I recently came across an article with details about the various jins in bagua and how to train them (original chinese here ) that I thought would be of interest to bagua enthusiasts.
“JIN TRAINING IN BAGUAZHANG
There’s a scene in the film Pride’s Deadly Fury’  in which ‘divine palm’ Li kills Niu Er on the riverbank with a single palm strike.
The power Li is using is called ‘inch power’ (cun jin).
The characteristics of inch power are that the distance between the striking body part and the target is relatively short, usually about an inch. Characteristically, inch power strikes are sudden, powerful and hence hard to detect, evade or block. The ‘collapsing palm’ (ta zhang], ‘inserting palm’ [ye zhang] and elbow strikes all train inch power. If you wish to master inch power, you must practice according to the requirements, for example, relax the shoulder and drop the elbow [song jian zhui zhou], hold the head as if suspended [xu ling ding jin], the whole body should be coordinated, with the leading hand hitting the opponent and the rear hand adding power.
Even though the movements are small, they are significant.
Apart from focusing on the movements in the bagua routines that train inch power, you can also train on trees. To train this, you need to find a youngish tree with a trunk that’s not too big. First, rest your fingertips of one hand on the tree, and then strike the trunk using the heel of your palm. When striking, the whole body should be ‘solid’ and connected, the eyes should gaze as if angry, the knee of the lead leg should push upwards, whilst the rear leg should ‘push off’ the ground. At the moment of contact between the palm and the tree, the whole body should momentarily tense up. The intent should be to break the tree in half. Then, after the strike, you should return to the relaxed ready state, again with your fingertips resting on the trunk. At first, you should use the shunbu configuration, i.e. if the right hand is striking, the right foot will be leading, with the left palm ‘chambered’ at the left kua. Then, later on, one can practice it with aobu［i.e. opposite rather than same foot stepping].
In the past, bagua practictioners would bury 1m of a 2m-long wooden board in the ground, leaving 1m sticking up. They would then nail dog pelt to the board, and use it to practice collapsing palm and inserting palm.
The palm skills of the famous Cheng-style master Li Wenbiao  were developed through just this kind of training. Small trees or wooden boards were used because they had a certain elasticity. If you use a large tree or a wall, not only will you not develop inch power, you will hurt your wrist. The scene in ‘Wulin Zhi’ in which Dongfang Xu practices his palm strikes against a big old tree was just a directorial flourish to show how fearsome Dong’s palm strikes were.
‘One-inch’ strikes can very easily inflict internal damage, especially when used against the ribs. Because human ribs are quite flexible, this damage sometimes is not obvious. Hence bagua students should be very careful to control the power of their strikes when practicing against a live opponent.
THE HIDDEN POWER OF BAGUAZHANG
‘Hidden power’, as the name suggests, is a kind of force that is not externally obvious. Kicking, punching and barging are all kinds of ‘obvious power’ which can be externally observed. Hidden power can only happen when two objects are touching. The hidden power in martial arts is mostly used to for self-protection. For example, if I punch someone in the chest, my opponent will probably try to block the punch. If my punch has only got force in one plane (going forward), my punch will be deflected easily. If my punch has a resisting force that stops my opponent from changing the direction of my punch, this is called an li, aka an jin.
Many famous masters had strong hidden power, such as the bagua master Liu Fengchun, and the xingyi master Guo Yunshen. It was as if both of these masters had ‘electricity’ in their arms, the opponent would be launched away regardless of whether they were attacking the opponent or whether the opponent was attacking them. Stationary palms [ding shi zhang] are the main method used in bagua to train hidden power. Each posture, if combined with specific visualisations and practiced correctly, can produce hidden power. For example, in the first posture, ‘pressing down palm’ [xia an zhang], both hands ‘press’ downwards as if on a ball , with the arms rounded as if holding a large balloon. Posturally, the requirements are: relax the shoulder, press the elbows out [song jian cheng zhou]; hollow the chest and round the back [han xiong ba bei], hold the head as if suspended [xu ling ding jin] and the upper body should be slightly turned towards the centre of the circle while you walk using mud-wading step [tang ni bu].
When you are walking, you should imagine that you are walking through waist-deep water and also that you are trying to keep the two balloons with you – you can’t press too lightly [letting them float away] or too hard [bursting them]. Every time you practice it you should have this visualisation. Regular practice will mean that the moment you get into the stance, you should start to get the right ‘feeling.
