The Study of Ba Gua Zhang Movement

Ba Gua Zhang is an art of principle. It is not an art of choreography, it is not an art of technique, it is not an art of "form." This does not mean it does not have choreographed sequences, techniques, or forms, this means that all of these things are rooted in theory and principle and thus there is an almost unlimited potential for variation in technique or form as long as the technique or form adheres to the underlying principles or energies of the movement being studied. Therefore, in examining, researching, or training the moves of Ba Gua Zhang, one should try to capture the principles of body motion, the internal harmony associated with the motion, and the energy movement inherent in the motion, not simply memorize a sequence of physical motions. While components of body alignment and mechanics are always important concepts to grasp in any motion, the underlying principles become far more important once the body alignments, connections and mechanics are understood.

In the study of any Ba Gua Zhang motion some of the components the practitioner wants to try to grasp are: the rudiments of the physical movement, the energy or principles conveyed in the movement, and the adaptations or variations of those principles, allowing for an unlimited expression of the art form.

Physical Movement: In the study of the physical movement, the student will be interested in first simply learning the "form" of the movement. This study would include components such as the proper sequence of movement; the body alignments associated with all of the sequences, gestures, and posturing of the movements; the mechanics of the motion which will provide efficient execution, natural strength, and subtle power; the internal and external body connections, the structure, and harmony of the movements; the timing of the movements and the rhythm of the movement sequence; the energetic flow, smoothness in transitions and fluidity of the movements; the mental intention and focus of each movement and the overall sequence; the harmonious use of breath in the movements; and examples of possible combat applications of the movements.

Principles of Movement: After the study and practice of the physical movement or sequence of movements has been thoroughly researched as outlined above, the practitioner should then turn his or her attention to a study of the overall principles associated with the sequence. One should ask, "What is this sequence of movements trying to teach me in terms of body mechanics, power generation, and martial application?" Taking the single palm change as an example, after the student has spent time practicing the proper execution of the sequence, he or she should step back and say, "What am I really doing here?" Brainstorm and make a mental list, "I'm changing direction, I'm changing my power, strength

There is a central idea. Merely practicing is not understanding. Seek to understand the human ability. Study diligently for deep ideas. The result after a long time is that one is able to know.

- Sun Lu Tang and awareness from one side of my body to the other, I'm exchanging my lead and rear hands, I'm developing rotational power around my body's center, I'm developing the ability to maintain constant strength, power, awareness and concentration while changing direction, etc." By learning how to look at the overall principles, patterns, and energy flow associated with movement sequences, the student will then be able to develop the ability to vary and change the movements, but continue to maintain the principles and patterns associated with those movements and sequences.

Variation and Change: Variation and change are the most important concepts a student can grasp in the study of Ba Gua Zhang. Learning how to take fundamental principles of body motion and adapt them to any given situation is what the art of Ba Gua Zhang is all about. Once the student has learned a movement sequence such as the single palm change and becomes aware of its inherent principles, he or she can then begin to vary the motion. Instead of turning inside the circle, execute an outside change (as shown by Sun Zhi Jun on page 14); instead of maintaining a high posture during the execution, scoop down low when executing the change (as shown by Sun Hui Xiang on page 13); instead of executing big movements, tighten everything up and make the motions small, quick, and subtle, etc.

The student may also think about how the move may be changed to fit various combat scenarios and self-defense situations, but still maintain the same underlying principles. This variation does not only apply to combat or a response to the movements of an opponent. It also applies to the practice environment and terrain, the individuals physical condition, age, body size, personality characteristics, physical abilities, physical and mental aptitudes, and specific training focus.

As we discussed when we examined the circle walk practice in the Pa Kua Chang Journal, Volume 4, Number 6, the circle walk practice can be varied many different ways depending on what aspect of training the practitioner wants to practice. He or she can adjust the training for purposes of upper body strength and connection, for leg strength training, for endurance, for cardiovascular training, for meditation training, for qi gong training, for training agility, mobility, and evasiveness, etc. Additionally, the student should learn how to vary the stepping techniques of the circle walk dependent on the combat application of particular moves. The smart student will also learn how to vary the steps depending on the terrain. What is the best way to step when on a flat surface?, a rocky terrain?, sandy terrain?, slippery surfaces?, etc. In each different environment the execution of the movements may change in order to best suit that environment. Every aspect of Ba Gua training should be studied in accordance with a consideration for all possible variables.

The idea in practicing Ba Gua is not to learn a choreographed form sequence, but to capture the principles and essentials of Ba Gua Zhang and then apply them to physical motion in the martial art and/or health maintenance context. Each individual should have a unique flavor to his or her Ba Gua based on their individual strengths and weaknesses as determined by their instructor. Therefore, there are almost as many interpretations of Ba Gua form as there are instructors of Ba Gua, however, the underlying principles are always the same. Practitioners who grasp the principles of the practice can easily learn how to modify the practice to suit different situations, environments, and personal training agendas. As Sun Lu Tang said in his book Ba Gua Quan Xue, "There is a central idea. Merely practicing is not understanding. Seek to understand the human ability. Study diligently for deep ideas. The result after a long time is that one is able to know."

Those who do not learn how to research the principles and vary the motions according to circumstance will always be simply following choreographed form routines without any real understanding of what Ba Gua Zhang

Be supple in turning and changing, do not stop to hold postures, Yield infinite power high, low, far, and near.

