Today we have an interview with Robert Jay Arnold a teacher and student of the Chinese Martial Arts and especially known for his skillful display of Bagua.
I have read Roberts blog for many years and always enjoyed his balance between tradition as well as the practical side of Martial Arts, making them work under pressure.
Here is a nice video of Robert in action and gives many good examples of what he discusses in this interview.
I hope you enjoy this interview, please like and share and be sure to visit Roberts website to follow his journey.
DOT: Many thanks for agreeing to this interview and a warm welcome to Dawn Of Truth.
Can you tell us a little about you and your history and how you came to be involved in Martial Arts.
Robert Jay Arnold: When I was young, my father’s rule was that I and my two brothers would begin training at 4 years old for reasons of self-defense.
We lived in a small town in Ohio that had racial tensions and physical conflict was always a likelihood. I began with boxing and combat taekwondo and that was how we stayed safe from week to week. My father having a military mindset, meant there were times we did a thousand kicks a day. When I was thirteen, we moved to Washington and my brothers and I began to venture into other martial arts styles because we could feel our individual personalities calling for different needs.
Just as our styles in fashion began to differ, so did our styles of combat. I trained, Hapkido, Jeetkundo, Ninjutsu and filipino styles through my teen years. By the time I was 18, I was basically teaching what would be MMA at the time: a blend of styles, with a more traditional feel. Still after testing my art against various styles for the following years, it felt there was more behind the techniques, concepts and strategies. So I learned Chinese at Western Washington University to further my ability to study. As I had hoped, Chinese opened up a whole new door to the exploration of martial arts. It wasn’t long before I learned of the art that the Chinese emperor used for his body guards and special forces: Bagua.
After searching for a few more years, I finally found my master Wu Guo Zheng in Taipei, Taiwan. I studied, competed and did demonstrations with him for ten years, before I began passing on what I had learned.
DOT: You are now known for your Bagua. Can you expand upon why you chose Bagua? Was this a deliberate decision or did Bagua choose you?
Robert Jay Arnold: The art chooses us, but we have to be focused enough to hear it. Just like I initially didn’t want to learn Chinese. The thought of learning it seemed intimidating, difficult and not suitable. But why was I thinking about it? Bagua was a lot more direct. My brother Aaron showed me a video when I was 18 and I said, “I’m doing the wrong style.” It was like every style I had ever done before was trying to be Bagua, I just didn’t know it.
Still, I couldn’t find it because I was in America. After 3 years of learning Chinese, I went to Kunming, China as an exchange student. I was asking everyone about Bagua and no one had ever heard of it. They assumed I was a crazy foreigner with bad Chinese. After a few months passed, I decided I would take any style I could, after all, I was in China. Then across the dorm, I saw this man wearing white doing these beautiful, effective movements. I decided, it didn’t matter what he was doing, I was going to do it do. When I asked, he told me it was Bagua. I only got a feel of it initially because I had to return to the states, but I kept practicing. 2 years later I came to live in Taiwan and I once again brought before me, but in an abundance that I could only dream of. It was like it was always calling me. It needed me as much as I needed it.
DOT: Can you share more about your style of Bagua, the style, lineage etc. I see many styles out there with many forms, exercises etc but I would like to know more about the ‘System’ of Bagua. I have seen from your blog that there seems to be a very deliberate organisation to the contents of your line of Bagua. What does it seek to develop in the practitioner and how does it go about systematically creating these skills and attributes in the practitioner?
Robert Jay Arnold: My style of Bagua in Chinese originally is called Chen Style Gao System Bagua. What that means is that the first person to learn from the founder, Dong Hai Chuan, was Chen who then taught Gao. Afterwards, Gao taught to my master’s father, Wu Jin Yuan and later he taught to his son, my master, Wu Guo Zheng.
Each teacher brings something different to the system of physics as each person brings something new into the world. But in short, it is only a system of science and physics as with all martial arts. The key difference is in how energy is generated. In Bagua, we do internal exercises that change the shape of a body the same way an archer would curve a piece of wood into a bow.
Through practice of various routines, we transfer the energy from being solely reliant on the muscles, to the tendons and other areas to maximize power while relieving pains and injuries and delaying the effects of aging. None of it is magic, it’s just a form of advanced physical technology, that has yet to become popular to the world. It’s been a secret for so long, it’s mostly become a rumor. The trademark of the Gao lineage is that there is both Pre-heaven and Post-heaven practice. Pre-heaven is strengthening exercises while Post-Heaven is combat application.
