What is this website I am reading?
This is the website for the learning community associated with the Baguazhang teaching tradition of Wu Meng-Xia and Bi Motang, Wu is considered to be one of the best and most capable students of renowned Baguazhang master Gao Yi-Sheng. Everything on this website is tailored to helping the people who train under the tutelage of one of Master Wu's grandstudents,Mr. Yang Yusen, who resides in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
Why is this material being taught?
The instructor Mr. Yang Yusen (who we usually refer to as "Laoshi") emigrated from his home city of Beijing, People's Republic of China over a decade ago. His teacher is Mr. Bi Tian Zuo. Mr. Bi visited his student in Canada and asked him to do something to spread the art, lest this stream of Bagua learning die out. Since Laoshi is one of the last and youngest full lineage disciples of Mr. Bi he feels it is his duty to honor his teacher's request and help pass the system to others so it can be preserved and transmitted into the future.
Why is this material being taught online? Why not in person?
Mr. Yang lives and runs his own business in Victoria, BC. He isn't very fond of traveling and he doesn't like the idea of starting a large commercial school. Since there were numerous people who wanted to learn the material he received from his teacher he made the decision he would offer the material online. The whole venture was a big experiment to be honest, which likely would have never happened without the need to pass on the ZeZong / Wu Meng-xia flavor of the Gao system. With Mr. Bi Tian Zuo's blessing, It has been very successful , and the lessons go on.
How long has this been going on?
The first group or "cohort" has been learning for almost two years with good results.The second cohort has been learning about half that long, a third cohort roughly half of that, and the fourth cohort recently started in the last few months.
Why should I consider studying this system?
You should consider studying the system if you like Baguazhang, especially Gao style, and you do not seem to have easy access to a comparable or better information source in person on a regular basis. Many of the students in our class live very far from any good Baguazhang teachers, and love the opportunity to be exposed to solid functional classical baguazhang from a teacher who has open stated goals (i.e. pass on the system) and doesn't desire or require a lot of drama.
What is required to take this class?
Well everyone who wants to join has to be approved by Laoshi. You may notice there is no obvious way to "register" for the classes here on gaobagua.net. You will need to contact Laoshi by email either here or on emptyflower.net and introduce yourself and give a bit of background. Then ask permission to be added. In terms of what is required once you are in a class... you will need a solid computer, internet connection, and a digital camera that can take short video clips (most of the inexpensive newer digital cameras have this function). In terms of software you will need a working operating system (Windows or Mac OS X or a Linux system - members use all three). A File Transfer Protocall client may be useful also but is not absolutely required.
What sort of interaction will I have with the teacher?
Laoshi monitors the "ZeZong classroom" sub-forums on www.emptyflower.net pretty regularly and is usually quite happy and pleased to answer questions and querries about the material taught in the lessons. Also there is a homework requirement, usually about every two weeks you will need to submit a short (0:30-2:00) video clip of your best efforts on the exercises in the last lesson. People do submit bigger clips or questions by video as well but this is optional. Also Laoshi's classes in Victoria are open to participating students who wish to visit for hand's-on correction. Lessons in Victoria for visiting distance students are free.
How much does this cost?
Well happily it doesn't cost much at all. Laoshi doesn't teach for money really. He has a duty to spread the art so it can be passed on, and he likes teaching us. There is a small fee ($15.00/month) of which 1/3 goes to keeping the server working and the hosting people. There is a fee because people have this idea that "costs nothing" means "worthless". Charging something makes sure only people who are actually interested in learning (as opposed to just window shopping) join and continue the class. Various people in the class are "comped" their fees in return for helping out with online chores (technology stuff mostly). No one who has joined the class and participated regularly and trained hard has EVER been disenrolled for financial reasons. This isn't truly about money. It's about something we love.
How do I know I won't get ripped off?
Well basically you should go over to www.emptyflower.net and ask about the class. People there are taking it and will be glad to give you their thoughts. Training online isn't for everyone. If you absolutely cannot stand the sight of yourself on video then this isn't for you. If you aren't online regularly this isn't your best option. If you have a high-quality bagua teacher living down the street from you then you should probably go with what is "the bestest and the closest". Ask yourself this... would people work (volunteer) to put up a site of this complexity for the price of a cup of coffee each week unless it was something they just loved and wanted to share with others who might love it also?
Is this stuff "real bagua"?
