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Baguazhang, Eight-Diagram Palms Shadow Boxing


by Cardinal

"The power of the eight diagram palms knows no bounds -- the palms seem to strike even before the hands move. When the hand threads upward, it's like a hundred birds paying tribute to the phoenix; when it threads forward, it's like a tiger swooping downhill. Walking round and round, he is like a stray wild goose that has drifted from the flock; but when the palms are thrust forward, they can move a mountain. Now dodging, now ducking, his body slithers in and out; using the opponent's force he delivers a counter, blow, with as little effort as pushing a boat down the stream." Dong Haichuan, Founder of Baguazhang.

To most westerners, Taijiquan (TJQ) is the only Chinese exercise that teaches one how to integrate the mind, body and spirit into one unit. Wrong! There is another marital art system that not only shares the same principles and philosophy as Taijiquan, but it is outwardly simpler yet relies more on one's focus and concentration. This exercise is called Baguazhang (also referred to as Bagua or BGZ and pronounced as bah gwah jang. It is also written as Pa kua chang or PKC).

Baguazhang (BGZ) is one of the more famous of the traditional Chinese martial arts that possesses many distinctive practice skill methods and its palm method changes unfathomably. It also has a good balanced reputation in the martial arts community. From the time of Qing Chengfeng (1851-1862), when Mr. Dong Haichuan (of Wen'an County in Hebei Province) introduced it until today, it has been practiced daily and enjoyed by martial artists in China and overseas.

BGZ is an exceptionally beautiful martial art emphasizing the use of spiral movements and a sophisticated use of footwork and fighting angles. It makes the body extremely flexible and able to move with tremendous grace, speed and power. Bagua practice is vigorous and aerobic. Many consider Bagua to be the most advanced of the Chinese Martial Arts. The foundation of the system is a meditative circle walking practice and the "Single Change Palm" which was developed in Taoist monasteries over 400 years ago. As a meditation practice, Bagua allows one to produce a stillness of mind in the midst of intense physical activity. This esoteric system at its highest levels becomes a method of manifesting the energetic patterns of change described in the I-Ching or Classic Book of Changes.

Technically, the correct performance of this exercise increases the practitioner's energy through simultaneous circle walking, forms practice, and breath control.

The practice of Baguazhang is very Zen-like in its approach to calming and focusing the mind. The basics are a series of movements done while walking in a circle. The goal of this exercise is for the individual to understand proper body alignment and relaxation. Once this practice is consistent, the movements become faster and more intricate with turning and twisting, moving the body in all possible angles and directions for fitness, centering and agility. Baguazhang uses quick footwork and turns as part of as its self-defense strategy.

Baguazhang is literally translated as Eight-Diagrams Palm. This style is one of the three primary Nei Jia Quan or internal styles of China. The other two styles are Xingyiquan and Taijiquan. As with Xingyi and Taiji, the practice of Bagua generates Qi (internal energy) for both health and combat purposes. Baguazhang primarily uses palm techniques, and this is reflected in the name, Eight Diagram Palm. This makes Baguazhang distinct from XingYiQuan and TaiJiQuan styles, both of which incorporate fist techniques. (FYI - Taijiquan technically uses more palm maneuvers than fists.)

Its movements are based on the mobility of position and agility of body, BGZ proves itself to be a formidable style for many practitioners. Instead of directly attacking an oncoming force, BGZ 'melts' around the attack; either simultaneously redirecting the attack while closing the position, or by evading it and repositioning one's self to an advantageous 'doorway,' for finishing the opponent instantly.

This style of Chinese boxing was very popular during the time of Qing Dynasty's Emperor Dao Guang who reigned from 1820 to 1850. The story goes that Dong Hai Chuan of Wen'an County in Hebei Province came to Beijing in 1852 when Emperor Guang Xu ascended the throne and worked in Prince Su's mansion. There he began to teach his Baguazhang, which soon became very popular in Beijing, Tianjin and the surrounding areas, and he was acknowledged as the respected founder of Baguazhang.

Dong Haichuan had a large number of followers and he taught each of them in accordance with their aptitude, adapting movements to suit their ability and talent.

