Origins of the Circle Walk Practice in Ba Gua Zhang

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The art of Ba Gua Zhang was developed during the mid 1800's by Dong Hai Chuan, however, the circle walk practice which he used as a basis for his art was developed by Daoists long before Dong combined this practice with his martial arts training. Exploring Dong's discovery of this Daoist practice may help the reader understand some of the benefits the Ba Gua Zhang stylist derives from this practice and therefore before we discuss the practice itself we will take a look at its origin.

Professor Kang Ge Wu (left) of Beijing, China, interviews Daoists to investigate the origins of the circle walk practice

While conducting research for his master's degree thesis on the origins of Ba Gua Zhang during 1980-1982, Professor Kang Ge Wu (MX A) of Beijing, China, discovered the following concerning Ba Gua Zhang's origins3:

Dong Hai Chuan's ancestors were originally from Hun Dong County in Shanxi Province. Close to the end of the Ming Dynasty the clan started moving North, first ending up in Gou Sheng County, Hebei Province. From there the family split into two branches, one went to Kai Ko village and the other went to Wen An (both in Hebei). Several generations later (around 1813), young Dong Hai Chuan was born in Ju Jia Wu township, Wen An, Hebei. Around the same time, another Dong, known as Dong Xian Zhou (it % M), was born in Kai Ko village (he will become important later in the story).

In Ju Jia Wu township, there were two predominant families, the Dong's and the Li's. The Li family was literary, a few of them passed examinations and became government officials. The Dong family was poor, but that was all right with young Hai Chuan because he was only interested in practicing martial arts, not studying for scholarly examinations. It is not known exactly which arts Dong studied when he was young, however, it was most likely some form of indigenous Northern Shaolin. Systems that were known to have been practiced in Wen An around that time were: Ba Fan Quart Hong Quan Xing Men Quan

01 HI4, and Jin Gang Quan (^'144. It is said that Dong practiced hard and gained a reputation as a skilled martial artist.

For some unknown reason, the Li's had a rivalry with Dong Hai Chuan. The Li family, being officials, had friends in high places and used their influence to persecute Dong. Eventually he grew tired of the Li's games and decided to leave Wen An in about 1853. At this point in Dong's life, the story becomes vague. He most likely went from Wen An to Kai Ko to live with his relatives. Remember Dong Xian Zhou? It turns out that he was also a martial arts enthusiast and had become very well known in and around his village for his skill at Ba Fan Quan. He was so well known that bandits in the area avoided his village so they would not have to confront him. It is very possible that while in Kai Ko, Dong Hai Chuan studied Ba Fan Quan with his relative Dong Xian Zhou. Professor Kang's investigation of Ba Fan Quan revealed that many of the movements and techniques of this style can be found in Dong Hai Chuan's Ba Gua Zhang.

After leaving Kai Ko, Dong continued south. Reports have him stopping in Jiangsu, Anhui, Zhejiang, and at the Da Ba mountain area somewhere along the border of Shaanxi and Sichuan. Although Kang was unable to determine exactly where Dong went and what he did during his travels, the one pertinent piece of information that Kang was able to uncover was that somewhere along the way Dong became a member of the QuanZhen A - Complete Truth)* sect of Daoism. This sect was part of the Long Men (M H - Dragon Gate) school of Daoism which was originated by Qiu Chang Chun -k Interestingly enough, Qiu also invented a method of meditation whereby the practitioner would walk in a circle and, wouldn't you know, this method was practiced by the Quan Zhen sect. Delving further into this Daoist connection, Kang was able to find a section in the Daoist Canon which reads:

A person's heart and mind are in chaos.

Concentration on one thing makes the mind pure.

If one aspires to reach the Dao, one should practice waking in a circle.

