The Origins of Ba Gua Zhang – Part 2

Written by Dan Miller, et al, Pa Kua Chang Journal Volume 3, Number 2, January – February 1993, Edited by Dr. Troy Schott D.C.
The following blog posts will be selected articles from the illustrious Pa Kua Chang Journal. The Journal ran for about seven years, initially as the Pa Kua Chang Newsletter, it was a refreshing look into the actual current and historical state of baguazhang. Also, I have edited the article in many places for relevance and have left notes here and there. If I make any grievous mistake in the rewriting of this material, please let me know. – Troy Schott, D.C.
In the last post from the Pa Kua Chang Journal, we began a serial article which explores the origins of the art of Ba Gua Zhang. In the first instalment, we reported that there are four main theories relating to Ba Gua’s origins. These theories are as follows:
1) Dong Hai Chuan developed Ba Gua Zhang after learning Yin Yang Ba Pan Zhang from Dong Meng Lin. This version of Ba Gua’s origin was published in the 1937 text Yin Yang Ba Pan Zhang Fa written by Ren Zhi Cheng.
2) The Unauthorized History of the Indigo Pavilion (published in 1818) talks about eight direction stepping, Li Gua and Kan Gua as Ba Gua that was popular prior to Dong Hai Chuan (as early as 1813). From the writing in this text, some have deduced that this Ba Gua was the predecessor to the Ba Gua Zhang taught by Dong.
3) Dong Hai Chuan learned his art from Bi Cheng Xia on Jiu Hua (Nine Flower) Mountain. A discussion of this theory would also include any of the various stories about Dong learning from a “Daoist in the mountains.” When the Bi Cheng Xia theory is examined in this article, we will include popular theories regarding other Daoists that Dong might have learned from.
4) Dong Hai Chuan was the founder of Ba Gua Zhang. The individuals who subscribe to this theory believe that Dong spent his youth learning other martial arts and invented Ba Gua Zhang based on his experience combined with a circle walking meditation practice he learned from a Daoist.


Ba Gua Zhang practitioner and martial arts historian, Kang Ge Wu. A Yunnan native, Kang now lives in Beijing.

In the first part of this article, we examined the first two theories listed above and concluded that these two theories had no basis in fact. The primary source of this information was taken from the work of Professor Kang Ge Wu of Beijing. While working on his master’s degree in Chinese martial arts history in 1980-81, Professor Kang wrote his thesis on the “Origins of Ba Gua Zhang.” When I visited with Kang last year in Beijing (November 1991), he gave me a copy of his findings and the translation of his report forms the foundation of this article.
Professor Kang’s research was extensive and involved close examination of over 650 documents from the Qing Palace history books and over 230 papers written on martial arts. He also examined the situations of 413 teachers in 24 provinces and cities, personally investigating in 16 cities and counties and 9 provinces. Kang interviewed over 256 people resulting in over 274 documents. Many of the people he interviewed were elderly boxers of the older generation who spoke openly about their martial arts. While conducting his research, Kang was a motivating force in the effort to restore Dong Hai Chuan’s tomb and participated with 371 others in the unearthing and moving of the tomb.
In the first part of this article I reported that, although the research conducted by Kang Ge Wu was fairly thorough, I thought there were some conclusions he made in his final analysis that I would not have been so quick to make. In his summary, Kang concluded that it was Dong Hai Chuan alone who originated Ba Gua Zhang (theory 4 above). I thought his reasons for discounting theory three above were weak in terms of western scholarly logic and stated this concern in the first part of this article. In October 1992, I had the opportunity to meet with Professor Kang in Beijing and discuss some of the points I thought were missing from his thesis. During this meeting he provided me with additional information that was not printed in his thesis, particularly pertaining to the Ba Gua Zhang of Gao Yi Sheng, and answered other questions I had concerning his thesis work and the life of Dong Hai Chuan. After several meetings with Professor Kang, I must say, I have been convinced that his conclusion concerning Ba Gua Zhang’s origin is valid. In this, the second part of this article we will explore theory three above which states that Dong learned from the Daoist Bi Cheng Xia. In the next post from the Journal, we will discuss the fourth theory and draw conclusions accordingly.
Bi Cheng Xia and Jiu Hua Mountain Ba Gua Zhang
After Dong Hai Chuan’s death in 1882, his successors made a point of saying that Dong had learned his art from a Daoist in the “mountain vastness” while traveling throughout the country studying martial arts. Many stories were told about Dong learning from Immortals, Daoist sages, or Buddhists in ancient temples located on clouded mountain peaks. Although it is difficult to conclude from these stories where these mystical mountains might have been located, Yin Fu and others stated that the mountains where Dong learned his art were in An Hui Province (Wen An county stele at Dong’s gravesite, 1904). In 1930, Ma Gui and a group of other practitioners placed two additional steles at Dong’s grave and recorded that the location in An Hui where Dong received his instruction was on Jiu Hua (Nine Flower) Mountain.
While fantastic stories about immortals on clouded mountain tops are difficult to believe and originate primarily from the creative minds of pulp novelists and storytellers, Nine Flower Maintain (Jiu Hua Shan) is a real place. So the question arises – If Dong Hai Chuan did learn his art from another, is this the place where Dong’s training took place?
On December 31, 1932, Jiang Rong Jiao wrote an article entitled “Investigating Tai Ji and Ba Gua” which originally appeared in Guo Shu Monthly (In the late 1920’s and early 1930’s Jiang Rong Jiao held the position as martial arts researcher and editor at the Central Martial Arts Academy in Nanjing.) In this article, there is a section written about the lineage of Ba Gua and it states that Dong learned his art on Nine Flower Mountain. This account of Tung’s lineage reports that the elder of this system was the Taoist Dong Xuan, who’s original name was Zhang Quan Yi and was also known as Zhang San Feng. Zhang San Feng’s boxing and sword fighting art had been transmitted to Zhang Xiong Xi who taught what he referred to as Nei Jia Quan (Internal Family Boxing) in the Ming Dynasty. The article reported that this art was handed down from Zhang Song Xi to Zhao Tai Bing to Yan Xi Guai to Lu Shi Niang and then to Li Da Nian.
Li Da Nian was said to have taught Zhen Yin Zhang of An Hui Province who was a recluse living on Nine Flower Mountain – his Taoist name was Dan Yun You. Zhen Yin Zhang was said to have taught the Daoist Ye He (Wild Crane), who was also known as Bi Yue Xia or Bi Yun Xia. The “Wild Crane” Daoist was a white haired old gentleman of unknown origin. His Daoist name was Huan Dan Zi. Zhen Yin Zhang also taught Bi Yue Xia’s fraternal twin, Bi Cheng Xia, also known as Bi Dong Xia. These two Daoists were reported to be of the eighth generation of this system of boxing and they lived on Nine Flower Mountain.