The Various Styles of Baguazhang

A hundred years later, Dong's Baguazhang has now branched out into various forms with some differences between them, each having its own distinctiveness.

Some of the major branches of BGZ are the Cheng style (after Cheng Tinghua), the Yin style (after Yin Fu), the Zong style (after Zong Changrong), the Liu style (after Liu Fengchun), and Liang style (Liang Zhenpu).

While each of those Baguazhang systems is based on the individual's whose background and previous martial training. Each style has its own specific forms and techniques. In essence, all of the different styles adhere to the basic principles of Baguazhang while retaining an individual flavor of their own. Most of the styles in existence today can trace their roots to either the Yin Fu, Cheng TingHua, or Liang Zhenpu variations.

The distinctive trademarks of the Yin Fu style are the large number of percussive techniques, multiple quick-strikes combinations, explosive movements and very quick and evasive footwork. (Yin Fu was said to "fight like a tiger," advancing forward and knocking his opponent to the ground swiftly like a tiger pouncing on its prey.

Cheng Tinghua styles of Baguazhang features movements that are executed in a smooth flowing and continuous manner, with a subtle display of power. Popular variations of this style include the Gao Yi Sheng system, Dragon Style Baguazhang, "Swimming Body" Baguazhang, the Nine Palace System, Zong Changrong's style (probably the most common form practiced today), and the Sun Lutang style.

Liang Zhenpu's system can be viewed as a combination of the Yin Fu and Cheng Tinghua styles. Liang's student, Li Ziming, popularized this style. All systems of Baguazhang possess a variation of a form known as the Single Change Palm (SCP). The Single Change Palm is the most basic form and is the core of the "eight change" palm exercise found in the Art. Besides the Single Change Palm, the other forms include the Double Change Palm (DCP) and the Eight Changes Palm (also known variously as the Eight Mother Palms or the Old Eight Palms).

These forms are the foundation of Baguazhang. Baguazhang movements have a characteristic circular nature with a great deal of body spinning, turning, and rapid changes in direction. Beside the Single, Double and Eight Change Palms, most but not all styles of Ba Gua Zhang include some variation of the Sixty-Four Palms.

"Circle Walking" Training

The first phase of Baguazhang training is walking the circle. Research has shown that there are medical benefits that are derived from this exercise. Benefits include the prevention of contracting premature osteoporosis to the avoidance of acquired deformity and chronic diseases in nervous cardiovascular, respiratory and digestive systems.

Abstract on The Single Change Palm (SCP) and The Double Change Palm (DCP)

After circle walking is taught, the 1st palm movement most BGZ players learn is the Single Change Palm (SCP). The SCP is the outgoing hand posture that is focused on striking at the body of the opposition.

Once that movement is mastered, the Double Change Palm (DCP) exercise is taught next. This movement is a continuation of the Single Change Palm, executing two or three consecutive strikes. There are six other palm movements that is the basis of Baguazhang (BGZ).

It has been said that 80-90% of Baguazhang fundamentals can be found in the Single Change Palm exercise (SCP) and the Double Change Palm (DCP) exercise. If one cannot perform those two exercises correctly, he would not be able to master the six other palms movements.

Theories of Baguazhang Combat

In combat, Baguazhang is similar to the other Chinese Internal Arts where it does not directly attack an oncoming force. The proficient BGZ players would dissolve around the attack; either simultaneously redirecting the attack while closing the position or by utilizing that same offensive move against the attacker. The technical distinction is the repositioning of one's self to an advantageous 'doorway,' for finishing the opponent instantly.

Those same expert Baguazhang players are noted for employing its unpredictable changing movements, feints and dexterous moves, which are combined to misdirect and wear down the opponent. Experts of this open-hand system are sometimes counter-offensive fighters. They often do not strike first, rather, they remain composed in the face of determined adversaries, conserving their energy and looking for positional openings that would allow a launch of an attack. While the force of the Eight Diagrams Palms action is sometimes indescribable, it can be found in other internal martial art systems.

From another combat perspective, it was also designed for combat with multiple opponents. This action can be accomplished by its footwork and changing motion motions, which ease the rapid change of direction.

