Introduction to Pa Kua Chang (Bagua Zhang)
The practice of circle walking in Pa Kua Chang (Bagua Zhang) comes from Taoist (Daoist) chi kung (qi gong) circle walking which can trace its roots back to circle walking shamanic traditions of the Mongolian-Siberian shamans.
All shamans had round drums and spun around and around in their healing rituals. The relevance of the round drum and the spinning around whilst walking around a circle is all to do with the circular nature of life and death and rebirth, the changing of the seasons in nature and the changing of the seasons in man from the first footsteps of the spring of our youth through the blossoming summer of our lives and into the autumn years of our old age we are walking around the round earth that is spinning around the round sun. Eventually in the winter of our last days our sun sets and the energy stops circulating around in the small heavenly orbit of the governing and conception meridians of our physical bodies and our journey continues on in our spirit bodies to another land. A far away place that the circle walking shamans used to visit.
Photo of Siberian Shaman taken in 1928
The history of the shamans goes back into prehistory, today there are very few true shamans left, I was fortunate to see a Tibetan shaman spinning in the Himalayas in 1989. I also more recently conducted further research into the shamanic origins of bagua during my Ladakh Himalaya Expedition
The names of the Eight different Palm shapes in Bagua are a reflection of its ancient origins from a time when man was part of nature.
The Shamans went traveling in their spirit bodies in the spirit world and also moved in such a way that their spirits became one with spirits of the animals whose movements they imitated. The Taoists were the inheritors of this system and they also circle walked for all these reasons and also because they were interested in its chi kung benefits as well. The Taoists were interested in chi for spiritual development and for health. The martial artists were interested in chi for health but also for increasing their martial arts internal power.
Tung Hau Chuan (1797-1882) combined martial arts with the Taoist circle walking meditation he had learnt and created the martial and healing art of Pa Kua Chang.
So today you can practice the art to achieve any one or combination of these following possibilities.
Chi Kung development
Martial arts techniques development
Internal Power development
Way of Moving development
Understanding the spirit of the Animals and the Way of Nature
Understanding the Spirit of Nature and our own True Nature
Everything in the martial art of bagua is connected with the number eight. This is because it is built upon the philosophy of the eight trigrams of the I Ching (Book of Changes) a shamanic code inherited by the Taoists. The Shaman who passed it on was called Fu Xi. This happened in a time so far in the past that even its shadow is hard to see.
Fu Xi was clearly a Shaman, he is dressed as his totem animal with his headress adorned with horns to show his closeness to nature and its secret forces. It is not clear which animal skin/masks he is wearing it could be wolf, bear or deer or some other creature. He holds in his hands the Eight Trigrams which are now an integral part of Taoism.
Before Taoism became a formal religion it was the understanding of The Way of Nature. However Taoism did not spring into existence fully formed it too had its hidden origins. Taoism evolved from Shamanism.
There is a nice parallel we can observe, the main defining character in the formation of Taoism about two thousand five hundred years ago was Lao Tzu with his book, the Tao Te Ching and his name when translated simply means The Old Man. The great shaman leader of the early Chinese people was called Fu Xi which translates as Xi The Hidden One. So we have two mysteries characters both keeping their identity enigmatic and both standard bearers for mystical systems.
With the eight trigrams of the I Ching a straight line is a symbol for Yang and a broken line a symbol for Yin. So the trigrams are really a way of showing gradations of Yin and Yang.
Pa kua looks beautiful and mysterious and is also deadly martial art, it contains fa jin explosive strikes and dim mak acupuncture point strikes. Pa kua is also highly regarded for its great healing benefits.
The twisting of the body in Pa kua activates the acupuncture meridians healing the internal organ they connect to. The constant spiral movements and twisting, turning and bending of the body strengthens and heals the joints, sinews, muscles and internal organs so it is a great healing art as well as a great martial art.
Three Levels of Pa Kwa (Bagua) Training
Level one is the beginners level, level two is the intermediate level and level three is the advanced level. Through your own practice over many years that you will begin to understand bagua from your own experience.
Each student will work their way through the three levels at their own speed.