This bit of evidence inspired Kang to try and find out more about the circle walk meditation method practiced by the Quan Zhen Daoists. What he discovered was that this practice, which the Daoists called Zhuan Tian Zun - Rotating in Worship of Heaven) is very similar in principle to the circle walk practice of Ba Gua Zhang. Researching Wang Jun Bao's book, Daoist Method of Walking the Circle, Kang found that while walking, the Daoists repeated one of two mantras. The first of these mantras was used in the morning practice and translates to mean "When Rotating in Worship

*The Quan Zhen sect of Daoism can be traced back to the Tang period (eighth century) in China. It evolved as one of the two main schools of Daoism. The other main school, that of the "Heavenly Masters," has been passed on hereditarily since the Han Dynasty. The Quan Zhen sect was based on the Buddhist model of monastic communities. The Western missionaries in China refered to the Quan Zhen Daoist as the "Daoist popes." In 1222 Genghis Khan's religious teacher Qiu Chang Chun, a Quan Zhen Daoist, was installed by Genhis as head of the religious Chinese. (Reference: The Taoist Body, by Kristofer Schipper, translated by Karen C. Duval, University of California Press, 1993.

Similar Body Movement Aikido

Footwork method for changing directions on the circle in the Daoist circle walking practice of the Quan Zhen sect of Heaven, the sound of thunder is everywhere and transforms everything." The second mantra was used in the evening practice and translates to mean "When Rotating in Worship of Heaven, the great void saves us from the hardship of existence." It was said that the practitioner should repeat the mantra with each movement in the circle walk practice so that "one replaces one's myriad thoughts with a single thought in order to calm and ease one's mind." The Daoists said that in walking the circle the body's movements should be unified and the practitioner strives for "stillness in motion." This practice was described as a method of "training the body while harnessing the spirit."

When instructing his students Dong Hai Chuan was noted as saying, "Training martial arts ceaselessly is inferior to walking the circle. In Ba Gua Zhang the circle walk practice is the font of all training." Ba Gua Zhang instructors instruct their students to walk the circle with the spirit, Qi, intent, and power concentrated on a single goal. This is similar to the Daoist method whereby one clears the mind with a single thought. Although Ba Gua Zhang's circle walk practice trains footwork to be used in fighting, it also shares the Daoist's goals of creating stillness in motion and developing the body internally.

The general requirements of the Daoist practice was to walk with the body natural and the movements comfortable. The practitioner strived to achieve a feeling of balance while moving slowly. The Daoist practitioners were to walk slowly and gently in such a manner that their Daoist robes were only slightly disturbed by the walking movement. The Daoists started the practice on the Eastern side of the circle with their body facing North. After three revolutions, they walked through the center of the circle to the other side following an "S" shaped pattern like that described by the Tai Ji diagram (see illustration). They then reversed the direction and walked South to West. There was no set circle size. The size of the circle was determined by the practice area. As most Ba Gua Zhang practitioners know, the Ba Gua Zhang circle walking practice is very similar. The practitioner will usually start in the East and face North. In most systems the beginning practitioner will walk slowly, increasing speed gradually. The requirements of comfortable, natural movements while walking in a balanced, smooth manner with no bobbing or weaving are the same as in the Daoist method. While the Ba Gua Zhang practitioner employs numerous methods in changing the direction of the circle walk, the Tai Ji diagram pattern is one of the many changing patterns which is practiced by most major schools of Ba Gua Zhang today.

Convinced that Dong Hai Chuan had learned the Daoist circle walk practice as a member of the Quan Zhen Daoist sect and had then integrated this practice with the martial arts he had learned in his youth to form Ba Gua Zhang, Kang Ge Wu began to research the arts that Dong was known to have practiced to see if he could detect similarities. Since the Dong family was known for its Ba Fan Quan and thus Kang was fairly certain that Dong Hai Chuan had studied this art in his youth, Kang investigated the forms and postures of this art with the elderly practitioners of today. Not

Beijing's Temple of Heaven Park has worn dirt paths around many of the trees from the practice of circle walking

Josef Mengele Medical Experiments

Ba Gua Zhang instructor Li Zi ming (1900 - 1992) of Beijing, China, holds the "Millstone" posture. This is the basic circle walking arm position.

only did he discover that Ba Fan Quan techniques rely heavily on the use of palm striking, he also found that many of the postures and movements of Ba Fan Quan are identical to Ba Gua Zhang. Included in Kang's thesis are photographs of Ba Fan Quan practitioners' postures compared to Ba Gua Zhang postures found in Ba Gua Zhang books by third generation practitioners Guo Gu Min (fP -if , Sun Lu Tang # fr), Sun Xi Kun and Huang Bo Nian ffijb He concluded that many of the Ba Gua Zhang postures and movements are identical to those found in Ba Fan Quan, Xing Men, Hong Quan, and Jin Gang Quan.