Well-known Ba Gua Zhang stylist Jiang Rong Jiao (left) sits with his student Sha Guo Zheng (right). Liu Yun Fa is standing behind Jiang and Sha.

Jiang’s article reports that Bi Yue Xia taught a man named Song De He, who was more commonly known as Song Wei Yi. Song was from Bei Zhen County in the Feng Dian area of Liaoning Province. Song Wei Yi was a recluse living in Lu Shan who died in 1925 (Those readers with a good memory will recall that Song Wei Yi taught Wu Dang Sword to Li Jing Lin, who taught it to Li Tian Ji and Fu Yong Hui, who both taught this style to Bow Sim-Mark. (See Pa Kua Chang Journal, Vol 2, No. 6)). The article also states that Bi Yue Xia’s brother, Bi Cheng Xia taught Dong Hai Chuan while Dong was taking refuge in Nine Flower Mountain. Dong Hai Chuan and Song Wei Yi were said to be ninth generation of this art. From here the lineage in the article continues by listing students of Song and Dong.
The inquisitive reader might ask – Where did Jiang get the information for his article? Jiang himself reported that in 1932, while serving as the editor of Guo Shu Monthly, he was searching for collected material on the origins of martial arts to confirm their veracity. A friend of his, Wu Jin Shan (who was the head Ba Gua Zhang instructor at the Central Martial Arts Academy in Nanjing and a Ba Gua Zhang student of Han Fu Shan) had showed him a book on sword methods which he had kept hidden. The title of the book was Wu Dang Sword: The Unity of Tai Ji and Ba Gua. Wu Jin Shan had received this volume from Zhang Xiang Wu, who was also known as Zhang Xian, and it was rumored to be the “secret” teachings of Song Wei Yi. The question we must ask is – was the lineage in this book reliable?
Jiang’s report on the lineage of Ba Gua relies completely on the lineage printed in the section entitled “A revised examination of Tai Ji and Ba Gua” in the so-called “secret” sword text held by Zhang Xiang Wu and thus an investigation of this manual was undertaken by Professor Kang.
An Investigation of Song Wei Yi’s Sword Manual
In 1980, Professor Kang Ge Wu had the opportunity to view a copy of Song Wei Yi’s original Wu Dang Sword manual (which was then held by Zhou Zun Fuo). Then in 1981, Kang was able to view the version which was given to Zhang Xiang Wu by Song Wei Yi. This version was held by Zhang’s second son, Zhang Bing Guang. Comparing the two versions, Kang found that the contents were the same except for the section which discussed lineage, in which he found several discrepancies.
In the original version of Song’s book, the section on lineage only discusses the lineage of Wu Dang Sword and says nothing about Dong Hai Chuan or Ba Gua Zhang. Additionally, in the original version it says that Zhen Yin Zhang accepted only the “Wild Crane Daoist” as his student. It does not say anything about him teaching his brother Bi Cheng Xia or Bi Dong Xia. Furthermore, the Wild Crane Daoist’s surname is given as Zhang and personal name as Ye He. It does not say Bi Yun Xia or Bi Yue Xia are names that he used. It states clearly that Zhang Ye He was a native of Zhu Yang County, Zhi Li (present day Beijing area). This original book has no listing of students under Dong Hai Chuan or Song Wei Yi. Additionally, in the preface to this book, Song Wei Yi says that he only learned Wu Dang Sword from the White Crane Daoist, there is no mention of Ba Gua Zhang.
