This is not so much an article as an ongoing process which
will expand over time. The Art of Eight Trigram Boxing is
deep and wonderful but not intuitively obvious. We hope to
aid the dedicated and guide the wandering. Read a little here
and there and use what seems to help. Ba
Gua Zhang is worth the effort and - while some sections might
not seem immediately clear - the art will unlock itself to
many people Ba Gua is the most exotic martial art. It can
also be one of the most confusing. Part of this confusion
derives from the richness of the style. It came late (1860's)
on the martial scene and folded many of Kung Fu's best ideas
into a very small space. Ba Gua is a miniaturized martial
art, almost a nano-art--not that the information is small,
but that it is extremely compact. Studying Ba Gua can be like
listening to a world famous teacher who is totally fascinating
but whose ideas and words come so fast and brilliantly you
are dazed rather than enlightened.
didn't write the above paragraph as preface a but as a premise.
If we use this suggested template of sophistication and compaction
we're going to get along just fine. Ba Gua's not mystical.
It's not fake. It's not "too Asian." It's not transcendentally
impossible. But it's also not the "baby steps" approach to
Kung Fu training.
PLUM we are receiving many questions and comments in the vein
of, "I don't want you to send me the Mother Palms unless they
have Changes." "What is Ba Gua San Shou?" "Do you have the
Eight Changing Palms or the Sixty-four
Changing Palms of the complete XYZ branch?" "I want ONLY the
moving changes, not the static changes."
we get any further, let's establish a vocabulary. As with
everything in this article, you may disagree with my usage
of certain terms, but it will help to share a code while reading.
means the whole body
PALM CHANGE: a specific series of actions which reverse your
direction on the circle
SIMPLE CHANGE: any of an assortment of actions down to just
shifting the feet that perform a change of direction without
the choreographed "Palm Changes"
MOTHER PALMS: Arm postures held in certain positions while
walking the circle or standing
EIGHT CHANGING PALMS: A choreographed series of movements
divided unto eight sections including the Single Palm Change
and the Double Palm Change. These are performed on both sides.
Each of them reverses the directions of the walker through
a complex series of moves.
HAND POSITIONS: hand positions in BaGua mean entire postures
including the waist and feet
WALKING THE CIRCLE: The basic practice of BaGua is a stylized
method of walking in a circle while performing the actions
of the styles.
MARCHING: Walking in a straight line while performing self
"8 Big Palms" also the "Old Palms.") What is the problem with
the Mother Palms? Well, people often see these as very simple
minded basics, something like the intermediate stages between
circle walking and the really good stuff (The 8 Palm Changes).
But the Mother Palms are absolutely crucial to doing one of
Ba Gua's most difficult tasks: actually changing the way one
going on at length here are some of the training methods connected
to the Mother.
toxins from the body!
Strengthening certain internal organs
Strengthening the arms
Opening the chest and exercising the waist
Key elemental actions for fighting
Preparation for weapons work
Divorcing the torso from the steps
Bridging between standing practice and the later Palm
Introducing all the elements which will be used in the
Developing the essential BI-dimensional thinking
Feeling animal qualities
Training the mind to control the body through "intent"
Mother Palms are often associated with the Eight Original Trigrams.
They are performed in a circle but while the arms don't move
much they do engage and disengage.
you walk the circle you change. Let's say you are walking the
Lion in CW direction and want to change to CCW. What do you
do with your arms? Herein lies a vocabulary problem.
A. Some teachers let you do whatever you want. This is Mother
Palms with no changes.
B. Some teachers use a standard change like Lion change to other
Lion (slap hands together, separate them). These are Simple
C. Some animals have multiple possible Simple Changes.
In my school there are at least three ways to get from Lion
CW to Lion CCW. (Really there are almost infinite methods but
that's another story.) So the Eight Palms have three each or
24 changes. That's if there are no changes from one animal to
another such as Lion to Snake. What would be the combinations
there? Well, the combinatorial is, I believe, 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
or 5280 changes.
GUA SAN SHOU
Shou can mean miscellaneous or "free" hands so "San Shou" can
mean almost anything including Jimmy Woo's famous fighting system.
It can mean partner exercises ranging from a completely choreographed
set to a series of exercises that are barely structured. It
can also, for instance, denote Ba Gua Applications. But one
of the most important and specific meanings is a sort of free
form "riff" exercise where all that one has learned
can be mixed spontaneously or nearly so. What do I mean by "nearly
so?" Well to sort of jump start the spontaneous (as in Chinese
painting, for instance) teachers have created forms with three
classical levels of "ad libbing."
