For a long time there was a great deal of debate about the origins of Ba Gua Zhang. However, that has recently come to an end after researchers on mainland China concluded without reasonable doubt that the martial art was created by just Dong Hai Chuan. According to records, Dong was born in Wen An County, Hebei Province around 1813. He practiced numerous local martial arts and gained notoriety as a skilled fighter. Eventually he decided to leave his hometown and travel around China.
During this time he joined the Chuan Zhen sect of Daoism. Daoists have a practice of walking in a circle while reciting their mantras. Dong combined this with his open palm martial arts, thus was Ba Gua Zhang created. It is a pattern of constant motion while walking in circles. This developed both the mind and the body’s strength. Eventually Dong made his way to Beijing where he began teaching his technique, but only to the most accomplished of martial arts students. At this time he also spoke of the Book of Changes (Yi Jing) and the teachings of the Eight Trigrams (Ba Gua) written in the book.
Practitioners of the art today have various styles. Dong’s students each had a slightly different interpretation of his teachings and that has translated into various schools in the modern art. What is common with all of them is the practice of moving around a circle at a constant even pace while performing different techniques with the upper body. Additionally almost all styles of Ba Gua Zhang include variations of the Sixty-Four Palms, for example, the Single, Double and Eight Palm Changes.
The constant movement and coordination of Ba Gua Zhang helps develop dexterity, balance, strong legs and arms and focus. This movement helps open up the body’s channels for energy and improves their flow. The three most popular styles today are Yin Fu, Cheng Ting Hua and Liang Zhen Pu.Yin Fu is characterized by explosive and percussive techniques. They are used in fast striking combinations aimed at dropping an opponent quickly.Cheng Ting Hua’s style is characterized by flowing and smooth movements that over very little in the way of power.
Liang Zhen Pu’s style is a mixture of Yin Fu’s and Cheng Ting Hua’s style.
The ultimate goal of Ba Gua Zhang is to teach students how to utilize their entire body mass as a single force. This requires exquisite control of their momentum and timing in order to generate a fierce amount of power. This type of training allows practitioners to utilize the power from their entire body in a single strike, making each one incredibly powerful. In order to achieve such physical prowess a student must obtain physical relaxation and practice natural movements that work with the fundamental design of the body. Ba Gua Zhang is so different from other martial arts because it does not seek to match raw strength, but rather use all available strength to exploit opponent’s weaknesses in combat. This is why it is known as a guerilla warfare style of martial art.