This article is from the Martial Arts FAQ, by Matthew Weigel firstname.lastname@example.org with numerous contributions by others.
(Contributors: William Breazeal - email@example.com,
Mike Martelle - firstname.lastname@example.org)
Baguazhang is one of the three orthodox "internal" styles of Chinese
martial art (the other two being Taijiquan and Xingyiquan).
Translated, Bagua means "Eight Trigram". This refers to the eight
basic principles described in the ancient metaphysical treatise the
Yijing (I-Ching), or "Book of Changes". Bagua is meant to be the
physical manifestation of these eight principles. "Zhang" means "palm"
and designates Baguazhang as a style of martial art which emphasizes
the use of the open hand over the closed fist. Baguazhang as a
martial art is based on the theory of continuously changing in
response to the situation at hand in order to overcome an opponent
with skill rather than brute force.
Origin: Northern China.
Although there are several theories as to the origins of Baguazhang,
recent and exhaustive research by martial scholars in mainland China
concludes without reasonable doubt that the art is the creation of one
individual, Dong Haichuan (or Dong Haiquan). Dong was born in Wen'an
County, Hebei Province about 1813. Dong practiced local martial arts
(which reportedly relied heavily upon the use of openhand palm strikes)
from his youth and gained some notoriety as a skilled practitioner. At
about 40 years of age, Dong left home and travelled southward. At some
point during his travels Dong became a member of the Quanzhen
(Complete Truth) sect of Taoism. The Taoists of this sect practiced a
method of walking in a circle while reciting certain mantras. The
practice was designed to quiet the mind and focus the intent as a
prelude to enlightenment. Dong later combined the circle walking
mechanics with the boxing he had mastered in his youth to create a new
style based on mobility and the ability to apply techniques while in
Dong Haichuan (or Dong Haiquan) originally called his art "Zhuanzhang"
(Turning Palm). In his later years, Dong began to speak of the Art in
conjunction with the Eight Trigrams (Bagua) theory expoused in the
Book Of Changes (Yijing). When Dong began teaching his "Zhuanzhang"
in Beijing, the vast majority of his students were already
accomplished martial artists in their own right. Dong's teachings were
limited to a few "palm changes" executed while walking the circle and
his theory and techniques of combat. His students took Dong's forms
and theories and combined them with their original arts. The result is
that each of Dong's students ended up with quite different
interpretations of the Baguazhang art.
Most of the various styles of Baguazhang found today can be traced
back to one of several of Dong Haichuan's (or Dong Haiquan's) original
students. One of these students was a man called Yin Fu. Yin studied
with Dong longer than any other and was one of the most respected
fighters in the country in his time (he was the personal bodyguard to
the Dowager Empress, the highest prestige position of its kind in the
entire country). Yin Fu was a master of Luohanquan, a Northern Chinese
"external" style of boxing before his long apprenticeship with Dong.
Another top student of Dong was Cheng Tinghua, originally a
master of Shuaijiao (Chinese wrestling). Cheng taught a great number of
students in his lifetime and variations of his style are many. A third
student of Dong which created his own Baguazhang variant was Liang
Zhenpu. Liang was Dong's youngest student and was probably
influenced by other of Dong's older disciples. Although Baguazhang
is a relatively new form of martial art, it became famous throughout
China during its inventor's lifetime, mainly because of its
effectiveness in combat and the high prestige this afforded its
Baguazhang is an art based on evasive footwork and a kind of
"guerilla warfare" strategy applied to personal combat. A Bagua
fighter relies on strategy and skill rather than the direct use of
force against force or brute strength in overcoming an opponent. The
strategy employed is one of constant change in response to the
spontaneous and "live" quality of combat.
Bagua is a very circular art that relies almost entirely on open hand
techniques and full body movement to accomplish its goals. It is also
characterized by its use of spinning movement and extremely evasive
footwork. Many of the techniques in Bagua have analogs in other
Northern Chinese systems;however, Bagua's foot work and body
mechanics allow the practitioner to set up and execute these
techniques while rapidly and smoothly changing movement direction and
orientation. Bagua trains the student to be adaptable and evasive,
two qualities which dramatically decrease the amount of physical power
needed to successfully perform techniques.