This stuff is simply put as real as it gets! Gao style is a well known system in the Baguazhang families, and Yang Yusen's lineage is impeccable and top-notch. Gao Yi-Sheng spent upwards of 50 years teaching Baguazhang, much of it in the parks and soccer greens of the English concession in Tianjin city, People's Republic of China. He was extremely well known in a time when public teaching in public places meant accepting challenge from anyone who wanted to try you out. Towards the end of his public teaching career he had a challenge that ended with a critical injury to his opponent. Wu Meng-Xia was a notoriously skilled student of many teachers, not only Gao Yi-Sheng but also Han Mu-xia (also a teacher with a rather violent history). Master Wu was skilled in all three internals, and published works on Yang Ban Hou style Taiji ("Annotations on Taijiquan's Nine Songs and Eighty One Postures") and was in charge of publications at the National Guoshu Institute. Mr. Bi Mo Tang was a martial arts brother of Wu Meng-Xia, and trained with Wu under both Han Mu-Xia and Gao Yi-Sheng. He was a very busy with his business and asked his brother Wu to teach his second son, Mr. Bi Tian Zuo. Wu Meng-xia trained young Bi Tian Zuo until he went to university in Bejing. Wu was a party official in the Koumintang (Chinese Nationalists) and got in political trouble shortly thereafter. Bi Tian Zuo completed his training under his father Bi Motang. Decades later he trained a teenager named Yang Yusen for years until Mr. Yang immigrated to Canada.
So how exactly do I get lessons , how often and so forth?
Laoshi films a lesson every two weeks (we should say "circumstances permitting" but he hasn't missed one yet!). It runs from 20-45 minutes of lecture and demonstration. One of the Victoria students usually plays demo partner. Laoshi uploads this into the file spaces we have and it is then downloaded, converted and put up in the videoplayers here on gaobagua.net. Anyone who can play youtube clips can easily watch the lessons here on gaobagua.net. Keep in mind this is a "technical" ability. Some people using some institutional computers or in places behind the Great Firewall cannot view youtube (they can't get to it) but they can still see our videos because we are not political or a "site of abuse". Each new member joins a cohort (there is usually a waiting list for the next cohort to form) and thereafter when it's "Lesson Sunday" every two weeks.. a new lesson shows up in their videoplayer on site. They can watch the video, full-screen it, and watch till they feel comfortable with it. Then they go practice and rewatch. Repeat as neccessary, film their homework clip for Laoshi to check and ask any questions they have on the forum.
How long will it take to "finish" the system? How can I be sure I will get the "whole enchilada"?
The "correct answer" would be that "it takes as long as it takes"! In practical terms we are thinking it will take something around 5 years to get "exposed to" the whole Gao system. Laoshi teaches very methodically (he claims he is disorganized but the system is so well-designed it makes him look very organized!) covering around 1 of the "major movements" or exercise or changes per 2 week period. In the beginning lessons Laoshi spent a few lessons covering one major movement, at some point he sped up a bit and now over a year in he is reviewing the previous exercise or change and introducing a new one with each lesson. There are 108 "Big Exercises" in the ZeZong system of Gao/Guanghua Bagua. For instance Single Palm Change is 1 of 108. Each of the Eight Big Changes is 1 of the 108. Each Tien Gan or Houtien is 1 of the 108. So figuring 108 Big exercises at 1 per two weeks means it will take around 216 weeks to be exposed to everything. So at a guess it's probably safe to say 5 years or so. Laoshi's main priority is to pass on the whole system, complete and finished, to each person who is willing to commit to learning it. Some students in the class are teachers themselves and have recommended their own students or friends into later cohorts because they agree with this idea of "art for the art's sake".
This seems rather quick/slow/not what I expected in terms of pace!
The best answer to this is that the Gao system has a great deal of material. It is very possible to do outstanding baguazhang with a relatively small amount of material (say perhaps Single Palm Change, an Eight Palm Change form and supplemental exercises), many schools or systems of Baguazhang do this. Gao style is especially suited for people who like being shown things in a detailed manner, with alot of very cohesive material that is rooted in the idea that the movements teach a great deal about art itself. Many systems do have extensive qi gong work which may be emphasized by the *apparent* (but not actual) brevity of their physical practice syllabus. Still what Wu Meng-Xia passed down prefers the idea of training a lot of things that are very useful in fighting. And that means there is ALOT of material.