In Shuang Bao Zhang (Double Embracing Palm), the arms are held in front of the chest as if ‘hugging a tree’ with the plams facing inwards, the palm is hollowed and the fingers held apart, as if hugging a large balloon 50-60cm in diameter. You should imagine you are using mud-wading step to walk through shoulder-deep water. Again, you must not let the balloon float away or burst it. The next step is to imagine that waves of water are buffeting the balloon in various directions, making it bob up or sink down, or pushing it sideways, whichever way the water pushes the ball, you must keep the balloon centered and moving with you. The practice of the other 6 fixed postures is similar to the first two, readers can experiment for themselves.
By the way, the various visualisations should not be ‘held’ too strongly, otherwise you will get dizzy and will only be able to circle-walk for a short while. As you grow stronger, the visualisation should be allowed to become weaker until it is barely there. One should not pay attention to the sensations that arise during this practice, just allow them to arise and dissipate naturally.
BAGUAZHANG’S ‘SPRING POWER’ [TAN JIN]
Long-time practitioners of baguazhang develop a body where every part is springy, connected and flexible.The characteristic of springs is that, within a certain range, the more they are compressed the greater the resultant ‘spring force’. This phenomenon can be expressed by the equation F=-kX, where k is the elasticity coefficient of the material and X the degree of compression. The minus sign indicates that the relationship is inversely proportional.
As you can see from the equation, the strength of the spring force depends on the elasticity coefficient and the degree of compression. As baguazhang practitioners, we should pro-actively train to increase our ‘elasticity coefficient’.
‘Spring power’ [tan jin] is frequently used in taiji’s push hands and in bagua’s ‘drawing and leading palms’ ［xi hua zhang］ paired practice, and is also common in bagua’s free sparring [San Da]. Knowing that their opponent possesses spring power makes an attacker wary of changing his attack to other parts of the body. Spring power can be used continuously; sometimes, spring power can feel like a spring, and sometimes like a steel rod.
Apart from ‘drawing and leading palms’ paired practice, other ways of training spring power are:
1) Resistance cords
Normally a 3m-long resistance cord is used, with the two ends fixed to something solid. The practitioner should try to move slowly with the cord resisting the arms, legs or waist. One can practice this on the spot or with moving steps. Movements should be slow; fast movements will not produce the desired effect.
2) Spring cord
Similar to the above exercise, with the cord attached to springs rather than a solid wall.
3) ‘Drawing curves’ pair work
In this exercise, two partners, A & B, stand facing each other with their right feet out in front. Their right arms should be held out in front of the chest so that the backs of the forearms touch. Then, A slowly draws a curve right and down, with B providing resistance all the way down. When A’s arm reaches its full extension, B then starts slowly drawing a curve right and up, this time with A resisting. B stops when his arm reaches full extension, and then the cycle is repeated.
4) Drawing curves with legs
A & B support each other’s arms, the right leg lightly lifts up, the feet touch and draw a curve. The method is similar to that described above for arms.
The methods described above use the right arm/leg, but could equally use the left side, readers can practice by themselves.
BAGUAZHANG’S HORIZONTAL POWER [HENG JIN]
Bagua’s horizontal power is indispensable in actual combat. It’s always been the case that vertical power is easy to train, horizontal less so. Horizontal power is especially important in a match between a smaller, weaker opponent and a stronger, larger opponent, where the smaller guy will have to rely on skill to win. Most of the time, people stand in ‘ding ba bu’, with the front foot pointing straight forward and the rear foot pointing diagonally outwards. In pushing hands or free sparring you should search for your opponent’s horizontal axis whilst protecting your own. Conditions in a fight change by the moment, no-one can guarantee that they can always protect their horizontal axis. As soon as you feel your opponent beginning to control your horizontal axis, you should resist it in order to gain yourself some time to reverse the situation.
On the other hand, you need strong horizontal power if you are to use it to attack your opponent. Bagua’s routines give prominent expression to horizontal power. For example, in Single Palm Change, the lead palm twists and pulls outwards, while the rear palm follows; in ‘plant a flower by a tree [yi hua jie mu], the drawing back and outward pressing of the forearm; in ‘black bear turns its back’, the back leans backwards and the palms press downwards. If these moves are done like callisthenics, one will not derive much benefit. It is only when one understands the point of these moves and couples them with intent that they can produce horizontal power.”
- ‘Pride’s Deadly Fury’ (1983), known in Chinese as ‘Wulin Zhi’, is one of the few Chinese kungfu films to feature baguazhang training methods and techniques. The main female role of Gao Lianzhi is played by none other than Ge Chunyan, a student of Sun Zhijun and Liu Jingru. You can see a clip from the movie here .
- Li Wenbiao was a famous student of Cheng Tinghua and grand-teacher of Liu Jingru (via Luo Xingwu).