by Sifu Bryant Fong, March 2004
On many occasions, I have had many students start BaGuaZhang, but few have persevered. And, to some extent, this can be attributed to some misconceptions about BaGuaZhang. I want to explain how the the art of BaGuaZhang is different, and may indeed be quite different from one’s expectations.
The first thing to realize is that BaGuaZhang was never meant to be taught to beginners. When Dong Hai Chuan began teaching BaGuaZhang, he taught a select few students, all of whom had previous martial arts training. Yin Fu and Cheng Ting Hua, both famous students of Dong, studied other arts first. Dong then added BaGuaZhang to their techniques. Yin Fu did Shaolin-BaGua, and Cheng Ting Hua did Shuai-Chiao BaGua. In a sense, BaGuaZhang contained these elements, and Dong showed how BaGua would utilize them. In addition, Dong was good friends with Xing Yi Master Kuo Yen Shan, “The Divine Crushing Hand”. So they both exchanged techniques, and since that time, BaGuaZhang students have studied Xing Yi and vice-versa.
BaGuaZhang is often referred to as the “universal style” because it contains all elements of Chinese wushu. Each student was taught differently depending upon their abilities and physical characteristics. Does BaGuaZhang use wrestling techniques? Yes. Chin-na? Yes. Shaolin techniques? Yes. Does it have Xing Yi techniques? Yes. Dong Hai Chuan’s genius was in showing how these arts could be linked with BaGuaZhang.
Too often these days students who wish to learn BaGuaZhang want to learn circle walking and a form. This is, of course, the way BaGuaZhang is taught in contemporary Wushu for competition. If you follow this course of study, you will have form but no essence. Just practicing the form will not mean you are able to use any of the techniques, or understand the preferred theory of unarmed combat according to BaGuaZhang. Again, if you are interested only in competition this is the way to go. It is very quick, but limited. If this is not the path for you, you have to start with the basics of BaGuaZhang.
Once Dong Hai Chuan left the imperial palace, Cheng Ting Hua did most of the teaching for his teacher. He, as well as others, realized that to teach BaGuaZhang one had to develop basics for the art. Each style of BaGuaZhang developed its basics, depending upon their emphasis. Yin Fu and Fu Zhen Song Bagua emphasize the Shaolin basics. Ling Zhen Pu himself was most fortunate as he was the youngest of Dong’s students, and had a chance to study also with all of his senior classmates.
Basic BaGuaZhang training involves developing a firm foundation, which means training the body to be flexible, coordinated, fluid, and fast. Then follows study of how to use techniques, and how to generate the necessary power to apply the movements. Training must begin with legs. They must not only be strong, but quick. Good footwork is key to coordinating the body and generating power. In my teaching, I have combined the basics of both Li Zhi Ming’s BaGuaZhang, Fu Zhen Song’s BaGuaZhang, and Sun Lu Tang’s Xing Yi. This provides beginning students with training for power and application. Plus, it gives students who lack martial arts background a grounding in power and self-defense skills.
Some of the basic forms taught are:
- Jie Bang Gong – Bagua basic skills (Fu and Li Bagua)
- Danshizhang – eight straight line palms (Fu Bagua)
- Tou Tang Quan – Shaolin Bagua, I,II,III (Fu Bagua)
- Pao Quan (Fu Bagua)
- Lian Huan Quan (Fu Bagua)
- 64 Linking Palms (Li Bagua – XingYi Bagua)
- Xing Yi Five Elements (Sun XingYi)
- Xing Yi Linking Five Elements (Sun XingYi)
- Xing Yi Five Elements Two-man Form (Sun XingYi)
- Eight Mother Palms (Li Bagua)
- Yin BaguaZhang (Fu Bagua)
- Bagua Two-man Form (Cheng Bagua)
- Dingshibazhang — Bagua Qigong (Li Bagua)
- Linked Dingshibazhang (Li Bagua)
- Yang Baguazhang (Fu Bagua)
- Sun Style Taijiquan – Bagua/Taiji/XingYi
- XingYi Five Elements Saber (Sun XingYi)
Intermediate forms include:
- XingYi Twelve Animals (Sun XingYi)
- XingYi Five Elements Twelve Animals Linked (Sun XingYi)
- ZengZang Baguazhang (Fu Bagua)
- Liang-Yi Quan (Fu Bagua/Taiji)
- Youshen Baguazhang – Swimming Dragon Bagua (Fu Bagua)
- Youshen Baguazhang – Swimming Dragon Bagua (Li Bagua)
- Tornado Broadsword (Fu Bagua)
- Bagua Big Broadsword (Li Bagua)
- Fu-style Taiji – Bagua/Taiji
Advanced forms include:
- Kun Lun Iron Fan (Li Bagua)
- Lin Wan Zhang (Li Bagua)
- Lightning Palm Dragon Form (Fu Bagua)
- Yin Yang Half Moon Knives – “Deerhorn Knives” (Li Bagua)
- Wind and Fire Wheels (Li Bagua)
- Four Door Spear (Fu Bagua)
- Flying Dragon Straight Sword (Fu Bagua)
- Kunshaodao – Tricky Hand Broadsword (Li Bagua)
- Bagua Push Hands (Fu Bagua)
- Twelve Animal XingYi Sparring Form (Sun XingYi)
Another question students ask, “Is there any difference between Fu, Sun, Cheng, and Li BaGua? They each have their own characteristics and style, but BaGua is BaGua. Basic footwork and hand techniques are exactly the same, though some will emphasize different techniques. Cheng style, for instance, tends to emphasize the Dragon Claw Palm. Fu and Yin styles prefer to use the Ox-tongue Palm, and Fu also has characteristic spinning techniques. Keep in mind that each style has these techniques, but places emphasis in a different area because Dong adapted the style to each of his students. So, while they all learned BaGua, their individual forms and style varied according to the background of the person.
So, you ask, what should you learn first? Well, if you have no martial arts background, you should concentrate on the basics. The basics I have chosen help a student to develop basic body coordination, internal energy, and martial arts skills. Also, learning some basic Taiji and XingYi skills are important in developing softness, smoothness, and the ability to “Fa Jing” (issue energy). Without this you will not have the ability to apply the techniques. Finally, a good deal of time needs to be spent on applications, so you can understand how the movements can be used. Since BaGua is based on the I Ching, the changes just one palm can go through is infinite. Take the 64 Linking Palms. For each technique in each palm there are eight different applications. if you do the math, that’s enough techniques to keep you busy for a lifetime. So you can see just from these brief comments, that the study of BaGua includes the entire spectrum of Chinese wushu and is not limited to just walking the circle.