Who created Baguazhang (八卦掌)?
While Baguazhang has been always associated with the Wudang (internal) branch of martial arts in China, all modern versions of the style trace its origins from Master Dong Hai Chuan 董海川 (13 October 1797 or 1813 – 25 October 1882). When you are visiting his grave in China, it is customary to leave an rememberance offering. Some practitioners of the style perform the Baguazhang form respective of their particular school. Thereby indirectly, becoming an ambassador for the visit duration. Others will leave a small offering in a Chinese tea cup of either rice wine or tea. Nobody is certain if he drunk alcohol, so it is recommended to stick with tea. In particular oolong tea. We recommend Tie Guan Yin Oolong because its name has symbolic associations with Guan Yin, the goddess of Mercy.
What does the name Baguazhang mean?
The name Baguazhang in Mandarin or Pakua Chang in Cantonese, literally translates as Eight Trigram Palms. Sometimes it maybe translated as eight changing or eight changes palm. Both ways are correct. Eight Trigrams refers to the eight elements of the I-Ching or Book of Changes, which rests at the very centre of Taoist beliefs and concepts. Palms refers to the fact that most baguazhang practitioners use open palms instead of closed fists. When pondering on this, we recommend Temple Oolong brewed light with a hint of osmanthus flowers.
Is Baguazhang an internal or external martial art?
Baguazhang is an internal Chinese martial art.
- The first reason that makes it internal, is that its roots lie in Taoism, meaning that it comes from within China. As opposed to Shaolin Buddhist martial arts which has its roots from outside of China.
- The second reason that makes it internal, is that, like Tai Chi Quan, the practitioner's focus is mostly within themselves - True victory over one's external opponents can only come when one has mastered the civil war that rages within.
- The third reason that makes it internal, is that it is a defensive martial art. Not just self-defense, but also defending what rightly belongs to the practitioner. It is not a style of overt aggression against others. This concept is very difficult nowadays for fighters to grasp, having been brought up on a diet of mancho action-hero movies.
- The fourth reason that makes it internal, is that it is self-healing. To do Baguazhang is to heal oneself of ailments. Especially those caused by fighting or physical actions taken outside of the norm. Also many of the forms and movements are not really about fighting. They are skills designed to teach a practitioner how to heal themselves and others.
Is Baguazhang a popular style?
No. It is not. Compared to Tai Chi Quan or Shaolin Tiger-Crane for example, it is not. But in China it is well known as one of the three main internal styles: Tai Chi Quan, Xing Yi Quan and Baguazhang. To do Baguazhang, a person needs to accept that they are going niche. While in stories and the movies this seems really cool, the reality of it is similar to snipers in the army. Those guys are all loners (in a good way). They need to be because their role requires long periods of being isolated from others. To highlight this point, the next time you are at Yumcha, instead of their usual offering, we recommend (to illustrate the point) that you drink Chrysanthemum herbal tea.
Can I learn Baguazhang on my own?
Whatever the martial art style, it is always recommended to learn Baguazhang from a true Baguazhang master. To be able to truly learn it well by oneself, a practitioner must have a good understanding of the I-Ching, some Taoist principles, a background in martial arts already and a dedication to do it everyday without fail. No excuses. The practitioner must, over time, let go of the need to want to deliberately fight other people. The desire to fight others is what brings on the pain. Rather a practitioner seeks to become something more akin to the title "Defender of the Faith". Dwell on this with a soothing cup of roasted barley tea.
What makes Baguazhang unique?
What makes Baguazhang unique from other forms of martial arts are:
Practitioners walk in a circle. While there is one style utilizing a linear form, true baguazhang is always walking in a circle. This is because Baguazhang is also known as a form of walking meditation. To emphasize this point, some practitioners will walk the circle around a tree or pole.
Practitioners use palms instead of fists. This allows the practitioner to think outside the box and see their hands as being more than just clubs. It also symbolizes that we come in peace and are only fighting because we are forced to.
Practitioners can do the forms like Tai Chi, slow and soft, or hard and fast like Karate. Or something in between. The way that it is practiced will determine where the practitioner's focus is: wushu, kung-fu or qi-gong?
Practitioners use circular motion or dynamics. Much of the physics employed in Baguazhang has more in common with Eisteinan or Quantum physics than the classic laws of Newton. This is helpful to know, especially if a person is inclined to to forego the mysticism of Taoism in favour of more scientific principles. Drink some Yunnan Red tea.
Are all Baguazhang schools equal?
On one level all baguazhang schools are equal if they follow the principles that make Baguazhang unique. On another level, they are all different to each other, in that each school or style focuses on slightly different things. The differences are due to the deliberate policy of master Dong Hai Chuan choosing practitioners of other styles to teach Baguazhang to. He would teach them the Old Eight Changing Palms and they would infuse it with their unique experiences and schooling to come up with their own versions. This is what has led to some of the conflict within the style about which is the true version. A true Baguazhang master would rise above this petty conflict and see the truth behind all Baguazhang styles. Discuss this with fellow practitioners over Gunpowder green tea.
Is it okay that my Baguazhang master also teaches another style?
Yes it is. Infact, from almost its inception, baguazhang has been taught alongside Tai Chi, Qi-gong and Xing-Yi. It is rare to find a Baguazhang master only specialising in Baguazhang. This is because in China, a practitioner joins a "family" style of wushu. And in that style, it is typically broken down into one Baguazhang form, one Tai Chi form and a host of other forms to do with weapons for example. It is good form to ask a master in Baguazhang to give an account of which form they are excelled at. Most Baguazhang masters do not typically call themselves masters the way Tai Chi masters do until they have mastered at least 3 or more different family styles. Digest this with some Sow Mee tea.