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What Is Baguazhang?

Michael Smathers
Michael Smathers

Chinese martial arts traditions have been passed down for centuries and are still in practice in modern times. From the five animal styles of Shaolin kung fu to the graceful movements of taijiqian, the Chinese martial arts encompass a variety of techniques. Baguazhang is a martial arts style that focuses almost exclusively on evasive footwork and using an attacker's force against him rather than using direct attacks. Practitioners of ba gua are almost always moving, presenting no vulnerabilities to any attacker. This martial art utilizes rotational movements to generate power in strikes.

The curriculum of baguazhang first focuses on footwork. The main exercise is called "walking the circle." Practitioners assume a bent-knee stance and begin walking in a circle. The feet point perpendicular to the upper body at first, and each step covers a 45-degree fraction of the total circle, making the full circle take eight steps to complete. As the style focuses on evasion and moving around an opponent, the practitioner should always face inward when walking the circle.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

Baguazhang relies heavily on quick footwork, and so there are few if any kicking techniques. Offensive techniques are confined to eight primary strikes from a deeply rooted stance. They include strikes with the ridge of the hand, the open palm, the knife-edge of the hand and double-palm strikes, among others. Ba gua practitioners can perform these strikes from a standing position or when moving in either direction along the circle.

More advanced baguazhang training teaches the student to move in progressively tighter space. At advanced levels, someone practicing the circle walk can appear to be turning in place and executing the movements. Some other forms include walking a figure eight, or completing one rotation and changing the direction of movement. Ba gua's purpose is to prepare a martial artist to evade an attacker, or to defend against multiple attackers, hence the rapid shifts in motion and orientation.

Baguazhang incorporates weapons training with various weapons such as the jian, or straight sword; the dao, or single-bladed saber; the waxwood staff and the deer horn daggers. The use of weapons is a staple in virtually all Chinese martial arts, because it teaches the student full awareness of weight distribution and techniques — and many weapons techniques are done as extensions of empty-hand techniques. In the initial stages of training, practitioners hold iron weights in their hands while maintaining a defensive stance through motion to increase hand and arm strength. Other curricula may include weighted vests.

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