A. A completely choreographed set but hinting at the many ways
B. A choreographed set with sections where the student may ad
C. Completely spontaneous mixing of moves.
first method may introduce another term: Ba Gua Huan Lian Tao
Lu or a Ba Gua "Linked" or "Linking" set where the Changing
Palms never go back to the other side of the circle and just
morph into other moves. The odd thing here is that such a form
may not even look like Ba Gua. It may resemble some other style
like Lost Track. However, it sure feels like Ba Gua from the
inside. (It also shows that Ba Gua need not walk in a circle.
A friend of mine was tossed out of a tournament by a well known
Chinese teacher of BaGua under the injunction that "Ba Gua is
always done in a circle." Ah.)
The second method is obviously a bridge allowing some spontaneous
sections inserted. The third section is obvious.
AND DOUBLE PALM CHANGE
Since stepping and turning footwork is involved we imagine a
circle within the big circle. The little circle represents a
footwork change of direction. If that change of direction takes
one series of steps performed in a small half circle then you
have a Single Palm Change. It's like jumping from one square
to another. If you turn and jump that's a Single Change. From
A to B.
however, you pass through B, turn another 360 degrees, then
return to change at the B point you are performing a Double
Palm Change. Like this...everything else is just a compilation
of Single and Double Palm Changes. Either you jump off at B
immediately of you pass through and circle back. How many times
you pass through B after the first one is inconsequential.
the 150 different "branches" that presently exist in Ba Gua
(that's a style created every year since it was revealed to
the public!) there is almost a spooky correspondence of Single
Palm Change (SPC) and Double Palm Change (DPC) throughout all
are the essential movements of Ba Gua since they supply the
reversal of direction so crucial to the style: CW to CCW, and
CCW to CW. But why these two changes when, at first thought,
you might say all changes are just the Single Palm Change? After
all when you come down to it, all you have done each time is
merely change direction.
you have ever studied math coordinates you bump into an interesting
notation. Following around a circle you record any degree of
angular change up to 360 degrees. After that it doesn't matter
how many times you circle because complete rotations all are
subsumed by (N). Therefore we count rotations as x<360 degrees
+ (N) = number of degrees. It's a little different in BaGua
because we are only concerned about 180 degrees turns, not 360
degrees. In other words you either turn 180 degrees to change
or 180 degrees +N. That's all that is significant; SCP or DCP.
All else is commentary.
you look you'll see an amazing correspondence between these
despite the Baroque efflorescence of all the changes. Like the
Shaolin Form Tan Tui (Spring Leg) the first two sets are about
the same in each case, then variations occur in the higher numbers.
(This part actually is influenced by Chinese cultural philosophy.
The first Change is an unbroken line (you just change, period).
The DCP is "broken" in that you pass the point of change, continue,
then come back and complete the change. A broken line is Yin.
A solid line is Yang. These parents are said to generate the
entire art and, according to my view and the I Ching, they do.)
POSSIBLE PALM CHANGES
you combine the Single Palm Change and Double Palm Change with
the Mother Palms and their transitions you have all there is
to all 150 styles of BGZ. If this were mathematics we would
say the BGZ is the study of operations not integers. Rather
than start, as people have always done, with movements then
link them together; BGZ starts with transitions which can be
broken down into movements. In mathematics, again, things change
drastically when you stop thinking about counting and begin
playing with operations. This is of course true of almost everything
from musical composition to battlefield strategy, dancing, writing,
math and physics. It is an aspect of martial and perceptual
refinement, not a particular art or discipline. To learn the
Palm Changes without exploring their meaning is to condemn another
brilliant historical and cultural treasure to the realm of obscurity
and quaintness. The quick hit-'em-and-get-out attitude strikes
me as the same reduction. Ba Gua Zhang changes the practitioner
not just the shape of his opponent's nose.
OTHER SIX PALM CHANGES
about the other "six children?" We can find a parallel in the
Long Fist form known as Tan Tui or Spring Leg. There are many
versions of this form but each section (there are either ten
or twelve) has to cleave to a certain accepted theme. In the
remaining six Changes these themes are said to be from the six
remaining trigrams. However, martially, they are much more function.
