I was asked why I called this blog Six-Step Circle: what is the significance of that name, both the circle and the six-steps parts? That seems a question worth giving some account, but as with all things baguazhang, the answer isn’t exactly straightforward.
The circle, of course, refers to the cornerstone practice of baguazhang, ‘turning the circle,’ or ‘circle walking,’ or simply ‘turning,’ as we call it. For those who don’t know anything about baguazhang, the exercise both is and isn’t any more complicated than that. We adopt fixed postures with the upper body and walk in a circle. This activity is so central to baguazhang that it’s entirely fair to say that if someone doesn’t practice turning, they don’t practice baguazhang. In Yin Style Bagua, we often remark that turning the circle is our most basic practice, and yet it is also one of the most difficult and profound practices we do.
The exercise sounds odd to those outside the art, but it’s quite practical. Try walking in a circle sometime for an extended period, and you’ll see what I mean. It’s harder than it looks, especially if you want to do it right, even without the postures (read: pain) or the many, many strict requirements that separate turning from merely walking in a circle. Different schools of baguazhang do things differently, but in Yin Style, we endeavor to turn for long periods of time and to endure the difficulty of the exercise. The generally given standard for Yin Style Bagua turning practice is an hour a day (preferably all at once and in only one posture).
The invitation to try the practice should immediately bring a question to mind, though, if you really think about it seriously. How big should the circle be? This is where we come to the “six steps” part of the name I gave to this blog. Again, different schools of baguazhang do different things and for different reasons. In Yin Style Bagua, we do everything, even our developmental training, specifically with fighting applicability in mind. That means we walk a circle whose radius (distance from the center to the edge) is roughly the right distance for engaging with another (unarmed) opponent. For most people, it works out to taking roughly six steps to get around such a circle, so the standard introductory instructions for turning the circle in Yin Style indicate that we should take roughly six steps per circle. In Yin Style, though, we strive for pragmatism, not dogma, and so the actual number of steps to get around the circle may vary, and that doesn’t matter much.
Now, in Yin Style Bagua, we also boast of training eight full animal systems, one for each Trigram of the Bagua, and each has its own unique representative posture, fighting strategy, and so on, and so each also has some unique guidelines that might apply to turning the circle. Animal Systems that utilize a lot of reach, like the Lion System, which turns around the point of the finger,turn a somewhat larger circle, usually six steps around.
Animal systems with postures that hold the arms nearer to the body, and that represent a different fighting strategy, might do differently. The Rooster System, for example, turns the circle around the proximal ulna (the forearm bone anatomically just below the elbow) and the olecranon (the part of the ulna that is the elbow itself). Depending on a few factors unique to the practitioner and the training session, this may shrink a Rooster turning session down to five or even four steps to get around the circle, although six steps as a rough foundation is also correct so long as you can keep your mind accurately on what you’re doing and aren’t hurting yourself. (Generally speaking, it requires more hip flexibility to turn a smaller circle correctly, and therefore if it is attempted without the requisite hip flexibility, the hips or knees may be injured in the process. In that case, a larger circle–six steps–is recommended.)
This may seem quite confusing if you don’t train Yin Style Baguazhang, but it doesn’t need to be. A simple explanation would be that in Yin Style Bagua, we aim to turn a circle that is fighting applicable. Six steps around the circle will trace a path definitely qualifies, and so that’s always an acceptable size for turning, hence the name of this Yin Style Bagua blog. If you are physically capable and turning a posture for which it makes sense, a smaller circle can be turned as well. What’s most important, though, isn’t some hard rule about how many steps it takes you to get around the circle. What matters is that your circle is a size that makes sense for the goals of training Yin Style Baguazhang: gaining fighting proficiency with the system you’re training.
As some readers will undoubtedly want some advice about it, I’ll give some indication of what the “right” number of steps per circle is, to the best of my knowledge, in each of the eight animal systems of Yin Style Baguazhang.
Lion and Unicorn: 6 steps
Dragon, Bear, and Phoenix: 5-6 steps
Rooster and Monkey: 4-6 steps
Snake: 3-6 steps
Again, don’t turn too small a circle for the specific abilities of your legs, hips, and waist (all of which require development before small circles are accessible). Turning a smaller circle isn’t necessarily better, and, in fact, is often worse. It’s much more important to get the technical requirements of the circle-turning footwork than to turn a smaller circle badly. For that reason, even if you can do a perfect three-step circle while turning Snake System, it is still probably in your best interests to turn it with six steps much of the time. Generally, err toward six steps most of the time for most animal systems.