Well, I’m on holiday and feeling free so I decided to engage in an unabashedly biased description of what makes Jiulong Baguazhang so special. I study it and teach it and think it should be celebrated. Here is my list in no particular order.
1. Jiulong training involves mental exercises and meditative techniques that develop the ability to relax, concentrate and use imagery to enhance skill and strength. Learning to function under the stress of physical violence is also directly addressed with this training. Such mind/body training rests on medical and psychological research evidence and is currently taught by sports psychologists to improve athletic performance. The ability to relax and focus, especially under stress, is now emphasized in cognitive behavioral therapy and is known to have important health benefits.
2. The physical exercises include flexibility, strength, aerobic and coordination training based on sound physiological principles. From a purely physical fitness point of view, Jiulong offers a complete system of exercise.
3. Furthermore, these exercises emphasize good body mechanics and avoid excessive strain to vulnerable body structures including the knee and low back. They are therefore suitable for almost anyone regardless of age or level of fitness. I have taught these exercises as part of treatment for many of the medical patients in my care.
4. Everything taught in the art is principle based. In other words, students follow a progressive step-by-step program of instruction, beginning with simple lessons in posture and weight shifting. Once these have been sufficiently understood, methods of stepping coordinated with arm movements are introduced and these are based on the postures and method of movement already learned. The goal is freedom of movement and the ability to use the strength of one’s whole body while moving.
5. There are no kata or forms to memorize. There are no complex patterns of movement to learn. Emphasis is placed on training large muscle groups rather than on fine motor control. Complex fighting techniques that require fine motor control are far more likely to break down under the stress of personal combat than whole body movements.
6. Effectiveness in training people to engage in personal combat is not unique to Jiulong but the Jiulong approach is simple, practical and based on scientific principles. Its methods have been used in law enforcement and military training.
7. Jiulong students are encouraged to think critically about their training by asking what an exercise or technique is for, how does it work and what is the best way to train it. This approach helps them develop a deeper understanding of realistically applying what they are learning. It also encourages skepticism of woo-based claims and cultism that litter the martial arts world.
8. Training is cooperative, not competitive. The focus is on developing skill, not besting your fellow student while engaged in partner practice. Egos are checked at the door before entering a class and many learn to discard them almost completely in day-to-day life. Such students are a pleasure to be around and will help newcomers enthusiastically. They did for me.
9. I was not new to the world of Asian martial arts when I came to Jiulong and what I found was refreshing. Everyone was a student, from the most senior instructor (Shigong John Painter) to the freshest newbie. There were no masters. Although the organization has ranks, respect flows both ways in equal measure up and down the hierarchy.
I’ll stop at 9 for symbolic reasons. There are more things that make this art special: its rich history, comprehensive health practices and philosophical studies among others. Jiulong may be a martial art but with all it can teach, I like to think of it as an art for life. My life has certainly been better for it.