Sunday, August 3, 2008

An Introduction to Baguazhang

Baguazhang (八卦掌), or "eight trigram palm," is a famous "internal" martial art centered in Beijing. Like the other internal martial arts of taijiquan and xingyiquan, baguazhang trains intrinsic energy, or "qi" (氣), and thus can be used effectively even in old age. Baguazhang is notable for several reasons:

  • Baguazhang is a Daoist martial art with unclear origins. Dong Haichuan (董海川), the expert who first made the style famous in Beijing, never made clear who or where he learned his skills from. Later historians have, however, pointed to likely influences such as the Longmen (Dragon Gate) branch of Quanzhen (Complete Reality) Daoism (道教全真龍門派), whose headquarters was the White Cloud Temple (白雲觀) in Beijing; one practice in particular, called Turning Heaven Veneration (轉天尊), has striking similarities to baguazhang's own circle walking practice.

  • Philosophically, baguazhang is based on the "Eight Trigrams" (八卦) of the Book of Changes (易經), an ancient book of divination, philosophy, and cosmology. As such, each technique is related to one of the 8 trigrams or one of the 64 hexagrams; techniques most often come in groups of 8. The Eight Trigrams consist of a combination of three lines that can be either Yin (broken) or Yang (unbroken); the set of eight shown here are displayed in the Fu Xi (伏羲) post-heaven (後天) order, i.e. Qian (乾), Kan (坎), Gen (艮), Zhen (震), Xun (巽), Li (離), Kun (坤), Dui (兌). These specify various divisions of reality, such as in nature (heaven, water, mountains, thunder, wind, fire, earth, marshes) or directions (NW, N, NE, E, SE, S, SW, W) (note that ancient Chinese drew compasses with south at top).

  • Two (or three) generations of baguazhang experts, starting from Dong Haichuan in 1864, were employed by Prince Su (肅親王) as guards and teachers at Prince Su's mansion (肅王府) and eventually the Forbidden City (紫禁城) itself. In particular, Dong's first disciple Yin Fu (尹福) taught the Guangxu Emperor (光緒帝) his art, as well as using his art to escort and protect the Empress Dowager Cixi (慈安皇太后) during the Boxer Rebellion (義和團).

Technically, baguazhang is known for its ability to move quickly, using spiral power (螺旋勁) to attack with palms and hidden legs, and defeating multiple opponents at the same time. The repertoire of baguazhang is extensive, including strikes, throws, locks, 72 kicks, and a great arsenal of weaponry as well. Baguazhang weapons tend to be either oversized (such as huge swords) or extremely weird (such as strange, multi-pronged, multi-bladed weapons). Although baguazhang includes a great variety of methods and skills, its main training method is the enigmatic practice of walking in circles (走圏).

In pop culture, baguazhang has been referenced by popular cartoons like Avatar: The Last Airbender (airbending is based on baguazhang) and Naruto (The Hyuga (日向) family's style of Juken (柔拳) is obviously based on baguazhang), as well as unpopular non-cartoon TV shows like Black Sash (whose main character (played by Russel Wong) practiced and taught baguazhang). Real-life baguazhang, of course, is quite different from its pop culture derivations; one of the best examples is demonstrated here by Ma Chuanxu (馬傳旭), 4th generation inheritor of Liang style baguazhang (梁派八卦掌).

No comments: