Regardless of whatever martial arts you are familiar with, nothing else looks or moves like the Daoist art of Baguazhang: the art of the circle. In Bagua the feet walk and turn continuously like a swimming dragon, the postures change quickly like a nimble eagle, the strokes and gestures change swiftly and the palms strike like an active ape. The result is a visually impressive form; light but not floating, deep but not stagnant, visually different than any other art. Ba Gua is an art of principle, not an art of technique. Dong Hai Chuan’s genius was he took an art based on certain principles of body motion, footwork and fighting strategy and taught his students (all seasoned martial artists) how to apply these principles to the arts with which they were already skilled in. But who was Master Dong Hai Chuan, the one person who revealed this art (seemingly out of nowhere) late in the nineteenth century?

Some say that the Daoist Master Dong Hei Chuan (1797-1882), the creator of Ba Gua Zhang (or did he?), became a eunuch to obtain employment in the Forbidden City, yet this operation was only performed on children; never adults. Some say he only faked being a eunuch, but I can’t believe that the Royal Chamberlain wouldn’t first have taken a peek under his robes before handing over the keys. An old rumor was that he was trying to infiltrate the royal household to assassinate the Qing Emperor Yong Zheng. If so, the closest he ever got to the Emperor was to take up residence with Prince Su, where he taught Bagua to Su’s household and bodyguards. Yet his chief rival, Yang “the Invincible” Lu Chan (the creator of Yang style Tai Chi Chuan), was retained by no less than eight Royal princes and often resided in the castle of the most powerful, Prince Yuan. Though Yang Lu Chan was considered the foremost martial artist in Beijing, popular martial stories from the late Ching dynasty portray that he and Dong Hei Chuan fought to a stalemate the two times they sparred against each other to amuse the Royal Court. In fact, his reputation as a peerless martial artist was so great that Chung Ting Hwa (“Spectacle Chang”) moved his eyeglass shop in front of the Eastern gate of the royal compound just so he could keep on bumping into Master Dong and convince him to take him on as a student.

Deng Hei Chuan was quite content to have only one main disciple, Yin Fu, to carry on his martial legacy.  Then the unthinkable happened; they had a major disagreement. Words were said, feelings got hurt, teacher and student separated. No one really knows why. One story says the argument was regarding Yin Fu’s decision to remarry after the death of his wife, something the conservative Daoist, Deng Hei Chuan, was against. They did eventually have reconciliation, but only just before Deng’s death. Not wanting his art to disappear, Deng made up for lost time by taking on scores of students, with one stipulation; no beginners, only masters need apply. Deng felt that his art was like graduate school. Whatever your martial art style, Bagua would perfect it. Some students, like Chung Ting Hwa, were Shuai Chiao masters and some, like Li Cun Yi, were Xingyi guys.  Since he taught privately, he adapted his Bagua instruction according to the arts and personalities of his students. Thus each of his students passed down different versions of the “Eight Mother Palms”. The most consistent training, however, are Walking the Circle and the Single and Double Palm Changes. Deng Hei Chuan passed down the adage that the heart of his art resided in these two changes.

The usual progression of learning Ba Gua is bare-hand, saber, staff, spear, straight sword and specialty weapons (such as deer-hook swords, wind/fire wheels, double hook swords and scholar pens). The movements associated with each weapon develop the body in ways that bare-hand training cannot. The weight of the weapon (and Ba Gua weapons are extra heavy and long) changes the way the body moves, and the mental and spatial awareness changes as you send your energy and intent out all the way to their tip. The reality of weapon training in Ba Gua Zhang is that, since it IS an art of principles, ANYTHING can be used as a weapon. To prove this, one of my teachers picked up two pillows and beat me senseless with them. I’m just glad it wasn’t a Coke can. From basic sword forms, you progress to sensitivity drills, 2-person parry/counter drills, target hitting – all leading to true fencing.

Walking the Circle

The most important aspect and trademark of Ba Gua is walking the circle. Dong Hei Chuan was quoted as frequently saying, “Training martial arts ceaselessly is inferior to walking the circle. It is the font of our training.” Because energy and power are obtained from the walking and turning, continuous walking on the circle and left and right turning are basic exercises of this system. The most important element to cultivate is naturalness. Before any forms, simply walk the circle, changing from one direction to the other. As you learn to move naturally, the awkwardness and disconnected feelings will gradually disappear. Walk slowly, gradually increasing speed, your attention focused through the forward hand to the center of the circle. Keep your weight on the rear foot as it propels you forward in a smooth and balanced manner with no bobbing or weaving.

