Human bipedal locomotion. It’s not just a fancy way of saying walking but refers to all the things we do with our legs to move our bodies from one place to another. Our basic design lets us walk, run, hop, skip and jump, but we are also capable of modifying these actions for particular purposes. Compare how a ballerina moves across the floor with how a tap dancer does, or how a basketball player covers ground compared to a soccer player. All are variations of bipedal locomotion that require specialized training to improve the ability to achieve a specific purpose.
According to the history I learned from my teacher, Shigong John Painter, Jiulong Baguazhang originated with a family of professional body/security guards who might find themselves engaged with multiple opponents carrying a variety of weapons on different kinds of terrain. This was not fighting in a ring with a referee. Their work required them to develop a means of covering ground on foot quickly, changing direction quickly, and evading attacks from any direction, all while being able to deliver powerful strikes with different weapons and/or different parts of the body. Spending more than a few seconds in one-on-one duels is too dangerous when your opponent’s friends might attack at any moment. Continuous movement is safer.
These specific requirements led to the development of the Jiulong walking method that diligent students spend countless hours practicing. Jiulong ‘walking’ is another specialized form of bipedal locomotion, one specifically purposed for personal combat on foot. It is not what most would consider normal walking at all, any more than dancing a tango would be.
Unlike a normal human gait, this walking method utilizes all the leg muscles, lower as well as upper, to propel the body through space. The direction is horizontal, with no vertical component and the knees maintain slight flexion throughout the gait cycle. Emphasis is placed on maintaining knee-toe alignment to allow for maximum muscle coordination (and hence power to accelerate) during the push-off phase of a step while protecting the knees from rotational stress. The Jiulong gait also allows rapid direction changes that preserve and even add to the body’s momentum during turns.
The result is a powerful method of moving the body across ground, enabling the student to accelerate and turn with fluidity and speed. Furthermore, the student learns to blend walking practice with the principles of posture, muscle control and coordination from training in sitting, standing, and shifting. With practice, the student learns to strike and deflect strikes with different parts of the body or weapons without breaking stride. The force of the strike comes from accelerating the whole body in a coordinated manner, not just an arm or leg. It appears that the originators of Jiulong were aware that Force = Mass x Acceleration, even if high school physics was not in their curriculum.
Jiulong walking has benefits that go beyond utility in combat. It is an excellent method of conditioning the legs that protects the knee from non-physiological stresses. Its specialized method of transferring body weight helps avoid slipping on icy, slick surfaces. The impact of landing on one foot with one’s whole body weight is greatly lessened, even at high speeds.
Not only do I teach this walking method to Jiulong students but also to patients in my care. They have a variety of chronic pain issues, knee, hip, and back pain in particular, but all who try are able to participate to at least some degree. When combined with a stable relaxed posture they find this kind of walking less painful and that encourages them to walk more.
Walking has become a staple of my medical practice as well as my Baguazhang practice and I often reflect on how something that was developed to help inflict wounds is also a method of healing. Like the art itself, Jiulong walking is a multi-purpose tool.
(Note: Shigong Painter recently posted an excellent detailed article examining human gait from an anatomical/physiological perspective and how this relates to our system of Baguazhang:
I can’t recommend it enough.)