Based on these discrepancies found in the two versions of Song Wei Yi’s sword manual, Kang Ge Wu concluded that the lineage in the “secret” manual held by Zhang Xiang Wu stating that Dong Hai Chuan learned from Bi Cheng Xia and Song Wei Yi learned from his brother Bi Yue Xia were spurious additions. Since this is the version which was used by Jiang Rong Jiao in his 1932 article, Kang concluded that this information was not valid.
Some sources state that at some point in time, when Dong Hai Chuan was living in Beijing, he and Song Wei Yi had the opportunity to meet and compare styles. This story states that the two men agreed that their respective systems were very similar, however, they noted differences in the way the two Bi brothers had taught the art. Based on all other facts concerning Bi Cheng Xia having taught Dong, this story is probably not true. It is highly unlikely that Dong and Song Wei Yi ever met.
Kang also reports that in an article in Guo Shu Monthly published on February 4th, 1933 (90th issue) Jiang stated that “Ba Gua is based on the Luo River Diagram and upon the trigrams of the Yijing and it was propagated by Dong Hai Chuan of Zhu Jia Wu, Wen An County, Hebei.” In November of 1935, Jiang wrote the introduction to an article entitled “The History of Ba Gua Zhang,” which was written by Wu Jin Shan (Guo Shu Bi-Weekly, Number 144-145). In his introduction to the article, Jiang supplied the lineage found in the “secret” sword book of Song Wei Yi which was supplied by Zhang Xiang Wu. However, the first thing the article states is that the Ba Gua Zhang circle walk practice was originated with Dong Hai Chuan. Kang suggests that, after researching this problem for a while, the authors did not agree with the lineage which was printed in Zhang Xiang Wu’s version of Song Wei Yi’s manual.
In 1937, the martial arts researcher Xu Che Dong wrote in his “Separating Truth from Fiction in the Tai Ji Manuals” a section on the common origins of Tai Ji and Ba Gua which was found in the Wu Dang Sword manual held by Zhang Xiang Wu. If one examines Song Wei Yi’s lineage as detailed in this book, it states that Zhang San Feng taught Zhang Xiong Xi. Xu wrote that not only does this lineage have nothing to do with Tai Ji, it does not even fit in with any of the legends or oral history of Nei Jia Quan, which is what Zhang Xiong Xi taught. Xu concluded that the lineage written in this book has nothing to do with Tai Ji and that this lineage was not written by Song Wei Yi, but added later by Zhang Xiang Wu. As for the generational names following Zhang Xiong Xi, Xu stated that they were obviously fabricated.
Gao Yi Sheng’s Ba Gua Zhang

In 1936 (Gao Yi Sheng actually first wrote his book in 1927, re-wrote it in 1932, and completed it in 1936), Gao Yi Sheng wrote in the forward to his book, Ba Gua Supple Body Continuous Palms, that between 1911 and 1918 while he was teaching in Da Shan township, he met a Daoist who called himself Song Yi Ren who taught him Hou Tian Ba Gua Zhang (64 straight line sets). The story which is told by some of Gao’s descendants says that after Gao had studied Ba Gua Zhang with Zhou Yu Xiang and Cheng Ting Hua, he returned to his home in Shandong Province, around 1911, to teach what he had learned. One day, while Gao was teaching, a long bearded Daoist came to observe his class. Gao noticed the Daoist making dissatisfied expressions while Gao was teaching. After the class was over, Gao asked the Daoist why he looked unhappy with what he was teaching. The Daoist replied, “Even though you have been scraping the surface of this art for many years, you are still boxing blindly.” Gao asked him to continue. The Daoist said, “I also practice Ba Gua and I learned from the same teacher as Dong Hai Chuan, the founder of your style.”


