Training With Real Weapons

Yin Style Bagua & Training with Real Weapons

After Dr. Xie Peiqi passed away in 2003, each of us involved in the deep documentation process of his life and work had to look for the next step in fully recording this incredible art. He Jinbao, perhaps the most skilled Chinese martial artist alive, actively pursued his vision of how the martial side of this system should be taught–a different direction than Dr. Xie’s. I spent 2 years training with and documenting Dr. Xie’s first and oldest surviving disciple, Liu Shichang.Liu Shichang trained with Dr. Xie in a time when challenge matches were common and gangs of Red Guards might invade your house at any time. Always ready, Liu believed in practicality and keeping weapons in every room, under couches, behind cabinets and anywhere else easy to grab but hard to spot. His incredible warrior’s spirit was infectious, and helped me understand that YSB is not a path of training toward personal cultivation, but of ‘realness’.

This coincided with my desire to reforge the Bagua Large Sabers which were out of stock. The ones we had made were excellent for strength training, but they were practice weapons, not real weapons. I spent several years trying out many different manufacturers’ swords and sabers, but all were not designed or weighted for real training, let alone actual use. Realizing that just as Chinese martial arts had lost its focus of fighting to either movies or exercise routines, the providers of its weaponry had lost their focus of making real weapons. Real weaponry and their usage seemed to be in the Japanese and Philipino martial arts alone.One company stood out in making real weapons for real use: Cold Steel. They carried an incredibly strong line of Japanese weapons and knives, as evidenced by their Solid Proof videos where they use their weapons to cut through sides of beef, hoods of cars, and bend them with weights to prove their strength. They also were interested in reproducing historical weapons from Europe and elsewhere.

By this time my own weapons practice had switched to training with real weapons completely, using the ATS Large Saber simply for strength and coordination practice. Unable to find acceptable Chinese weapons, and I embraced Dr. Xie’s philosophy that any weapon follows the skill of the hand, and if the hand is skilled in Bagua, then any weapon is a Bagua weapon. I began to train with Japanese katanas, European swords, Philipino escrima sticks, bowie knives, long and short staves. I first modified He Jinbao’s saber form to make more sense within Bagua and Men Baozhen’s book, and then began to work in Xie’s concepts of saber training–ATS unfortunately never had a chance to document his beliefs on weapons practice.

The greatest teacher I had as the form evolved into my own, however, was training with a live blade. It is one thing to walk through a form of flowery or superfluous moves with a sharp sword, but another to attempt it at fighting speed. For any of you who train YSB and have understood what Hun Yuan (Flowing the Moves was the translation in the videos) really means and requires, you will understand what kind of commitment it takes to do so with a weapon that promises maiming or death at the slightest mistake. Thus, at the cost of several scars, I ended up with the weapons form I now train, modified for sabers and single edged swords; double weapons, like butterfly knives, Gurkha Knives, and escrima sticks; and staff weapons such as staves and spears.

Everything I do in Yin Style Bagua (and most aspects of my life) return to Dr. Xie. He only believed in training Hun Yuan, using Dao Yin (Internal Cultivation) practices for strength development; for him, longer forms were memory devices, but true skill came from training its pieces; and there was never a ‘this is wrong or this is right’ in what you did, criticism and correction was always on how one did it and if it made sense in the situation at hand. As I have quietly watched the evolution of YSB since his passing, his words given as a teacher in a class or a friend in his home seem more important with the passage of time.

A Warning & Disclaimer

Live blade weapons are real, and the edges on the blades will slice through a finger, arm or leg with barely a touch. I have learned fear, faced that fear, and come out the other end as a more humble and better practitioner.  But I have felt the bite of steel and wondered whether the wound would be permanent more than once. Do not be foolish or irresponsible, as the damage and death these weapons can give to you or someone else is very immediate. Handle them as you would handle a loaded rifle, always aware of which way the blade is facing, and never wield them in the wrong circumstances or environment.

Andrew Nugent-Head, January 2010

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