DOT: The internal styles all talk about ‘Internal Power’ but often I see (perhaps in my ignorance) little more than a good mover akin to a dancer but no evidence of any “internal Power’ worthy of praise in a combat environment.
Firstly how would you define internal power and secondly is it something developed within your training?
Robert Jay Arnold: Firstly it’s important to understand that internal arts are only as mysterious as the human body. Yet, there are many things including DNA and the brain that even after years of study, still hold secrets from the most diligent of researchers. The term internal is related to connecting everything within the system to perform a task in harmony. The body is more closely related to a computer than a hammer and this means there are more programs that can be learned in all walks, including combat.
In the internal arts there are roughly many ways to connect the system: standing practice, circle walking, breathing exercise, weapons and more. The key is reshaping of the body. Just like you know what motion is needed to lift 500 hundred pounds, but it is impossible until the body has attained a necessary shape. Internally we align the knees, hips, shoulders, elbows, wrists, etc. in order to transfer energy from one place to the other with more force and less energy. The idea is to take the energy generated in a left hook and shrink it down to a few inches. It takes a long time to master, but in the process of learning, it heals the body because of the attention to detail. So it’s win win. External styles can be much more effective much earlier, but they also tend to age faster, taking damage that hinders them from being as effective in the later years. Whereas, practicing internal styles, you are more effective in the later years.
DOT: Following from the previous question. Some of the training I see linked to Internal Power is that the ‘Dang’ upward force in the crotch to support the structure rather then the muscles in stance work. Can you talk a little about this and whether it is something you incorporate? Old stories talk of Bagua having some interesting qualities derived from circle walking so I am interested to know more about the benefits of Bagua circle walking, Nei Gung and Qigong.
Robert Jay Arnold: We usually hear terms like “relax” when we talk about internal arts, but that can be a bit misleading because there is a tension that must be first understood. Circle walking is an exercise of walking the circle with the legs, hips, waist and upper body held in a particular structure that causes the flesh to “sink.” Think as your muscles as a jacket or extra layer of clothing. Through walking the circle for hours at a time, the outer body began to tire to the point it must rest on the inner body. This transition will awaken the awareness of the inner man and give more control to the practitioner. Once the internal man has awakened, the sensation of movement itself changes. It’s almost like you are magnetizing yourself through particular techniques and that energy can give additional benefits for both protection and preservation.
DOT: Bagua has also been known for special skills such as light skill etc, I have to ask What is your opinion of these claims?
Robert Jay Arnold: The prerequisite for having super powers is believing that they are real. You can not train to do something if your mind as already made up its mind not to. This doesn’t just go for amazing feats, but for ordinary careers and relationships. Martial arts is only a reflection of life and it can go as far as you are willing to.
However it should be said that people have always been more fascinated with magic than martial arts. Even in China there are almost as many forms of practicing magic and spiritual worship as there are martial arts styles. So the line has fused together of martial arts, magicians and possibly…real magic. This question is a little deeper than just kung fu so I will keep it in the realm of our discussion. There is a uniqueness to what can be achieved. At the highest level people will be able to do many things that seem impossible, but I’m certain that all of it can be explained through scientific study and research. The problem being that science in many ways has adopter borders that limit its development. It’s completely reliant on the senses and our senses have yet to scratch the surface of the universe. At the same time watch out for hustlers. Its way easier to pretend you have power than to actually attain it. I’ve seen both amazing feats and lots of fakers in my years. I’d say it’s best to focus on the training, if you began to feel something strange, just keep training. It will reveal itself.
DOT: How relevant is the study of the I-Ching in understanding your Bagua tradition? Is it something you have gone into? Is their a more Esoteric side requiring mental development and maturity?
Robert Jay Arnold: I have seen the Yi-Ching and I’ve also studied why it was introduced into Bagua. The Yi-Ching is basically an understanding of how energy works in all aspects of life, just as Bagua. Think about it as a filing cabinet that can help you organize information. Bagua fits nicely into this cabinet because Bagua itself is an organizer of movements. Yet I could use the concepts of Bagua or Yi-Ching to organize the movements of boxing. I could put my straight movements under the heaven section, hooks under the water section, uppercuts under the wind section etc. The various sections helps with deeper visualization so that the movement can be better recorded and reviewed. Young or old, everyone can benefit from Bagua, but the mature mind can get so much more.
DOT: Lets talk weapons as Bagua is famous for its over-sized weapons.What role do these have in specifically Bagua and generally in the modern age?
