Monday, April 26, 2010

A Vague Introduction to the Various Styles of Baguazhang

There are numerous styles of baguazhang existing today, but there are significant differences between them - in fact, often, it seems that there is more different than same. Nevertheless, there are a few similarities that all do share:
  • Philosophical basis on the eight trigrams (八卦)
  • Fundamental practice of walking in a circle
  • Fundamental palm techniques
In addition, a great majority of baguazhang styles also include most of the following:
  • Some kind of luohanquan (羅漢拳) or "arhat style" routines
  • Unique bagua weapons like the seven star rod (七星竿)
  • Lineage originating from Dong Haichuan (董海川), who taught baguazhang in the Forbidden City at the end of the Qing Dynasty
The philosophical basis on the eight trigrams can take on many forms, including but not exclusive to strategy, techniques, and routines. One very prominent feature of some styles is to align routines with animals that correlate with the trigrams. For example, Cheng Tinghua's (程挺華) student Sun Lutang (孫祿堂) wrote about eight animals that related martially to the trigrams, i.e. lion, snake, bear, dragon, phoenix, chicken, qilin, and monkey. While this is the most popular set of animals among the baguazhang lineages, others exist as well, while the majority of baguazhang styles do not specify animals at all.

The fundamental practice of walking in a circle is most important for baguazhang practitioners of all lineages, although many lines have supplemented this practice with standing methods as well (such as the Cheng (程) style of Liu Bin (劉斌) and many Yin (尹) styles). The rare Fan (樊) style of baguazhang places somewhat less importance on the practice of walking than other lineages.

Fundamental palm techniques that are shared by most baguazhang lineages include the famous piercing palm (穿掌), but the methods and applications of this skill differ across the lineages. Another well-known skill is the 72 hidden kicks (七十二暗腿), but the exact contents of these techniques may differ from lineage to lineage.

Baguazhang has also always had a strong association with luohanquan; for example, Sun Lutang mentioned 18 lines of luohanquan in his Study of Bagua Boxing (八卦拳學) book. Also Sun learned Cheng style baguazhang, Yin style is more well-known for its luohanquan sets, although the other styles sometimes have a set or two of luohanquan as well.

Baguazhang is well-known for certain unique weapons in its repertoire, the most famous of which is the seven star rod, and thus many baguazhang lineages have 2-3 sets of this weapon, although the sets often differ significantly. Other weapons typical to baguazhang include the deer antler knives (鹿角刀), the judge pens (判官筆), and others.

The actual material taught in each of the baguazhang lineages can differ greatly; for example:

Yin style: 64 palms, 18 luohanquan, tuituozhang, wuji staff, 18 intercepting saber, etc.
Cheng style: 8 mother palms, 8 x 8 animal palms, 5 phase kicks, deer horn knives, pointing way saber, etc.
Liang style: 8 old palms, 8 linking palms, 64 hands, chicken claw razors, copper maces, iron fan, etc.

The large difference in material may be the result of one or more of the following:
  • Dong Haichuan was said to have taught by word and not example
  • Dong Haichuan may have changed his own material as he aged, thus teaching different material at different times of his life
  • 2nd and 3rd generation practitioners added to and reorganized baguazhang's material, including influence from other styles like xingyiquan, taijiquan, and yingzhaoquan (eagle claw)
Sun Lutang's daughter, Sun Jianyun (孫劍雲) recalled how her father said, "When I learned, my teacher only showed us a technique once, and we had to remember - I teach you students leading you hand and foot, and yet you still cannot remember!"

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