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The tree of Bagua Quan

Translated by David Alexander

Bagua Quan is a teaching system (I believe that other martial arts should also be like this). In my first book (Bagua Quan Foundation) I explained things through the medium of text and illustrations. However martial arts is like a kind of pictorial language in which knowledge depends entirely on ‘physical experience’, Words and illustrations are only a way of noting things down and do not make it easy for a person to understand. Consequently I am making public (via youtube video clips) the principal empty-hand training forms in Bagua Quan. I hope that those interested will be able to study them further.

Throughout the history of martial arts written description has not in the main been used. Most written records have been secondary sources. The amount of really ‘believable and verifiable’ historical material in Chinese martial arts is in fact extremely small. However we can still infer cause from effect and like archaeologists unearthing ancient artefacts deduce the actual facts of history, often thereby overturning the theories of historians.

For the past few years in offering my inheritance of Bagua Quan I have been like a collector of antiquities. In text and images I have offered a range of hitherto unearthed material for research into Bagua Quan (or Bagua Zhang) and clarified some controversial questions – or at least led to some martial arts enthusiasts looking at them anew.

The Bagua Quan system is like a ‘Bagua tree’ which grows upwards following the sequence of Taiji → Liangyi → Sixiang → Bagua.

The ‘Eight Mother Palms’ system is eight branches and from Eight Mother Palms the two systems of ‘Paochiu external training’ and ‘Bazhang Quan internal cultivation’ spread out.

The external training part develops upwards into eight independent Palace forms. These are eight ‘mothers’ each producing a ‘child’ and also the ‘flower and fruit’ of Bagua Quan application.

The internal cultivation part, however, via Bazhang Quan, Sixiang Quan and the Art Of Liangyi reverses course to the Bagua, the Sixiang, the Liangyi and the Taiji source.

It is only by completing this up and down double-ended journey that you can gain a rough idea of what Bagua Quan is.

For people who study Bagua Quan these relationships are clearly evident; for example there is a clear thread running through the basic ‘mother styles’ which represents and interrelates with the Liangyi, the Sixiang and the Bagua.

Consequently the system gives an explanation of controversial points in Bagua Quan (or Bagua Zhang).

  1. Why is Bagua Quan called after the Bagua?

It can be seen from existing material that this system is from top to bottom, from principles to skills, constructed on the theory of the Bagua which is based on the Taiji, the Liangyi, the Sixiang and the Bagua. Therefore it is naturally named after the Bagua.

  1. Was Bagua Quan created by Dong Haichuan?

Looking at the system this is not too likely since its development is very mature and moreover has close links to Daoist methods of cultivation. For example the methods of training in Yin and Yang Qi in the Art of Liangyi are a clear proof. I think that the system must have been conceived by Daoist hermits.

  1. Was Lohan Quan added by Dong Haichuan, Yinfu or yet another person?

Looking at the system the ‘principles’ and the ‘skills’ in each form work closely together. This can only be the result of the originators of the system electing to use the ‘image’ of Lohan Quan (the action in its moves and postures) to express the ‘substance’ of Bagua Quan (its connotation and power method (jinfa))

  1. Why are the Eight Mother Palms called ‘mother’?

It is only when Eight Mother Palms in the system are examined in conjunction with the ‘mother-son relationship’ in other forms and the contents of the corresponding ‘Bagua attributes’ that the rationality of ‘mother’ in Eight Mother Palms becomes apparent.

  1. Since the truth of Bagua Quan is ‘change’ are there no set formats?

There is a saying that ‘nothing can be achieved without norms and standards’. The basis of ‘change’ is ‘permanence’. Although the Iching (the Book of Changes) discusses the ‘changeable’ it does not ignore that before the ‘changeable’ there was the ‘unchangeable’. What is presented in the Bagua Quan system is a structure of the ‘unchangeable’. The ‘changeable’ is the applied part which develops upwards beginning with Eight Palaces forms. This applied part makes up most of the various Bagua Zhang schools. The ‘changeable’ and the ‘unchangeable’ each have their own value but for a long time most people have preferred ‘the application of the changeable’ and have neglected the foundation of the ‘unchangeable’

  1. Can people practice the postures and forms with their own interpretation?

Looking at the individual levels of application the moves and postures in a form will of course vary with each person. However if we look at them as a whole system then they all need to work in concert with each other. The moves and postures in each form have their own place and meaning. They cannot be changed arbitrarily since they belong to the ‘unchangeable’ part which is not the same as application which is ‘changeable’.

My aim is not personal show but to supply the material. So the outcome it does not depend on whether the exercises are good or not. There is much scope for improvement in many of forms being practiced including my own. However at least those who are interested will be able to get an inkling of what the system is about and that will be enough to satisfy me.