Changes to Bagua Zhang’s training methods

Yin Fu, Cheng Ting Hua, etc probably all received basically the same content from Dong Haichuan. But from a teaching perspective, the way those materials are organized and presented, seemed to become more systematic and clearer as Dong Haichuan taught more and more people.

Elite athletes are physical geniuses who have innate sense for movement: think Michael Phelp’s feel for water. These people just seem to know automatically how to move in the most effective, efficient manner when you teach them a new skill. I’m sure both Dong Haichuan and Yin Fu are like that. We know Yin Fu was one of very few students Dong Haichuan had when Dong was working for the king. There was a lot of one on one intensive training, especially in the nine years Dong was in Mongolia managing the king’s estate. So talent + hard work + opportunity = greatness for Yin Fu.

In terms of growth, no other group in history of traditional martial art had as rapid a rise as Bagua Zhang group. Before, Dong was fully preoccupied with his work, plus because of his position, ordinary people probably cannot just seek him out. The huge influx of students happened after he retired. Not everyone of them are going to be as talented (or talented in the same way) as Yin Fu. He probably couldn’t spend as much time with each students as he did with Yin Fu. Also, they all had varying degrees of martial art experiences.

Traditional teachers in general do not like to teach students with a lot of prior experience. Because if the materials are very different, either the student’s previous training is so ingrained he cannot change, or it takes too much effort to deprogram and untangle all the confusions. Dong Haichuan then, must have spent a lot of time in those years thinking about the best way, the most efficient way to teach all these different people, to help them get ‘it’.

We know one thing: he clearly decided at some point that teaching everyone the 64 Palm routine he taught Yin was not going to work. When Dong was teaching Yin Fu, Yin Fu probably imitated Dong’s every movement perfectly, very quickly. Dong did not tilt his hips when he walked, so Yin didn’t either. This is just my guess, because I know a few people from real life who are perfect mimics like that. Their teachers actually did not correct their physical movements that much. Most of the people on major Wushu teams today, they have that type of talent.

The problem with a lot of these physical geniuses is that they do so many things correctly, naturally, they never had to think about it. This is especially true for basic things like proper alignment that us mere mortals have to spend years to perfect and solidify. That makes it hard to fully transmit your knowledge to people who are not exactly like you. A lot of times it’s not because they don’t want to tell you, or they couldn’t articulate it, but because they are not even aware there’s something that needs to be articulated.

Just like being a fighter, the more, different types of people you encounter, the better you are as a teacher. As he sees all these people who are very different from him and Yin Fu trying to imitate him, he must have noticed all lot of these previously unspoken things. He must be like, “oh, ok, it’s not working for him because he’s not doing that. I didn’t tell him that. So that thing is actually very important. He needs to master that first…” This is one reason why people say the process of teaching actually deepens your understanding.


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July 2009
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