By Paul Cavel
Ba Gua Chang is an extremely rich and unique internal martial art that has its roots deep in Chinaís history. The Circle Walking practice and the single Palm Change were first documented around 2000 B.C. which, by no coincidence, is also when the I Ching (Book of Changes) became a written work. The two are inseparable, both holding ëchangeí as their core principle.
It can be said that the I Ching is the mental understanding of Ba Gua and that Ba Gua is the practical application of the I Ching. Both follow the natural cosmic laws that govern all phenomena and this is the main reason why Ba Gua is such an effective health care/meditation/martial system.
Ba Guaís movements have no beginning, no end, and martially, no ëobviousí power. They therefore follow the natural ebb and flow of Yin and Yang energies. A defence becomes an attack without any apparent change in the adepts intention- in the same way that night becomes day and winter becomes spring. Because the adeptsí movements are so natural and flowing they become harmonised with ëthe stream of all thingsí. The bodyís functions are adjusted and upgraded, bringing superior health and vitality.
Energy exercises can de divided into two categories- "Post-Birth"and "Pre-Birth".
Post birth practices deal with developing the chi that you gain after leaving the womb that generated by breathing, eating, sleeping, and normal exercise, whereas pre-birth practices focus on generating the chi that you receive from the cosmic forces whilst in the womb. This pre-birth chi is incredibly strong and s responsible for giving a body abundant health and flexibility. When these pre-birth exercises are used correctly they can be used to heal disease, make a weak person strong, to restore elasticity to old, hard or scar tissue and to return the body to the state of a new-born baby, with the control and understanding of an adult.
Walking the circle and repeatedly changing direction is the basic Ba Gua pre-birth chi practice and it is here that you tune into, open, heal, upgrade and strengthen all of your bodyís soft tissue, joints, fluids, organs, bones, systems, and sub systems.
This takes time, energy, and practise and how far one takes this work depends upon the individualís intelligence, commitment and the effort that he or she can give to this ancient and profound Art. It is considered an Art because you can never make a perfect movement-it can always be improved. Also, because to watch the continuous circling, spiralling movements is a pleasure to the eyes.
Ba Gua work more with depth than breadth, more with content than form. The focus is on repeating a relatively simple movement over and over again until all the "knots"in both the movement and the body are ironed out. Then the movement is honed into an extremely smooth flow. This is why there are only eight palm changes (Ba Gua forms), that at normal walking speed take 10 to 30 seconds each to execute, depending upon the complexity of the change.
Applications can be taught once one or more of the Palm Changes have been learnt or they can be learnt alongside the palm change. There are two fundamental reasons for learning the applications. The first being to know what the movement is supposed to accomplish and to help in gaining an understanding of the form, thereby achieving a more profound movement. It has nothing to do with fighting as such. For fighting to be effective there are many requirements including speed, distance, angles, reflexes and mental training.
Secondly, if you wish to train in Ba Gua as a martial art the basic understanding of the movements is an absolute necessity, as well as many hours of partner training. Ba Gua uses Rou Shou (soft hands) to rain sensitivity defence and attack principles and, most importantly, how to keep your mind on that which is happening inside your body as well as what the other person is doing. Considering that Ba Gua relies on using all of the bodyís tissues and fluids, combined into one seamless synergy, to create power it would be fatal that in combat, when you make contact with your opponent that the contact brings your mind out of your body and onto your opponent.
If you disconnect from within and lose your internal power and co-ordination, suddenly your ëformí is useless. So it is that Rou Shou, Ba Gua, and all Taoist physical practices train the minds internal and external senses to be present together and in synchrony.
Another reason for so little choreography and such deep internal training is so that the movements become embodied so deeply that it becomes totally natural to function in that way. The basic concept is this: learn the Single Palm Change correctly and any movement you make will be imbued with power, whether it is a martial application or simply moving a heavy object.
It is very possible that the original Ba Gua circle walking and Single Palm Change had no martial aspect at all. Ba Gua was developed as a monastic practise to overcome all the health problems that arise from practising sitting meditation for extremely long periods of time. Walking the circle was practised in order to tune into the natural circular, spiralling movements of the planets, stars, and galaxies as well as being very practical for the small rooms where the Taoists lived and practised meditation. Later these natural body motions were found to be extremely effective martial movements and the Ba Gua system was developed further.
The Eight Palm Changes or movement patterns were designed to develop each of the eight energetic layers in the cosmos. These layers are represented in the I Ching by the Eight Trigrams, which is where the art gets its name from (Ba-eight and Gua-trigram) Ba Gua Chang means Eight Trigrams Palm ñ ëpalmí because an open palm is used rather than a fist. These eight layers of energy are seen by the Taoists as being behind all manifestation and the constant flux, change and mixing of these energies is what gives all life and builds all phenomena that exist in our universe.
Taoist meditation and Ba Gua, which is a form of Taoist meditation, are tools which we can use directly to directly, viscerally feel and understand the basic building blocks from which all things are made and in this work catch a glimpse of what created us and all that we seeÖÖthe Tao.
To come back to Earth, whatever reason for being interested in Ba Gua Chang, whether it be from a health, spiritual, or martial perspective, it all begins with your boy, that which you were given at birth and that which will be taken away at death.
The Taoists were very pragmatic and therefore developed practises to encompass many things. To become a fighter or meditator first you must strengthen you body to make sure that it doesnít break on your path and if it does you can fix it!
Lao Tzu made it very clear in his Tao Te Ching:
"The soft and the supple are disciples of life;
the hard and the brittle are the disciples of death"
Ba Gua Chang works towards the former and away from the latter.
Paul Cavel has been training in the Taoist Internal arts for 15 years, more than 10 of which have been with Bruce Kumar Frantzis, lineage master of the Taoist Water Method. He is one of B.K. Frantzisí senior instructors in Europe and is qualified by him to teach Chi Gung, Nei Gung, Tai Chi and Ba Gua.