Ba Gua Zhang instructor Gao Yi Sheng said his “later-heaven palms” were not from Dong.

According to the Daoist, what Gao had learned from his teachers was the “pre-heaven” Ba Gua skills. The Daoist knew this method, but additionally, he practiced the “later-heaven” skills. The Daoist told Gao that Dong Hai Chuan had left their teacher after learning the pre-heaven circle walking method and thus did not stay long enough to learn the later-heaven set. Gao begged the Daoist to stay and stopped teaching Ba Gua himself. Gao went with the Daoist and began his study of Ba Gua from the beginning.
The Daoist Gao studied with was named Song Yi Ren. Many feel that this was not his real name as Song Yi Ren is a homonym for “someone who shares his art.” This Daoist was said to be a classmate of Ying Wen Tian and Dong Hai Chuan when Dong was studying with the Daoist Bi Cheng Xia.
Gao left Shandong once again around 1917 and went to Tianjin. While in Tianjin, Gao ran into his old teacher Zhou Yu Xiang. Zhou wanted to test Gao’s progress. He advanced on Gao twice and was deflected. On the third strike, Gao used “reverse opening palm” and Zhou was knocked away. Zhou was so impressed with Gao’s 64 “later-heaven” palms that he traveled to Shandong to try and find Song Yi Ren, but he could not find any such person.
While teaching his art in Tianjin, one of Gao’s senior students was Wu Meng Xia. Wu had studied Ba Gua Zhang with Han Mu Xia prior to studying with Gao. After Wu had studied with Gao, he reported that his teacher Han Mu Xia had learned from a Taoist named Ying Wen Tian who had studied with, none other than, Bi Cheng Xia. Wu said that the Ba Gua he learned from Han was the same as what Gao taught as his 64 later-heaven palms. He claimed that since the two men had never met, what Han had learned from Ying Wen Tian and what Gao had learned from Song Yi Ren must have come from the same source, namely Bi Cheng Xia. (For a more detailed account of Gao’s story, see Pa Kua Chang Newsletter, Vol. 2, No. 3)


Gao’s student Wu Meng Xia claimed that Gao’s later-heaven Ba Gua was the same as that taught by Han Mu Xia.

Armed with the information given above, Professor Kang Ge Wu conducted an investigation into the veracity of Gao’s story. The primary results of his investigation were printed in his forward to Liu Feng Cai’s book, The Gao Yi Sheng Style of Cheng Ting Hua’s Ba Gua Zhang, published in 1991. Other miscellaneous details of his investigation were given to me by Kang during an interview conducted in October, 1992, in Beijing.
According to Kang, who has read and researched literally thousands of books on Chinese martial arts in his capacity as the head martial arts historian of the Wu Shu Research Institute of China, the first mention of a man named Song Yi Ren was in the forward to Gao’s book. When Kang visited Da Shan village, where Gao was supposed to have learned from Song, he could not find any villagers who had ever seen, nor heard mention, of a man named Song Yi Ren who taught Ba Gua Zhang. Although Kang’s visit occurred decades after Gao had supposedly learned from Song, and thus there are probably no villagers alive who would have been alive when Gao was there, Zhou Yu Xiang was said to have visited the area in search of Song Yi Ren a few years after Gao had studied with him and could not find a trace of the man. Another fact that Kang discovered is that in two different drafts of his forward, Gao had used different characters for the name Song Yi Ren. This discovery leads one to further suspect Gao’s story.
While the story told by Wu Meng Xia regarding the Hou Tian Ba Gua that his teacher Han Mu Xia learned from Ying Wen Tian being the same as what Song Yi Ren taught Gao seems to lend some credibility to Gao’s story, Professor Kang conducted an investigation and found that the story is simply not true. Han Mu Xia had studied Xing Yi and Ba Gua from Zhang Zhao Dong in Tianjin.
When Zhang Zhao Dong was in Tianjin, he lived with, and was supported by, a wealthy man named Zhuo. Zhuo’s son, Zhuo Zhi He, who is presently 88 years old and still lives in Tianjin, told Kang that after Han Mu Xia had become famous for beating up a Russian strongman he became quite arrogant and on one occasion came back to practice with Zhang and thought he could embarrass his teacher in a sparring match. As they were practicing, Han kept pressing the attack and backed Zhang up to a wall. When Zhang detected Han’s intentions, he turned his defense into an attack and knocked Han to the floor. After this incident the two were bitter enemies and Han would not admit that he ever learned from Zhang. Other than Han saying that he learned from a Daoist named Ying Wen Tian, Kang has not found any reference to such a man and believes that Han Mu Xia fabricated the story to spite Zhang Zhao Dong.
As far as Wu Meng Xia’s story about Han’s straight line Ba Gua Zhang being similar to Gao’s, there are two theories. One states that Gao Yi Sheng and Han Mu Xia actually did know each other and could have shared their Ba Gua. They were both living in Tianjin at the same time and thus it is highly likely that they knew each other. The other theory, which was related to me by a few of the student’s in Gao’s lineage, says that Wu Meng Xia actually fabricated the story in order to support his teacher’s claim that he had learned the Hou Tian Ba Gua from Song Yi Ren.


