The Art of Ba Gua Zhang
Although different theories exist in relation to the origin of Ba Gua Zhang, many recent and thorough investigations from martial arts scholars in Chinese mainland showed that the art is a creation of a single person, Dong Hai Quan. Dong Hai Quan was born in Wen county of Hebei province and lived from around 1976 to 1880. From a young age he practiced in the martial arts of his region that were using mainly the open palm for strikes and had gained some fame as a fighter. At the age of 40 he left his home and traveled to the south. At some point in his journey, he became member of the Taoist sect Chuan Zhen (absolute truth).
The hermits of that sect used to walk in a circle reciting some mantras. This practice aimed to relax the mind and focus on the intent so as to achieve at some point enlightenment. Don Hai Quan combined later on, the circular walking with martial arts that he have learned in his youth, to create a new style with the central idea of developing one’s ability to ceaselessly apply techniques while moving by constantly changing direction.
Initially this art was called Zhuan zhang (changing palms).
Later on it was related to the Book of Changes (Yi Jing) and took the name Ba Gua Zhang (palm of the eight trigrams).
Dong Hai Quan was mainly teaching teachers and experienced fighters already practicing some kind of martial arts and he was teaching them through the circular walking, the way to become better in what they were doing, together with movement theory, fighting theory and techniques. His students used the theory and techniques by Dong and combined them with the martial arts they were already practicing.
Most famous among his students were: Yin Fu, Cheng Tinghua, Ma Gui, Liu Fengchun, Ma Weiji, Liu Baozhen, Liang Zhenpu and Liu Dekuan. The techniques and theory ripen day by day and gradually integrated in one of the most significant boxing styles.
Many family systems developed since then as each of Dong’s students arrived to a different interpretation of the art and consequently many styles were born named after those teachers. So we have Yin Ba Gua Zhang, Cheng Ba Gua Zhang, Liang Ba Gua Zhang etc.
Ba Gua Zhang has eight basic palm techniques, named “8 mother palms” and each style combines those eight hand techniques to create 64 techniques. The eight palms are: dan huan zhang, shuang huan zhang, shun shi zhang, bei shen zhang, zhuan shen zhang, shuang bao zhang, mo shen zhang, fan shen zhang.
The basic step is Tang Ni Bu “mud walking” following the curvature of the circle. The trainee literally walks in a circle, while performing various positions with the upper body. Gait is very important and the effort to achieve it should be evident.
The basic method is spinning of the torso, rotations and sudden changes of direction that when executed by the trainee his body should be always aligned and flexible.
The basic hand methods are: punch, stop, intercept, divert, push, support, bring, lead, qinna, hook, hit, close, hide, open. The general features of Ba Gua Zhang are: the body remains relaxed and move quickly, steps are stable but flexible, every movement is connected to the rest. A horizontal and a vertical power intersect, combining strong hits with soft movements that permit someone to deflect the power that comes to deter danger. Apart from the eight mother palms some Bagua styles include the 64 hands that comprise techniques Bagua sanshou and are performed in straight line. Similar to the other “two internal styles” Xing Yi and Tai Ji, Bagua is a wushu style that differs from the most Chinese Wushu styles, since it is a training method aiming mainly in integrating some specific principles rather than repeating battle standards.
The basic idea is the non use of power towards power but avoiding it through circular movements that will give advantage to a weaker fighter in order to find a corner that he will override towards a stronger opponent. From that angle he can attack with “real power” Zhen Ti Jing (power from the whole body). For such a strategy to be successful, it requires much work in leg movements so as speed and good reaction to be obtained.
Balance in movement and spins is the one that will determine the possibility of attaining real power the proper moment. The right alignment, the flexibility and muscle relaxation are those elements that permit the manifestation of that power.
Training in Bagua and by extension to the internal fist, is training mainly in method rather than the technique. Training in how you do something and not in what you need to do.
Considering this, it becomes obvious why Yin Fu who did Lohan Quan, Tsen Tinhoua who did Shuai Jiao, or Liang Zhenpu who did Tan Tui named their styles Bagua while they were keep performing the techniques they already knew and bagua performed by each was different than the rest.
In our days many will claim that similar ideas govern the so called external styles.
This is right basically since some teachers of the so called external styles, cared enough to ‘marry’ ideas of the internal fist with the styles they were practicing.
When those ideas however appeared and systematized, mainly from the three styles of the internal fist, it was something unprecedented for their era and a truly inspired training method that its charm remains unchanged nowadays.
The idea for someone to work on understanding the mechanics of movement and to integrate purposefully the results of this understanding with the most efficient techniques of his era, is an idea that comprises to a great extend the freedom of expression and experimentation.
A freedom that after all is said and done, apart from the inspiration and creativity (necessary elements for the progress in martial arts) that provides the trainee with, renders the learning process more pleasurable.
As it has been proven the best way to integrate an experience into our body is when we do it through joy.
The Art of Ba Gua Zhang