In conclusion, the combat strategy of Baguazhang is based on implementing quick and continuous changes to avoid directly opposing force. Depending on the combat experience of the teachers, the BGZ student is supposed to be trained in the elements of positional mobility and physical agility. From my perspective, there are a few Baguazhang teachers that does instruct or even know with detail the principles and the exercises of Baguazhang.

Historical Trivia

During the Ching Dynasty, some of the Imperial bodyguards in Beijing were trained in Baguazhang at a time when large mobs of armed thugs roamed the streets.

Those same Imperial bodyguards were required to protect important government bureaucrats while also attending lavish parties and functions, all the while wearing formal robes. This special group of bodyguards therefore took a practical outlook and utilized thin and light weapons that were small and easily concealed in the long sleeves of their cloaks (changpao). Some of the weapons include the conical brass knuckles, deer horn sabers, (lujiaodao), iron fan (shanzi), Iron pens, metal yo-yos, and Rooster Head blades.

In addition to these stealthy items, Baguazhang players trained and use some of the largest martial arts weapons ever seen. The list includes ridiculously long broadswords, 9 to 12 ft spears, and the "fierce-looking" Wind and Fire Wheels (Popular with Liang ZhanPu system). More normal-sized weapons such as Eye-brows level staff, eye-level double-headed spear, the "General Kwan" Halbred (Guan Dao), and straight double-edged sword (jian) are actively practiced as well.

I have heard that some of the old time Baguazhang players practice their art by reciting the principles of BGZ (36 Songs and 48 Methods). Depending on the BGZ system, some of those combat principles (48 methods) possess the similar content to that of the famous "36 stratagems."

Miscellaneous Trivia

"Most students don't study Xingyi boxing because it is too difficult and they are afraid of failure. Most instructors don't teach Baguazhang because it is too difficult and they are afraid of failure." Peter Ralston

One day, when a group of pupils of Master Dong asked him about Baguazhang, he replied that "Grandmaster said: 'My way uses turning palms to make the root, it uses the fist tools to make the function, study and practice. Skill is created to its utmost. You will have no enemy under heaven. By itself it is good for the body." The above quote were translated and edited by Sifu Joseph Crandall from "Guang Xia" writing on the Records of Selected Dialogues between Dong Hai Chuan and his disciples.

Summary

BGZ is an exceptionally beautiful martial art emphasizing the use of spiral movements and a sophisticated use of footwork and fighting angles. It makes the body extremely flexible and able to move with tremendous grace, speed and power. Bagua practice is vigorous and aerobic. Many consider Baguazhang to be the most advanced of the Chinese Martial Arts. The foundation of the system is a meditative circle walking practice and the "Single Changing Palm" exercise that was developed in Taoist monasteries over 4000 years ago. As a meditation practice, Baguazhang allows one to produce a stillness of mind in the midst of intense physical activity. This esoteric system at its highest levels becomes a method of manifesting the energetic patterns of change described in the I-Ching or Classic Book of Changes.

Resources

What I have written here is just the basics of Baguazhang. Interested readers can find and purchase materials (books and videos) on the subject of Baguazhang and other styles of internal martial arts can be found at these seven web sites:

C.S. Tang's web site on Chinese Martial Arts http://cstang.www3.50megs.com/ A great source for martial arts VCD's and books (mainly Chinese text)

Smiling Tiger Martial Arts http://www.smilingtiger.net A great translator of "Chinese to English" Internal Martial Arts books.

Jarek Szymanski's web site on Chinese Internal Martial Arts http://www.chinafrominside.com/ A great source for internal martial arts information, martial arts VCD's and books (mainly Chinese)

Yin Fu's style Bagua http://www.traditionalstudies.org A great source for Yin Fu style of Baguazhang videos and books.

Andrew Dale's web site on Chinese and Japanese Internal Martial Arts http://www.wuji.net A great source for internal martial arts information.

Plum Flower Press http://www.plumflower.com A great source for English books on internal martial arts and other Asian-related Culture topics (mainly English text)

Wing Lam Enterprises http://www.wle.com Another great source for martial arts weapons, Instructional videos, books (Chinese and English text), etc.

(My Favorite) Martial Arts Forums are: http://www.emptyflower.com and http://www.Shenwu.com

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