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Thread: Information regarding Baguazhang

  1. #1
    cyranodb Guest

    Information regarding Baguazhang

    Hello fellow enthusiasts. I picked up a book some time ago on Emei Baguazhang, and I am only just getting around to finally reading it. However, I have never heard of Baguazhang before and was wondering if any of you had an idea of what style it was, and what it was mainly used for. It seems to be an internal style similar to Tai Chi, but I just wanted to know if there was a difference. Thanks


  2. #2
    Chris McKinley Guest
    Hi Mike,

    If I may be so bold as to speak for all of Baguazhang (LOL), I'll try to explain it a bit. The name means Eight Trigrams Palm and is a reference to the eight 'gua', or trigrams, which are part of the mandala known as the Bagua. This mandala, or symbol, is associated with Taoism and also with the I Ching, the classic Book of Changes. Baguazhang is a truly Taoist art through and through.

    The origins of the art are shrouded in mystery (would we have it any other way?). The first well-documented practitioner, and possibly the art's founder, was Dong Hai-chuan. Dong supposedly was trained in local Shaolin-based arts before beginning a study with Taoist monks. These monks taught him their ancient practice of circle walking, which is a staple of all Bagua variants, and which he incorporated into his fighting methods.

    Dong came to Beijing, either to seek his fortune or to escape prosecution, depending on the story, and supposedly landed a job as a glorified waiter for the Imperial Court. His deftness at moving in and around the busy court while serving attracted the attention of the Emperor, who called him over for a demonstration of his abilities. As the story goes, he made such an impression that he was offered a position training the Imperial Bodyguards in this new art. Dong's first generation students were all well-trained in other methods before studying with him. Dong encouraged this diversity and as a result, today's Bagua enjoys quite a bit of stylistic variance.

    As a whole, the art is known for preferring open-hand strikes to punches, circular or spiral movements, and constant flow and shifting of direction while in combat. Taijiquan, XingYi Quan, and Baguazhang are commonly known as the Three Sisters of the internal arts, or neijia. Of these three, Baguazhang places the strongest emphasis on chan siu jing, or coiling energy, and also on rooting while in motion, though all three arts share basically the same principles overall.

    Bagua practitioners were known for their lightning speed as well. The two factors which most strongly contributed to this are its unparalleled fluidity of motion and its strategic use of body positioning and footwork. Bagua fighters were known for getting around behind an opponent before he realized what was going on. Not to say that they were excellent sprinters, but rather that they were often able to combine nimble side-stepping with turning the opponent's body as a counterstrike.

    Personally, my first impression of it was that it was like Aikido, only with teeth LOL. I was also amazed at how quickly an opponent could be completely debilitated from head to toe. Bagua is known as a 'soft' art in the U.S., but this is often a misnomer. 'Soft' actually refers the fact that a Bagua fighter never meets force against force as in a typical Japanese style hard block. Also, it refers to the flowing nature of similar arts. Bagua, despite the 'soft' label, is one of the most brutal and devastating arts I've encountered in 26 years of training.

    The book you referenced (for that matter, ALL books on the art in English) doesn't even begin to properly represent the art's effectiveness in combat, though that particular book is a must-have for all Bagua practitioners. It contains an excellent history of the art, as well as an exceedingly rare collection of Bagua poetry. While the form demonstrated in the book is good, the applications are as overly simplistic as they are sparse.

    IMO, there just ISN'T a book available in English which really does a proper job of conveying the art's fighting applications. The closest might be John Bracy and Liu Xing-han's book, 'Bagua'.

    As for Bagua's similarity to Taiji, other than being one of the Three Sisters, I suppose it would depend upon which variant of Taiji you have been exposed to. Taiji ranges from the fajing-heavy rapid-fire lethality of Old Yang Lu-chan style to the anjing-heavy evenly flowing large circles of new Yang Cheng-fu style, with other variants somewhere along the spectrum in between. Bagua has elements in common with all of them, to a degree, given that it contains a wide range of available responses to an attack.

