"Bagua zhang" literally means "eight trigram palm," which refers to the canons of Taoism and specifically one of the trigrams of the I Ching (Yijing).
The History of Baguazhang
The martial arts go back a long way in China and are made up of several disciplines. Due to a lack of recorded history and the fact that many of the arts were simply practiced in isolation, it is highly difficult to compile a complete history of any one of them. Such is the case with Baguazhang as well.
Along with this, no one truly knows who invented Baguazhang. That said, it appears that the art reached its height in popularity between the middle period of Qing Dao Guang (1821-150) to Guang Xu sixth year (1881). Documents appear to indicate that a master by the name of Dong Haichuan was highly responsible for the art's popularity, as during the 19th century he worked as a servant in the Imperial Palace in Beijing, eventually impressing the emperor while practicing the art to the point that he became bodyguard to the court. There is significant evidence that Haichuan learned the practice from Taoist and possibly even Buddhist teachers in the mountains of rural China. In fact, there is some evidence to suggest that a master by the name of Dong Meng-Lin taught Dong Haichuan and others Baguazhang, though the history is cloudy. Thus, Dong Haichuan is widely given credit for formalizing the art form, if not inventing it.
From Haichuan, Baguazhang spread amongst known masters like Fu Chen Sung, Yin Fu, Cheng Tinghua, Song Changrong, Liu Fengchun, Ma Weigi, Liang Zhenpu, and Liu Dekuan. From these practitioners several offshoots of the original style were formed, all of which emphasized different things. It is believed by many that Cheng Tinghua was Haichuan's best student.
Characteristics of Baguazhang
Baguazhang is a soft and internal martial arts style. By internal, it is meant that early training focuses on the mind and understanding the interplay between what is being done both on the inside (mind) and outside (movements). Eventually this translates to external uses. In other words, the actual movements and techniques.
Baguazhang is often characterized by slow moving, flowing forms. That said, there are differences between the various styles.
Goals of Baguazhang
The main purpose of Baguazhang is to improve health. It is about the flow between the mind and body. The theory behind learning this art form is that once it is understood, a person's overall life and balance will improve. Meditation and using one's energy effectively are a part of it all.
As a martial arts style, Baguazhang teaches practitioners how to use an opponent's own aggressiveness or energy against them. It is not a hard style. In other words, power on power moves are not emphasized.
Popular Substyles of Baguazhang
- Cheng (there are further substyles that fall under the Cheng category)