Baguazhang is one of the primary internal ("nèijia") styles of Chinese martial arts that applies the most productive and efficient movements, along with a clear understanding of distance and angles, to create continuous, evasive, unpredictable movements, and unremitting attacks. The two other primary internal Chines styles are Tai Ji Quan (Tai Chi Chuan) and Xing Yi Quan (Hsing-I Chuan).
Baguazhang is a complete and comprehensive martial discipline with a strong emphasis on health and self defense, which combines Taoist circle walking with fighting principles. Besides its circle walking Bakuazhang is also known for its evasive, unpredictable changes of direction, powerful palm strikes and rapid flowing, snake-like body movements.
Internal martial arts, as the name indicates rely on the internal enery or qi (chi) and on the martial artist's internal attributes, such as focus, timing, awareness, and precision of technique. They are opposed to the external or "wàijia" type of martial arts which are characterized by fast and explosive movements and a focus on physical strength and agility. Indeed, Bakuachang was not developed for soldiers on a battlefield or boxers in a ring, but as a close-in guerrilla style fighting art used against multiple attackers. Combating multiple attackers demands a fast sequence and combination of moves and strikes without having to re-load and re-root arms and legs before each strike.
Baguazhang's Its true origins remains a mystery. The art of Ba Gua Zhang was developed during the mid 1800's by Dong Hai Chuan (Tung Hai-Ch'uan), however, the circle walk practice which he used as a basis for his art was developed by Daoists long before Dong combined this practice with his martial arts training.
Dong Hai-Ch'uan first popularised the art in the 1860's. He took his inspiration from the most effective arts of the time, and combined them into a new art designed to be able to combat all the other styles. Like many early practitioners, Dong Hai-Ch'uan was a bodyguard who tested the effectiveness of his skills against simultaneous attacks from multiple armed opponents.
In Ba Gua Zhang the circle walk practice is the font of all training. Ba Gua Zhang instructors instruct their students to walk the circle with the spirit, Qi, intent, and power concentrated on a single goal. This is similar to the Daoist method whereby one clears the mind with a single thought. Although Ba Gua Zhang's circle walk practice trains footwork to be used in fighting, it also shares the Daoist's goals of creating stillness in motion and developing the body internally.
The footwork is not a heavy static root, but a light moving root which is developed through 8-direction rooted stepping and circle walking. This allows powerful strikes to be produced while still moving, without the need to get rooted and reload for the next strike. This allows a lightning-fast combination of movements.
Part of the theory is dedicated to the fighting of multiple attackers. Strict Baguazhang teaches that if you are to defeat more than one opponent you must first learn to quickly eliminate an opponent with fast and effective joint locks, knockouts, breaks, and other form of physical trauma. Baguazhang contains an extremely wide variety of techniques, including various strikes (with palm, fist, elbow, fingers etc), low kicks, joint locking techniques, and throws. Visually Baguazhang can be compared to a form of above ground wrestling.
Baguazhang practitioners are known for their ability to "flow" in and out of the way of objects and use anything as a weapon applying the principles of their art. The emphasis is on improvising and adapting to the current situation, to flow with the changes in the environment, or their opponent's actions. Formulaic techniques won't work if an opponent makes an unexpected move, which is why the focus is on the principles of movement and fighting rather than on mimiching pre-defined forms.
A central component of the Baguazhang martial arts is that self defense skills are of little use without health because, without health, no skill will last. Also, health without self-defense training is not a martial art in itself, because it provides few options should a physical confrontation arise. Baguazhang considers that both elements are essential to the full and complete development of any martial arts practitioner.
Another approach common to other Chinese martial arts is to learn principles of fighting or movement from animals. The mechanics of lion-stepping is a principle used when circle walking: a lion is heavy but can move fast with very light steps. Ba Gua has 8 animals (lion, giraffe, snake, swallow, dragon, bear, phoenix, monkey).
Pa Kua Chang in the UK
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Ba Gua Zhang
(also spelled as Pa Kua Chang, Baguachang, Pa Kua Chang or short, Bagua)
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Photos by Gregory Brophy (hand wraps), Gerville Hall (TaeKwonDo girl), Lucian (Karate fight).
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Circle walking, a main component of
Ba Gua Zhang