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Baguazhang, Bagua, Traditional Chinese Martial Art

Updated on October 20, 2011

What is Baguazhang?

Baguazhang (Pa Kua Ch’uan) is the Chinese martial arts class that is most unique in appearance. Its name comes from the bagua, an eight-trigram pattern used in Chinese philosophy and astrology, actually meaning eight-trigram palm in its entirety.

The art of Baguazhang gains its peculiar appearance from the practice of walking a circle while practicing certain moves along the course of the training. The bagua disciple walks a circle of various sizes, back and forth, twisting and turning through eight different phases or sets of movements called palms for the hand position used. He walks the circle always placing his hands in one of the eight distinct positions. 

Baguazhang Practitioner
Baguazhang Practitioner

The Origins of the Art

Most scholars agree that the originator of Baguazhang was Dong Haichuan (1789 - 1879), who has reportedly learned the techniques of "divine boxing" from an old Taoist priest in the mountains called Dong Menglin.

Dong Haichuan was a servant in the Imperial Palace and, on account of the gracefulness of his moves, was asked to hold a demonstration of his skill in martial arts in front of the emperor. It wasn't long before the beauty of Bagua inspired the emperor to promote Dong Haichuan to be an instructor to the court as well as a bodyguard to himself.

Five of his students succeeded in fully absorbing the teachings of the art of Baguazhang and later founded the schools in which Baguazhang is taught up to this day: Yin Fu, Cheng Tinghua, Zhang Zhaodong, Li Cunyi, and Liang Zhenpu. As many as 14 distinct styles of Baguazhang are practiced today, Wudang, Emei, Cheng family, Yin family, and Yin Yang being the most popular.

Jin training in Baguazhang
Jin training in Baguazhang

Baguazhang: Walking the Circle Tutorial

The Origins of the many Styles of Baguazhang

The linear drills taught in some branches of Baguazhang are thought to have originated with the interaction between Baguazhang and Xingyi.

Many stories are in circulation regarding the deeds of Dong Haichuan, the most famous being the one that talks about how the master fought Guo Yunshen, another great martial arts master of the time, for 3 days, without any one of them being able to get the upper hand. According to the story, the two masters were so impressed with each other’s skill that they started cross-training their pupils in the two arts.

In fact, masters of different systems had their dwellings in this province at the time, many of whom made friendships. One of these legendary friendships came about between Baguazhang’s Cheng Tinghua and Xingyiquan’s Li Cunyi. As a consequence, many new styles and schools sprang up.

The teachings and techniques in Bagua are in fact closely related to Taoist yoga, inner alchemy and other Chinese esoteric traditions. Mastery of the flow of inner energy, or qi, and various breathing methods are taught alongside the actual fighting techniques.

For this reason and the practice of walking circles of different sizes, Baguazhang was suggested to have descended from certain Taoist schools practicing similar styles of moving meditation. Baguazhang today is practiced as a means of qigong, that is, exercise for the development of psycho-physiological energy. It is also practiced alongside Taoist yoga as well as a form of martial art.

Baguazhang Fighting

The baguazhang practitioner is an agile fighter twisting and turning his opponents, flinging him around, entrapping limbs and hitting vital spots.

The drills themselves allow for fighting up to 8 opponents simultaneously.

There is a well-known analogy for Baguazhang due to its elusive and entrapping nature. The style of the art is often likened to a wire ball, where attacking moves are trapped and twisted around.

Weapons of Baguazhang

Bagua uses the traditional Chinese arsenal of weapons consisting of

  • jian, a two-edged sword,
  • dao, a broadsword or cutlass,
  • qiang, a spear,
  • gun, a kind of staff,
  • dao, a long saber,
  • gou, a hook sword,
  • guai, or crutch, and
  • double knives.

In addition, Bagua also has two specialized weapons:

  • a metal ring like a hoop, and
  • the lu jiao dao, or deer hook sword.

The hook sword is unique to baguazhang styles and has the appearance of two crescents interlocked to form a weapon with points. These close-quarter swords are often used in pairs to trap and kill hostiles.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Baguazhang CrescentBaguazhang Hook Sword
Baguazhang Crescent
Baguazhang Crescent
Baguazhang Hook Sword
Baguazhang Hook Sword

Learning Baguazhang Today

The Bagua student starts his training by learning how to walk the circle. The beginner circle is 6 to 12 ft in diameter.

As practice is followed by mastery, the circle may be as small or as big as the practitioner wants it to be.

In the beginning, the student walks the circle while focusing on breathing and proper movement.

Originally, this was to go on for as long as 3 years. Once the student had learned to move correctly, he was taught the single and double palm changes.

Only after proficient skill in this base foundation of Baguazhang has been achieved may the student move on to get acquainted with the 8 mother palms, a long form consisting of 8 different sets of movements done to both sides, separated by longer or shorter periods of walking the circle in various positions.

When viewed from an outside perspective, the Bagua practitioner goes through patterns of fluid movement, twisting and turning, back and forth, in both high and low stances. 

Having reached a certain level of mastery, the student may be taught two-person drills, weighted training, and pole training.

Two-person training teaches the student to conceal striking, throwing, and grappling techniques by the movements of Bagua, and also to properly respond to various moves of an opponent.

Pole training and weighted training trains the student to transfer his power and keep the body in its proper condition.

Through various other methods, the build-up and release of applied internal power, or jing, is trained. In later stages of the learning process, the practitioner is introduced to other techniques, from swimming-body Baguazhang to mastery of weapons.

Baguazhang forms vary greatly and on a large spectrum with at least 13 empty-handed techniques, 5 two-person forms, and many sets for the traditional Chinese weaponry.

A Baguazhang Trick

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