Martial Tai Chi™

Martial Training Association

De-mystifying the Mysterious

Baguazhang (or Baguaquan)

Although I mostly teach Taiji and Xingyi these days, Baguazhang (8 Diagram Palm) is actually the Chinese style I've been studying the longest and it has influenced my approach to all of the arts I teach.

Baguazhang is, in some ways, the most abstract and generic style we do and its principle-based rather than form-based methodology has influenced the way I approach teaching my Universal Martial Training™ system. In Baguazhang, the end of each movement acts as a catlyst for the beginning of the next. But rather than just manifesting as a seamless, riverlike, meandering flow of movement, as would so often be seen in Taiji, each coiling movement dynamically prepares the body for a subsequent uncoiling movement and vice versa. From this basis, the arms and legs rotate constantly, expanding and contracting, folding and unfolding, rising and falling, delivering multi-purpose defensive and offensive maneuvers. The training is systematic and logical, with each short form sequence exploring a specific martial idea. Because of this, the art quickly lends itself to a very free-form approach and weapons can follow on from empty hand work with minimal adaptation.

monkey strikeBagua moves in distinctly multi-dimensional spirals. The style looks elaborate with the practitioner's whole body weaving in and out of the combative arena like an excited monkey. Rather than seeing herself as being at the centre of a circle, a Bagua practitioner is more likely to adhere to force and weave around it like a serpent around a branch. She then clings like fire until the opponent is finished with.

Sun style Bagua is a relatively simple and condensed style that requires an agile mind to expand it. You can practice it with a few applications in mind and know that endless more are possible, because it simply contains all of the basic reeling silk (Martial Rotation) movements you could ever need, in a very concise format. In China, Bagua is a favourite style of Police forces and bodyguards because of its superb efficiency against multiple attackers. The style is excellent for overcoming stronger opponents and is often practised by women. In the 1930's, Sun Lutang trained his daughter in the style so that she could specifically open a "women-only" Kung Fu school: this was at a time when the practicing of martial arts by women was generally frowned upon in China. Bagua has been described as "looking like a lady dancing, and fighting like a tiger."

Sun style Bagua consists of 10 circular forms which are practiced on both sides of your body while walking in a circle. These are:

  1. Single Palm Change
  2. Double Palm Change
  3. Lion Palm
  4. Qilin Palm
  5. Snake Palm
  6. Sparrowhawk Palm
  7. Dragon Palm
  8. Fenghuang Palm
  9. Bear Palm
  10. Monkey Palm

A practical introduction to Baguazhang/Baguaquan

snakespitBa gua zhang means eight diagram palm. It is a fighting style that makes copious use of the open hand or palm for striking. It is named after the Chinese eight diagrams or Ba gua which is a reference to the Bagua fighter having to be aware of the potential for attacks to come from all sides.

In order to generate power, Baguazhang places great emphasis on coiling and uncoiling movements as well as on the ever important reeling silk (Martial Rotation) power generation method. This involves smooth, steady rotation of your torso and limbs in order to develop powerful whole-body connected movement.bagua diagram

Baguazhang footwork is fast and circular - the practitioner must strive to have rootedness in mobility and mobility in rootedness.

Circle Walking
The exercise known as "Circle Walking" is a very important training method. Not only does it improve your footwork mobility and balance, it conditions your body to be able to spin or be spun around without getting dizzy.

bagua circle walkingBend your knees well and fold your hips to sit deeply into your stance. Walk slowly keeping your foot arches very defined. Place your heel silently then roll your foot along its outer edge, gripping the ground with your toes - the big toe and ball of the foot touching down last.

Engage both feet with every step - the front foot should pull your weight forwards at the same time that your back leg pushes.

Relate to the centre of the circle by constantly twisting your legs and hips towards the centre. Keep your toes perfectly in line with your knees by rotating the entire leg as a unit from the hip joint. A toe-in step is called kou bu, which means hooking step. A toe-out step is called bai bu, which means swinging step.

babuTo turn around and walk the other way, use the ba bu or character 8 step. Here's the chinese character for "ba" the number 8.

In the turnaround illustration, my right foot is stepping around to cut across the path of my left foot, just like the right stroke of the symbol above. Then I step out on to the outer circle with my left foot. Finally I need to step through back on to the inner circle with my right foot and continue circling in the other direction.

A traditional developmental exercise is to walk the circle while holding static upper body postures from the Forms. All styles of gongfu use posture holding training as it helps you to developing your stamina while at the same time drilling essential fighting postures into your body.

