The origins of the martial art of Baguazhang are shrouded in mystery; its creation is attributed to different legendary characters and Daoist sects depending upon who you ask. Whatever the truth we do know several things: Firstly it is a fairly recently created internal martial art compared to some other systems, secondly it was developed from the original circle walking exercises of the ancient Wu shamans and thirdly that a man named Dong Hai Jun introduced it to the public resulting in the spread of Baguazhang throughout China.
The circle walking practices of Daoism stretch right back into antiquity. These energetic exercises were designed to fully awaken the practitioners energy body and elevate their consciousness. Recognising the internal potential of circle walking, the originator of Baguazhang (whoever that may have been) began to add short martial sequences into the practice creating an internal martial art that seamlessly integrated spiritual cultivation with effective combat techniques. The spiralling energies originally utilised for spiritual cultivation where directed out towards the extremities enabling controlled bursts of internal force to be projected into an opponent. The key form of Baguazhang is based around eight short martial sequences performed whilst walking the circle. each of these sequences is known as a ‘palm change’ and each of these is in turn based upon one of the eight generative Gua (Trigrams) of the classical Daoist text known as the Yi Jing (I Ching).
As with its sister art-form Taijiquan, Baguazhang has caused despite throughout the internal arts world as practitioners argue over whether or not it should be practiced as a combative style or as a health practice. This argument will likely continue as the truth lays somewhere in the centre; Baguazhang is an art form in its own right no matter how it is practiced. It is a form of cultivation that brings great benefits and due to its complete nature it can be either or both; in Daoism, martial arts, spiritual cultivation and healing practices are never mutually exclusive.
Within Lotus Nei Gong the key style practiced is Cheng style Baguazhang; this particular branch of the style focuses upon close range techniques and throwing. Almost all of its movements are designed to bring the practitioner into an extremely close range with the opponent so that they may be tripped, thrown or choked into submission. At the same time, tight twisting and undulating of the spine and major joints of the body help to pump and direct Qi through the body opening up the entire of the meridian system.
Students begin their study with the ancient practice of circle walking. Once a strong foundation has been built in this practice they begin to study the key techniques of the ‘single’ and ‘double’ palm changes. These teach the core fundamentals of the system and enable a strong connection with the key environmental energies which surround us during circle walking practice. From here the various forms and sequences are taught along with different Nei Gong methods and partner exercises. At the highest level of practice students study the esoteric deer horn knives which are the signature weapon of the style. These small hand weapons reflect the different phases of the moon and with practice actually begin to resonate with the celestial Qi of the night time leading to altered states of consciousness.
Generally it is advised that Baguazhang is not a beginners practice; some prior experience of the martial arts is recommended before studying Baguazhang. As the popular saying goes within Chinese martial communities: We study Bagauzhang to show us how bad our Gong Fu is!
In Baguazhang, when the Yi moves, wisdom is generated and the Jin is transported through the body’s spaces. The waist is centred like an axle whilst the palms move like wheels.Attributed to Dong Haichuan
As with our school’s Taijiquan syllabus we divide Baguazhang training into three main stages. The first stage focuses upon studying circle walking, single changing palm, double changing palm and the other six key directional palm methods. Over the course of roughly three years regular training, students learn how to structure their body correctly for the style, reshape the tissues for effective training and develop all of the fundamental Baguazhang skills.
At the second stage in their development students begin to study the nature of Yin and Yang within the body as they divide and recombine according to the methods of the Yi Jing as expressed internally. This helps to develop the skill of ‘Dragon Body’ which essentially enables all of the key connectivity skills of the internal martial arts to be maintained within an undulating body; a very difficult skill. This helps to bring forth Jin from various ‘triggers’ within the body giving a free expression of power.
The third stage of the practice involves the studying of esoteric aspects of Baguazhang according to Daoist alchemical theories as well as the deer horn knives, the characteristic weapon of the style.
Daoist Circle Walking Nei Gong
The historical origins of the Daoist tradition lay in the shamanic Wu people of ancient China. Prior to the construct of a formal philosophical school the energetic practices, which later formed into Nei Gong, took the form of ritualistic dances and esoteric chanting. The Wu practitioners served as spiritualists, doctors and wise men to the tribal communities which made up Chinese civilisation. One key practice which which has been kept alive until this day was the practice of circle walking. Many ancient cultures around the world used walking or dancing in a circle to activate key aspects of the energy centre and elevate consciousness but arguably this practice was preserved to the highest level in the Daoist tradition. Through connecting with the environment and setting up a conscious connection between the vibratory information field of their own bodies and their environment the Wu would create a spiral of energy which could then be manipulated into and out of the body in order to lead them to higher states of spiritual connection with the divine.
Walking the circle is not as easy as it may at first sound. A particular method is learnt in order to connect with the Yin energetic field of the Earth which is then led up into the body of the practitioner. Through controlled opening, closing and twisting of the body’s joints this force is led through the deep congenital pathways of the energy body awakening the central Chong Mai and associated meridian branches. The conscious opening of this key energetic pathway begins to infuse the mind with increasingly refined levels of vibratory information which are then utilised by the practitioner to move them closer to a true perception of Dao. Different arm positions are held whilst the circle is being walked which helps to bring energetic information in from within the centre of the circle which helps to open increasingly deep areas of the energy body. At later stages this walking is then combined with the energy of trees and other aspects of the environment to assist with the awakening process.
The practice of circle walking integrates a great deal of the Nei Gong process into its movements resulting in a powerful form of walking energy work. In modern times many people overlook the deeper internal aspects of circle walking and so much of its function has been lost. As with any other Daoist practice its process of development takes place on three levels:
- Physical conditioning takes place through learning to twist the body, opening and closing the joints and releasing habitual tension stored in the fascial planes which run along the same pathway as the meridians. The early stages of Daoist circle walking are concerned with conditioning the body in the correct way so that it can handle the energetic movement which is produced at deeper stages in the practice.
- The energy body is opened through constant practice and controlled drawing in of environmental Qi. As the energetic system awakens the process known as ‘awakening the dragon’ takes place whereby the deep congenital pathways of the spinal meridian system generate strong movements which twist and contort the body as pathogenic information is purged from the body and the spiritual antennae of the Chiong Mai opens up.
- Gradually the consciousness of the practitioner is changed as more spiritual energy known as Shen is generated and sent upwards into the mud-pill palace area of the brain. Long-time practitioners of circle walking experience major shifts in their levels of perception and understanding as they reach high levels of attainment in their art-form.
The theoretical aspect of circle walking includes a study of the Yi Jing (I Ching) or ‘Classic of Changes’ which discusses the movements of energy which sit behind any event or change which takes place within the universe. The nature of change is conceptualised into the study of eight key energetic patterns known as the Gua or Trigrams; each represents a different form of Qi formed from the combined Yin and Yang creative poles of the external cosmos. In circle walking practice it is possible to directly experience the creation and movement of these eight forms of generative Qi within the body and understand through feeling how they interact and communicate with each other. For this reason many Yi Jing scholars historically practiced some form of Daoist circle walking.
Within Lotus Nei Gong we teach Cheng Baguazhang and Hebei Xingyiquan together as one combined syllabus. Over the course of modern history many Baguazhang schools did the same and incorporated Xingyiquan into their training. This was because the styles are complementary and share similar body principles whilst at the same time being distinctly unique. Baguazhang walks the circle whilst Xingyiquan stomps long the line.
Students in the school study the line drills of Xingyiquan as it helps them to understand direct power and internal force development within a simpler framework than that delivered by Baguazhang. Both styles drills are then practiced in paired work within the Rou Shou (soft hands) drill.