If you want to see my desginations - right or wrong - just look
Change #3. Full Spin
Change #4. Change of Direction (Lost Track)
Change #5. Double and Short Palms
Change #6. Raising and Lowering (Heaven and Earth)
Change #7. Tight Turning
Change #8. Long Arm Cutting, Long Spinning.
really understand the construction of BGZ (Ba Gua Zhang) we
have to look at the concept of a Change. A Change is simply
reversing the direction you walk the circle. The most basic
of these is called a Simple Change (or in my school a "switch").
In this case you are walking on the circle and just reverse
direction WITHOUT STOPPING. It looks like this, first one way
then another. There may be no footwork to speak of; just turning
around. Simple Changes are all either Inside or Outside (facing
Center or not). The hand movement may be minimal: a quick threading
action, flipping from one Mother Palm to another
or even changing without hands. In this case simple pretty much
most styles agree that traditional BGZ uses a peculiar type
of footwork known as the Mud Step. Versions differ like women's
shoe styles. Some say the Mud Step was most emphasized in Beijing
because it became so muddy in the proper season. Special shoes,
it is said, were worn with long cleats to insure stability.
Thus the Mud Step was an easy analogy to understand.
descriptions of how you do the Mud Step differ. Some teachers
describe it this way, "Imagine your foot is stuck in the mud.
When you lift it, with a sucking sound, it comes up flat and
parallel to the earth, just about an inch of elevation. Then
you move it forward so..." In this example you are walking on
the mud. But how about this...? "Imagine your legs are sunken
in mud up to the knees. You "cut" through with a heavy dragging
feeling every time you step...."
bit different. Then there are variations some do such as the
"Chicken" step and the "Floating" step, that you wonder can
even be categorized as Mud Stepping.
two most basic variations, though, are found in the Yin Fu and
Cheng Ting Hua branches of the art. Basically the Yin Fu performs
smaller steps. When each foot strikes the ground it halts and
seals with the ground. The feeling is much like having magnetic
boots on. The toes grip, the step sucks downward.
Cheng style the stride is wider. The foot reaches out, glides
above the ground, touches down then may glide a little more.
The step is more graceful looking and, some say, a trifle easier
aside, the BGZ practitioner should understand at least the basic
goals of the Mud Step. They are a combination of martial and
health concerns. Here is a partial list of what occurs in the
human body when the Mud Step is performed even tolerably well:
center of gravity is kept well back.
vertical posture of the spine is maintained.
as in normal stepping, where each leg is alternately exercises;
in Mud Stepping both legs are constantly worked.
execution of advancing footwork is practiced with each and
the spine is vertical, not swaying, the rotation of the torso
muscles is constant.
Mud Step is so neutral, weight wise, that quick changes are
Mud Step has all sorts of advantages. It is also one of the
most frustrating exercises in all of the martial arts. Here
is a list of miseries in Mud Stepping, just to assure you that
you are in Good Company:
step can be so narrow you feel like toppling.
heel keeps peeling up no matter what you do.
perform three circles in a row, perfectly, than you can hardly
hands and legs slip out of sync with incredible ease.
feel like a mincing geisha.
moment you have something fixed, something else goes out.
Stepping is one of the first things you learn in BGZ and it
will be the last for you to perfect. Ah, well, at least you
wonÕt get bored easily...
is a well known BGZ saying, "The knees support one another."
This refers to the second notable aspect of BGZ walking, namely
the scissors actions of the legs.
again the initial requirements are simple - deceptively so.
The inner thighs should brush together with every step. One
leg is never completely relaxed in the normal manner of locomotion
where the forward leg is thrown ahead of the other.
pretty much it. But this is an essential part of the art. For
instance, let's look at the brushing of the legs together. This
action directly correlates to what is called "threading" with
the arms. In threading as one arm draws the other brushes along
and extends. The arms "replace" one another. So this action
of the legs takes threading down into footwork.
here's something important: just because the legs thread in
the Scissors Step they don't have to move awkwardly. Too many
practitioners walk like they are on a tight rope. Rather than
try to stick only on the circle when you walk the inner foot
should be on the inside of the circle and the outer foot should
step on the outside of the circle. This keeps you from trying
to move along a razor-thin edge - a very uncomfortable feeling
Stepping only necessitates the legs touching at mid-stride.