Level one – Beginners Level
Pa Kua Chang standing chi kung, there are Eight postures:
Pa Kua Chang circle walking with Fire Palms including
1. Inside turn.
2. Outside turn.
3. Dragon Kick Outside turn.
4. Continuose Eight Step Kicks
5. Single Palm Change
Pa Kua Chang Double Fire Palm Circle Walking Training with a partner.
Pa Kua Chang Double Fire Palm Training Self Defense Methods.
The Eight Pa Kua Chang Linear Animal Forms
Sample of the Eight Pa Kua Chang Linear Animal Forms
Level Two – Intermediate Level
The Pa Kua Chang Circular Combination Animal Form
This form is a combination of all the Eight Linear Animal Forms and the Eight Palms all mixed together. It is the most popular of all the Pa Kua Chang forms that are practiced today. It is also known as The Chiang Jung Chaio Form.
Chiang Jung Chaio (old spelling) Jiang Rong Qiao (new spelling) (1890-1974) learnt this form from Zhang Zhan Gui (1858-1938) who was a student of Cheng Ting Hua, who was one of Tung Hai Chuan top students. Tung Hau Chuan (1797-1882) created the martial and healing art of Pa Kua Chang by combining martial arts with the Taoist circle walking meditation.
Level Three – Advanced Level
Pa Kua Chang Circle Walking Dragon Staff Fighting
The Pa Kua Chang Circular Flying Dragon Double Sword Form
Pa Kwa Chang – Bagua Zhang Wooden Man Sample
This completes the three levels of bagua training. Bagua is an amazing martial arts system. It has the three components of training in the Chinese Internal Martial Arts that we should all strive to cultivate within ourselves, good health, martial skill and understanding Tao – The Way.
The most famous bagua form is the Combined Animals Circular Form of the Eight Palm Changes which was passed on by Chiang Jung Chaio. Here are some important points when practising this Bagua form.
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Constantly turn and twist to counterattack against opponents infront and behind you, to your left and to your right.
Know where our own center is and where the opponent’s center is, move your center to avoid the attacker and attack his center.
Move like the dragon, spiraling, twisting and turning with flexible flowing movements.
Concentration is in lower tan tien energy center.
Tongue touches the hard palate.
Relax shoulders and elbows.
Forearms flex because hands stretch.
Every move connected without breaks.
Strength is from the sinews and tendons.
Movement is completely circular.
Beginners level – walk a big circle, advanced level – walk a small circle.
The center of the circle is a single point that is always touched by the middle finger tip.
Stepping is flowing, circular with out a break like water flowing.
Look like the wandering dragon.
Front Palm Chi Emit Feeling, Rear Palm Chi Receive Feeling.
Eyes manifest inner spirit, body sprightly like monkey.
Be low like a tiger ready to pounce, in your sinking is strength.
When you turn the body, have the swift attitude of the eagle as it circles and spirals through the void as it overturns and gracefully descends to attack.
Hips point along the circumference of the circle, ribcage turns slightly in towards the center making the shoulders twist in to the center.
Torque from all of the twisting gives one spiraling energy.
The Spiraling forces of Heaven and Earth flow and meet within you, they spiral and move you.
Front foot should advance slightly just before the next step as if slipping on the mud or ice.
Hips turn first, then the hands.
The fingers are separated.
The palm is concave, the forearm is fixed forward towards the center, the shoulders are level.
Be firm and stable like a mountain.
Stepping is lively and quick like flowing water.
Fire above, water below.
Fire is light,
water is heavy.
The heart belongs to fire.
The kidneys belong to water.
Mind guides the movements.
Chi from the belly creates the movement of the body.
The movement of the body strengthens the chi in the belly and spine.
Spirit, breath and intention and force are harmoniously coordinated.
Inner self and outer self are in harmony.
Move like the dragon, turn like the monkey, change forms like the eagle.
The postures are like snowflakes. In the beginning make the postures empty, the mind empty and tranquil, walk a large circle at first with small accurate steps. After a while you will naturally move faster. The eyes look over the index finger, hands in tiger mouth form.