In the ten years (Ed. Note: more than 30 years now as of Jan 2018) since his thesis was published, Professor Kang Ge Wu has found no evidence to contradict his conclusion that Dong was the originator of Ba Gua Zhang.

Regardless of where these stories originated, there are very few Ba Gua practitioners today, even in Gao’s lineage, who really believe that the Hou Tian Ba Gua came from a Daoist named Song Yi Ren. The fact that Liu Feng Cai, Gao’s own student (Ed. Note: he was also Gao’s nephew), printed the result of Kang Ge Wu’s research into Gao’s story as the forward to his book proves that he does not buy Gao’s story.
So where did Gao’s Hou Tian Ba Gua come from? Most people, including Kang Ge Wu and a number of practitioners in Gao’s lineage, believe that the straight line Hou Tian Ba Gua was Gao’s systemization of the instruction he received from Cheng Ting Hua and Zhou Yu Xiang. Kao himself had told his student Liu Feng Cai that when he first met Zhou Yu Xiang, Zhou had used Tai to knock him down. This technique appears in the 4th line, number 3, of Gao’s Hou Tian palms. It was also well known that Zhou’s favorite technique was Kai Zhang, which is the first of Gao’s sixty-four straight line palms.
In 1966, the book Ba Gua Zhang Illustrated written by one of Zhou Yu Xiang’s other students, Yan De Hua, was published. Out of the 34 techniques described in this book, 31 are the same as the techniques which appear in Gao’s Hou Tian Ba Gua. The other three techniques appear in Gao’s Xian Tian set. Professor Kang Ge Wu believes that at least half of the techniques in Gao’s Hou Tian Ba Gua came directly from Zhou Yu Xiang.
Before learning Ba Gua Zhang, GAO had studied and become very proficient in Da Hong Quan. The eight elbows and eight kicking sets that are practiced in Gao’s system are said to have been adapted from his Da Hong Quan experience. It would seem logical that Gao also used some of his Da Hong Quan experience when creating some of the Hou Tian techniques.
Most people now believe that Gao took the essence of Cheng’s Ba Gua and what Cheng and Zhou had taught as Ba Gua applications and, borrowing Xing Yi Quan’s idea of practicing one technique over and over again on a straight line, he created the 64 straight line changes on his own. He probably worked on developing this set while he was in Shantung between 1912 and 1918. Gao would have been between 45 and 50 years old during those years and certainly had enough martial arts experience to have developed insights into how Ba Gua should be trained for fighting. He most likely fabricated the story about the Daoist Song Yi Ren in order to lend some historic validity to his system. Since he wrote the forward to his book in 1936 and Jiang Rong Jiao’s article about Ba Gua being passed down to Dong by the Daoist Bi Cheng Xia was printed in 1932, it is likely that Gao used this information and said that his teacher Song Yi Ren studied with Bi.
Straight Line Ba Gua Zhang

