The Three Eights

Even the famous Choy Lai Fut teacher, Tat Mau Wong, had trouble telling them apart. I remember him interviewing a top master who practiced Baji style. Tat kept mistaking it for Bagua and couldn’t wrap his head around the difference.

Of course sometimes it is a task and styles sound alike, but there are only a few that start with the number “eight” or “BA” in Chinese. And just to get off on the right foot, here are the “8” styles and the meaning of each name:

Bagua Zhang: Eight Trigram Palm

Ba Men Quan: Eight Gate Boxing

Baji Quan: Eight extremes Boxing

The use of the word “eight” is no accident. In the numerological world of the Chinese philosophers eight is an important integer. It represents primarily the eight directions, cardinal and ordinal, N, E, W, S and NE, NW, SE and SW.; in other words the universe in all directions. It’s how you look at these eight directions that gives each style its distinct taste.

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In Bagua you are moving through the eight directions, and as you move from, say, Northwest to West you are going from one set of influences to an entirely different set. This idea of directions having “influences” originates in China’s agrarian past when the direction of weather and the particulars of terrain could indeed mean abundance or despair.  In that world, directions became synonymous with conditional changes like hot and cold, wind and water. In Bagua you use these changes like strategies and qualities. You might have a change up that works because your move suddenly transforms fluid into rough, quick into slow, etc.

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Ba Men Quan is the least famous of the triad outside of China. The word “Men” means gate but it is often also used to mean “style or sect” as we might say you don’t belong to the sect unless you’ve passed through the gate. In this case the “gates” are the style’s many and diverse methods of evading the opponent’s defenses. Ba Men is a sort of technological upgrade, utilizing many moves familiar to most martial artists, but in a distinct manner.

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Baji Quan. The word “Ji” is exactly the same word as the middle term of Tai Ji Quan. In the old days it meant a ridgepole such as might hold up a tent. Over the years it was abstracted to mean anything “extreme” (like at the very end of a ridgepole). It’s common nowadays for someone to say, “Hao Ji Le!” meaning extremely good or, as is popular now, “awesome.” Ba Ji means Eight Extremes and takes a unique view of things. Instead of walking around the directions (Bagua), or entering from the directions (Ba Men), Ba Ji explodes through the eight directions. Baji practitioners train themselves to cover yards instead of inches when they execute. Each movement covers so much real estate that people say this is the reason Ba Ji is such a great style for body guards; not only do you protect your principle (whether he is a president, king or general) but you forcibly expel anyone coming near enough to be a danger.

It is not typical to see them this way, but you could make an argument that most “styles” in martial arts are just about space. The techniques are shaped to the space of operations. Over time different conditions have created different solutions and therefore different styles. Modern students of the arts can benefit from any and all of these.

One Last Note: Often styles are named after common principles or concepts int he martial arts. In the case of Ba Men, for instance, you might bump into the concept in Tai Chi which has a principle called Ba Men Wu Bu (Eight Gates and Five Doors). In this case the Ba Men theory can be quite a bit more sophisticated than what we’ve pointed out here.

Resources:
read about Ba Men Boxing

read about Bagua Zhang

read about Baji Quan

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