Circling and Change of Hand

To walk in a circle
The inner foot
(The foot closest to the center of the circle)
Always travels straight forward.
The outer foot
(The one farther from the center of the circle)
Always travels on a slightly curved inward path
Towards the center of the circle
To direct the circular pattern.

Page 73, The Whirling Circles of Ba Gua Zhang

by Frank Allen and Tina Chunna Zhang

A correctly executed circle on horseback is a rarity. In a previous post (click here), I compared the conundrum circling poses for horses with people trying to pat their heads and rub their bellies at the same time. Part of the challenge in circling is that both horse and rider have to be alert in order to compensate for the physical demands of circling while still maintaining the calm regular pattern of steps in each gait. So it is important to practice until the awareness as well as the movement is automatic.

Most horse/rider combinations do not step straight under the horse’s body with the inside hind leg even though stepping under themselves like this is the only way the horse can balance both their own and their rider’s weight on a circle. If you want to communicate how to move this way to your horse, you first have to learn how to circle correctly yourself. When walking in a straight line, you must focus on keeping your feet parallel. The size, regularity, and direction of a circle are determined by the variations from those regular parallel steps. If you wish to circle to the right:

  1. Look in the direction of your circle
  2. Allow your head, neck , shoulders and waist to follow your line of vision
  3. The right (inner) foot continues to step forward in a straight line
  4. The left (outer) foot lifts forward
  5. The left toe turns inward
  6. The ball of the left foot touches the ground in front of the right toe
  7. The left foot slides onto the ground with a toe in/heel out position
  8. As the right foot leaves the ground
  9. The hips turn to follow the line of sight
  10. Bringing the right inside foot parallel to the left outside foot
  11. The right foot continues forward in the new direction
  12. Then settles onto the ground
  13. And repeat

And yes, you do have to actually look at exactly where you are going at each and every single stride because every stride is headed in a slightly different direction on a circle. The wobbling wandering many-sided patterns of hoof-prints found in so many arenas are clear evidence that just contemplating the idea of circles will not help either you or your horse actually move in one.

Of especial importance to equestrian concerned with developing a light touch on the reins is the emphasis on moving through the waist:

Proper twisting of the waist
Increases the flexibility
And looseness
Needed to create
Be gua zhang’s
Spiraling energy power.
It also builds coordination
Which allow you to move your body
in one piece
and with full force.
Lastly, it helps you understand
the principle of internal power,
which comes from the legs,
is directed by the waist
and is expressed by the hands.

Page 78, The Whirling Circles of Ba Gua Zhang
by Frank Allen and Tina Chunna Zhang

Reverse to circle to the left. Practice maintaining the size and regularity of your circles in both directions. Once you can do that then you can practice spiraling inward and back out again in both directions. Horses are all too often blamed for their rider’s one-sidedness, so make sure that you can circle both ways with equal ease. Then you will be ready to try changing directions. Our ba gua zhang instructors agree with the horse masters as they say:

The circle walking
And change of direction
Practices
Will increase coordination
Internal and external integration
And functional flexibility of the ankles and legs
Which eventually develops into
Beautiful footwork
The power source
For ba gua zhang

Beyond simply paying attention
to the footwork itself
you must train the torso
to be relaxed
coiled,
and coordinated
with the footwork and palm positions
and you must train the mind
to focus
and to direct
the changes.

Page 73, The Whirling Circles of Ba Gua Zhang
by Frank Allen and Tina Chunna Zhang

Now spiral inward to your smallest comfortable circle, and then instead of spiraling back out, change direction by:

  1. Looking in the direction of the new circle
  2. Swiveling your body from the head to the waist
  3. As your inside foot comes off the ground
  4. Let it follow the movement of your hips
  5. As they complete the turn
  6. And slide it onto the ground so that
  7. The toes of your inside foot are just in front of
  8. and at an angle to your outside foot

Note: You may look and feel knock-kneed and pigeon-toed at this point!

  1. Keep looking in the direction of your new circle
  2. With your whole body head to hips
  3. Raise your new inside foot from the ground
  4. Let it follow the movement of hips
  5. As they complete the turn
  6. When it parallels the new outside foot
  7. Slide it forward
  8. And settle it on the ground
  9. Continue circling in the new direction.

If you ever wondered why corners, circles, and changing directions on horseback are so challenging, this exercise might give you some insight. If the rider does not have the coordination to circle and change directions on foot smoothly, coordinating two beings and eight limbs just is not going to happen. Circling is a already challenging maneuver for the horse (click here). Since our goal is an alert responsive balanced and cooperative horse that follows our lead, starting out the way we mean to go on only makes sense.

click for more or go back to the  beginning

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