Ba Gua Zhang is recognized as one of the three orthodox
"internal" styles of Chinese martial art (the other two being Hsing-I Ch'uan and
T'ai-Chi Ch'uan). Ba Gua literally translates to Eight trigrams. These trigrams are symbols
which are used to represent all natural phenomena as described in the ancient Chinese text
of divination, the Book of Changes (I Ching). Zhang means palm and designates Ba
Gua Zhang as a style of martial art, which emphasizes the use of the open hand in
preference to the closed fist. Ba Gua Zhang, 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.
Although there are several theories as to the Origins of Ba Gua
Zhang, recent and exhaustive research by martial scholars in Mainland China conclude
without reasonable doubt that the Art is the creation of a single individual, Dong Hai
Chuan. Dong was born in Wen An County, Hebei Province about 1813. Dong practiced local
martial arts (which reportedly relied heavily upon the use of open hand
palm techniques) from his youth and gained some notoriety as a skilled fighter. At about
40 years of age, Dong left home and traveled southward. At some point
during his travels, Dong became a member of the Chuan Zhen (Complete Truth) sect of
Taoism. The Taoists of this sect practiced a method of walking in a circle white 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
martial arts he had mastered in his youth to create a new style based on mobility and the
ability to apply techniques while in constant motion (heretofore unknown in the history of
Chinese martial arts).
Dong Hai Chuan originally called his art
"Zhuan Zhang" (Turning Palm). In his later years, Dong began to speak of the Art
in conjunction with the Eight Trigrams (Ba Gua) theory espoused in the Book of Changes (Yi
Jing). When Dong began teaching his Zhuan Zhang in Beijing, he accepted as student only
those who were already accomplished practitioners of other martial arts. 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 the martial arts they had studied previously. The result is that each of Dong's
students ended up with different interpretations of the Ba Gua Zhang art.
Most of the various styles of Ba Gua Zhang found today, can be
traced back to one of several of Dong Hai Chuan's original students. Among these students,
three individuals were responsible for passing on the Art to the greatest number of
practitioners. One of Dong's most famous students was a man named 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 Luo Han Quan, a
Northern Chinese "external" style of boxing, before he began his long
apprenticeship with Dong. Another top student of Dong's was Chen Ting Hua, originally a
master of Shuai Jiao (Chinese wrestling). Cheng taught a great number of students in his
time and variations of his style are many. A third student of Dong's who created his own
Ba Gaa Zhang variant was Liang Zhen Pu. Liang was Dong's youngest student and was greatly
influenced by Dong's other disciples. Although Ba Gua Zhang 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
The basis of the various styles of Ba Gua Zhang,
and the practice all styles have in common, is the circle walk. The practitioner literally
walks in a circle while holding various static postures with the upper body or while
executing "palm changes" (short patterns of movement or "forms" which
train the body mechanics and methods of generating power which form the basis of the
styles' fighting techniques).
All styles have a variation of a form known as the Single Palm
Change. The Single Palm Change is the most basic form and is the nucleus of the remaining
palm changes found in the Art. Besides the Single Palm Change, the 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 of Ba Gua Zhang. Ba
Gua Zhang 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 Ba Gua Zhang include some variation of
the Sixty-Four Palms. The Sixty-Four Palms include forms which teach the mechanics and
sequence of the specific fighting techniques included in the style. These forms take the
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. Ba Gua Zhang is an art based on evasive footwork and a kind of guerilla warfare
strategy applied to personal combat. A Ba Gua 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 aggressive in nature and emphasizes constant change in response
to the spontaneous and "live" quality of combat.
In addition to the above forms and methods, most styles of Ba Gua
Zhang include various two-person forms and drills as intermediate steps between solo forms
and the practice of combat techniques. Although the techniques of Ba Gua Zhang are many
and various, they all adhere to the above mentioned principles of mobility and the
skillful application of force. Many styles of Ba Gua Zhang also include the use of a
variety of weapons, ranging from the more standard types (straight sword, broadsword,
spear) to exotic weapons, used exclusively by practitioners of the Ba Gua Zhang arts.
