Tim Cartmell on Baguazhang’s Palm Changes and Other Practices

Hey everyone, here is another my posts on Xingyiquan and Baguazhang specifically.  This time it’s Baguazhang’s turn with Tim’s thoughts on the palm changes.  All of this materially was found on the Shen Wu Discussion Boards, this is just a small bit that I pulled off a few years ago.


On the Single, Double, and Smooth Palm Changes

The developers of the various styles of Ba Gua Zhang seem to have modified the Single and Double Palm Changes to suit the particular types of power and technique of their respective styles.

As far as I know, Dong Hai Chuan (the founder) originally practiced three forms, the Single Palm Change, the Double Palm Change and the Smooth Palm Change (which has survived in most Cheng Ting Hua systems as the “Snake Form”). Ba Gua Zhang is based upon circular/spiral and rotational momentums. The original forms were apparently designed to cultivate these. The Single Palm Change was designed to cultivate horizontal circular power, the Double Palm Change was designed to develop vertical circular power and the Smooth Palm Change to develop oblique (angled between horizontal and vertical) circular power. Some later practitioners modified the original movements to emphasize different developmental aspects (Gao Yi Sheng for example combined all three basic circular energies into the Single Palm Change alone).  Sun Lu Tang’s Snake Form is a fair representation of the Smooth Body Palm.

When you rotate or turn the body parallel to the ground, horizontal force is created. When you either raise or lower the body while rotating, vertical power is created. When you angle (lean) the torso as you rotate the body, oblique power is created.

The Gao Style Single Palm Change wraps up in the horizontal plane, unwraps in the oblique plane and ends by lowering the palms and weight vertically.

On the Yijing and Baguazhang

Trigrams were invented by the ancient Chinese as a method of divination. The trigrams are models which represent how all phenomenon in nature continually change, and were used in an attempt to predict the future. They can, theoretically, be applied to anything, including martial arts (any martial art, not just Ba Gua Zhang). Personally, I think the less time spent trying to relate fighting techniques to ancient methods of fortune telling, the more time left over for real training.

On the Practicality of Baguazhang Principles

We use a lot of yielding to and ‘borrowing’ force type techniques in our training. If you don’t have the opportunity to attack first, I recommend avoiding the incoming attack without attempting to change its direction (as much as possible). If you can do this, your opponent doesn’t have any “news” or tactile input about your positioning, and you have the opportunity to use his momentum against him. It’s not so mysterious.

What Dong Hai Chuan’s circle walk and palm changes had to offer his original students (who were all accomplished martial artists before they met him) was the ability to use their techniques while in constant, evasive movement. In addition, the type of ‘jin’ used was completely circular in nature, which allowed the fighters to conserve their momentum and apply force continuously, without breaks (which is impossible to do with linear or staccato movement). Dong’s students, after learning Ba Gua Zhang, in effect modified their original techniques to conform to the principles of Ba Gua. This is why you often hear that Ba Gua Zhang is an art of strategy as opposed to technique.

On “Wrapping” in Baguazhang
Wrapping movements are of the type which close up the two sides of the body (usually with a toe in step). They simultaneously store and generate power. Circles are never wholly offensive or defensive, they provide the potential for both at once.

On Cheng Baguazhang’s Swimming Dragon Practice

The “swimming dragon” or “swimming body” variations of Ba Gua Zhang come from the Cheng Ting Hua schools. Cheng Ting Hua created a method of practicing the link forms in which the movement never stopped, even when changing directions. Often different parts of the body move in as many as three different directions at once, all coordinated around the movement of the hips. These types of movements are very difficult to master. The purpose of swimming body training was to bring the control of the body to a higher level, and to give the practitioner an edge when it came to the ability to generate force from unorthodox angles (and the forms are very good exercise as well).

In application, swimming body techniques are designed to throw or repel the opponent in the same motion as his attack. Eyewitnesses at the time said that as soon as opponents came into contact with Cheng Ting Hua, they were thrown out like a rock that hits a spinning wheel.

On Baguazhang’s Circular Power and Movements

Ba Gua Zhang’s emphasis on circular movements and stepping patterns are designed to train the correct sequence of movement and rhythm (“correct” according to the principles of Ba Gua Zhang). The training cultivates the kind of ‘jin’ or flow of momentum specific to the Art. The fighter is conditioned to move in arcs/circles, primarily in horizontal, vertical and oblique patterns. But in application, the Ba Gua fighter does not necessarily walk and spin in continuous circles.

Think of a bowling ball. You roll it down the alley (it spins vertically), but it hits the pins in a more or less straight line. So some of the applications which appear to be only linear still involve circular or spiral momentum. Conversely, many of the techniques actually involve moving the opponent around you in one of the circular planes of force with you as the center.

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