Bagua Zhang: Why Train This Old & Obscure Art?

Bagua Zhang Lineage Holder Bruce Frantzis with Senior Bagua Instructor Paul Cavel

Bagua & the I Ching–

Bagua (also pa kua and ba gua) is a pure energy art widely practised by those interested in the I Ching—having been derived as a physical manifestation to realise the teachings of the I Ching (Book of Changes). That is, bagua is an embodiment of the eight universal principles of change.

Today, many high performers also find bagua training a great way to get a total body workout and a powerful way to obliterate stress with advanced training tenets advocating rigorous aerobic internal exercise that releases tension from the body and develops your vital life-force energy.

Bagua Zhang + Bagua Walking Meditation

Although bagua is most commonly practised for health benefits, bagua is also a high-level martial art and, at its most advanced level, can become a vehicle for spiritual development. As such, bagua offers a wide range of developmental possibilities unlike single-application practices. So, over time, as your goals and needs change, you can continue your basic practice and direct your intent towards that which you wish to accomplish.

Circle Walking: The Minimalist’s Paradise

The foundation of bagua is Walking the Circle. For some Circle Walking alone offers enough depth and benefits to keep them engaged and interested for many years. Apart from being a martial art, all the practical benefits found in bagua practice can be achieved through Circle Walking.

Regular practice can serve as a no-nonsense, efficient method to open and heal the body, raise and develop your energy, create vibrant health and vitality and, if you choose to walk fast enough, a low-impact aerobic workout. Bagua achieves this by incorporating all 16 nei gong (components of internal power) into the Circle Walking practice, initially creating a strong and flexible body and, later, developing the spirit.

Bagua could be called the minimalist’s paradise since there are no long forms or complex sets of movements to learn “before” you get to the internal content. You go straight for the meat—that which gives the possibility of profound and lasting health and vitality.

Circle Walking Is a Qi Generator

Initially, while Walking the Circle, movements can be clunky and broken. Over time and with training, stepping techniques can become ever-more smooth and continuous. It’s like starting up a turbine: At first, the rotation is sluggish, but once it gets going, a self-perpetuating flow drives the rotation. Just like the turbine, when your walking evens out, you begin generating serious qi power that can be applied to health, healing, martial arts or meditation.

The base energy from the food you eat—jing (or fuel for the turbine)—is circulated through your system as you walk, upgrading and refining that energy into qi (or thrust coming out of the turbine). Qi, in this model, is a higher vibration of energy than that which you get from food. This jump in energy is what makes your body stronger, healthier and more vibrant as well as making your mental faculties more aware, awake and alert. All the while, you will also develop your energy in preparation for advancement towards spirit and emptiness—if you so choose. All of this and you’re only walking around in a circle! Not bad, eh?

As you Walk the Circle, you continuously bring up, produce and refine energy through the application of the 16 nei gong that are incorporated into every fibre of the practice. The degree of nei gong content present in your practice determines how far you can go. But here’s the trick: To make the next progression you don’t need to learn a new form, you simply add more components, which creates more depth to your practice. In this sense it’s like having a turbo charger fitted to your car; the car looks the same, but now you have a lot more power under the bonnet.

So, as you upgrade, deepen and refine your practice, you arrive at a point where you are able to generate an enormous amount of qi. At times, you can get so caught up in the continuum that you literally have to stop yourself from practising as the space that opens up inside you is absolutely sublime. All nagging thoughts, worries and concerns disappear as your energies open up, flow freely though your system and grow.

Do Nothing while Being Absolutely Content

Initially, through Circle Walking and bagua practice, you put your body through its paces. You feel the tensions and restricted areas in your mind, body and energy, and focus on opening them up and bringing them alive. Taoists call this process “making your body conscious”. When your practice session finishes, you simply relax and, with it, space opens up, a sense of physical emptiness. A willingness and acceptance of physical and mental stillness can accompany this emptiness.

Later, after some practice, experiences of emptiness and stillness can start to enter into your Circle Walking and bagua practice and become quite profound—leaving you in a state of not needing anything, so you can simply be. This state can be amplified and enhanced through sitting practices after a bagua session. This is the extreme end of the minimalist camp: doing nothing and being absolutely content…at least for awhile!

Once you have an understanding of and become proficient in Circle Walking, you can then progress to the Single Palm Change.

Bagua Single Palm Change & Beyond

The Single Palm Change is a very short, five-step bagua form—the foundation of, and which is contained within, all the other palm changes or forms within bagua. The purpose of the Single Palm Change is to upgrade and amplify all the benefits of Circle Walking, deepen the twisting and spiraling actions of the soft tissues in the body, giving access to deeper layers of contraction. These techniques produce light energy within your being and add the possibility of martial practice.

