The Monkey is associated with the Dui trigram. Dui is a marsh or lake, the single Yin line above the double Yang lines representing water lying on the earth. Dui represents the mouth in the body. In the martial arts, it is the Embracing palm and the right side of the waist.
The Phoenix is associated with the Sun trigram. Sun represents the wind, the single Yin line below the double Yang line representing movement under heaven. Sun is associated with wood. It represents the limbs and lower back in the body, and the Windmill, or Hurricane Palm, in the martial arts.
The Phoenix is Rolling the Ball Palm with a unique rolling the ball palm change.
The Bear is associated with the Gen trigram. Gen represents a Mountain, the two Yin lines below the single Yang line represent a mountain reaching into the clouds. Gen is bound and represents stillness. In the body it is the hands. In the martial arts, it is represented by the upper back and Behind the Body palm.
The Dragon is associated with the Zhen trigram. Zhen represents Thunder. The two Yin lines above the single Yang line represent clouds building for a storm. Zhen is arousing and represents the feet. In the martial arts, it represents the left side of the body and the Upholding palm.
The Sparrow Hawk is associated with the Li trigram. Li represents Fire, the single Yin line between the two Yang lines represents the radiance of a fire burning. Li is visualizing and represents the eyes on the outside of the body and the heart on the inside. In the martial arts, it is the Lying Palm.
The Snake is associated with the Kan trigram. Kan represents water, the single Yang line between the two Yin lines represents a river running through a gorge. Inside the body, it is the kidneys and the ears on the outside. In the martial arts, it is the Flowing Palm.
The Flowing Palm Change turns to the outside of the circle. Because of this, you will not change direction after completing this sequence of movements and will have to add a Single or Double Palm Change to practice Snake in the other direction.
The Qilin is associated with the Kun trigram. Kun represents the Earth and is the mother of the trigrams. Kun is pure Yin, represents the receptive and service. In the body, it is the belly, and in the martial arts it is the Returning Palm.
Begin with the initial toe-in step of the Single Palm Change.
The Lion is associated with the Qian trigram. Qian is spirit force, or Heaven, and the father of the trigrams. Qian is pure Yang and represents strength and creativity. In the body, it represents the head, and the Interlocking Palm in the martial arts.
Sun Lutang said, “the Lion is strict, dignified, ardent, fiery, virtuous, and heroic.” He emphasized the Lion palm in his practice saying that “it compromised the first of 10,000 methods.”
From the left Pushing Millstone Palm toe-in with the right foot to begin the change. The torso posture does not change.
Liang Yi is the two poles of Yin and Yang. In Baguazhang, walking to the left (counterclockwise) is Yang, walking to the right (clockwise) is Yin. Sun Lu Tang associated the Single Palm Change to Liang Yi.
From the left Pushing Millstone Palm, toe-in with the right foot to begin the change. The torso posture does not change.
Toe-out with the right foot and turn the palms over so they are pushing in the direction of the change. This movement can look as if you are pushing with the arms but do not; maintain the torso and arm alignments and let the toe-out movement create the push. The eyes remain focused on the left hand.
If you have been following the lesson plan, you have learned the fundamentals of internal martial art practice. Along the way, you have supplemented the traditional training with floor exercises that reinforced traditional concepts. With this information in hand, you are ready to practice the classical Baguazhang forms described in Sun Lu Tang’s book. Sun Lu Tang named this Baguazhang practice method as Swimming Body Eight Trigrams Connected Palms. Swimming Body implies we perform the postures in a continuous manner, while Connected Palms means we link the postures with the changes in direction.
Do not think of the forms in this section as a routine that you must practice one after another, rather as characters of an alphabet that you can connect to create your own routines.
Before you can achieve the free form practice of Swimming Body Connected Palms, however, you must work on the basics of learning the postures. First, practice slowly, performing each change of direction with care. Pause at each step to check your body alignment, much as you did in Standing Meditation and Mother Palms practice. When you feel comfortable with your body alignments, you can move through the changes with slight pauses at the extremes of each posture. Sun Lu Tang reinforced this pause in his book by saying that the “posture stops, but it does not stop.” Think of water moving inside a bag as you shake it. When you stop shaking the bag, the water continues to move about, causing the bag to move. After much practice, you will change directions without thinking and move from one change to another continuously.
Once you have attained the highest level of practice, you cannot abandon the basics. Recommended Practice has hints on staying in touch with the basics as you progress in skill.
Martial Applications of Eight Trigram Palm
I shared some information about meditation in the Attention section. By practicing attention with the physical exercises of this book, you have a tool to achieve a higher state of mind than most people around you. The biggest side effect of this attention is that you will be more aware of the present moment, your surroundings, and the current situation than those around you. You will notice people with bad posture, or people who are not breathing. You will recognize situations that seem like a major crisis to others as imagined obstacles that do not exist in the now.
