A History and Style Guide of Baguazhang

A form that dates back to 19th Century China

Man on top of mountain about cityscape doing a slow-moving Martial Arts
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The roots and history of the martial arts style of Baguazhang can be traced back to 19th century China. It is a soft and internal style of martial art, making it comparable to Tai Chi Chuan.

"Bagua zhang" literally means "eight trigram palm," which refers to the canons of Taoism and specifically one of the trigrams of the I Ching (Yijing).

The History of Baguazhang

The martial arts go back a long way in China and are made up of several disciplines. Due to a lack of recorded history and the fact that many of the arts were simply practiced in isolation, it is highly difficult to compile a complete history of any one of them. Such is the case with Baguazhang as well.

No one truly knows who invented Baguazhang. That said, it appears that the art reached its height in popularity in the middle period of Qing Dao Guang (1821-150) to Guang Xu sixth year (1881). Documents indicate that a master by the name of Dong Haichuan was highly responsible for the art's popularity. During the 19th century, he worked as a servant in the Imperial Palace in Beijing, eventually impressing the emperor with his skills to the point that he became a bodyguard to the court.

There is significant evidence that Haichuan learned the practice from Taoist and possibly even Buddhist teachers in the mountains of rural China. In fact, there is some evidence to suggest that a master by the name of Dong Meng-Lin taught Dong Haichuan and others Baguazhang, though the history is cloudy. Thus, Dong Haichuan is widely given credit for formalizing the art form, if not inventing it.

From Haichuan, Baguazhang spread amongst known masters like Fu Chen Sung, Yin Fu, Cheng Tinghua, Song Changrong, Liu Fengchun, Ma Weigi, Liang Zhenpu, and Liu Dekuan. From these practitioners, several offshoots of the original style were formed, all of which emphasized different things. It is believed by many that Cheng Tinghua was Haichuan's best student.

Characteristics of Baguazhang

Because Baguazhang is an internal martial arts style, early training focuses on the mind, especially the connection between what is occurring on the inside (mind) and outside (movements). Eventually, this translates to the actual movements and techniques of the discipline.

Baguazhang is often characterized by slow-moving, flowing forms. That said, there are differences between the various styles.

Goals of Baguazhang

The main purpose of Baguazhang is to improve health. The theory behind learning this art form is that once it is understood, a person's overall life and balance will improve. Meditation and using one's energy effectively are at its core.

As a martial arts style, Baguazhang teaches practitioners how to use an opponent's own aggressiveness or energy against him. It is not a hard style. In other words, power-on-power moves are not emphasized.

Popular Sub-Styles of Baguazhang

Baguazhang has several sub-styles. They include the following:

  • Cheng (there are additional subs-tyles that fall under the Cheng category)
  • Fan
  • Fu
  • Liang
  • Liu
  • Shi
  • Yin