Once you have learned the Bagua Single Palm Change, you can learn any of the eight palms, known as the “Eight Mother Palms”. Whether you learn all eight palms or stick with only the Single Palm Change, you can develop your body, mind and life-force energy to a very high degree. These palm changes are designed to go directly into your core: opening, healing, balancing and developing your system as you train.

Efficient Bagua Practice to Refine all Levels of Your Being

Since the palm changes (also called “forms” or “palms”) are very short and concise, they never take more than 20 to 30 seconds to perform, even at the slowest speeds. At high speeds, they can be completed in a matter of a few seconds. The palms are practised equally on both sides of the body in a left-right-left continuum, creating and maintaining balance as you train.

With a regular exercise regime and walking at a reasonably fast pace, it is possible to perform the same palms tens or hundreds of times in a single practice session. You refine and hone the effectiveness of your practice while following an old Taoist dictum: Doing a little really well yields much more than doing a lot poorly.

Circle Walking initially opens up the body, increases blood flow and gets your metaphorical qi generator engaged and running. The Single Palm and other palms delve deeper into your body, accessing progressively deeper layers of stuck tissues and condensed energies. This is why bagua reaches the parts that other movement practices cannot.

Bagua Training Empowers Spontaneity

When a particular palm change or technique starts to open up something inside you, you are free to practise that particular palm or technique again and again, working lose any bound qi. (Traditional Chinese Medicine and Taoists view illness, dysfunction and injury as resulting from or creating blocked qi.)

You are not restricted by a particular sequence of moves, or after a certain number of repetitions that you must then move on to another move, as in qi gong or tai chi. You can gain access to the body using whatever bagua formwork is best for you in the moment to open up condensed energy and free it from your system. This is one of many design features within bagua that gives you the ability to quickly and efficiently bring up old traumas and/or conditioning, accept it for what it is, let go of it and move on.

For several days or weeks you may have the same practice model while learning and developing a new palm or aspect of nei gong, or to root out blockages in a specific place in your body. At some point, everything gels or changes inside you and your practice changes with it. Once a space in the body becomes open or a particular aspect of training is integrated, you move on to the next component. It could be that your practice changes on a daily basis for a while—some days slow walking, some fast or both. You may train one palm after the other or each palm totally randomly. As the thought of a palm change comes into your mind, you are already beginning to perform it as your body becomes more responsive to your intent. This aspect of bagua training obliterates inertia.

Eventually, you can find yourself moving unrestricted without any sudden jerks and smoothly flowing through the well-oiled and practised palm. You move like a great river turning and twisting its way along its carved path through the earth. This kind of spontaneous practice of highly refined and developed techniques allows you to use, in the moment, whatever is available to you to achieve your desired results—pulling up the roots of physical and emotional pain and spiritual malaise.

Inner Dissolving: Techniques for Rooting Out Deeper Blockages In Your Being

The more you train, the deeper you can delve into your body, clearing out the residue of all past illness, injury and trauma. Layer by layer, you loosen and release the root causes of pain and discomfort. Traditionally, the Inner Dissolving techniques were brought into play to achieve these goals, initially through sitting and later with Circle Walking practice. The Inner Dissolving method is a progressive and sophisticated process by which you release all blockages in your body, mind and spirit.

It is through Inner Dissolving that you can fully resolve past traumas and truly work on emotional maturity and spirituality. Again, not by changing the forms or learning a new set, but rather by adding an essential new nei gong content to your foundation practice. All of these practices are only possible through actualising the basic rule of learning any high-level practice: the Principle of Separate and Combine.

Bagua Training Creates Stability In a World of Madness

Whatever aspects of the game for which you choose to engage, bagua offers the possibility of getting down to direct and real personal developmental exercises. bagua training provides the space to change and grow with your practice, spontaneously as your life unfolds. Bagua offers you a certain je ne sais quoi—an edge in bringing you back to your centre—balancing the competing demands of the modern world and your inner world.

Bagua training grounds your body in the world of the manifest, a gift from the gods that answers the question: “How can I maintain stability and balance in a world full of stress and madness”?

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2 thoughts on “Bagua Zhang: Why Train This Old & Obscure Art?

  1. Learned circle walking from SK Yun in early 80/s still doing it even if incorrectly….we learned Chaolin (Shaolin) with 36 weapons, bed of nails , iron palm, etc., baqua, tai chi chuan, hapkido, kempo, Korean yoga, meridians, and much more

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