Sunday, September 8, 2013

Baguazhang: An Internal Martial Art Application of Sunzi's Art of War Principles

Baguazhang is an internal martial martial art system whose approach is conceptually similar to the strategic and tactical principles from the Art  of War.  An unabridged version of this article will be found in our future book on strategies.

This original article was published in Jade Dragon.  It was written by one of our associates and was recently updated by another associate.

Eight-Diagram Palm (Shadow Boxing)

"The power of the eight diagram palms knows no bounds 
-- the palms seem to strike even before the hands move.
When the hand threads upward, it's like a hundred birds
paying tribute to the phoenix; when it threads forward,
it's like a tiger swooping downhill. Walking round and
round, he is like a stray wild goose that has drifted from
the flock; but when the palms are thrust forward, they can
move a mountain. Now dodging, now ducking, his body
slithers in and out; using the opponent's force he delivers
a counter, blow, with as little effort as pushing a boat      
down the stream."                                                                   
- Dong Haichuan, Founder of Baguazhang.

To most westerners, Taijiquan (TJQ) is the only Chinese exercise that teaches one how to integrate the mind, body and spirit into one unit. This is totally incorrect. There is another marital art system that not only shares the same principles and philosophy as Taijiquan, but it is outwardly simpler yet relies more on one's focus and concentration. This exercise is called Baguazhang (also referred to as Bagua or BGZ and pronounced as bah gwah jang. It is also written as Pa kua chang or PKC).

Baguazhang (BGZ) 八卦掌 is one of the more famous of the traditional Chinese martial arts that possesses many distinctive practice skill methods and its palm method changes unfathomably. It also has a good balanced reputation in the martial arts community. From the time of Qing Chengfeng (1851-1862), when Mr. Dong Haichuan (of Wen'an County in Hebei Province) introduced it until today, it has been practiced daily and enjoyed by martial artists in China and overseas.

Baguazhang is an exceptionally beautiful martial art emphasizing the use of spiral movements and a sophisticated use of footwork and fighting angles. It makes the body extremely flexible and able to move with tremendous grace, speed and power. Bagua practice is vigorous and aerobic. Many have considered Bagua to be the most advanced of the Chinese Martial Arts. The foundation of the system is a meditative circle walking practice and the "Single Change Palm" which was developed in Daoist monasteries over 400 years ago. As a meditation practice, Bagua allows one to produce a stillness of the mind in the midst of intense physical activity. This esoteric system at its highest levels becomes a method of manifesting the energetic patterns of change described in the Yi-Jing (I-Ching) or The Classic Book of Changes.

Technically, the correct performance of this exercise increases the practitioner's energy through simultaneous circle walking, forms practice, and breath control.

The practice of Baguazhang is very Zen-like in its approach to calming and focusing the mind, the body and the spirit. The basics are a series of movements done while walking in a circle. The goal of this exercise is for the individual to understand and maintain proper body alignment while staying centered and relaxed. Once this practice is consistent, the practitioners of this unique approach would move faster and more intricate with turning and twisting, moving the body in all possible angles and directions for fitness, centering and agility. Baguazhang emphasizes on the usage of quick footwork and turns as part of as its self-defense strategy.

Baguazhang is literally translated as Eight-Diagrams Palm. This style is one of the three primary Nei Jia Quan or internal styles of China. The other two styles are Xingyiquan and Taijiquan. As with Xingyi and Taiji, the practice of Bagua generates Qi (internal energy) for both health and combat purposes. Baguazhang primarily uses palm techniques, and this is reflected in the name, Eight Diagram Palm. This makes Baguazhang distinct from XingyiQuan and TaijiQuan styles, both of which incorporate fist techniques. (FYI - Taijiquan technically uses more palm maneuvers than fists.)

Its movements are based on the mobility of position and agility of body, this system proves itself to be a formidable style for the many players.   ... 

Instead of directly attacking an oncoming force, BGZ 'melts' around the attack; either simultaneously redirecting the attack while closing the position, or by evading it and re-positioning one's self to an advantageous 'doorway,' for finishing the opponent instantly.

There are some advanced Baguazhang players who are able to thaw the plans of their opponents by following their intent.

