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Bagua Zhang

Introduction to Baguazhang


Baguazhang is one of the internal styles, one of China’s excellent systems of traditional martial arts, and as such holds an important place in the martial world. Originally called Turning Palms, and only later called Eight Trigrams Palms (Baguazhang), it has also been called Swimming Body Linked Baguazhang, and Eight Trigram Turning Palms. It was created and developed in Beijing, by Dong Haichuan, a native of Anzhujiawu village in Hebei province, during the Qing dynasty. He arrived in Beijing around 1866, and once he started teaching in the imperial palace, Baguazhang quickly became popular in the Beijing / Tianjin area. It gradually spread across the country, and as it spread, the technical and theoretical system also quickly developed and improved.
Baguazhang uses circle walking as its foundational training, and its techniques emphasize horizontal and vertical crossing, and changing techniques while walking. Applications emphasize changing to follow opportunities, and constant adjustment to whatever situation presents. Its theory is based on the Book of Changes – hard and soft mutually contend, the eight trigrams mutually oscillate. It uses the principal of movements that never rest, changes that never stop. It is called Eight Trigrams Palm because it is based on the theory of the Book of Changes and it characteristically uses palm techniques.
While walking around the circle there are four main requirements. These are walk, look, sit, and roll. Looking at Baguazhang’s movement, it is described by the traditional four shapes and four images: “shape like a swimming dragon, regard like a monkey on guard, sit like a tiger crouching, turn like an eagle soaring in circles”, or “shape like a dragon, image like a monkey, sit like a tiger, wheel like an eagle.” Its movement characteristics are: the torso is solid and the footwork is agile, each position continues on from the other, the stepping is level and steady, the turning out and turning in steps are clear, vertical and horizontal movement alternates, it is coordinated and rounded, the power is deep and stable, hard and soft alternate, the spirit connects throughout. There are certain requirements for the form of the body and the hands: the head presses up and the neck is upright, the lower back is erect and the buttocks are tucked in, the chest is contained and the abdomen is firm, the hips are held in and the crotch is raised. There are 'three empties' and four 'hangs'. The three empties are: the palms contain space, the 'palms' of the feet contain space, and the chest contains space. The four hangs are: The elbows settle down to the shoulders, the shoulders settle down to the waist, the waist settles down into the hip joints, the hip joints settle down to the knees, the knees settle to the feet. The upper and lower sections of the body are fully connected, the body is traversed by qi, and the body is stable and balanced.


The requirements for the footwork in Baguazhang are very strict. The feet must lift and lower flatly and stably, the turning out and turning in steps must be clear, empty and substantial must be clearly distinguished, the stepping must be like wading in mud, the torso is like it is sitting in a sedan, the foot must advance rubbing the shin, the inside foot must advance straight and the outside foot must turn in, the knees must hold together, the hips must roll inwards to collect the knees, the groin must be concealed and the buttocks must tuck in.


The basic requirements for the body shape are: release the shoulders and hang the elbows, enclose the chest and stretch open the upper back, keep the chest unobstructed and solidify the abdomen, keep the lower back upright and tuck in the buttocks, roll the hips inward and keep the knees closed, settle the qi to the dantian. The requirements for the hands are: separate all five fingers slightly, round the thumb/index finger web, empty the palm centre, sit the wrist slightly. When using a fist it must be tightly clenched. When using grabbing it must be applied with qi. When moving, Baguazhang shows the characteristics of twisting, rotating, wheeling, and turning, alternating vertical and horizontal actions, movement and power continues without a break, the palms go where the feet lead, stepping and changing happen together, all movement is natural, and the spirit is like a rainbow.
The requirements for hand techniques are: push, lift, draw, lead, displace, hook in, chop, and enter. The characteristics of power and strength are: twist, wrap, screw, wheel, roll drill, contend, rotate without pause, and create opposing forces.  Requirements for the body techniques are: rise and lower, use face up and prone actions, rotate and twist, flex and gather, expand and release, use the waist as the central pivot. The feet move with the body, the hands move as the body walks, the whole body is fully connected.


Here are some are sayings from within the traditional teachings:  "Straighten the neck and lift the head, tuck in the buttocks and close the anus; Relax the shoulders and sink the elbows, solidify the abdomen and have an unobstructed chest; Roll and screw, contend and wrap, create opposing forces; Have a dragon shape and a monkey manner, crouch like a tiger and wheel like an eagle; Twist and rotate, walk and turn, drive the foot and scrape the shin; Bend the legs and walk as if through mud, keep the centre of the feet hollow; Lift flat and land hooked, connect to the length and breadth; The waist is like an axle, the hands turn like wheels; Fingers are open and palm concave, the arms swing with the shoulders level; Stand like a mountain, move like flowing water; Be like fire above and water below, water is heavy and fire is light; Intention is like an army pennant or signal lantern; The abdomen is the root of the energy, the breath moves like clouds; When the mind is active it creates intelligence and energy moves to the hundred cavities; Open expansively and close tightly, movement and stillness are part of a continuous circle; Combine and concentrate the spirit, energy, intention and strength; The truth of baguazhang is found in the above." (from Jiang Rongqiao, Baguazhang)
The fighting characteristics of Baguazhang are as follows. Attack the centre from the outside; attack the eight directions by using the centre. Watch the opponent while continuing to move.  Evade the straight-line attack by hitting at the angle; use the straight line to expel an angled attack. Use moving fighting as the main strategy. When your attack succeeds, continue to press the attack. When your attack fails, use stepping to get away. Change techniques constantly in coordination with walking, avoiding the opponents attack. Fully utilize moving to create change, utilize change to create opportunity, continuously counter-attacking. Use the strategy of these skills to win. This strategy uses the spirit and principles of the ever-changing trigrams of the Book of Changes.
The system of Baguazhang not only contains superb martial contents and techniques, it also contains outstanding and methodical health development exercises. Regular training of Baguazhang can completely transform all of the internal systems of the body. According to traditional martial arts sources, training baguazhang is the quickest way to find the 'qi feeling'. It is said 'to have a tree grow to old age, first build the roots; to have a person live to old age, first build the legs'. Baguazhang's circle-walking and its particular mud wading step give both legs an equal and full training. The waist also gains a full workout, especially when the palms are turned into the centre of the circle while circle-walking, fully twisting the waist. At the same time, the whole body is adjusted and regulated through the coordination of mindfulness with the body, with the breathing, with the applications, and with preserving health.


