Global Resilience Solutions > Category:internal martial arts

Bagua and Tai Chi: Exploring the Potential of Chi, Martial Arts, Meditation and the I Ching

Bruce Kumar Fratzis; Blue Snake Books, 2012.


People more in tune with their own preconceptions than the inner teachings of Taoism continually find reasons to dislike Bruce Kumar Frantzis. Here is this blunt-talking, fat American with crazy hair who actually teaches the internal martial arts for use in real self-defence situations and is completely unapologetic about his manner presuming to teach Taoist meditation and philosophy. Given that he has practiced seventeen different Chinese and Japanese martial arts since the 1960s and studied with the most important lineage masters of the internal martial arts, one might conclude that he’s worth listening to anyway.

And we have another reason to listen, because this book is the real thing. In it, every level of the practice and purpose of the Taoist martial arts is aligned and explained. This is the roadmap for anyone serious about practicing the internal martial arts as internal martial arts, period, whether for health, defence or spiritual purposes. Without a doubt, hundreds of thousands of Tai Chi practitioners around the world have practiced for decades without gaining the slightest inkling of the reality laid out in this book.

The Great Enterprise

The greatness of this book is in its integrative alignment of every level of practice in these martial arts. While they can be used for specific health goals or self defence goals, neither of these is the fundamental purpose. The physical body is first healed of its illnesses and then strengthened. The mind is healed of its illnesses and then learns to relax to the point where the temporal conditioning that we mistake for our personality dissolves and we reach the stable, nondual mind, still but infinitely creative. The energy system is systematically activated and strengthened to the point where it can be used for healing and defending others and the spiritual pursuits of inner alchemy. Rather more is happening here than a relaxing form of exercise or relief from chronic disease. It is a carefully methodical sequence leading to the goal of Taoism, the reconciliation of yin and yang and the five elements into the nondual original consciousness.

The Roadmap

This book explains how all the stages of this sequence fit together. It is a guide above all to the practitioner’s attention. Attention is the all-important key to results, and knowing where to put it at each stage is essential.

At the health stage, Frantzis describes not only how to practice, but how to know which art and which exercises in each art will have the most beneficial impact. Bagua, for example, generates more yang energy and is better for low blood pressure, while Tai Chi is better for lowering high blood pressure.

Frantzis goes on to discuss the ways in which energy and power are gathered, and concealed so that with high level practitioners, it is impossible to see how they are generating power.

He describes in detail the use of these martial arts as meditative practices, the links between physical, energetic and mental states and using the forms to deal with blockages, mental resistance and negative emotions. The three stages of this kind of inner work involve restoring psychological health, reaching inner stillness, and finally the great enterprise of merging with the Tao. Each of these is dealt with in detail.

All of these levels of practice are united by the Sixteen Part Neigong System, which allows the practitioner to add layer upon layer of subtlety to their practice of the system by focusing on one element at a time. From basic breathing practices to advanced energy work, this system benefits health, martial prowess, qi development and meditation in turn.

In addition, Frantzis offers plenty of information and advice that’s useful along the way, from how to find a qualified to teacher to why it’s better to perfect one movement than learn a hundred to exactly what the difference is between “small frame” and “large frame.”

So What Is Bagua Anyway?

Bagua is the least known of the three internal martial arts. It was developed originally as a practice for health and meditation in Taoist monasteries, and later expanded into a martial art which reached the Chinese public abruptly during the 19th century and proceeded to become a favourite of caravan guards in northern China. Bagua is named after the circle of eight trigrams, drawn from the I Ching, the Taoist Book of Changes, which represent the possible combinations and transformations of yin and yang energies. A key objective of Bagua practice is to master these changes on physical, energetic and mental levels in order to be able to flow effortlessly through any situation in life.

Frantzis emphasises the root exercise of Bagua, the Single Palm Change, as the key practice for health, energy work and meditation, as it is capable of embodying all of the other energies of the art.

The Hard Truth

Frantzis is known for his bluntness, and he does illuminate some difficult truths along the way. His expectations of what sort of teacher is necessary to actually learn the upper levels of energy work and meditation will and should scare the crap out of anyone who thinks that they’re on the path of the Taoist Immortal just by going to a few Tai Chi lessons put on by their local community center.

Frantzis, writing from deep inside the real inner tradition of Taoism, says straight out that mind-to-mind transmission and direct qi transmission from teacher to student are and must be natural prerequisites of high-level energy work, and especially of bridging from energy work to spiritual work, because these aspects of practice cannot be fully described in language and must be directly experienced. There are also four to five thousand energy channels in the body, and to work with them requires a master who can literally show you how to use them one at a time. This he offers as a defence for the traditional Chinese lineage system, saying that it was a bulwark against people who lacked this direct transmission but would pass themselves off as representatives of the lineage.

Another truth that hits closer to home for people who study these arts is Frantzis’ perspective on spontaneity and adaptability. He describes how the original teacher of Bagua could give each student a version of the movements suited for their own psychoenergetic state. The form was adapted to achieve the energetic content that was needed. This stands in stark contrast to the ossified state of these arts today, in which eternal arguments spring up between different schools about the “right” way to do a movement, while little attention is paid to the energy work it is supposed to embody.


This book can be viewed as a smorgasbord of information that can enrich your practice of the Taoist martial arts no matter what your reason for practicing, but more importantly, it brings you face to face with their full purpose and depth of possibility.

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger