Isolating specific movements in the form and training them as isolated exercises is a good method for training specific aspects of body usage. This isolation technique is very useful for developing the shoufa (hand methods) and shenfa (body methods).
When training the houtians, we have many different methods being expressed. Methods can be expressed in both the hands and the body independently, but are most effective when expressed together. Sometimes training the two together is difficult at first. It can be useful to separate the hands and the body and develop the difficult area and then bring them back together again. The separation of hand and body methods can be useful if you feel that you are deficient in one area and need to focus on bringing that area up to speed with the other parts.
2. Shou Fa - Hand Methods - solo
Isolation of the hand methods can be a useful tool to help simplify the motion involved with the houtian form. One of the easier ways to do this is to take the main point of expression in the form and doing it from a natural stance, with no stepping involved.
I worked on this the other night with my class when we were doing 1.5 - Li.
What I have done here is isolated the hand movements that are being expressed in the encircling phase of this form. In doing so I am able to simplify my body coordination and focus on my hands alone.
I then shift to doing this with the body drop to work on the timing of my body folding and arms encircling. After this I do one repetition of the form so you can see where it is that the arms encircle and the body drops. As you can see, the forms can be be simplified, layered and reconstructed.
Learning how to train the smooth transition of the hands through space is a critical piece of Baguazhang. Li (1.5) definitely holds true to this! In order for me to properly use the encircling power of Li my arms must move smoothly. For my arms to move smoothly I must train smooth movement which can be difficult if the form is overly complicated. If I can break out the hand method and layer it back in to the form then I may experience more efficient progress in my training.
It is very important to be clear in the hand methods. There are two (and probably more) good reasons behind this.
From a meditative standpoint:
Training with focus on my hands brings the attention of the mind out into the hands. The goal is to keep the intention of the mind very smooth, clear and relaxed in the hands. The hands are most distant from the source of power (the body) and for the hands to be most effective they need to be trained with precision. Sometimes we have a tendency to over project our intent or simply put, just focus a bit too hard, when focusing on hands alone. This is a good place to assess where your level of intent is and decide if you are doing to much. Paying attention to where your mind is.
From a physical standpoint:
From a physical standpoint precision in the hands is critical because the further we get away from the source of power, the more important it is for the structure to be properly placed. If my structure does not have proper placement when pressure is applied then my structure will crumble. Having the hands in the proper shape and placement in relation to the body position is what allows for the efficient transfer of power between the source (you) and your point of contact.
Up next, the body!