The basis of the various styles of Baguazhang is the circle walk
practice. The practitioner "walks the circle" holding various postures
and executing "palm changes" (short patterns of movement or "forms"
which train the body mechanics and methods of generating momentum
which form the basis of the styles' fighting techniques). All styles
have a variation of the "Single Palm Change" which is the most basic
form and is the nucleus of the remaining palm changes found in the
Art. Besides the Single Palm Change, other forms include the "Double
Palm Change" and the "Eight Palm Changes" (also known variously as the
"Eight Mother Palms" or the "Old Eight Palms"). These forms make up
the foundation of the Art. Baguazhang movements have a
characteristic circular nature and there is a great deal of body
spinning, turning and rapid changes in direction. In addition to the
Single, Double and Eight Palm Changes, most but not all styles of
Baguazhang include some variation of the "Sixty-Four Palms." The
Sixty-Four Palms include forms which teach the mechanics and sequence
of the specific techniques included in the style. These forms take the
more general energies developed during the practice of the Palm
Changes and focus them into more exact patterns of movement which are
applied directly to a specific combat technique.
Training usually begins with basic movements designed to train the
fundamental body mechanics associated with the Art. Very often the
student will begin with practicing basic palm changes in place
(stationary practice), or by walking the circle while the upper body
holds various static postures (Xingzhuang). The purpose of these
exercises is to familiarize the beginning student with the feeling of
maintaining correct body alignment and mental focus while in motion.
The student will progress to learning the various palm changes and
related forms. The Sixty-Four Palms or other similar patterns are
usually learned after some level of proficiency has been attained with
the basic circle walk and palm changes. Some styles practice the
Sixty-Four Palms on the circle while other styles practice these forms
in a linear fashion. All of the forms in Baguazhang seek to use the
power of the whole body in every movement, as the power of the whole
will always be much greater than that of isolated parts. The
body-energy cultivated is flexible, resilient and "elastic" in nature.
In addition to the above, most styles of Baguazhang include various
two-person forms and drills as intermediate steps between solo forms
and the practice of combat techniques. Although the techniques of
Baguazhang are many and various, they all adhere to the above mentioned
principles of mobility and skill. Many styles of Baguazhang also
include a variety of weapons, ranging from the more "standard" types
(straight sword, broadsword, spear) to the "exotic." An interesting
difference with other styles of martial arts is that Baguazhang
weapons tend to be "oversized," that is they are much bigger than
standard weapons of the same type (the extra weight increases the
strength and stamina of the user).
Each of Dong Haichuan's (or Dong Haiquan's) students developed their
own "style" of Baguazhang based on their individual backgrounds and
previous martial training. Each style has its own specific forms and
echniques. 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, Zheng Dinghua, or Liang Zhenpu variations.
Yin Fu styles include a large number of percussive techniques and fast
striking combinations (Yin Fu was said to "fight like a tiger," moving
in swiftly and knocking his opponent to the ground like a tiger
pouncing on prey). The forms include many explosive movements and very
quick and evasive footwork. Variations of the Yin Fu style have been
passed down through his students and their students, including Men
Baozhen, Ma Kui, Gong Baotian, Fu Zhensong, and Lu Shuitian.
Zheng Dinghua styles of Baguazhang include palm changes which are
done in a smooth and flowing manner, with little display of overt
power (Zheng Dinghua's movement was likened to that of a dragon
soaring in the clouds). Popular variants of this style include the Gao
Yisheng system, Dragon style Baguazhang, "Swimming Body" Baguazhang,
the Nine Palace system, Jiang Rongqiao style (probably the
most common form practiced today) and the Sun Ludang style.
The Liang Zhenpu style was popularized by his student Li Ziming
(who was the president of the Beijing Baguazhang Association for
many years and who did much to spread his art worldwide).