By James Coons.
James Coons is from Guelph, Ontario, Canada. He has been practicing internal martial art from Mr.Hai Yang for years. For recent years, he focuses more on Cheng style Ba Gua and Hebei Xing Yi.
Baguazhang (or Bagua) is an extremely wide area of study. It encompasses many different styles and substyles, while incorporating tastes from many different styles of Chinese Martial Arts.
The origins of Bagua are lost in time, but the first person recorded as teaching the style publicly was Dong Haiquan. Dong was a travelling martial artist who is said to have met a wandering Daoist in the remote mountains of China (needs an exact mountain reference). It is also thought that Dong may have learned a Daoist "circle walking" meditation and incorporated other styles of Chinese Gong Fu into his practice, to create an art that contained practical applications, but also esoteric skill accumulation practices such as unique force expression and mental practice.
The main practice of Bagua is to constantly walk in circles while changing directions and moving through the various shapes (palms) of the system. Bagua also contains other basic skills, linear routines, forms, application practice, and push hands.
The first skills that are learned in Bagua are single movement drills which teach how to express the body's inner strength externally. These drills consist of basic palm strikes and kicks, which can also be used in practical self defense situations.
These skills are very important in building "internal strength" and these skills remain important to practice even after mastery of the art.
The palm strikes within the single movement drills teach many different skills such as (but not limited to) vertical and horizontal chopping force (up, down, and side to side), wrapping techniques (to close and open the body), and skills to coordinate the upper and lower body (giving the practitioner a special kind of whole body force).
Simultaneously with learning basic palm strikes, kicking and walking in a straight line are introduced.
There are eight basic kicking skills in Cheng style Bagua. The most important kicking skill is to kick forward at the groin or the throat level while pointing the toes of the foot. The other auxiliary kicking skills are mainly for stretching and gaining speed in the legs (as well as training specific techniques). It should be noted at this point that Bagua's leg skills are not limited to kicking. Another important leg skill is learning how to walk adroitly. First, the Bagua student will learn how to mud walk ("tang ni bu", or mud wading steps) on a straight line. Mud walking is a method of footwork that slides the front foot across the ground, while keeping 100% of the weight on the back foot. The steps interchange and if done correctly, the mud walking steps makes the practitioner appear as if they are skating on ice. Mud walking is the most important basic skill to achieve in Bagua, as it creates alignments in the body and flexibility in the legs which drive every technique.
After learning to mudwalk on the straight line, the student will start the signature circle walking of Bagua. The practice is more subtle and refined than the name reveals. To successfully walk the circle, the practitioner must constantly be paying attention to the position of every part of his body.
The legs must be bowed and brush each other during each step, the buttocks must be sitting down as if in a chair, the spine must be vertical and rounded, the head must reach up to the sky and the hips must be turned to the maximum into the center of the circle. There are many other requirements to circle walking, but those are the most basic ones.
After learning the basic method of walking in a circle, some simple postures are added.
These are known as the eight basic palms. They are the core of the early development phase in a Bagua player's practice and must be practiced even after the player has reached a good level of proficiency.
The idea behind the basic postures is to train structure in the body and unified movement with an aim to starting to develop the whole body unified force of Bagua.
The eight basic palms are listed as follows:
Fierce tiger descends from the mountain.
Big Roc spreads its wings
Lion opens its mouth
White Ape presents the fruit
Hold the moon to the bossom
Black bear stretches its arms
Point to the heavens and drill to the earth
Green dragon stretches its claws.
Each different palm serves to teach a different vector of force and self defense application. In a future article I will talk about the different energies and applications of these postures.
Each of the postures is trained like Zhan Zhuang (static postures increase connection in the body and mind), except that they are moving around the circle and changing directions. The holding of the postures increases strength, sensitivity, body awareness, and flexibility, among other things.
Once these basic postures have been mastered the student can go on to learn the Eight Big Palms.
These are a set of small combinations of movements that make up a larger routine.
The eight big palms of Cheng style are:
Single palm change
Double palm change
Smooth body palm
Back body palm
Returning body palm
Rubbing body palm
Turning over body palm
Turning around body palm
The eight big palms are the core practice of Cheng style Bagua. They teach not only a set of martial arts applications, but also a way of moving the body so that it becomes very fast and smooth. Each of the palms has many subtleties that need to be constantly drilled to be mastered. Each of the palms represents a different way of moving and issuing power.
After sufficient mastery of the eight big palms, Bagua students can move on to the linking form. The linking form takes the movements of the eight big palms and puts them all together into one continuous, flowing routine. It is extremely beautiful to watch and contains many valuable tools for increasing proficiency in movement as well as martial ability.
Other routines in Cheng style Baguazhang include the Swimming body palm routine, weapons (spear, deer horn knives, long sword, broad sword, judge pens and others), linear routine, and the sixty four palms.
The sixty four palms are particularly important and represent the advanced training methods of Bagua. Each of the eight big palms is practiced, with seven additional palms for each one. All together this forms sixty four movements. The sixty four is a very powerful routine that focuses on clear expression of force (which is different than the eight big palms expression of soft force). This routine is the brainchild of Cheng Youxin, the son of the founder of Cheng style Bagua. It is an extremely important routine and is usually learned over a long period of time.
While the student learns the various routines of Baguazhang, he will also be exposed to martial arts applications. There are applications for every movement contained in Bagua and students should learn different applications for every movement. The applications should include, striking, kicking, locking, and wrestling. Generally striking and kicking methods are introduced first and locking and wrestling methods are introduced later.
Cheng style is extremely famous in bagua circles (no pun intended) for its wrestling methods. The wrestling uses Chinese wrestling as its base and adds the quality of smoothness that is achieved through proper bagua practice. Combined, these two skills can make for very good wrestling abilities.
Cheng style Baguazhang has many wonderful benefits. It can improve combat abilities, while also making the body strong and flexible. Frequent practice can lead to feeling relaxed and confident in movements and actions. I believe that Bagua practice improves one's sense of general well being.
Baguazhang of any style is a great exercise to put effort into and its benefits are myriad.
Happy circle walking to you!