms, Lou says, but most western practitioners are not familiar with them.
When asked how he feels about claims by many internal-style martial artists of issuing internal energy, or chi, Lou just grins and says, "We like to stay neutral on that issue. I don't know about others, but I don't do it."
Nonetheless, chi development is important to his art, but he calls it "I" (pronounced "ee") development, or mind development. Instead of being some mystical force existing independently, chi occurs whenever the yin and yang are in balance.
Lou says that everyone has this energy, but resistance in the body and the mind impede its flow. If the impediments are removed, the energy will flow and one will feel the chi.
Proper bagua training seeks to balance the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems; the first excites the body and the second settles it. This hormonal balance, a balance of yin and yang, produces chi.
This idea of balance permeates Master Lou's bagua. There must be a balance between circular and linear techniques, a balance between the combat techniques and the health aspects of the art, a balance between focus on the opponent and the focus on the self. Finding proper balance takes years of practice under a legitimate master of the art. Most western practitioners and instructors have only studied with a master for a few years before going off on their own, which is why Lou believes that most of the bagua here is watered down, and even kind of amusing to watch.
Standing meditation is often overlooked by many who practice bagua, says Lou, and their art suffers for it. Daily practice of such meditation teaches the mind to focus and remain relaxed at the same time. It allows the body and mind to reset, something needed by everyone in our high-stress times. Don't focus on chi flow during meditation, he says, because if you concentrate on it you won't know if the energy is real or imagined. Instead, one should focus on heightening sensitivity.
Imagine the body surrounded by a bubble, he says. Move your finger slightly and feel the movement throughout the bubble. After the animated discussion on combat, Master Lou is settling down as he discusses meditation, becoming tranquil.
Have you ever heard your heart beat? he says. That is the goal.
It is that question that sums up Master Lou De Xiu's art, and martial arts training in general. Developing the strength and skill to punch straight through an opponent's chest, and developing the sensitivity and peace of mind not to do so. Developing the sensitivity to hear your heart beat.