Ba Gua Zhang (chin.: Bāguà 八卦) is relatively new in terms of complete Chinese martial art systems, having been developed in the 19th Century. This internal martial art is 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 consider Baguazhang to be the most advanced of the Chinese Martial Arts.
Ba Gua Zhang (chin.: Bāguàzhăng 八卦掌) is literally translated as the Eight Trigram Palm. This style is one of the three internal Chinese martial arts (chin.: nèijīa 內家) of China. The other two styles are Xing Yi Quan (chin.: 形意拳 Xíngyìquán) and Taiji Quan (chin.: Tàijíquán 太极拳). As with Xing Yi and Taiji, the practice of Bagua generates internal energy (chin.: qì 氣) for both health and combat purposes. Baguazhang uses palm techniques exclusively, and this is reflected in the name, Eight Trigram Palm. This makes Bagua distinct from Xing Yi and Taiji styles, both of which incorporate fist techniques.
“Ba Gua Zhang 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.
The creation of Ba Gua Zhang, as a formalized martial art, is attributed to Dong Haichuan (dǒnghǎichuān 董海川, 13th of October 1797 - 25th of October 1882) in the early 19th century, who apparently learned from Daoist, and possibly Buddhist, masters in the mountains of rural China. There is evidence to suggest a synthesis of several pre-existing martial arts taught and practiced in the region he lived in, combined with Daoist circle walking (note: the practice of circle walking is bagua’s characteristic method of stance and movement training.) This technique imitates the Daoist Ba Gua symbol of the Book of Changes (chin.: Yì Jīng 易经). The health benefits of this circular Qi cultivation ensure that long-time masters are not only excellent fighters but also live extremely long lives.
Master Dong Haichuan taught for many years in Beijing, eventually earning patronage by the Imperial court. As a result Bagua was taught to Imperial bodyguards in Beijing at a time when large gangs of thugs roamed the streets.
Imperial bodyguards were required to protect important officials while wearing formal robes. Ba Gua practitioners therefore took a practical outlook and utilized weapons that were small and easily concealed in the long sleeves of their cloaks (chin.: chángpaor 长袍儿).
Famous disciples of Dong to become teachers were Yin Fu (chin.: yǐnfú 尹福), Cheng Tinghua (chin.: chéngtínghuá 程廷華), Song Changrong (chin.: Sòngchángróng 宋長榮), Liu Fengchun (chin.: liúfèngchūn 劉鳳春) and Ma Weiqi (chin.: mǎwéiqí 馬維棋). Although they were all students of the same teacher, their methods of training and expressions of palm techniques differed. The Cheng and Liu styles are said to specialize in “Pushing” the palms, Yin style is known for “Threading” the palms, Song’s followers practice “Plum Flower” (chin.: méihuā 梅花) palm technique and Ma style palms are known as “Hammers.” Some of Dong Haichuan’s students, including Cheng Tinghua, participated in the Boxer Rebellion (chin.: Yìhétuán Qǐyì 义和团起义, November 1899 to September 7, 1901). In general, most Bagua practitioners practice either the Yin (chin.: yǐn 尹), Cheng (chin.: chéng 程), or Liang (chin.: liáng 梁) styles of Bagua, although Fan (chin.: fán 樊), Shi (chin.: shǐ 史), Liu (chin.: liú 劉), and other styles also exist.