Untangling a System: An Honest Answer to a Common Question I Receive on Martial Side of Yin Style Bagua

I recently received a post on a martial video on our youtube channel (www.youtube.com/user/traditionalstudies) that was worded in such a funny way, I thought it finally time to give a long and thorough answer to a question I receive fairly often: how come my organization of the trigrams is different from He Jinbao’s? Specifically, why are our listing of the Kan and Kun trigrams opposite of each other? The posting, however, was not in the form of a question but phrased as an assumption, so I thought it best to finally come forward on this as we begin to post so much material online for free. It also sheds honest light on how traditions are documented and the ways in which things are changed from one thing to another in the blink of an eye for any lineage. The longer the lineage, the more blinks of the eye happen, and to believe they do not happen is to miss the human element within every tradition.

Yes, the organization of the strike names to the trigrams used by He Jinbao is opposite from my organization and thus presentation on our site. I am of course aware of this, but have publicly never addressed this out of deference to He Jinbao. For some reason, He Jinbao has always remained convinced that the strikes of those two animals are reversed. This is based on a notebook he has kept all these years of notes he made in 1985ish after the passing of Liu Fang when Dr. Xie called in his students to attempt to spread the system. Aware of this, some 10 years ago I set out to clarify the issue knowing it would one day come up and be a potential problem for the documentation of this system. He Jinbao showed us the notebook and talked about how certain he was that Dr. Xie stated which strikes go with which animal. I certainly do not doubt him, but the information is incorrect. Liu Shichang, who was also present on the day He Jinbao took his notes and that brief period when Dr. Xie was shocked by the passing of his best student and trying to teach the remaining disciples, has a different memory of the strikes from that period, adding further confusion.

As the person who began documenting Yin Style Bagua, is responsible for shifting it from a secretive tradition to the open system it is today and was the primary person involved in every aspect of its recording until Dr. Xie passed away, I have a large archive of hand written documents, written by Dr. Xie himself, on the art of Yin Style Bagua. Among these are several written in 1984 and 1985 in which he lays out Kan and Kun as featured here and not as He Jinbao recorded it or as Liu Shichang remembered it. Furthermore, while Men Baozhen’s book, published in 1935, does not directly map the strike names to the trigrams, he clearly lists the trigram descriptions first by the four yang trigrams, then the four yin trigrams. The strike names (what we call Attack Methods) are also listed in that order, the four yang trigram strike names together followed by the four yin trigram strike names grouped together. Because of this, I respect both He Jinbao’s and Liu Shichang’s organizations of the attack methods and trigrams, but personally practice according to how Dr. Xie taught me directly, what his writings from the 1980’s state, and believe Men Baozhen’s book to be the final say in the matter.

So how could this have come about? Dr. Xie was a brilliant practitioner, father, mentor and friend to me. Though I came along last, by simple math of number of hours spent together, no other student of his spent nearly as much one on one time with him as I did. And none of them ever became his confidente as I did due to the nature of our relationship, my being a foreigner and the approaching end of his life. I loved him and miss him dearly every day, as every day I run into questions that I know he would have been able to help answer. As a documentor, I am also a realist. Dr. Xie was a heavy drinker, and several of the students who were part of that 1980’s window of teaching would have sought to get him as drunk as possible in order to see if he would slip out more ‘secrets’. This is a common phenomenon in China, Dr. Xie would have been aware as it was happening, and he certainly would not have shied away from it while it was happening. Thus, the key players (He Jinbao was considered too young to do more than be there and listen and hope for important bits of information to fall) would have all been quite drunk and great knowledge as well as confusion would have insued. When I began working with Dr. Xie in earnest, those ‘key players’ resurfaced and I watched ridiculous drunken sessions happen in front of me as they hoped more ‘secrets’ would fall. Fortunately, this did not last, they disappeared after a time and we were able to really document the system in a serious and sober fashion. I mean no disrespect to all involved, this is simply how it was, and while I was not there in the 1980’s teaching window, I was physically present every step of the way for the 1990’s window which I personally created, and that is what happened when those early students came back out of the woodwork.

A final comment from the heart: it doesn’t matter which strike goes with which trigram. He Jinbao is such a gifted martial artist that whatever he does and however he chooses to do it is worth studying. The same goes for Liu Shichang and his arrangement. I always have viewed it as a lucky chance to see something more, a different interpretation done 100% correctly even if the mapping might be ‘incorrect’. Most importantly, at the level of Chuan Zhang, one should be able to practice any strike from the perspective of force of any trigram, making boundaries meaningless. While the seeking of a ‘correct’ answer to any aspect of this system may seem important for arm chair practitioners and bulletin board posters, it has always been a moot point for those of us who are still practicing the art after all these years. The hours logged in training eventually wear away any notion of right and wrong. Instead, we are left with more useful and less useful, but always useful.

Andrew Nugent-Head
Meijawu, China