Historical Abstract
This style of Chinese boxing was very popular during the time of Qing Dynasty's Emperor Dao Guang who reigned from 1820 to 1850. The story goes that Dong Hai Chuan of Wen'an County in Hebei Province came to Beijing in 1852 when Emperor Guang Xu ascended the throne and worked in Prince Su's mansion. There he began to teach his Baguazhang, which soon became very popular in Beijing, Tianjin and the surrounding areas, and he was acknowledged as the respected founder of Baguazhang.

Dong Haichuan had a large number of followers and he taught each of them in accordance with their aptitude, adapting movements to suit their ability and talent

The Various Styles of Baguazhan
A hundred years later, Dong's Baguazhang has now branched out into various forms with some differences between them, each having its own distinctiveness.

Some of the modern branches of Baguazhang are the Cheng style (after Cheng Tinghua), the Yin style (after Yin Fu), the Jiang style (after Jiang Rong Qiao), the Liu style (after Liu Fengchun),  Liang style (Liang Zhenpu), Fu style (Fu Zhensong)  Sun style (Sun Lu Tang) and Gao style (Gao Yisheng).

While each of those Baguazhang systems is based on the individual's whose background 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 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, Cheng TingHua, or Liang Zhenpu variations.

The distinctive trademarks of the Yin Fu style are the large number of percussive techniques, multiple quick-strikes combinations, explosive movements and very quick and evasive footwork. (Yin Fu was said to "fight like a tiger," advancing forward and knocking his opponent to the ground swiftly like a tiger pouncing on its prey.) Their approach also utilizes long range threading strike maneuvers.

Cheng Tinghua styles of Baguazhang features movements that are executed in a smooth flowing and continuous manner, with a subtle display of power. 

Popular variations of this style include the Dragon Style Baguazhang system, the Gao Yi Sheng system,  the "Swimming Body" Baguazhang, the Nine Palace System, Jiang Rong Qiao's style (probably the most common form practiced today), and the Sun Lutang style.

Liang Zhenpu's system is viewed as a combination of the Yin Fu and Cheng Tinghua styles. Liang's student, Li Ziming, popularized this style. 

All Baguazhang systems possessed a variation of a form known as the Single Change Palm (SCP). The Single Change Palm is the most basic form and is the core of the "eight change" palm exercise found in this  martial art system. Besides the Single Change Palm, the other forms include the Double Change Palm (DCP) and the Eight Changes Palm (also known variously as the Eight Mother Palms or the Old Eight Palms).

These forms are the foundation of Baguazhang. Baguazhang movements have a characteristic circular nature with a great deal of body spinning, turning, and rapid changes in direction. Beside the Single, Double and Eight Change Palms, most but not all styles of Ba Gua Zhang include some variation of the Sixty-Four Palms.
Sun Lu Tang performing the Lion Embraces the Ball posture

"Circle Walking" Training
"Baguazhang is a walk with benefits." - Anonymous

The first stage of the Baguazhang training is walking the circle. Research has shown that there are medical benefits that are derived from this exercise. Benefits include the prevention of contracting premature osteoporosis to the avoidance of acquired deformity and chronic diseases in nervous cardiovascular, respiratory and digestive systems. 
Abstract on The Single Change Palm (SCP) 
and The Double Change Palm (DCP)
“Change is non-linear and can go backwards, 
forwards and sideways”  -Alvin Toffler, The Third Wave

After circle walking is taught, the first palm movement most Baguazhang players learn is the Single Change Palm (SCP). This movement is the outgoing hand posture that is focused on striking at the body of the opposition.
Once that movement is mastered, the Double Change Palm (DCP) exercise is taught next. This movement is a continuation of the Single Change Palm, executing two or three consecutive strikes. There are six other palm movements that is the basis of Baguazhang(BGZ).