Each of Dong Hai Chuan's students developed their own style of Ba
Gua Zhang based on their individual backgrounds 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 Ba Gua Zhang 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
Ting Hua, or Liang Zhen Pu 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
and knocking his opponent to the ground swiftly like a tiger pouncing on its prey). The
forms include many explosive movements and very quick and evasive footwork.
Cheng Ting Hua styles of Ba Gua Zhang include palm changes which
are done in a smooth and flowing manner, with little display of overt power (Cheng Ting
Hua's movement was likened to that of a dragon soaring in the clouds, it is said each time
he turned his body, his opponent would fly away.) Popular variations of this style include
the Gao Yi Sheng system, Dragon Style Ba Gua Zhang, "Swimming Body" Ba Gua
Zhang, the Nine Palace System, JiangRong Qiao's style (probably the most common form
practiced today) and the Sun Lu Tang style.
Liang Zhen Pu's style can be viewed as a combination of the Yin Fu
and Cheng Ting Hua styles. Liangs student, Li Zi Ming, popularized this style.
The basic focus and function of all martial arts is
fighting. Since there are only so many ways humans can move in a martial context (strike,
kick, push, pull, etc.), what distinguishes one style of martial art from another?
Collections of techniques do not make up a style, neither does mimicking the movements of
an animal, bug, or even another person constitute a style of martial arts. In the last
analysis, a style of martial art is distinct and recognizable as a coherent system because
it adheres to a set of specific principles.
All styles are based upon a set of fundamental
principles, and every movement, technique and strategy applied or created must be in
alignment with the chosen principles of that particular style. These principles define and
determine the nature of a style in two major areas, namely, body use (Ti) and application
(Yung). The principles of a style will determine how things are to be done. For example,
the principles of one style may dictate that the muscles must be tensed at impact when
throwing a punch, while another style's principles demand total relaxation throughout the
blow. Practitioners of both styles are punching, but there is a qualitative difference in
body use (i.e. different styles of punching).
Just as the principles of body use determine the physicality of the
practitioner and the specific methods of moving and generating power, the principles of
application determine the technique base as well as the fighting strategies of a
particular style. The evolution of martial arts: styles have always come about this way: A
student of one or more styles of martial art comes upon a new principle or organizes a set
of principles in a unique way, based upon his background, experience and personal bias.
The result is a new style of martial art. It is new not because the founder added a few
techniques to his existing style, but rather because he changed all that he had done
before to align with his newly understood principles of body use and application.
The founder of Ba Gua Zhang, Dong Hai Quan, was an expert in a
Northern Chinese style of martial art akin to Long Fist, which emphasized the use of the
open hand. Subsequently, Dong spent a number of years living with a group of Taoists who
practiced a method of walking in a circular pattern while chanting. The practice was used
as a means of reaching enlightenment. Dong later combined the circular footwork and body
method learned from the Taoists with the martial arts he studied in his youth to create a
new martial art, later to become known as Ba Gua Zhang. Please note that the Taoists
taught Dong absolutely nothing of a martial nature; what Dong acquired from the Taoists
were the principles of circular footwork and a certain method of body use. Dong modified
the movements and techniques of his original form of martial art around these principles,
thereby creating a new style of martial art. It is very important to understand that Ba
Gua Zhang as a style of martial art is not simply a collection of forms and techniques,
but rather an art based on a set of unifying principles.
Dong Hai Quan only taught established masters of the martial arts;
he accepted no beginners. The training was designed to allow his students (already masters
of other martial arts in their own right) to modify their original arts in accordance with
the principles of Ba Gua Zhang. Because of the diverse backgrounds of Dong's original
students, their resultant styles of Ba Gua Zhang may differ greatly in terms of form and
technique, but all are truly styles of Ba Gua Zhang as they adhere to the underlying
principles of body use and application which define Ba Gua Zhang as a unique style. There
will always be room for creativity within the Ba Gua Zhang arts. As long as a movement or
technique adheres to the Fundamental principles of Ba Gua Zhang, it is Ba Gua Zhang.
