Introduction to Pa Kua Chang (Bagua Zhang)
The practice of circle walking in Pa Kua Chang comes from Taoist chi kung circle walking which can trace its roots back to the circle walking shamanic traditions of the Mongolian-Siberian shamans.
A much more detailed explanation of Pa Kua Chang is contained within The Training Manual of The College of Chinese Martial Arts.
All shamans had round drums. They spun around and around in their healing rituals.
The relevance of the round drum and the spinning around whilst walking around a circle has to do with the circular nature of life, death and rebirth.
The spinning changing movements of the shaman reflect 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. The energy stops circulating around in the small heavenly orbit of our physical body. But our journey continues on in our spirit body to another land, a faraway 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 Pa Kua during my Ladakh Himalaya Expedition.
The names of the eight different Palm shapes in Pa Kua are a reflection of its ancient origins from a time when man was part of nature.
- Heaven Palm
- Earth Palm
- Fire Palm
- Thunder Palm
- Wind Palm
- Water Palm
- Mountain Palm
- Cloud Palm
The shamans went traveling in their spirit bodies in the spirit world. They moved in such a way that their spirits became one with the spirits of the animals whose movements they imitated.
The Taoists were the inheritors of this system. They also circle-walked for all these reasons. They were interested in its chi kung benefits. The Taoists were interested in chi for spiritual development and for health. The martial artists were interested in chi for health and also for increasing their martial arts internal power.
Tung Hai 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.
Today, you can practice the art to achieve any one or combination of the following possibilities:
- Spiritual development
- 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
- Understanding Tao
Everything in the martial art of Pa Kua Chang 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 headdress adorned with horns to show his closeness to nature and its secret forces. 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.
In 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 Chang looks beautiful and mysterious and is also a 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 to heal the internal organs they connect to. The constant spiralling movements and the twisting, turning and bending of the body strengthens and heals the joints, sinews, muscles and internal organs. It is a great healing art as well as a great martial art.
Three Levels of Pa KUa Training
Level One: Beginners Level
– Pa Kua Chang standing chi kung. There are eight postures:
- Heaven Palm
- Earth Palm
- Fire Palm
- Thunder Palm
- Wind Palm
- Water Palm
- Mountain Palm
- Cloud Palm
– Pa Kua Chang circle walking with Fire Palms, including:
1. Inside Turn
2. Outside Turn
3. Dragon Kick Outside Turn
4. Eight 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 Animal Forms:
The Eight Pa Kua Chang Animal Forms
Level Two: Intermediate Level
– The Pa Kua Chang Circular Combination Animal Form
This form is a combination of all the Eight Animal Forms and the Eight Palms 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 the top students of Tung Hai Chuan.
Level Three: Advanced Level
– Pa Kua Chang Circle Walking Dragon Staff Fighting
– The Pa Kua Chang Circular Flying Dragon Double Sword Form
This completes the three levels of Pa Kua Chang training. Pa Kua Chang 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.
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.
The Pa Kua chang classics
Constantly turn and twist to counterattack against opponents
in front 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 without 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.
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,
rib cage and 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.
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.
Intention 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.
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 Circle Walking Form every day.
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”.
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.
Beginners develop jin and then this becomes at the advanced level, fa jin – explosive power.
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,
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.
Transformations of a Spiritual Dragon
By the 18th centruy Taoist adept, Liu I Ming
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 subtlety, exists in every place. It enters water without drowning, enters fire without burning, penetrates metal and rock without hindrance. It is so large that it fills the universe, so small that it fits into a hairtip. It is imperceptible, 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.