It has been said that 80-90% of Baguazhang fundamentals can be found in the Single Change Palm exercise (SCP)  the Double Change Palm (DCP) exercise and the Following Posture Palm. If one cannot perform those three exercises correctly, he or she would not be able to master the five other palms movements.
Theories of Baguazhang Combat
Who knows the limit? Does not the straightforward exist?   ... The straighforward changes again into the crafty, and the good changes again into the monstrous.   ... Indeed, it is long since the people were perplexed.    -Dao De Jing , 58 (D.C. Lau translation)
In combat, Baguazhang is similar to the other Chinese Internal Arts where it does not directly attack an oncoming force. The proficient BGZ players would dissolve around the attack; either simultaneously redirecting the attack while closing the position or by utilizing that same offensive move against the attacker. The technical distinction is the re-positioning of one's self to an advantageous 'doorway,' for finishing the opponent instantly.
Thus when someone excels in attacking, the enemy does not know where to mount his defense; when someone excels at defense, the enemy does not know where to attack. So subtle it approaches the formless, so spiritual it attains the soundless. Thus he can act as the enemy's Master of Fate.  - Art of War 6

Those same expert Baguazhang players are noted for employing its unpredictable changing movements, feints and dexterous moves, which are combined to misdirect and wear down the opponent. 

In order to cause the enemy to come of their own volition, extend some apparent profit. In order to prevent the enemy from coming forth, show them the potential harm.  
- Art of War 6

Experts of this open-hand system are occasionally utilized a counter-offensive approach. They often do not strike first, rather, they remain composed in the face of determined adversaries, conserving their energy and looking for positional openings that would allow a launch of an attack. While the force of the Eight Diagrams Palms action is sometimes indescribable, it can be found in other internal martial art systems.

From another combat perspective, it was also designed for combat with multiple opponents. This action can be accomplished by its footwork and changing motion motions, which ease the rapid change of direction.  Some people have claimed that it was designed to defend against opponents from eight directions.
In conclusion, the combat strategy of Baguazhang is based on the implementation of quick and continuous changes to avoid directly opposing force. Depending on the combat experience of the teachers, the BGZ student is supposed to be trained in the elements of positional mobility and physical agility. From our perspective, there are some Baguazhang teachers that do instruct with the principles, the exercises of Baguazhang and these unique micro details in mind.

Historical Trivia
During the Qing Dynasty, some of the Imperial bodyguards in Beijing were trained in Baguazhang at a time when large mobs of armed criminals roamed the streets.
Those same Imperial bodyguards were required to protect important government bureaucrats while also attending lavish parties and functions, all the while wearing formal robes. This special group of bodyguards therefore took a practical outlook and utilized thin and light weapons that were small and easily concealed in the long sleeves of their cloaks (changpao). Some of the weapons include the conical brass knuckles, Deer Horn sabers, (lujiaodao), iron fan (shanzi), iron pens, metal yo-yos, and Rooster Head blades.
In addition to these stealthy items, Baguazhang players trained and use some of the largest martial arts weapons ever seen. The list includes ridiculously long broadswords, 9 to 12 ft spears, and the "fierce-looking" Wind and Fire Wheels (Popular with the Liang ZhanPu system). More normal-sized weapons such as the eye-brows level staff, the eye-level double-headed spear, the "General Kwan" Halbred (Guan Dao), and the straight double-edged sword (jian) are actively practiced as well.  

Historically,  Baguazhang players are just known for being able to use any object as a weapon by using the principles of their art.

It has been rumored that many of the earlier generation of Baguazhang players practiced their art while reciting the principles of BGZ (36 Songs and 48 Methods). Depending on the particular BGZ system, some of those combat principles (48 methods) possessed a similar content that could be found in the famous "36 stratagems" essay.
Side note: It reminds us of a rumor that there are people who would recite a set of specific Art of War principles that corresponds to their "assessment" of a strategic situation.

Miscellaneous Trivia
"Most students don't study Xingyi boxing because it is too difficult and they are afraid of failure. Most instructors don't teach Baguazhang because it is too difficult and they are afraid of failure." - Peter Ralston
One day, when a group of pupils of Master Dong asked him about Baguazhang, he replied with the following quote, "Grandmaster said: 'My way uses turning palms to make the root, it uses the fist tools to make the function, study and practice. Skill is created to its utmost. You will have no enemy under heaven. By itself it is good for the body." The above quote were translated and edited by Sifu Joseph Crandall from "Guang Xia" writing on the Records of Selected Dialogues between Dong Hai Chuan and his disciples.

