In the ancient book 'Huai Nan Zi' it is said that between the Heavens and the Earth there are nine 'Jio' and eight 'Ji'; beyond the nine 'Jio' there are eight 'Yan'; beyond the eight 'Yan' there are eight 'Hong'. 'Yan' means remoteness, extending into the far distance, 'hong' means breadth; therefore, Ba-Ji was said to be something which spreads and extends out to infinity.
As regards who the founder of Ba-Ji was, or even when it was first practiced, it is very difficult to say, but according to the old texts a man named Wu Zhong (nicknamed Hong-Sheng, 1712-1802), also the founder of Ba-Men Chuan (eight doors style), was one of the main originators. One of the reasons Wu Zhong named the style 'Ba-Men' - eight gates or doors - was because there are eight gates in Jannah (Heaven) that souls pass through. Wu Zhong was ever thoughtful of death and never forgot Islam. Living in North China, Wu Zhong started to practise Wushu when he was eight. He liked martial arts and practised day and night, in all weathers.
One night, Wu Zhong was practising Wushu in the courtyard and an old man suddenly jumped from the roof and old man didn't answer and started to do some kung-fu. Wu Zhong had never in his life seen such techniques so he asked the old man to sit down and tell him what he was doing. The old man told Wu Zhong a great deal about martial arts theory and techniques most of which he had never previously heard. Wu Zhong asked him what style was he doing, the old man said it was 'Ba-Ji Chuan'. Immediately Wu Zhong knelt down and begged him to accept him as his student. The old man refused and said, "I'm going to travel a lot, how can I teach you?" But Wu Zhong stood in front of him, laughed at him and said he was not practising properly. Wu Zhong asked who he was but the persisted, performed three kowtows, and told him how much it would mean to him to be taught by him. The old man, realizing Wu Zhong was sincere and had a deep love for Wushu, was so impressed by his determination and enthusiasm that he agreed to accept him as a student. So he stayed at Wu Zhong's house and started to teach him. After ten years years of practice the old man said, "I've taught you almost everything and I have to go now." Wu Zhong was very upset, kowtowed and said, "Master, you have been teaching me for ten years but you have never mentioned your name or said who you are." The old man said, "My surname is known only to my closest students - it is Lai." The old man was none other than Lai Kou-Yuan, one of the great masters of the past. Later, after Wu Zhong had improved on Ba-Ji and advanced the style, he was invited by the great nobleman Wang Gong Da Ren to teach 150 of his retainers in his palace. Ba-Ji started to become popular.
Wu Zhong subsequently passed the style on to Li Da-Zhong and Chang Kemin; Li then taught his son Li Gui-Zhao, and Chang taught his son Chang Jing-Xing. Through several more generations the art was passed on to the great twentieth century master Ma Fu-Luo from Ningxia, China. Ma Fu-Luo was the head of the Hui minority people in his province and a strict Muslim not considering himself to be Chinese. Indeed, in the past he led a battalion of resistance fighters against both the Japanese and the Chinese. Until the 1980s he had refused to teach Ba-Ji to any Chinese or non-Muslim.
In 1984 Master Ji Jian-Cheng met him and saw him perform Ba-Ji. Master Ji had previously studied Ba-Ji at the famous Wushu Institute of Chengdu but when he observed Master Ma he noticed that the Ba-Ji as practised by Ma Fu-Luo was something quite different although clearly the same style. The Ba-Ji as taught at the Wushu Institute was directed more at elegance of movement, speed, and dynamic technique. Ma Fu-Luo's had all that but was striking for its obvious great power, emphasis on fighting applications, and subtle use of internal energy. In fact, Ba-Ji, like many other martial arts, can be learned and practised in more than one way. For the majority of people, even in China and Taiwan, the style is done with the emphasis on appearance with less attention to its fighting aspects. However, Ba-Ji is a very powerful, aggressive and effective fighting art, but this side of the style has usually been kept secret or taught to very few people. In Taiwan for example, 'fighting' Ba-Ji is practised by the presidential guards and various special security agents. So, when Ji Jian-Cheng saw Ma Fu-Luo he realised that he had discovered a real master of genuine Ba-Ji and not the commonly practiced exercise-based Ba-Ji. Although Master Ma had not taught Ba-Ji to anyone outside the Hui minority people he took a liking to Ji Jian-Cheng, already a qualified Wushu instructor and master of several other styles, and agreed to teach him real Ba-Ji. Master Ji spent several years in England as Chief Instructor to the Tai Chi & Wushu Association of Great Britain and taught Ba-Ji to a small number of people there including Eagle Claw Sifu Julian Dale ( www.worldeagleclaw.com ).
Most of the movements in the single Ba-Ji form are performed in a very sudden, violent, and explosive manner. There is a strong unleashing of force followed by immediate relaxation ready for the next action. Like Chen style Tai Chi, Ba-Ji also utilises 'Chan Si Jing' or 'silk reeling energy' where power coils through the body and is released in a sudden burst of energy, short but strong. The punch as shown in picture (1) actually starts from a low crouching position and spirals up into the final left punch, arm slightly bent, with a simultaneous right shoulder and elbow strike. The breathing is combined with the technique and a sort of 'hng' sound is produced in the throat on completion. There is also a slight sinking forward and down of the upper body. The Ba-Ji form is done fast and aggressively with occasional slow and relaxed movements. There are frequent jumping and twisting techniques and sudden attacks and retreats. In fact one of the main distinguishing characteristics of Ba-Ji is its fast attacks followed by sudden withdrawing movements. There are no high kicks; just simple practical low front kicks, low leg attacks and foot sweeps, knee strikes, and stamps to the ankle, knee, or foot. There are several types of punch, including the low-level crouching punch shown in the picture, but the hand techniques tend to be mainly palm attacks, open-hand chops, finger strikes, grabs, blocks, and various locks and holds.
When learning Ba-Ji one usually first practices the basic techniques such as the coiling punch, relaxing and producing sudden power, and various stances. Later the Ba-Ji form is introduced bit by bit but it is necessary to practice individual techniques outside the form emphasising power and speed if one wants to do Ba-Ji as a martial art and not as a mere form of exercise. Later, partner work is done to practice the applications of the techniques and fast, adaptable and flexible reactions. The Ba-Ji form is undoubtedly a very good-looking and impressive form when performed skillfully but Ba-Ji is primarily a genuine internal style the main aim of which is to develop effective practical fighting ability.
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