What are the basic principles of Ba Gua Zhang? It is helpful to
divide the analysis into two major categories: principles of body use (with the primary
emphasis on the ability to generate power with the body as a coherent Unit) and principles
The basic solo training in Ba Gua Zhang is designed to teach the
practitioner how to control his or her momentum and timing in order to generate power with
the entire body mass as a coherent unit. In the Chinese martial arts, this type of power
is referred to as whole body power (Zheng Ti Jing). Whole body power enables the
practitioner to issue force from any part of the body with the support of all other parts.
Each part of the body coordinates with every other, generating the maximum amount of power
available relative to the individual's size and weight. Whole body power is applied in all
categories of Ba Gua Zhang techniques, striking, kicking, grappling and throwing.
Although other styles of Internal arts also advocate the use of
whole body power, what sets Ba Gua Zhang apart is its emphasis on circularity; the
movements of the Art include twisting, spiraling, turning and spiraling. Specifically, the
Ba Gua Zhang fighter is doing one of two things: either circling around a central point
outside the body (walking the circle, the basic practice of Ba Gua Zhang, is the most
common example of this), or rotating the body around its center (performing the palm
changes, for example). Consequently, the primary energy in Ba Gua Zhang is horizontal
(Heng Jing), with vertical energy (Shu Jing) playing a secondary role. Ba Gua Zhang also
makes use of spiraling energy, which is a combination of the horizontal and vertical
In order to create whole body power in the Ba Gua Zhang format, as
well as to facilitate the agile and evasive footwork utilized in the Art, all styles of Ba
Gua Zhang emphasize complete physical relaxation, correct skeletal alignment, natural
movements which are in harmony with the body's inborn reflexes and inherent design and
that all movements are directed by the intent.
It is the fighting strategy of Ba Gua Zhang which most sets it
apart from all other styles of martial art. Dong Hai Quan's unique background and combat
experience, combined with his talent, resulted in a strategy of personal combat that had
remained undiscovered in the preceding millennia of martial development in China.
Basically, Ba Gua Zhang fighting theory advocates the complete avoidance of opposing power
with power and adopts a kind of guerilla warfare mentality. The Ba Gua Zhang fighter
continuously seeks to avoid the apex of the opponent's force and attacks or counterattacks
from the opponent's weak angles. By circling around and circumventing incoming force and
resistance, the Ba Gua Zhang fighter applies his own whole body power from a position of
superiority This strategy allows the smaller and weaker fighter to apply maximum force
from an angle at which the larger and stronger opponent cannot resist, effectively making
the weaker fighter more powerful at that moment (for example, I have 10 units of total
strength and my opponent has 20. I attack with my full 10 units of strength at an angle at
which my opponent is only able to use 5 units of his total strength. I am, at that moment,
literally twice as strong as my opponent).
In order to obtain a superior position, the Ba Gua
Zhang fighter applies the basic strategies trained in the solo forms' practice, that is,
circling around the opponent or rotating the opponent around oneself. The result is the
same in both cases. The Ba Gua Zhang fighter avoids a head to head confrontation with the
opponent's power and obtains a superior position from which to attack. Along the way, the
opponent often becomes entangled in the Ba G·ua Zhang fighter's limbs and loses control
of his center of balance (correctly applied momentum overcomes brute strength every time).
This loss of balance causes a commensurate loss of power and further weakens the opponent,
leaving him vulnerable to the Ba Gun Zhang fighter's attack. Finally, the relaxed physical
and mental state of the Ba Gua Zhang fighter makes it possible for him to change and adapt
as the situation demands. His movements are spontaneous and difficult to predict. Fighters
of all disciplines agree that the unpredictable fighter is the hardest to beat (especially
when he circles behind you!).