Although it is said that Dong Hai Chuan never taught any straight line Ba Gua Zhang, straight line Ba Gua sets are not at all uncommon. While visiting Taiwan and Beijing in September and October 1992, I had the opportunity to interview a number of fourth generation Ba Gua Zhang practitioners from the Yin Fu lineage, the Cheng Ting Hua lineage, and the Liang Zhen Pu lineage. All of these practitioners, without exception, stated that their system included straight line practice sets. Yin Fu’s system includes 72 straight line sets where the practitioner will practice while stepping in a triangular, or zig-zag pattern. Cheng Ting Hua’s straight line drills involve taking one technique, such as chuan zhang (piercing palm) and repeating it over and over while stepping in a straight line. Liu De Kuan’s first straight line Ba Gua was simply the circular palm changes repeated on a straight line. Late in his life, Liu devised another straight line Ba Gua set by combining all of his years of experience in Ba Gua, Xing Yi, and Tai Ji (Ed. Note: as well as Ba Fan Shou, aka Yue Shi San Shou). This set was designed to train fighting applications. A few of the schools in Cheng Ting Hua’s lineage now practice Liu De Kuan’s straight line sets.
Liang Zhen Pu’s Ba Gua contains eight straight line sets which each contain 8 movements. The first movement of each set is an attack. The next movement is designed to simultaneously defend against and counter-attack the movement that the opponent would most likely make to defend himself against the original attack. The set continues in this fashion and thus becomes a linked fighting sequence. All four of the teachers mentioned above were students of Dong (although Liu De Kuan is said to have actually learned from Cheng Ting Hua). The first recorded straight line Ba Gua appeared when Liu De Kuan taught Ba Gua to the Army. Teaching Ba Gua in such a large group it was not convenient to put everyone on a circle, so Liu took the 64 circle changes he had learned from Dong and put them in a straight line.
In order to understand how these straight line sets might have developed, it is important to understand how Dong taught his Ba Gua. While interviewing numerous different fourth generation practitioners in Beijing, a question I asked was, “How did Dong teach Ba Gua?” Although the answers to this question would vary slightly from person to person, one of the answers which appeared consistently states that after Dong had taught the circle walking method to his students he would teach applications by simply demonstrating how he would handle a given situation. If a student asked how to handle a particular attack, Dong would simply demonstrate how he would do it. The technique he applied would not necessarily conform to one of the palm changes taught in the circular form and the technique he applied one day might be different than a technique he would apply the next day for another student asking the same question. Many of Dong’s students practiced these combat techniques repetitively in a straight line in order to remember them and improve their skill – thus “straight line” Ba Gua was born.
Others say that Dong taught 64 separate combat techniques which were not part of any form and later his students systematized them into straight line sets. In most of the different systems of Ba Gua the straight line work is taught to advanced students and is used to train combat techniques.
Investigating Jiu Hua (Nine Flower) Mountain
Ba Gua Zhang practitioners who cling to the Bi Cheng Xia theory state that prior to the Cultural Revolution in China there were actually tomb stones and graves of Bi Cheng Xia and Bi Yue Xia located on Nine Flower Mountain. Not one to leave any stones unturned, Professor Kang Ge Wu spent several weeks on Nine Flower Mountain investigating this possibility. In his thesis he reports that according to the Nine Flower Mountain Guide Book written in 1925 by Zhang Zhou Wei of Ching Yang County, under the historical section, it states that in the 3rd year of the Zhi De Emperor the mountain became an important Buddhist retreat. During the Ming and Qing Dynasties the mountain continued to be a place of veneration and worship for the Buddhists as it was believed that a Buddhist deity had visited there.
Another resident of Nine Flower Mountain, Zhou Ping Qu, wrote in the Chronicles of Nine Flower Mountain (1900) that the mountain had been an important Buddhist holy place throughout the Qing Dynasty. Kang reports that he could not find any reference to Daoists or the names Bi Cheng Xia or Bi Yue Xia in either of these books.
Books can be wrong and books can be incomplete, so in August of 1980 Professor Kang took a trip to Nine Flower Mountain to conduct an investigation. While at Jiu Hua Shan, Kang spent 10 days visiting 12 different monasteries and he interviewed 26 monks. He also spent several days talking with elderly residents of the community and reviewing local records. What he found was nothing, zip, and zero. No one had ever heard of Bi Cheng Xia or Bi Yue Xia , no one had ever seen grave stones or tombs, nor had anyone ever heard of a martial art which resembles Ba Gua Zhang being practiced on Jiu Hua mountain. Based on the information Kang collected regarding Dong Hai Chuan learning Ba Gua from the Daoist Bi Cheng Xia he concluded that the story is without factual basis.
Legends of Other Daoists