Robert Jay Arnold: All of the weapons teach the body different martial skills: hand dexterity, accuracy, endurance, etc. Heavy weapons in Bagua are used to help develop better stepping. The step carries every motion and by carrying a heavy weapon, you relax the body into the appropriate structure. In order to wield such a weapon while moving swiftly, you can be sure the movements without the weapon are even faster and as more powerful. It’s just the same as an athlete lifting weights. Of course you could hit somebody with it, but even without out it they will still feel it.
DOT: How do you ensure that the Martial aspect of Bagua remains intact? From reading your blog it seems you have had to fight in your life when younger so developed the will and the mindset to do this. But for those not facing violence in their daily lives how do they develop that mental switch to enable them to use what they learn?
Robert Jay Arnold: Fortunately or unfortunately I grew up in a place that I had to make sure what I was taught was effective. Even though I knew it worked in the dojo, it all became trial and error outside. Many of the movements I learned from Taekwondo worked in a fight and many other movements I was using incorrectly. It was really a blessing that I began with Taekwondo because it is so difficult to use effectively. It made me look at the movements in more depth. How do you use a technique against a heavy guy, multiple guys a guy with a weapon? All the questions lead to better martial answers and I pretty much kept that concept through everything in life.
Learning how to fight and learning martial arts are actually two different skills. The yin and the yang. It’s true that one can teach you with the other, but only if you are trying to initiate the other. You will absorb martial arts concepts through fighting and fighting concepts through martial arts, but they must be deliberately attended to.
The good news is that all it takes is a bit of humility. First drill the desired technique against a bag or wall. Make sure you can hit any time with the technique easily. If you have to think about the technique, it’s not practiced enough. Next you must learn when to use it by having someone attack you in drill like repetition. The technique may change in shape, but it’s a mistake to compromise the physics of the motion. If it’s not working, it’s because it’s your fault. You are too close or too far, too heavy or too light. You must change and the technique will correct itself.
Then try the movement against pad work and then light sparring. Keep in mind this is all the same movement. It must be isolated until you know what it is. This means you may take a lot of shots trying to figure it out, but once you understand it, it will unlock all other movements. In Bagua there is only one movement with thousands of shapes.
Next you must use it against strangers. Keep it safe, but it must be real enough to get tagged. Work another technique and repeat the process. You can learn most of the necessities from drilling and light sparring. Drills will actually make you more capable of using a technique than sparring in a real situation. Drills create a pathway to the brain through repetition that will make you react naturally. In a real fight it won’t be the same as a drill, but attacks can only come from so many directions. Just like a boxer doing combination work through drills. Those drills will show up in his fight. But if you fight without any drills, you won’t have many tools to work with.
DOT: Lastly what have I missed? What key parts of your journey as it relates to Bagua can you share?
Robert Jay Arnold: I think in a sense the revolution of all martial arts is the same if you are on a long enough path. The problem is that many will stop early due to under or over determination. Under determination will cause you to go into a mode of sloth, while over determination will surely lead to injury. If you train everyday like you are going to fight tomorrow, your body will be too old when conflict arises. But if you are able to last to the later days of training, you may come to find this useful.
Initially fighting is much like a point or the zero dimension. When you strike, you hit different points on the target, using your fists and feet which are basically more points.
You touch one point to the next and there is a reaction. Even using the same technique, as it improves the motions of the body upgrade to lines instead of points or the first dimension. A line has more advantages because it is not just the fist that is the danger, but the arm all the way to the center of the body. It can be used to cut of the opponent’s oncoming points like a shield while striking and be used in angular fashion.
After the line comes the circle. Circular motions use the joints of the limbs as points so that oncoming point or linear attacks can be deflected, trapped and countered more easily. Afterwards the circle becomes a sphere and their is depth through the entire frame on how the attack can be deflected or dealt with. These are all different dimensions of the very same technique and the only way a movement can be ready for use in combat.
In the kung fu world we see many flat diagrams and demonstrations that are much too linear. There is the assumption that an attack will come at you from a particular height and in many cases a practitioner can fail only because he has tried to use a linear technique in a three dimensional world. There is nothing wrong with any technique, there is only problems of your perception.
DOT: We will meet for a follow up in the near future but for those wanting to follow your work please let everyone know how they can contact you for training, your DVDs and books
People can get my books on amazon: Chasing Dreams to China: Successor and Master Trey’s Flawless Outlaws.
Also my blog is www.warriorfox.blogspot.com
You can find me on youtube under by searching Robert Jay Arnold
I also have a website I just began called www.robertjayarnold.com but it is just getting started. No content till the summer
Also for training drills you can see the warfox training room on Facebook.
If anyone is interested in buying DVDs, please contact me via email firstname.lastname@example.org