This attention to the present moment is the single most important teaching of any pugilistic skill. Without presence, you cannot win a fight. Someone that is not present in a fight will think about all the past harms their opponent has done them and use those memories to fuel their rage. Others may focus on how cool they will be after they have kicked their opponent’s ass, and what a great story their victory will make.
The trained boxer defeats himself first. He recognizes that fighting will benefit no one. Someone will get hurt, and there can be no awareness at the moment of doing harm. Attention recognizes that all the perceived hurts or imagined victories do not exist, NOW. The practiced martial artist does not seek to harm, but to return safely from the encounter. Ultimately, that is the genuine struggle of life: to return safely from the encounter.
Circle walking is the method used in applying Baguazhang for martial purposes. There is an old saying:
“The hands defend; the feet win.”
Circle walking in Baguazhang practice is the continuous training of footwork skills. The ability to change hand positions and defend or attack while moving is a skill few have.
Books describing martial arts often show martial applications with the description of the posture. Understanding the form’s purpose in a fight will help in you study the posture and improve your practice of it. Usually, this is useful, since many martial forms have clear and direct applications. Baguazhang, however, is about change, and the applications are less clear.
Martial art instructors have devised many ways to preserve and transmit the martial applications of an art. The most popular method is the practice of Pushing Hands. Pushing Hands is a two-person training routine that teaches leverage, sensitivity, positioning, and coordination. Another method is the use of keywords describing the fighting essence of the art.
Instead of looking for specific applications in the Baguazhang postures, consider these keywords and how each of them could be applied at any instant in your circle walking practice.
The Eight Abilities of Baguazhang Practice
Ward off the opponent’s hand, foot, shoulder or hip with a countermove. Similar to Block, but you do not rub the opponent.
Hinder or stop the opponent’s movement or action by rubbing against the hand or foot of the opponent with your hand, shoulder, hip, or foot.
Prevent an opponent’s strike from landing by deflecting it with a hand, elbow, shoulder, or hip. Parry is round, Intercept is straight.
Collide with the opponent’s breast or abdomen with your elbow, shoulder, hip, or knee.
Use one or both hands to hold or exert force against the opponent. Also called a strike.
Lift the opponent’s hands away from the intended strike.
When grabbed by the opponent, support the grab and move to break the hold. This may be done by Knocking, Upholding, or Lifting.
Raise or lower the opponent’s body, causing their balance to be lost.
Eight Trigram Palm Practice Method
When practicing the postures, use the Natural Step to walk around the circle. Walk slowly, pausing with each step to check your body alignment. Pictures and descriptions are for the left turning (walking in the counterclockwise direction with the left hand in the center of the circle) changes only. Reverse the descriptions to perform the change on the right side. Perform each change an equal number of times for both the left and right postures.
Sun Lu Tang connected each of the twelve postures in his book to a concept from Daoist cosmology. You are familiar with the first two postures.
Before you begin practice, stand in Wuji posture.
Before you move, there is the intention of moving, and then there is the separation of Yin and Yang. Before you walk the circle, stand in the Pushing Millstone posture on the edge of the circle. This announces your intention to move and creates Yin and Yang.
The last Standing Palm posture is the main posture for Baguazhang practice, and you can add it as a fifth posture for your standing practice.
Assume the left Universal Post Posture on the edge of the circle facing in the counterclockwise direction. Drop the heel of the left foot and place your hands into the Trinity Posture positions. Then turn your upper body so the forefinger of the left hand aligns with the center of the circle.
The right hand will move naturally to the left as you turn. Bend the elbow of the right arm and stand the right hand up so that the fingers are under the left elbow.
This change differs from the previous palms in that the arms do not complete their change until you take the Sweeping Step.
Stand on the edge of the circle facing in the counterclockwise direction. From Holding the Spear Posture, lower the right hand down the front of the body with the palm facing away, while the left hand rises from its extended position with the palm facing to the body.
You can over stretch this posture by raising the left shoulder and straightening the left elbow. If you want to maintain the Wuji Posture alignments, you will not straighten the left elbow. I prefer the latter posture, but either is acceptable.
Stand on the edge of the circle facing in the counterclockwise direction. Assume the Rolling the Ball Palm posture and then turn the right palm over so it is facing away from you. As you turn it over, bend the elbow so the right palm is level with the forehead.
Another way to find the right-hand palm position is to stand in the Pushing Palm posture and then raise the right hand to the forehead. The left hand remains in its Supporting Palm position. The image is that you are holding a spear between the thumb and forefinger of both hands.