Then the foot is free to fall outward or inward as the case
the Scissors Step is essential in correct BGZ navigation. If
the average person is going to turn left, for example, then
he rotates outward on his left foot and follows with his right
leg swinging a bit to the new direction. But the BGZ practitioner
actually uses the left out-turned leg to "aim" his right leg
- brings the thighs together - then places the right foot exactly
where the left toe aimed it.
use? Once habituated to "seeking one's own inner leg" every
step the student takes tends to seek his opponent's leg immediately
and intuitively. In this case the self defense usage is only
a short step away.
BU AND BAI BU
is based on just two simple steps. One is called KOU BU and
signifies toeing inward as you step. The other, BAI BU, refers
to the turning outward step. Since Walking the Circle is the
fundamental exercise for BGZ, we can see that there's a whole
lot of Kou Bu and Bai Bu practiced each session.
of BGZ's "genius" is the recognition of simple facts - the kind
physicists spend decades chasing down. In martial arts the truth
is that there are almost no "straight" steps in real fighting.
BGZ accepts this fact and incorporates the truth of it in every
footwork is an art and certainly one of the keys to the system.
You could write books on just Kou Bu and Bai Bu. Here are a
few key points.
and foremost never - never - by which I mean never, originate
the rotation of KB or BB from the ankle or knee. Leg rotation
should originate form the hip and waist. Some people are limber
enough to aim a knee one way and a foot the other way. Bless
them, but the action sends shivers up a teacher's spine. Never.
next key point is that, especially when Walking the Circle,
the feet should never cross one another. Obviously in the plain
vanilla circle walk one foot is continuously performing Kou
Bu while the other, outside foot is executing Bai Bu. But some
people walk as though on a tightrope where the inside foot is
placed on exactly the same line as the outside step. This teaches
the inside leg to obstruct the other foot and the outside leg
to swing around the obstacle of the front foot. Both of these
are rather bad form, old boy. They are bad martial habits indeed
and should be avoided.
these considerations, remember that Kou Bu and Bai Bu are the
Yin and Yang of BGZ footwork.
the practice of authentic Kung Fu, holding posture
is essential. The reasons are many but
for now let's just accept the proposal. And
given that stationery posture work is
as important as it is, we
must acknowledge that standing practice must fit its style.
Otherwise much effort will be wasted.
training has many of the similar benefits as, say, any Wushu
"post" exercises. It also has some special traits. First, BGZ
standing acclimates the body to positions which are not normal,
everyday things. The constant twisting, a feeling that should
move from the feet to the crown, must be teased slowly. Forcing
the issue isn't only useless but can actually cause injuries.
When you twist to your "limit" in a BGZ standing posture you
should then relax. If you do you may find, after a minute or
two, that there really was additional "space" left to occupy
which you hadn't noticed before.
you are dealing with the physicality of BGZ's special postures,
you should come to concentrating on the breath. Imagine it to
be spiraling just like the twisting you feel in your muscles.
Keep at this and mind will follow. Now you are inhabiting the
people have seen many true applications for BGZ. There are a
number of reasons for this:
1. Proportionately few fully trained instructors exist.
2. For over a century many Xing Yi teachers taught BGZ, mixing
the two styles as they went.
3. That which makes BGZ special can hardly be perceived visually
to say that the really interested student will have to use his
or her own intelligence in this. BGZ is an outstanding martial
art and worth the investigation. It looks like "real fighting"
more than you might imagine. Following are a few hints about
its applications, since we can only touch the skin here.
BGZ usage is about a lot more than running around behind people.
Take most of the usage demonstrated with a smidge of doubt.
back to the form and basics and practice to compare the usage
with the energy of BGZ you are trying to refine. The basics
are so powerful in BGZ they will show you the feeling. If you
catch it you will be on the right track. There are a lot of
decent fighters who nonetheless are not really demonstrating
BGZ. We know the reason for this. It is because BGZ demands
a different way of thinking and for many this is too strange,
too exotic. Yet the effort is worth it. Any art can be improved
just by the attempt to catch BGZ's special flavor. Look at Dong
Hai Chuan's original group: all advanced martial practitioners.
BGZ could only heighten the level of their original arts. So
beginner or advanced, the applications of BGZ are more than
worth the effort to explore.
suggested reading: Our Lion Book, Shaolin
PoPi by Yen Te Hua, though in Chinese, is a famous text
giving the true flavor of BGZ. It shows up in translation as
Pa Kua for Self Defense by Lee Ying Arng which, unfortunately,
is not always in print.