Pa Kua Chang gives fighting skill in a short time and cultivates internal power it has excellent techniques and strategy.
Without Internal Power Pa Kua Chang techniques will not work, to gain Pa Kua Chang Internal Power practice the Eight Palm Changes Circle Walking Form every day.
Be Soft like Cotton and Clever, be like a spring, that can be released at any time, but only upon contact with the opponent, never before. Trying to use power on distance is not effective.
When you have Internal Power, if you want to hurt the opponent, you can hurt him..
Once you strike the chi is there, once you withdraw – it returns as well. It’s flexible, alive.
Practice to achieve harmony of hands, eyes, body and footwork they combine into one. Once we strike they all arrive at the same time, body becomes one.
Never lose control over your gravity center, because the power of the body will be dispersed.
Body should be like a spinning top, with center of gravity well controlled.
Open the joints and dynamically stretch the tendons.
Hands fast, footwork fast.
To make progress in Pa Kua Chang one has to have strong Power of Understanding.
One has to be clever, modest, able to practice hard, with high moral standards. If somebody is very clever but sly and cunning, such a person will never achieve much in martial arts. One has to be steadfast in practice, honest, with interest in learning martial arts, true “Martial Virtue” (Wu De). Do not teach clever people who are not honest.
Pa Kua Chang practitioner when they get older can hardly lift heavy objects, but are still able to fight because the strength of the whole body has been transformed and developed in the process of Pa Kua Chang martial arts practice, they have internal power.
While walking in a circle, the most basic and important of all Pa Kua Chang exercises, one should not be stiff, because then chi cannot sink down to develop Jin -Internal Power.
Beginners develop jin and then this becomes at the advanced level, fa jin – explosive power.
Eyes and spine have spirit and intention.
Arms close inward, should be relaxed and dropped down, then power reaches hand.
Shoulders Arch, Backs of Palms Arch, Backs of Feet Arch.
Back Round, Chest Round, Tiger’s Mouth Round.
Mind Quick, Eyes Quick, Palms Quick.
Change movement depend as circumstances demand
There are no secrets in Pa Kua Chang, your level depends only on how diligent and how hard you practice.
The essentials for Pa Kua Chang are sincerity during practice, Intention guides all the movements, being natural. Length of practice depends on the skill of practitioner and their power of understanding.
Breath naturally and relax – breathing should be natural through nose, tongue should touch upper palate, breathing should be co-ordinated with Rising and Falling, Opening and Closing, Expanding and Contracting.
To practice Pa Kua Chang one needs timing, coordination and balance. The practice of Pa Kua Chang gives one timing, coordination and balance.
In Pa Kua Chang the power comes from the whole body and not from only the arm or palm. This is how we are able to strike from very short distances causing great damage.
In Pa Kua Chang like a tree rooted to the ground, its branches sway with the breeze but physically it is solid. And it is the same with us, the only difference being that our roots are internal.
In the beginning walk the circle very slowly to gain internal stillness while moving.
Transformations of a Pa Kua Spiritual Dragon
A dragon, as a spiritual luminosity, can be large or small, can rise or descend, can disappear or appear, can penetrate rocks and mountains, can leap in the clouds and travel with the rain. How can it do all this? It is done by the activity of the spirit.
What I realize as I observe this is the Tao of inconceivable spiritual transmutation. The reason humans can be humans is because of the spirit. As long as the spirit is there, they live. When the spirit leaves, they die.
The spirit penetrates heaven and earth, knows the past and present, enters into every subtltey, exists in every place. It enters water without drowning, enters fire without burning, penetrates metal and rock without hinderance. It is so large that it fills the universe, so small that it fits into a hairtip. It is imperceptable, ungraspable, inexplicable, indescribable.
One who can use the spirit skillfully changes in accordance with the time, and therefore can share the qualities of heaven and earth, share the light of the sun and the moon, share the order of the four seasons, command nature in the primordial state and serve nature in the temporal state. This is like the transformations of a spiritual dragon, which cannot be seen in the traces of form.
A much more detailed explanation of the whole Pa Kua Chang system is contained within The Training Manual of The College of Chinese Martial Arts
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