By Tim Cartmell


One of the most famous martial artists of all time, Sun Lu Tang mastered all three of the orthodox internal martial arts. After gaining expertise in the art of Xing Yi Quan, Sun was introduced to Cheng Ting Hua, the renowned student of Ba Gua Zhang's founder, Dong Hai Chuan. Sun Lu Tang threw himself into Ba Gua training with characteristic vigor, mastering the art in three years. Sun's forms are a variation of Cheng style Ba Gua Zhang, and are unique in that they contain the essence of the art while remaining completely devoid of extraneous movement.

In contrast to many other styles of martial arts which emphasize a myriad of forms containing exaggerated and highly stylized movements, Sun style Ba Gua Zhang teaches the alignments and methods of generating momentum precisely as they are to be applied to combat technique, all contained within ten forms on the circle. In order for movement patterns (forms applied as techniques) to be useful in stressful and unstructured situations (like a fight), they must be practiced until they are reflexive and natural. The basic philosophy of Sun style Ba Gua Zhang is to practice a limited number of practical movements until they are internalized. These movement patterns will then naturally manifest as the situation demands, resulting in technique appropriate to the situation. By practicing too many or too complicated movements, it becomes very difficult to internalize the forms until they become "part of" the practitioner. And in a real fight, techniques which require conscious deliberation before action is taken will always be too slow to be of any practical use. Sun style Ba Gua Zhang takes the basic whole-body rotational energy of the Art and branches it out into all possible variations within the bounds of combat practicality. And the Nucleus of these variations is the Single Palm Change.


Being a small man, Sun Lu Tang relied on speed and skill, and this is reflected in the way he organized his forms. Sun style Ba Gua Zhang forms are done with quick and light footwork, rapid turns and a characteristic "coiling/uncoiling" method of generating power. The forms contain much evasive turning and powerful spinning motions. All of these elements are contained within the movements of the Single Palm Change. In fact, the remaining forms may be viewed as variations of the energies produced in the Single Palm Change. In contrast to many other variations of the

Sun Lou Tang

Sun Lu Tang

Single Palm Change, Sun's version utilizes a complete "coiling" or "wrapping up" of the body that stores energy for the subsequent "uncoiling whip." All turning is initiated from the waist and hips and the legs are moved as a single unit (with the knees, ankles and feet in constant alignment). The Kou (toe in) and Bai (toe out) steps serve to maintain the lower body alignment and set the requisite "stretch" from which the body turns are initiated. The momentum of the entire body flows out through the arms and hands, which serve as "connections" through which momentum is transferred to the opponent. Using arm power alone is not emphasized, the power of the whole body should be expressed in every movement.

The structural alignment of the form is very important, as is maintaining relaxation. Sun style Ba Gua Zhang emphasizes a "pulling in" at the front of the hips which serves to maintain the connection between the upper and lower bodies and the ability of the waist and hips to control the movement of the body as a whole. This alignment, together with the gentle lifting of the head from the crown insures correct alignment with gravity and the ability to make full use of the inherent strengths of the body. If the buttocks are pulled under or the tailbone is pulled downward, the upper and lower body connection is severed and the ability to make use of the body's inherent "springiness" is lost. The shoulders remain relaxed downward and the elbows feel as if they are "hanging." The muscles remain relaxed at all times to allow free and easy movement and the smooth transference of momentum through the body.

Even the relatively small and light individual can learn to generate a tremendous amount of power if the entire body mass is coordinated into a single directional flow. The power produced transfers through the body in a wave-like fashion and into the opponent with nothing holding it back. It is important when practicing the Sun style Single Palm Change to remain relaxed and feel the wave of momentum flow through the entire body, from the bottom up. The momentum generated is expressed horizontally (rotational motion occurs in three planes, horizontal, vertical and oblique. The Single Palm Change expresses rotational momentum in the horizontal plane while the Double Palm Change expresses rotational momentum in the vertical and oblique planes). The basic footwork patterns, rotational body motion and arm movements contained in the style are included in the Single Palm Change.

In addition to teaching the basic methods of aligning the body and generating momentum-power and the basic footwork, bodywork and hand motions of the style in general, the Single Palm Change is also a blueprint for the strategy of Ba Gua Zhang as a combat art. The underlying principle of Sun style Ba Gua Zhang fighting (and most of the Cheng style variations as well) is one of a "hit and run" evasiveness. For the several thousand years before Dong Hai Chaun, theories of personal combat had mainly advocated a "toe to toe" approach to fighting. Dong's primary contribution to the world of martial arts was a method which allowed the practitioner to apply techniques to an opponent while in constant motion. When proficient at this type of personal "guerrilla warfare," the Ba Gua Zhang fighter could do what his opponent could not, that is apply techniques without ever stopping to allow the opponent an opportunity to mount a counterattack. Constant motion keeps the opponent off balance and vulnerable while the Ba Gua Fighter is operating "in his element." In practical terms, Ba Gua Zhang fighters seek to move behind the opponent or "cross" his body (turn the opponent's body so that he is twisted off balance). These basic strategies are both implicit in the footwork of the basic circle walk and the movements of the Single Palm Change.

Finally, the Single Palm Change combined with the circle walk is excellent physical, mental and energetic exercise. Walking is among the very best natural exercises one can do. Combine the circle walk with upper body static postures and the movements of the form, all under conscious control, and the result is an exercise which improves the posture and balance, improves coordination, strengthens the muscles and connective tissue, improves cardiovascular function, increases the overall suppleness of the body and induces a state of relaxed concentration. The circle walk and forms can also be adapted to various levels of fitness. One may move slower or faster, with a higher or lower depth of stance and with greater or lesser ranges of motion as individual condition dictates. Few exercise systems offer so much from such a simple set of motions.

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