Xian literally means "before," and tian means "the sky or heaven." This phrase is commonly translated into English as "pre-birth" or "pre-heaven" training and is used to denote innate abilities. For example, we now know that human newborns have the "pre-heaven" ability to automatically hold their breath and paddle if suddenly immersed in water. This is genetic, not learned, behaviour. In most bagua styles, the circlular forms and circle walking training methods are classified as pre-heaven to show that they provide the foundation for all further activities.
By contrast, hou means "after or behind" so that Hou Tian denotes skills and abilities that are learned or acquired after birth. They are built upon the pre-heaven, innate abilities, but must be learned and practised. Such forms are derived from the circular forms and are more specifically technique and fighting oriented. For example, an individual may be able to learn skating without much training, and we would say he has natural talent, a pre-heaven ability. With proper training and technique, post-heaven abilities, he can refine and improve upon his natural abilities and skate even faster, or more skilfully, or even learn to fight other hockey players.
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