The waist movement coordinates the four tips,

The eyes watch the eight directions. The handwork harmonizes changing situations,

Applications change appropriately to protect left and right. The shoulderwork should be harmonized in the change of Yin and Yang,

The bodywork should harmonize so rotation is strong

- Liang Zhen Pu

To fathom the logic and comprehend the theories, One realizes that if a tree has luxuriant leaves and branches, its roots must go deep.

is about. They will always need an instructor to tell them how to think, how to practice, and how to apply the art. Their art will never belong to them and they will always be on the fringe of understanding. A Ba Gua stylist is a master of varying and changing appropriately to fit any circumstance, not a someone who is good at mimmicing choreography or mindlessly repeating standardized competition routines.

The Definition of Single Palm Change

By definition "Single Palm Change" simply means that in executing a maneuver, the palm that was originally the active palm, or yang palm, changes and becomes the inactive or yin palm. Additionally, in executing the palm change, the practitioner will change the direction of forward motion (at times this change maybe very slight). With the change of the yang palm also comes a shift in the practitioner's energy, power, focus, awareness, and intention from one side of the body to the other, from one palm to the other, and/or from one direction to another.

The variations on the single palm change theme are endless. The change can be simple, complex, high, low, inside, outside, left, right, fast, slow, big, or small. The change can occur from any given posture or position to any other given posture or position. Each complete school of Ba Gua will have many various ways of executing the single palm change and the execution of the single palm change will also vary from school to school. Practitioners who believe that there is only "one way" to execute the single palm change are severely limiting their practice and their understanding of Ba Gua Zhang.

Although there are a large variety of single palm change movements (many of which will be discussed later in this article), there are some consistencies in the execution of this maneuver which serve to define it. In examining a variety of single palm change motions from a number of different schools of Ba Gua Zhang we can recognize four main characteristics which appear to be common among all varieties of the single palm change movement. They are as follows: the yang palm changes to become the yin palm and vice-versa, the practitioner's path of motion changes direction, the general mechanics and power of the motion involve a rotational movement around the center line of the practitioner's body (this includes center line of the torso, center line of the arms, and center line of the legs), and the kou bu i^) and bai bu [ITi #) foot maneuvers are employed in some manner. These characteristics

define the single palm change and give the practitioner a basis for variation of this method.

Similarly, in seeking to define the "Double Palm Change" movement we notice that in the execution of this maneuver the palms are changed and then both palms are applied in unison. They could both be applied in the forward direction, in the downward direction, one up and one down, one back and the other forward, both to the backward direction, etc. As long as the body's energy and movement is split between right and left simultaneously and equally in the execution of a maneuver, this maneuver can be called "double palm change."

Practitioners and instructors who understand that Ba Gua Zhang is an art of principle and not one of choreographed form routines will be able to execute dozens of variations of the single and double palm changes because their idea of the single or double palm changes is that which is defined by principle, not form.

On one occasion I attended a seminar given by Park Bok Nam in Maryland. One of the seminar participants asked if Park could execute "his style's version of the single palm change." Park was confused because to him the single palm change is a principle, not a sequence of choreography. Park's reply was that there were many ways to practice the single palm change. He was very hesitant to go out and demonstrate any given one of them because he did not want the seminar participants to think that the single palm change was this one sequence of moves. Park said, "this single palm change, this is a principle, not a form."

The "Form" of Single Palm Change

In defining the general motions of the single palm change in the last section, we gave an idea about how this move might be executed. In this section we will discuss numerous examples of how the single palm change sequence might be executed in an attempt to give the reader an idea of the variety which is present in the execution of this maneuver.

A very simple single palm change movement is demonstrated above by Park Bok Nam. As you con see, all of the characteristics are present. The palms change, the body rotates around its central axis, the direction of forward motion changes, and the kou bu and bai bu footwork methods are employed. This execution of the single palm change is very simple and direct and is used as a basic method of changing directions in the circle walk practice in Park Bok Nam's school. Park believes that the beginning student should practice a very simple change of direction like this one before more complex single palm change maneuvers are practiced. Park's entire training method is based on first learning and becoming proficient at simple methods before moving onto more complex sequences. As a practitioner develops in Park's system, the single palm change maneuvers move gradually from the simple method shown above to much more complex methods which challenge the students flexibility, agility, maneuverability, balance and coordination.

Simple changes such as the one shown above are somewhat characteristic of the Yin Fu ^S) styles of Ba Gua as Yin Fu style fighting tactics tend to be very direct. Of course this does not mean that all of their variations of the single palm change were simple, many of the training sets have more complex variations. However, Yin style tends to be very direct in applications and thus the simple changes were preferred.

The Liang Zhen Pu school of Ba Gua also has a very simple change which is executed in their "old eight palms" form, as demonstrated on page 11 by Li Zi Ming's student Zhao Da Yuan {M. Kru

). This single palm change execution makes use of the "piercing palm" which is also characteristic of the Yin Fu system. Liang Zhen Pu studied Ba Gua with both of Dong Hai Chuan's (i i^MI) top students, Yin Fu and Cheng Ting Hua after Dong died. Thus the

Liang style of Ba Gua incorporates characteristics of both styles.

The Cheng Ting Hua schools of Ba Gua tend to teach a more complex turning and twisting version of the single palm change, even at the beginning levels. The Cheng school, which includes all forms of

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