Aside from the story of Ba Gua Zhang originating from the brothers Bi, there are numerous other fables floating around which claim that Dong learned from other mystical masters of the mountains. Many of these stories of Ba Gua’s origins, and anecdotes of Dong’s life, were the creations of a well-known storyteller in Tianjin, Zhang Jie San. Zhang practiced Ba Gua and loved to tell stories about Dong to anyone who would listen. Those who sat and listened to his tales knew that he was making them up because many times he would tell a piece of the story and then ask the listeners to come back another time to hear the rest of the story as he had not yet thought of a good ending. Because Zhang was so good at his storytelling craft, some listeners wrote his stories down and they were subsequently printed in the New Tianjin Newspaper. A collection of his stories about Dong were also published in a novel. Unfortunately, many have read Zhang’s stories and taken them to be fact.
One of Zhang Jie San stories had a hidden message to his listeners. On one occasion, when asked to speak about the origin of Ba Gua Zhang, Zhang told a story about how Dong Hai Chuan had learned Ba Gua from two men on Jiu Hua Mountain. One was a Daoist named Shang Dao Ming and the other was a Buddhist named He Dao Yuan. In this story, Zhang told of these two men’s ability to walk on water. Their technique was to continuously whip the water which was out in front of them with a staff and use the force that was generated by the water splashing upwards to support them as they walked ( . . . it could happen!).
The Buddhist and the Daoist had come together and devised a system of health building which relied on the principles of the Ba Gua. Dong Hai Chuan met these men and spent 18 years learning their system. When Dong had first started to study with these wise gentlemen, they had him practicing a unique method for developing gong fu of the palms. Before Dong sat down to prepare a meal he was required to remove the hulls from his rice by rubbing the rice between his palms. In the beginning he could barely get enough food to eat because his palms had not yet been developed. However, after practicing Ba Gua, he was able to easily remove the hulls from rice using this palm method. The story says that when Dong left his teachers, he used the name Ba Gua Zhang to describe what he had learned and he later modified the method he was taught.
The message which was hidden in Zhang’s stories about Shang Dao Ming and He Dao Yuan is revealed if you put the two names together and read the characters as a sentence. Shang Dao Ming means “if the way is clear” and He Dao Yuan means “why know the origin.” Zhang’s message to his listeners was that if the way of practicing Ba Gua Zhang is clear, you don’t have to be worried about where it came from.
Emei Mountain Ba Gua Zhang?
Along with the stories of Dong learning from Daoists on Jiu Hua mountain, there are other stories which say that he spent time in the Emei mountain area of Sichuan Province and that he learned his Ba Gua there. In his book Ba Gua Lian Huan Zhang, Wang Shu Jin tells of how Dong learned from two Taoists on Emei mountain named Shang Dao Yuan and Gu Ji Zi. In this book Wang also states that the two Daoists taught Dong the circle walking method telling him that he was to walk the circle around a tree until he felt the tree chasing him. When he had reached this stage, Dong was to come back to them for more training. It was said that Dong practiced for eight years and finally understood what the Daoists were talking about. He went back to them and they said he was now to walk around two trees until he had the same experience. Dong practice like this for two years and the Daoists asked him if he was home sick. He said he was and so the Daoists taught him the Ba Gua palm changes and weapons during the next few years and sent him on his way.
It is a well-known fact that this story about walking the circle around a tree until he felt as if the tree was chasing him was a Zhang Jie San original. Since Wang Shu Jin was from the town where Zhang told his stories, and Wang printed this Zhang Jie San fable in his book, it is likely that Zhang also fabricated the Daoists Shang Dao Yuan and Gu Ji Zi.
Another well-known story about Ba Gua Zhang originating on Emei mountain was printed in 1983 in China’s Wu Lin Magazine. The author, Tian Hui of Beijing, claimed to be the ninth generation of the Tian Family Ba Gua Zhang. About the same time this article was published in Wu Lin, an interview with Tian Hui, entitled “Another Branch of Ba Gua”, was published in Wu Hun, another well-known martial arts magazine in China.
The first article to appear on Tian family Ba Gua said that the Ba Gua that Tian Hui practiced was over 400 years old and had been a closely guarded, closed door art, only taught within his family. In the second article Tian said that at the end of the Ming Dynasty his ancestors Tian Hao Jie and Tian Xuan left the family without notice. They became Taoists and separated themselves from the world. The two went to Emei Mountain and studied Ba Gua from two Daoists named Bi Yun and Jing Yun. After several decades Tian Xuan returned home and taught the head of the Tian family clan what he had learned. From this time on, Ba Gua was taught to each generation in their family. The tradition was passed down from the elders who were frequently involved with anti-Qing organizations.


