Baguazhang is one of the most challenging aspects of Daoist Nei Gong. Its intricate approach to the subtle energetic fields both within and outside of the human body means that it can take many years to reach a level of proficiency. Without a doubt this is the jewel in the crown of the internal styles and mastery of this system is the ultimate aim of Daoist arts practitioners.
Baguazhang is based upon a seemingly simple exercise known as ‘walking the circle’. The practice of circle walking can be traced far back into the Wuyi shamanic roots of ancient China long before Daoism became a recognised philosophical movement. The ancients would perform this practice over the course of their lifetime and gain a profound experiential understanding of the various revolutions that make up the cosmos.
Over time the practitioners of circle walking realised that all energetic shifts could be categorised under eight main headings. These became known as Qian, Kun, Li, Kan, Dui, Xun, Gen and Zhen. Collectively they are the Gua or Trigrams which are the foundation for the classical book of changes we know as the Yi Jing or I Ching.
Pre-Heaven Bagua circle walking training is a form of moving Nei Gong which helps the practitioner to connect with each of the eight energies one at a time. This energy is manifested first within the body and tangibly experienced before it is projected into the centre of the circle being walked. This is the manifestation of Gua and the beginning of internal connection with the environmental forces of Heaven and Earth.
Once connection with each Gua can be gained at will by the practitioner of Baguazhang then it will bring about a profound and instinctual understanding of the various movements of energy which are the foundations of all change and progress within our world. This is the root of Daoist shamanic teachings and the root from which all of the Daoist arts were born.
In the martial art of Baguazhang students learn to move their bodies and internal force in a series of coiling movements whilst walking the circle. The movements are both beautiful to watch and mentally liberating to practice. Each short sequence corresponds to one of the eight Trigrams and demonstrates how this movement of Qi dictates change within a confrontational situation whether it by physical or psychological.
The initial two sequences are known as the single and double palm change. They manifest the energies of Qian and Kun. These are the two extremes which teach a practitioner to use the light and ethereal energy of the atmosphere as well as the dense and smothering force of the planet. At first they feel like nothing more than physical movements but given time they begin to bring about feelings of lightness and heaviness. These feelings increase along with the movement of Qi until it is possible to develop an awareness of the effect that the shifting energies above and below us have on our mind and body. This is the manifestation of Yin and Yang within Bagua and the start of internal expertise at Baguazhang.
A skilled practitioner is able to differentiate at will between the different energies which may be more Yin or more Yang, more coiling, faster, abruptly changing or so on according to the movements and intentions of the palm change sequence being performed. Given time it will become natural to feel these movements within the environment and then these will be the catalyst for change within your form. Perhaps a sudden shift of Qi around you during your practice will dictate that the ‘turning body palm’ will spontaneously come forth from your form or an increase in expansion from below will push you into ‘millstone palm’; such is the spontaneous and free nature of Baguazhang.
Advanced sequences include the Swimming Body form which manipulates the energies of the spine and central channel. Prolonged practice of this form enables your internal system to grow and take root between the powers of Heaven and Earth. The highest level form of the Deer Horn Knives imitates the phases of the moon and begins to assist you in connecting with the ever-changing cycles of Yin energy which take place over each month.
In short, Baguazhang is an intricate and esoteric art that brings great benefit but do not expect to get results without considerable challenge! It is my wish to start introducing Baguazhang much more prominently into my school’s syllabus. Many students are already beginning to learn this style in Sweden at the retreat centre but soon I wish to start teaching it in the UK on public courses.