Applying the Sunzi Strategic Principles into the Practice of Baguazhang

To walk a thousand circles without becoming fatigued, traverse unoccupied terrain. To ensure taking the objective in an attack, strike positions that are undefended. To be certain of an impregnable defense, secure positions that the enemy will not attack.  - Paraphrased from Art of War 6 
That paraphrased Art of War quote represents the how one utilizes Baguazhang in a worst case scenario.
" ... Thus the approach of the Baguazhang player is established by deceit, moves for advantage, and changes through segmenting and reuniting. Thus its speed is like the wind, its slowness like the forest; its invasion and plundering like a fire; unmoving, it is like the mountains. It is as difficult to know as the darkness; in movement it is like thunder.  ..."  -  Art of War 7 (Paraphased from Sawyer's translation)
The Compass Chart
Copyright © 2007- 2013 All Rights Reserved
The key to applying the Art of War principles with one's own practice of Baguazhang is knowing how to assess a strategic situation in terms of the eight macro categories of changes and determine the five critical strategic factors with that change. 
Identifying the changes and knowing when to adjust to it is about filtering the reality from illusion. This is considered to be one of the advanced objectives behind the practice of Baguazhang.
Through the practice of Baguazhang,  one learns to thaw the opponent's plans by reading the Big Tangible Picture of their situation in terms of the mentioned points.  This skill would be helpful to have in a worst case scenario that is loaded with some complexity.  ... When in doubt, maneuver and retreat.

Based on your current setting, are you able to assess a complex strategic situation and be able to find the path of least resistance in a New York minute (better yet, a Shanghai minute),  without breaking a sweat?
The Compass Script to Learning Baguazhang
There are different ways to practice Baguazhang.  Each particular system have their own unique appeals.  ...  To build the metaphysical feeling  for this exercise, diligent performance is required.  It is not for those who demand immediate gratification. 
Following is the basic script to learning Baguazhang:
  1. Learn how to walk the circle while centering oneself.
  2. Learn how to perform the Single Change Palm. 
  3. Learn how to perform the Double Change Palm.
Baguazhang is an exceptionally beautiful martial art emphasizing the use of spiral movements and a sophisticated use of footwork and fighting angles. It makes the body extremely flexible and able to move with tremendous grace, speed and power. Bagua practice is vigorous and aerobic. Some have considered Baguazhang to be the most advanced of the Chinese Martial Arts. The foundation of the system is a meditative circle walking practice and the "Single Change Palm" exercise that was developed in Taoist monasteries over a thousand years ago. As a meditation practice, Baguazhang allows one to produce a stillness of mind in the midst of intense physical activity. This esoteric system at its highest levels becomes a method of manifesting the energetic patterns of change described in the Yi Jing (I-Ching) aka. The Classic Book of Changes.
What has been written here is just a minuscule of the foundation behind the Baguazhang system. Interested readers can find and purchase materials (books and videos) on the subject of Baguazhang and other internal martial art systems can be found at these following web sites:
Pa Kua Chang  markets a digital set of 38 previously published magazines. This package is highly recommended to serious Baguazhang players.  We have purchased it and believed that it Is quite worth the time and the effort to read this compilation of material.
C.S. Tang's web site on Chinese Martial Arts  and Wing Lam Enterprises (WLE) are great sources for martial arts DvD's and books (mainly Chinese text). WLE  is a good resource for martial arts weapons, Instructional videos, books (Chinese and English text), etc.
Smiling Tiger Martial Arts  is a great translator of "Chinese to English" Internal Martial Arts books.  Click here for Baguazhang books and here for Xingyquan books..
Jarek Szymanski's Chinese martial arts web site on Chinese Internal Martial Arts is a  great source for internal martial arts information, martial arts VCD's, DvDs and books (mainly Chinese)
Traditional Studies is a great source for Yin Fu style of Baguazhang videos and books.
Andrew Dale's Chinese and Japanese martial arts web site is another great source for internal martial arts information.
Plum Publishing  is another good source for English books on internal martial arts and other Asian-related Culture topics (mainly English text)
Andrea Falk of The WuShu Centre is another great translator of  "Chinese to English" Internal Martial Arts books.
The other favorite martial arts sites of our associates are:,  rumsoakedfist and cookdingkitchen,com
Copyright © 2007- 2013 All Rights Reserved
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