Tian Hui claims to have studied a family style Ba Gua Zhang which is over 400 years old.

During the reigns of Kāngxī (1662-1722) and Yōngzhèng (1723-1735), a second generation practitioner of Tian family Ba Gua, Tian Li Yu was in opposition with the Emperor. He secretly entered the Palace in Beijing on several occasions and killed people. During the Dàoguāng Emperor’s reign (1821-1850), a third generation practitioner, Tian Fu You, had great battles in front of the Emperor regents palace and killed several scores of people. This news was said to have shaken Beijing at the time. This story was told 100 years later by Tian Hui, who at the time was 60 years old.
When Professor Kang Ge Wu read these two stories, he was naturally very interested and so he went to visit Tian on three separate occasions. Each time Tian Hui refused to discuss the origins of his “closed-door” system of Ba Gua and refused to say where the Tian family had originally lived. He also would not present any evidence that the story he told to the magazines was true.
Having hit a dead end with Tian Hui, Kang investigated the claims Tian made in his story. If it was true that members of Tian’s family had killed people in the Forbidden City and outside the Prince regent’s palace, there certainly would have been some record of it if, as Tian said, “the news shook Beijing.” The result of Kang’s investigation into these stories was that this “earthshaking” news does not appear anywhere in the documentation of the time. Based on his experience with Tian Hui, Kang could not help but be very suspicious of his story.
The next step Professor Kang took was to examine the article Tian had written about his Ba Gua and compare it to the Ba Gua of Dong Hai Chuan. Interestingly enough the Tian family Ba Gua Zhang footwork, special characteristics of the style, and the palm methods of the style were not only similar to the Ba Gua of Dong Hai Chuan, but the words Tian used to describe these aspects of his system were exactly the same words Jiang Rong Jiao had used in his book Ba Gua Zhang Lian Xi Fa. What a coincidence!
Other aspects of Tian style were also similar to what is practiced by many practitioners in the Dong Hai Chuan lineage. He stated that his system utilizes the “crane” stepping technique throughout the practice. This technique is utilized by many practitioners in Tung’s lineage. Practitioners in the Yin Fu lineage use this step when practicing the Phoenix Gua of their system. Based on the similarities between the two Ba Gua systems, Kang concluded that this was not an art that had been kept within the Tian family.
In the summer of 1984, Kang sent members of the Beijing Martial Arts Association to the Tian family’s original home in Tianjin city, Tang Zhang district, Shan Chang Township. The investigators were Zhao Da Yuan and Shao Guo Yong. The Tang Zhang District Athletic Committee accompanied Zhao and Shao. The group interviewed people who lived near the Tian family homestead. They spoke with members of the Tian family, their friends, and elders of the community who had grown up with them.
Zhao reported that it was clear that the names shown in the Tian family records of the past nine generations are different than the names Tian Hui used in his article. Also, the individuals who were interviewed went to great lengths to emphasize that no member of the Tian family had ever practiced martial arts. The people interviewed had grown up with Tian’s father and three brothers and said that not one of them were martial artists. After reading Zhao’s report, Kang visited the Tian family homestead to follow-up and he found their investigation to be accurate.
During the investigation, Kang also talked with Xie Pei Qi, a well-known Ba Gua Zhang stylist in the Yin Fu lineage who resides in Beijing. Hsieh was a student of Men Bao Zhen, one of Yin Fu’s students. Xie said that Tian Hui was a Ba Gua Zhang student of his senior student Shi Qin Jie (1924-1984). In light of the information which was collected, Kang concluded that the Ba Gua which is practiced by Tian Hui is not separate from Dong ‘s Ba Gua and the story printed in the magazines was totally fabricated by Tian Hui. Another one bites the dust.
There are others in China and abroad who say that they practice “Emei” style Ba Gua Zhang, which is not part of the Dong Hai Chuan’s lineage, and so naturally Professor Kang also conducted an extensive investigation into this arm of the Ba Gua Zhang legend. When I interviewed Professor Kang, my question concerning Emei style Ba Gua was simple, “What about Emei Ba Gua?” I asked. He answered with authority and without the slightest bit of hesitation, “There is no such thing.” Kang said that every Ba Gua Zhang style he investigated in the Emei area, and in Sichuan Province, which was called “Emei style” Ba Gua Zhang could be traced back to Dong Hai Chuan. Kang said that even, Lu Zi Qian’s Ba Gua can be traced directly back to Dong Hai Chuan. Lu is a well-known Ba Gua practitioner from Sichuan province who learned from a Ba Gua instructor from the Emei mountain area. Emei Mountain was the Shaan Xi and Sichuan border.
I do not doubt that there are Emei styles of Ba Gua Zhang practiced in Sichuan Province, just as there are Yin Fu styles, Liang Zhen Pu styles and Cheng Ting Hua styles practiced in Beijing, Gao Yi Sheng styles, Li Cun Yi styles, and Zhang Zhao Dong styles practiced in Tianjin and Fu Zhen Song styles practiced in Guangdong. There is no doubt that as Ba Gua spread from Beijing into different areas of China, practitioners modified what they were taught based on their experience. However, based on Professor Kang research, it would be difficult to convince me that there are systems of Ba Gua Zhang that preceded Dong’s Ba Gua or developed independently of Dong’s Ba Gua.
In the first section of this article (which was printed in the last issue of the Pa Kua Chang Journal), we explored the first two theories of Ba Gua Zhang’s origin and, based on Professor Kang Ge Wu’s research, we found these two theories to be without factual basis. In this issue we have explored the third theory. We explored this theory in some detail and did not find any supporting evidence for this theory. In the next issue, we will conclude this serial article by examining the fourth theory of Ba Gua’s origin.

Used with permission.

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