Note: This piece was written in reaction to an article in the Black Belt Newsletter, issued by NAPMA, about Bruce Lee’s contributions to the martial arts. Specifically, that he “opened the eyes” of the martial arts world and that “almost every modern style has been infused with a spirit of eclecticism which, prior to Lee, was unthinkable.” It then discussed the “interchangeability” of most martial arts. This is not a knock on Bruce Lee, as I personally have great respect and admiration for him. It is, however, a statement about the Ba Gua Zhang (Pa Kua Chang) of Lu Shui-Tian, as taught by Master Park Bok-Nam.
Tae Kwon Do and Karate dominate the martial arts of this country in terms of sheer numbers. Just look in the Yellow Pages. This is not a bad thing, however, since we should have exposure to other perspectives. We then can better appreciate what we have.
Practically all modern day martial arts base their knowledge and understanding (and, consequently, their ability to defend themselves) on the number of techniques they can “collect.” Kicking styles want to add grappling, and grapplers are learning to use their heads, knees, elbows, etc., etc., etc. And this is because Bruce Lee opened our eyes? Maybe this is true in the “popular” martial arts of today that focus on the physical techniques.
The Ba Gua Zhang taught by Master Park always considers “whatever you need” and that includes all (but not limited to): fists, palms, fingers, elbows, knees, feet, shoulders, hips, joint locking, throwing, etc.
Remember, a style not based on principles has limit. Master Park calls these “pyramid styles.” In a pyramid style, one cannot avoid reaching a peak in development. Ba Gua Zhang is the youngest of the Chinese martial arts at between 200 and 500 years old (depending who you believe). It was developed by expert fighters and based on the natural principles of: Yin & Yang; 5 Elements; and the 8 Trigrams (actually the Yi Jing or “Book of Changes”). These are the same principles used to explain all existence, and they are limited only by one’s understanding. They represent the continuous development and evolution of all things. The theories describing these principles go back over 5000 years. Other styles are looking to each other for answers because they are discovering their limitations. The Ba Gua practitioner who has the principles has a style without limitations.*
Water does not need guidance to find its way;
Fire will destroy without a thought;
Wood will move stone to find nourishment;
Metal is formed without our help;
Earth keeps the balance without judgment.
*The practical applications of these natural principles are taught at different levels throughout a student’s development.
This article was originally published in May, 1998 under the title “Did we really need Bruce Lee?”