Each posture develops your body in a different way. They don't have to be practiced in any particular order, in fact it is good to be able to move smoothly from any posture to any other.

At the heart of any Bagua system is a set of circular forms that add specific arm and torso movements to the turning around procedure. There are a great many different lineages and each lineage practices different variations of these forms. As the aim of any martial art should presumably be to become formless and able to improvise freely, this fact should not be a cause for concern - Dong Haiquan (the originator of the Bagua style) encouraged his students to make the art their own by applying the Bagua principles to whatever martial knowledge they already had.

Our 2 DVD set shows some fairly generic foundation work on disc one and the 10 Sun style Forms on disc 2. Many martial applications are shown on each disc.

Bagua imagery

The Eight Words - Ups, Hooks, Opens, Sensitives, Embraces, Sinkings, Crescents, Extensions

3 Ups / Presses
The top of your head should push upwards.
Your tongue should press upward against your upper palate.
Your palm should press forwards and upwards, extending your arm without locking it (note other alignments - arm curved, shoulder and elbow dropped.)

3 Hooks
Hands & Feet are slightly hooked - foot arches are raised with toes stretching out to grip the ground; palms are concave but with fingers also separated and extended.
Teeth are closed together.
Chin slightly tucked, but gazing levelly forwards.

3 Opens / Rounds
Back rounds out to open the shoulder blades.
Chest opens to permit smooth breathing.
Hands should be open - extending the fingers and the "Tiger's mouth."

3 Sensitives
Eyes must be sensitive - alert and able to detect movements from all directions.
Heart must be sensitive so that your martial spirit can be aroused, enabling you to fight fiercely.
Hands must be sensitive so they can be fast, dextrous and adaptable in a combat situation.

3 Embraces
Your breath is said to be held low in your body - the lower torso expanding to permit your breathing to be deep and full.
Your heart should be "embraced" - although your martial spirit should be roused, you should also stay calm and in control. "Your heart must be at ease."
Your ribs are "embraced" by your elbows (not actually touching, but kept fairly close).

3 Sinkings*
Your centre of balance is sunk low - into the lower torso and hips, rather than having a high centre of balance such as up in the chest.
Shoulders sink.
Elbows sink.

*Please note the use of the term "sinking" here refers to a relaxed, almost passive state of sinking low or hanging down, rather than a condition of actively pushing something down by use of muscular tension. Your legs should relax and bend to allow your centre of gravity to lower, your shoulders should sit on your torso and your elbows should hang naturally down, rather than being unnaturally forced.

3 Crescents
Each arm is curved like a crescent moon.
Your wrists should curve gently to continue the curvature of your arm.
Each leg is curved like a crescent moon.

3 Extensions
Extend your neck to push your head upwards.
Extend your spine upwards and downwards to make it long and straight.

"Legs and Knees extend downward as roots of trees."
Extending your knees downwards, forwards and outwards maintains the curvature of your leg, lowers and stabilises your stance and deepens your root. The legs should be crescent shaped, so your front shin should be roughly perpendicular to the ground. Note that the emphasis on extending your knees rather than your feet should prevent your stance from becoming too long or too narrow.

Other images

"Your fists should not leave your heart, your arms should not leave your ribs."
This passage warns against letting your hands stray too far from your centre-line and against your elbows straying too far from your ribs. Your arms should never become too extended or too expanded outwards.

"Your heels twist outwards, your toes twist inwards."
An absolutely critical point here is that any twisting must actually occur from the hip downwards: your knees must always stay in line with your toes. Furthermore, this image must be used in conjunction with all of the other images to prevent the knees and foot arches from collapsing inwards. i.e. Your feet must be hooked (gripping the ground with raised foot arches); your legs should be curved like crescent moons; your knees should be "extended."

A kind of curved tension will occur in your legs, causing a very slight forward / inward squeeze in your knees, helping you to really grip the ground and stabilise your stance. Another useful image to bear in mind is that your stance should be like an upturned boat.

3 Points on a line
The following points are held in a vertical line:
The tip of your nose.
The index fingertip of your front hand.
The tip of your front foot.

4 Levels
The top of your head is level.
The eyes should gaze levelly forward.
The shoulders are level.
The hips are level.

4 Harms
Sticking out your chest.
Pulling in your stomach.
Forcing your breath.
Using brute force.

For more information about Baguazhang checkout our links page here.

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