The 8 Mother Palms

Whether we call them animal postures, elements, Guas or by flowery names (Lotus Flower Palms, Lion Plays with Ball, etc.) the 8 Mother Palms are basically eight static body postures that are held while walking the circle. Besides training structural alignments for “whole body power” and the ability to release stagnation and tension throughout the soft tissues, these body shapes build up and shift qi from one meridian or area to another. Some schools work on one at a time, some switch sequentially from one to another as they walk in one direction while others will switch from one direction to another with posture changes occurring through complex transitions. 

The 8 Pre-Heaven Palms Form

  While almost all schools practice a multitude of bare-hand and weapon forms, the first major sequence will be some version of the 8 “Pre-Heaven” Palms form. This is usually a sequential collection of energy/directional changes, complex movements and martial applications performed during the circle walking transitions; a veritable syllabus of the fighting/health knowledge passed down through time from the lineage holders (though unlocking and understanding them will take a lot of effort). In some Bagua schools, the Single Palm Change and the Double Palm Change are the first two forms in their sequential basic 8 palm sets; some schools have them as supplemental to the basic 8 sequential palm sets.

The Single Palm Change

  The purpose of training the SPC is to learn how to change power, awareness, strength, energy, focus and direction from one side of the body to the other. Other changes are the exchanging of the lead and rear hands and the development of rotational power around the body’s center through the utilization of the Kou Bu (inward) and Bai Bu (outward) stepping.  On its most basic level, the Single Palm Chang is just a 180 degree change in direction. However, because of Ba Gua’s unique stepping methods and the way it uses turning, coiling and unwinding, the function of the form can be developed into applications for striking, parrying, dodging, angling, grabbing, sweeping and throwing. The limitations of its use are only the practitioners’ strength, skill and genius.

The Double Palm Change

If the Single Palm, Change teaches you to change the body’s power, focus, and energy from one side to the other, the Double Palm Change teaches you to simultaneously send the energy and power to the “four tips” (both hands and feet). As the original Double Palm Change was probably just two Single Palm Changes performed back to back, we can infer that about half the art is dependent on performing this “pillar” correctly.


Ermei Baguazhang Training Schedule

Bagua Qigong

is designed to train endurance in the basic patterns, and also for learning how to use the mind to lead the Qi to the arms and legs. It also includes the basic Bagua circle walking training in coordination with the breath.

Basic Eight Mother Palms (Pre Heaven Palms) are the foundation of Bagua training. This is the first sequence that a student learns. From training this sequence, a student can grasp the important patterns and feeling of this art.

Basic Eight Palms Matching Set

trains a student in the fighting concepts that coorespond with each of the palms learned in the Basic Eight Mother Palm sequence. This is a two person fighting set.

Swimming Body Baguazhang

is an advanced level sequence that will lead a practitioner into a deeper understanding of this art. Once this continuously moving form is mastered, a student should be able to adapt any other Bagua sequence easily.

64 Post Heaven Drills are a straight line series of movements (probably derived from the Gou style) that refine a student’s understanding of the martial applications of this unique art.

Supplemental Training consists of the eight elbow striking forms, the ten different palm strikes, fajing (explosive power) training, iron palm training, and the unique Bagua body conditioning methods.

Deer Hook Sword

is a weapon sequence  unique to the Bagua system. It uses a specially designed weapon shaped like a deer’s antlers to defeat any weapon that an opponent can attack us with. This sequence closely follows the energy patterns learned in the barehand Basic Eight Mother Palms set.

Bagua Straight Sword (Jian). Although there are vast differences between the myriad styles of Chinese Kung Fu, almost all sword forms take on the characteristics of “fast Tai Chi” (that is: smooth, flowing, graceful, darting in and out). Only Ba Gua Zhang straight sword appears startlingly different; the body gliding gracefully clockwise and counterclockwise around a circle while the sword is held still - piercing the center. From basic sword forms you progress to sensitivity drills, 2-person parry/counter drills, target hitting – all leading to true fencing.

What is Baguazhang?