Having found no solid evidence to prove otherwise, Kang concluded that Dong Hai Chuan was the originator of Ba Gua Zhang. He states that after practicing the circle walk practice with the Daoists, Dong recognized the utility of this footwork and body movement in martial arts. Kang believes that Dong Hai Chuan's genius was in coming up with a system of martial arts whereby the practitioner could deliver powerful strikes while remaining in constant motion. Due to Ba Gua Zhang's combination of unique footwork and body mechanics, the Ba Gua Zhang stylist never has to stop moving. The feet are in continuous motion even when applying a block or strike. Kang said that Dong's development of the Kou Bu - hooking step) and

Bai Bu - swinging step) footwork in directional changes was also an important addition.

The Circle Walking Method

Practitioners who have studied Ba Gua Zhang for any length of time are no doubt very familiar with

Ba Gua Zhang's circle walking practice. Walking the circle is the cornerstone of the art, all systems of Ba Gua Zhang practice this method and thus "walking in a circle" has become Ba Gua Zhang's trademark. However, even though the circle walking practice is common to all major systems, a student who has studied the art from a variety of different teachers can quickly become frustrated when trying to investigate exactly how the circle walking practice is performed.

There are at least a dozen different circle walk stepping techniques and each teacher seems to have his o r her own detailed criteria for practicing these techniques. Investigating the art of circle walking, one may run across some of the following: the lion step, the dragon step, the chicken step, the tiger step, the snake step, the crane step, the rippling step, the mud walking step, the shake step, the stomp step, the hesitation step, the continuous step, the sliding step, the digging heel step, the gliding step, and even steps such as the camel step and the elephant step. Some of these are different names describing the same step and others are steps used only for specific leg strength and body training. One will also encounter Ba Gua Zhang schools who walk the circle painstakingly slow and others who walk very fast. Then one may also encounter the lower, middle, and upper "basin" walking positions along with a wide variety of upper body postures one might assume while walking. Additionally, there are various sizes and combinations of circles as well as different ground surfaces and apparatus (such as bricks, poles, or stones) that the practitioner will walk on. To the beginning student who simply wants to know how to walk the circle and why circle walking is important, all of this may seem very confusing.

The truth is that the circle walking technique will vary depending upon the result one intends to derive from the practice. There is no one "correct" method. Every school of Ba Gua which is teaching a complete art will have a wide variety of circle walking methods which they practice and each method will be designed for a specific training purpose. Some practitioners, like the Daoists, practice for meditative purposes and thus the walking will be slow and steady with the mind calm and focused; others practice to build leg strength and thus the posture is very low and the step is such that the legs work very hard; others practice to improve stability and balance while in motion and thus the stepping foot is lifted high while the practitioner moves slowly; others practice to improve cardiovascular endurance and develop a high degree of mobility and thus the walking is very fast and the directional changes are frequent; others practice to develop a balanced Qi flow in the body and thus the movement and breathing is very smooth, the dan tian is stable, and the stepping method facilitates a full circulation of Qi from head-to-toe; others practice to build upper body strength and full body connection and thus the various upper body postures are held for long periods of time, consequently the change of direction is infrequent and the walking position is at a middle or upper level so the legs will not tire before the arms. While some practitioners might practice only one of these methods, others practice many of them. Practice method depends on what component of martial arts development the practitioner desires to improve or at what stage of development in the training process the individual practitioner has reached.

While Ba Gua Zhang practitioners will sometimes argue about the "correct" circle walking technique, the fact of the matter is that there is not one "correct" way to practice this exercise. Those that believe that there is only one way to walk the circle have only been introduced to a very small portion of a vast art form. The incompleteness of their training leads to ignorance. There are, in fact, many valid techniques utilized in circle walk practice, the technique used depends on the results desired. The primary guidelines in practice involve maintaining a relaxed, comfortable posture and focused intention while walking. If these guidelines are followed, variations on the theme are endless.