    Perhaps Sun style Taiji is closest, having been developed by Sun Lu-tang, a master of all three sister arts. Sun's stated intention was to blend elements of all three arts into his version of Taiji, so it already contains Bagua aspects. By far, most of the Taiji in the U.S. is new Yang Cheng-fu style. Often it is presented as a tool for health development, typically for the elderly. It is also quite popular with the New Age community as a pathway to enlightenment. IMO, this version is a far cry from the art used so effectively by Yang Lu-chan, the Invincible, as instructors typically don't know much about the actual combat applications of their art.

    Back to Bagua though, I have more than once had it mistaken for the Indonesian art of Kuntao, another art known for its extreme brutality. Unlike its sister Taiji, Bagua hasn't suffered the same watering down process yet, and still retains the fullness of its martial character. I sympathize with the uninitiated onlooker trying to discern what makes Bagua a fighting art when watching a Bagua student walking the circle performing palm changes. It can be mesmerizingly beautiful to observe, with the practitioner constantly twisting, turning and changing direction, all while flowing seamlessly from movement to movement. It can also be equally perplexing when trying to determine how such movement would be of much use in a real fight. Such mystery adds a bit of spice to practicing the art.

    Anyway, please forgive the length of this post, but I hope you liked the 25 cent tour of the art of Baguazhang. There are quite a few practitioners of it on this forum, and while we may not all agree on the particulars, I'm sure we'd be more than happy to try and answer any further questions you might have. :)


  3. #3
    wujidude Guest
    Mr. McKinley, the IRS expects to see that 25 cents reported on next year's tax return.

    Just out of curiousity: what styles/teachers of baguazhang (or xingyiquan) are available out there in Oklahoma? I know some of those Sooner tight ends practice spinning/turning qigong, but I'd be pleasantly surprised to hear about internal arts instruction there (as compared with, say, San Francisco, LA, or NYC).

  4. #4
    Chris McKinley Guest
    Internal arts instruction in Oklahoma? You're talking to him. Just kidding. Seriously though, there is a distinct lack of real, combat-effective neijia training in this state. For instance, with the exception of Gary Romel, I am the only teacher in the state capable of teaching the full Dim-Mak system, Baguazhang, and Yang Hao Chuan Taiji. And he only got here last year.

    Sure, there are a few people who teach pajama-party Tie Chee to the elderly and the hippies, but I've not met one yet who understood how his/her art is meant to be used in combat. Some didn't even think Taiji WAS for combat.

    I'm only aware of one XingYi instructor, and he no longer teaches anything but Qigong classes. All in all, it's pretty bleak, neijia wise. But that's to be expected...all the best internal arts instructors tend to gravitate toward communities with greater cultural awareness and/or an already established Chinese community. Oklahoma doesn't have much in the way of either, by comparison.

    My stuff tends to be significantly more realistic than what you might typically find in an internal arts class in other areas of the country (from what I've seen and heard feedback from), but there really isn't much of an internal arts 'community' here, per se

  5. #5
    Sam Wiley Guest
    Hey Chris, are you and Gary going to attend the workshop in New Jersey at the end of March? Provided I can book a room in time, I'm going. If you're going to be there, what would you say to a little training together after each session?

    "To enter is to be born, to retreat is to die."
    -An Old Taijiquan Saying

  6. #6
    Chris McKinley Guest
    Hey Sam,

    Yeah, Gary and I have talked about wanting to go, although admittedly it would be better for both of us if it gets pushed back to August. Pesky little financial concerns and academic school schedules. If I can make it, I'd love to learn from you. I'll have to keep you posted on whether I can go or not. :).


  7. #7
    Chris McKinley Guest
    Hey Sam,

    Yeah, Gary and I have talked about wanting to go, although admittedly it would be better for both of us if it gets pushed back to August. Pesky little financial concerns and academic school schedules. If I can make it, I'd love to learn from you. I'll have to keep you posted on whether I can go or not. :).


  8. #8
    Sam Wiley Guest
    I hope you guys get to go. The few students I have here are just beginners, and I'm dying to do some more advanced training. For one thing, I really want to practice the Large San-Sau with someone. (I have tried to teach it to total beginners and it's pretty hard for them to grasp.) I'm going to ask Erle to go over the Wudang proto-push hands methods. I'm not a big fan of the normal push hands methods. I like san-sau and attack/defense drills better, and these sound closer to that than normal push hands.

    "To enter is to be born, to retreat is to die."
    -An Old Taijiquan Saying

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