A few days ago my wife and I were talking about the similarities and differences between practicing Baguazhang and Yoga. She casually mentioned that Baguazhang requires years of dedicated practice but anyone could attend a Yoga class and get a feeling of immediate benefit. As a dedicated Baguazhang practitioner, protests sprang to my lips right away about all the great benefits of the art, regardless of one’s level of experience.
But then it hit me: her perception of Baguazhang is not that different from the general public perception that to be a martial artist requires years of dedicated practice while anyone can be a Yoga practitioner. My love of talking about the amazing skills of my Shifu and stories of legendary martial artists, has certainly helped that perception along.
Well, I’d like to start setting the record straight. Anyone can be a Baguazhang practitioner, too, and get the same benefits from practice as the most advanced student does. A typical Baguazhang class includes relaxation/meditative training, gentle flexibility exercises, and safe, simple methods of improving aerobic capacity and strength. I think most would agree that just doing these kinds of things adds to health and well-being. Years of training are not required to reap these benefits every time one practices and neither is great skill.
Of course, and as is the case with Yoga, years of training will lead to enhanced abilities of body and mind, but isn’t the real and practical benefit of practice a healthy body and mind? In a way, can’t these enhanced abilities be viewed as side effects of regularly exercising body and mind? Being able to defend oneself is a useful (but for most of us, fortunately, rarely used) skill, but there is so much more that Baguazhang can contribute to one’s life than just one skill (although it does teach that skill very well!).
None of this means I want to dilute the art or let martial training slide in classes in order to concentrate on feeling good. On the contrary, I think it is the very exercises that enhance martial skill that will lead to feeling best. Based on my experience studying and teaching Baguazhang, I think those exercises can be done by just about anyone regardless of age or physical condition.
From now on, I’m going to talk more about the benefits and less about the skills, more about simplicity and fun, and less about dedication, to acquaintances, friends, and prospective students. I think if more people start seeing Baguazhang as the accessible, life enhancing practice it is, rather than just a formidable set of skills to master, the art will seem more welcoming to more people. I want Jiulong to grow, and a change in how it looks to outsiders strikes me as an important ingredient for growth.