Although both tai chi and bagua develop softness and strength, each individual student is typically drawn to one side. Most people are either more yin or more yang in their personalities and approach to life. In the West, we naturally gravitate towards our strengths, which means we tend to develop that which is dominant in us and leave behind anything that is lacking or weak. This can create further imbalance—the opposite of what tai chi and bagua practice aims to achieve. Training tai chi helps you develop softness inside bagua, while training bagua helps create more flexibility in tai chi. In turn, greater flexibility from bagua further allows you to access a softer operation of tai chi, while a softer execution of tai chi allows you to generate more strength in bagua. This positive feedback loop continues on many levels throughout your practice over years and decades as you refine and hone your skills on ever-deeper layers.
The Philosophy of Tai Chi
Tai chi philosophy is heavily influenced by Buddhism even though it’s pragmatic methodology is distinctly Taoist in nature. This can be understood through its interactive practice of Tui Shou (or “Push Hands”). The basic premise is yielding—that is, waiting for an incoming force before you respond. When the force comes at you, it will either be to the left or the right of your centreline—no matter how slight. So you yield on that side and turn on your core channel, acting like a revolving door. The other side advances and extends to return the force. From a Buddhist perspective, you would never initiate any type of violence, but it is acceptable to defend yourself. Nothing would happen if the force didn’t arrive in the first place and, in this way, you can remain karmically clean in any kind of conflict. The dictum from the Tai Chi Classics that governs this principle is: Do not move before your opponent, but when he moves, you move first. Of course, if your opponent moves before you, you cannot move first; however, the point is that you react to the incoming force and, when you do, make sure you achieve the advantage by taking your opponent’s force and returning it back to them.
The Philosophy of Bagua
Bagua is a pure Taoist art—both in philosophy and practice—and for that reason takes a very different approach. Taoist philosophy is derived from studying and understanding the workings of the universe. Early adepts recognised that there was no permanence to be had anywhere, and that the underlying principle of the cosmos was constant and continuous movement, flux and change.
From this perspective, the physical art of bagua was born with a foundation of walking in a circle and changing direction—not necessarily to counter an incoming force and generate a reaction, but rather to catch the universal flow. That said, if a bagua stylist finds himself in a potentially aggressive situation, he immediately begins to walk and, once in the flow, can respond—whether that is to take the initiative and make the first move, or mould to any incoming force and defend himself. There isn’t any complacency or lying in wait!
Bagua’s interactive practice of Rou Shou (or “Soft Hands”) does utilise yielding techniques to train practitioners how to neutralise an opponent’s force since resistance only builds up tension. There are also methods for learning how to manipulate your opponent to gain the advantage as opposed to tai chi’s Push Hands method of following an opponent and waiting for them to present an opening. In bagua, from one perspective, you are following or “listening” to your opponent’s mo-tion and yielding, but only with the purpose of creating a change—that is, from their advantage to yours.
Going Beyond Tai Chi + Bagua Forms
Both arts look for continuous flow in their own ways: tai chi uses weight shifts and waist turns, while bagua uses Circle Walking. Both arts can exploit the entire neigong system for health and power generation, but how they apply it lies in deeper understanding of their philosophy and style of motion.