Although many books on tai chi assign the eight internal energies of peng, ji, lu, an, lieh, tsai, kao and jou to the eight trigrams, they are not manifestations of the trigrams themselves, otherwise bagua—the art form of the I Ching—would employ that methodology. In bagua’s palm changes, all eight internal energies are used in each palm and yet each palm develops the energy of a single trigram.
Likewise, in tai chi, you stream through the eight internal energies as you practise your
form and yet your focus remains on developing the energy of a single trigram. When
practising a form or any section that is highly familiar to you, your focus is placed on the trigram of your choice, the energy behind the symbol. You then attempt to make the jump
and contact that particular primordial energy.
Bagua’s Monastic Tradition versus Bagua Zhang
Within the spiritual and monastic tradition, the single vehicle for embodying the energies of the trigrams—and to directly experience their qualities in your flesh—is the Single Palm Change. This form is trained to manifest each one of the eight energies of the I Ching, one by one, beginning with the energy of Heaven, which naturally develops the prime directive of bagua: to open. This methodology is very difficult for the average Westerner to follow and absolutely requires transmissions from a fully qualified adept. (To my knowledge, there is only one master outside of China who teaches bagua’s monastic tradition, my teacher Lineage Holder Bruce Frantzis.)
The martial tradition comes from a completely different perspective. Here, you learn eight palm changes that are far more complex than the Single Palm Change with each containing a series of applications that help to generate the specific energy of its associated trigram: Heaven, Earth, Wind, Thunder, Fire, Water, Mountain and Lake. Through this method, you are not required to absorb and decipher transmissions of the I Ching, you simply need to learn all the necessary choreography, internal content and specific range of martial applications that help develop each of the trigram’s distinct energies. Slowly over time, you delve progressively deeper into each trigram, separating out the specifics and embodying the eight flavours of change through the eight palm changes.
- The hurdle with this methodology is that not everybody is interested in the martial arts and it’s easy to get lost in the complexity of the choreography of the eight palms. However, this method does not demand that you embody martial arts training, only that you understand the applications from the perspective of the energetics that govern them.
- The benefit of this method is the large range of motion used within the palm changes develops excellent flexibility and raw physical power, and generates abundant qi energy.
Some people are drawn towards the spiritual, others the martial applications; however, there is a middle path that offers the positive aspects of both realms.
The Middle Way
In understanding the unique mixes of nei gong weaves inherent to each of the eight palm changes, you can adjust the form of the Single Palm Change to accentuate the qualities of each trigram’s innate energy.
- In the monastic bagua tradition, you work directly from transmissions to change the content, which morphs the form from the inside out.
- In the middle way, you adjust the form—the container—to help develop the specific content and, through this process, weave nei gong in various ways to aid development of the energies of the trigrams. This methodology allows the practitioner to grasp the eight simple variations of the Single Palm Change, which will produce the energies of the I Ching—without having to enter the martial realms or requiring transmission-based teachings from a master.
The middle way is the methodology I employ to help students of all backgrounds, interests and levels of skill to develop. The specific and deeper bagua training that I have been extremely lucky to receive from my teacher Bruce in both public courses and ongoing private tuition since 1994–preceded by seven years of daily nei gong training as preparation–has made this path of teaching available to me, so that I may share with you the training protocol of the middle way today.
Of course, at anytime in your training you can explore the martial arts if you so desire and/or work directly with a master. In fact, this is the benefit of the middle way as if after a period of time of dedicated practice your focus shifts, your experience of developing the various flavours of the I Ching can easily be applied to your new focus. You will more likely pick up the formwork and applications of the martial tradition or the transmissions from the spiritual tradition because you have some experience of what lies at their core: the energies of the I Ching themselves.
In reality, this middle way is a branch of the spiritual tradition, albeit requiring less sensitivity and experience to begin working with the energies of the I Ching than the true monastic tradition. Working directly with the I Ching energies from within (via transmission-based studies) is a very refined practice indeed, and is normally reserved for the most sensitive and talented students. However, the middle way is open and available to anyone who is willing to devote their time and effort, and can lead the dedicated student through the layers of form, content and energetics. Eventually, the energies of the trigrams themselves can be revealed—albeit from the outside in.
In the modern world and especially here in the West, this methodology gives the student a clear cut method of grasping formwork with the potential of delving into deeper layers of their being to discover the cosmic forces that govern manifestation itself. Through this process, the student can awaken their mind, expand consciousness and realise their essence. From there, their true path unfolds, giving life direction and genuine spiritual purpose—something that has been lost in the West and is indeed one answer to the modern push-button, instant-gratification society that promises much and delivers little.