I stand in a fighting position, knees bent and fists curled. 39-year-old David Clawson, the owner and main instructor of the Pa-Kua Orange dojo located in Orange County, readies himself across from me. When he tells me to grab his wrist, I oblige, and in a fluid motion, he uses my momentum to contort my wrist in a position that with more effort could easily dislocate my elbow. Grimacing, I tap out. After I’ve practiced the move myself a few times, Clawson talks to me about the usefulness of the move in self-defense situations—using someone else’s energy against them. He grins. He tells me that he was taking it easy.
Clawson clearly has an aptitude for combat. But shockingly, he’s never been in a fight. The closest instance came when he and his wife were walking in New York and were approached menacingly by a couple of men. Clawson could’ve taken them on. Instead, he gave them money and walked away.
“Why fight?” he asks.
This is the thought behind the teachings of Pa-Kua, an ancient Chinese art form that Clawson describes as “the study of the eight stages of the change.” Whereas most martial arts studios focus on simple fighting techniques, Pa-Kua centers more on the betterment of the self and spirit.
“Self-dominion is what we teach in Pa-Kua,” Clawson explains, “not dominion of the person in front of you.”
Having being taught some moves by Clawson, this makes sense. He likes to say that Pa-Kua teaches less martial arts and more martial formation, describing the concept as “trying to help the student become more martial.” It focuses on internal motivation. While they may seem like any other self-defense tactic, movements are designed to use the attacker’s energy against them rather than simply fighting back. “Self-dominion,” he points as we face each other in our ready positions, “not dominion of the other.”
Pa-Kua doesn’t focus solely on martial arts. It encompasses a wide range of disciplines, ranging from yoga to archery to acupuncture. All have the underlying goal of self-betterment. Clawson thus labels Pa-Kua as the study of change. He describes that “everybody comes by at a different moment in life…usually at a moment when they need a change.” Pa-Kua welcomes any age, any demographic, with open arms.
I asked Clawson to try and describe Pa-Kua in one sentence. He told me that would be extremely difficult, because the definition can be tailored based on each person who studies it. Clawson says the aim is to truly get to know a student in order to find their own personal challenges. “Each person learns in their own different way,” says Clawson. He then pushes them to their specific limits to “try to help [them] to be happier in life.”
Back on the mat, I concentrate, parrying a fast but safe onslaught of Clawson’s punches. I fall into a rhythm. He smiles and presses his fist to his palm, bowing. I follow suit. “[If you] teach a bunch of kids to fight, you can’t get mad if they fight,” he told me the previous day. I recognize I’m being taught fortitude and internal strength rather than methods of attack.
Clawson describes that the environment at Pa-Kua Orange as “a family.” As I move onto the next exercise, I feel like a part of the family.