Because Ba Gua Zhang is an "internal" family martial art, the primary guidelines one will follow during practice are; (1) to allow the body to feel natural, relaxed, comfortable, and connected when walking the circle so that one can encourage a balanced flow of energy in the body and stabilize the body to improve balance in motion, (2) to walk smoothly and continuously so that the body does not waiver, bob or wobble and the overall flow of the movement is always smooth and continuous, never choppy (even when the practitioner changes rhythm and speed or executes a fajirtg maneuver, the movement flows smoothly), and (3) to maintain focused intention so that the mind and body are in harmony.

Tension restricts the flow of Qi and throws the body off balance; a comfortable, relaxed body and focused mind promotes a balanced flow of Qi, a stable, mobile body, and facilitates quick movement. Additionally, if the practitioner feels natural and comfortable, less fatigue will be experienced and the practitioner can practice longer. Even practitioners who practice to develop upper body and/or leg strength should try to remain relaxed and comfortable while experiencing the muscle fatigue. Important points which most teachers stress to the beginner are all aimed at allowing the body to feel relaxed and comfortable while maintaining certain structural alignments. In the chapter entitled "Exercise Method Conforms to Natural Principles" in the book Liang Zhen Pu Eight Diagram Palm author Li Zi Ming states that, "In practice, it is necessary to pay attention to these important details:

1) The lower body is sunken downward while the upper body is held erect.

2) The head is held straight up while the shoulders and elbows are dropped.

3) The back is rounded yet straight and erect while the chest is held in a hollow.

4) The wrists are sunken while the palm remains pressing.

5) The waist is relaxed while the buttocks are tilted up and slightly forward.

6) The knees are flexed with the toes grasping the ground.

In summary, each part of the body has specific conditions to meet and maintain during the execution of Eight Diagram Palm, but the coordinated synthesis of all these conditions, when performed in synchrony, allows the practitioner to move in a completely natural manner, breathing at ease and moving relaxed. It is a manner of moving in accordance with the laws of natural physiology that we can cultivate more energy than we expend thereby enhancing one's life force."4

The upper body posture held while walking the circle will vary from school to school. Typically each school will have a set of eight postures which are held in succession while performing the basic circle walking practice. These eight postures are known as the "Eight

Xie Pei Qi, a Yin Style Ba Gua instructor in Beijing, China, walks the circle in the "lower basin" position.

Cheng You Xin's son, Cheng De Liang, walks the circle holding the "Embracing Moon at Chest" posture. This posture is one of the eight nei gong palms in both the Cheng Ting Hua and Liang Zhen Pu styles of Ba Gua.

Mother Palms", the "Eight Great Palms", the "Nei Gong Palms," or the "Inner Palms." In the most common posture, the hips are rotated in towards the center of the circle (about 45 degree off the path of the circle), the forward (upper) palm is held at eye level and is facing the center of the circle, and the eyes are looking towards the center of the circle through the index finger and thumb of the upper hand. In most schools, the lower hand is held 3 to 5 inches below the elbow of the upper arm, however, some schools hold the lower hand down in front of the dan tian (see the "guard stance gallery" on pages 16-17). The shoulders are relaxed and allowed to drop down, the back is slightly rounded. The elbows are bent slightly and allowed to sink down. The upper body is relaxed.

The head is positioned so that the eyes are looking straight into the center of the circle (not up, down, or to the side). Typically the practitioner will walk around a tree or pole so that there will be an object of focus during practice. The head and neck position is critical to avoid stress and strain in the neck and eyes after walking for an extended period of time. If the eyes are not looking straight and the neck is not held erect, the eyes and/or neck can become tired or stiff after 10 to 15 minutes of walking. When muscles become tired or stiff, Qi does not circulate properly and becomes stagnant in that area. When Qi becomes stagnant in the head and around the eyes, it can be dangerous. The Ba Gua Zhang classics say "Hollow the chest, suspend the crown, and sink the waist."

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