The basic foundational training of Baguazhang is circle walking. The basic footwork of Baguazhang is turn in stepping, turn out stepping, and mud wading stepping. The basic hand shape is the dragon claw palm and the ox tongue palm. The basic contents of Liang style baguazhang include: set eight palms, old eight palms, continuous eight palms, sixty-four hands, eight direction palms, dragon palms, nine palace bagua palms, continuous eight elbows, elbow breaking eight postures, and neck breaking eight postures. Weapons include: bagua rolling sabre, bagua dragon sword, bagua spear, seven star pole, bagua big axe, and left handed reversed rubbing sabre. Double weapons include: sun and moon double wheels, bagua midnight and noon mandarin duck daggers, bagua midnight and noon yin yang blades, bagua short clubs. Other contents in the system include solo eight postures, solo thirteen postures, partner training techniques, partner eight forms, six grabbing methods, seventy two leg techniques, bagua partner sabre chopping, and free sparring training.


Training baguazhang nourishes the health, strengthens the body, and develops the ability to defend oneself. The process of learning also teaches and helps one understand China's traditional culture. Baguazhang is like a miniature of China's traditional culture. It is so tightly connected to traditional culture that learning baguazhang teaches you about this tradition. It is a valuable window into understanding traditional ideas and thought.
The baguazhang that I practise is that taught in Beijing by the renowned teacher Li Ziming. “Old Li” learned from Liang Zhenpu, in Ji County, Hebei province. Liang Zhenpu was one of Dong Haichuan’s eight main apprentices. He was an apprentice of Dong’s later years, and his name is in 39th place on Dong’s stele. The verse on Dong’s stele, which gives the lineage, says, “Hai Fu Shou Shan Yong, Qiang Cui Ding Guo Ji, Guang Ming Chang Da Lu, Dao De Jian Wu Ji”. My teacher Li Ziming is in the third generation – under ‘Shou’. Those of us in the fourth generation are under ‘Shan’. I am one of old Li’s first rank of inner apprentices, of which there are only eight (Ma Chuanna, Wang Shitong, Sun Hongyan, Ma Lin, Yang Jiacang, Wang Tong, Zhao Dayuan, and myself, Di Guoyong). I am the youngest of the eight. After us, old Li accepted many more apprentices, over fifty, so his students are spread all over China and the world. These students are making a great contribution to the spread of Baguazhang.


Because Liang Zhenpu was Dong's 'later years' student, he learned a lot from and was helped by the elder apprentices. After Dong passed away when Liang was 18, Liang was taught by many of the elder apprentices and received a great deal, especially from Cheng Tinghua and Yin Fu. In this way, Liang's Baguazhang was formed from the teaching of Dong, Cheng and Yin, and gradually developed into his own system. So Liang's system has Yin Fu's spearing palm as his most important technique, but also has Cheng Tinghu'a throwing methods, and Cheng's dragon claw hand shape is used when doing the turning palms. Liang's full system was gradually developed over the last eighty years. Li Ziming and Guo Guming taught many students, and these students in turn taught many students. In this way, Liang's Baguazhang has spread throughout China and the world. Li Ziming also worked hard on promotion of the school, so that the Liang's Baguazhang became known as one of the schools of Baguazhang.


Li Ziming was a student of Liang Zhenpu’s later years. Li Ziming studied in Ji County in Hebei province with Liang Zhenpu. Guo Guming and Li Ziming were largely responsible for developing and spreading Liang’s baguazhang, such that it is now widely practised in Beijing, across China, and around the world. Since everyone gains different insights in their training of Liang School Baguazhang, there are a few differences in movements of the routines, but through working together the set postures eight palms and the old eight palms are the same. We must not change things as we feel like it; we must maintain certain unanimity. The eight set palms and the old eight palms are the foundation of Liang School Baguazhang, and as such cannot be altered by anyone. A few changes in the other routines will naturally arise due to people's difference in physical characteristics, cultural levels, lifestyle, character, and understanding of the movements and the verses of baguazhang. A few differences are fine, but the basic routine, way the movements are done, and the flavour and characteristics of the styles must not be changed. Dong Haichuan himself taught differently to each student, according to his body type, character, and preferences so that each person could fully realize his abilities. Because of this way of teaching, the various schools of baguazhang developed.

Di Guoyong (Beijing)

(Translated by Andrea Falk, february 2012)

 
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