Rolling the Ball Palm is an excellent exercise for your torso. It is also the first posture that requires you to change hand positions as you perform the Simple Change.
Stand on the edge of the circle facing in the counterclockwise direction. Assume the Supporting Palm posture then lift the right arm up and over the head so the right palm is facing down, and the fingers are pointing to the center of the circle. The image is that you are holding a large ball into the center of the circle as you walk around it.
The Supporting Palm is a classic posture in Baguazhang practice. In some schools, the only Mother Palm practiced is the Supporting Palm.
Start from Holding The Fruit Palm and then push your palms away from you in the direction of your thumbs. This will be slightly more than 45 degrees, but less than 90 degrees from the plane of your shoulders.
The Monkey King is an important hero of Chinese Mythology, especially from the Buddhist tradition. The name of this palm is from Monkey stealing the Peach of Immortality from Heaven. Begin on the edge of the circle in Pushing Palm posture, then turn the palms upward by sinking the elbows down. It is important to make this movement from the elbows. If you make it from the shoulders, you will roll your shoulders forward.
As you lower your elbows and turn your palms upward, bring the hands together so they are touching below the pinkies; the pinkies are not touching each other.
This posture is the Holding the Moon Posture, but your palms face outward. Some standing meditation traditions use this posture because it twists and engages the arm muscles as you stand. You can add it to your standing practice to feel the difference.
By twisting the arms, you are engaging the muscles along their entire length and encouraging interactions with supporting muscles in the torso. You can imagine that a large ball is pushing against you, and you are resisting with your palms.
Stand on the edge of the circle in the Wuji Posture. Start in the Lowering Palm Posture, then raise your hands to shoulder height with the palms facing outward.
Start in Wuji Posture facing in the counterclockwise direction on your circle. Raise your hands to the height of your belly button with the palms facing down. Remember the lessons from Holding the Moon Posture in your standing exercise. The shoulders and elbows need to have that sinking feeling, without rolling forward and down. There will be a gap between your outstretched fingers that should correspond to the center line of your body.
Turn toward the center of the circle with your torso, but keep your hands in front of you. You can imagine that you are holding a ball under water with your palms as you walk.
Now that you have learned to walk, you will hold increasingly demanding postures with your upper body while walking around the circle. In traditional Baguazhang practice, we call these the Mother Palms, or the Standing Palms. The name Standing Palms implies the palms are standing, or fixed in place, while the legs are moving.
Do not underestimate this activity’s physical requirement. Circle walking with the fixed upper body postures is a serious exercise program. These postures will stretch and strengthen your torso, challenge your balance, and invigorate you.
I present these Mother Palms in a sequence that calls for an increasing amount of twist in your upper torso. If you cannot perform a posture, you can practice the postures that preceded it until your torso loosens.
Each of the Mother Palms builds on the previous posture, and once you have learned all eight of the Mother Palms, you can link the postures by changing from Lowering Palm to Pushing Palm, and so on, as you walk around the circle.
The sequence of eight Mother, or Standing Palms I present is my own, and I refer to them as Standing Palms since they are not from a traditional school. Different schools of Baguazhang use different postures for the Mother Palms. Some schools have eight or ten Mother Palms; others use only one.
The postures and the sequence are less important than the practice. Each of these Standing Palms contributes to the more complex changes that follow. Once you have learned all eight of them, they should be a part of your daily practice.
The number of circles you walk in each posture is your decision, but it should be an equal number in each direction.
The Eight Mother Palms of Baguazhang Practice
Walking in the Wuji Posture limits your focus to two items: proper body alignment and walking on the edge of the circle. When you are comfortable moving around the circle in the Wuji Posture, you can progress to the Mother Palms of baguazhang practice.
For beginners, I recommend walking a large circle in the Wuji Posture for more than 10 minutes a day. After a week of daily practice, make your circle smaller until you can walk a complete circle in eight to ten steps. When you are comfortable walking that size of circle for an extended period, you can progress to more complex postures.
Natural Stepping in Baguazhang Circle Walking Practice
Stand on the edge of your circle in Wuji Posture facing in a counterclockwise direction. Take eight breaths and become mindful of your body alignment. Bend the knees slightly and maintain this bend as you walk. Step forward with the left foot by kicking the left foot out from the knee and landing the foot on its heel. For now, use a normal heel-to-toe gait, I will share two alternate forms of walking in another lesson.
By taking your standing practice from Wuji Posture through Trinity Posture, with the supplemental exercises, you are well on your way to understanding the whole body connection that makes practicing mindfulness martial arts worthwhile. For Baguazhang practice, the next critical component is walking.
Walking is a great exercise. The American Heart Association website lists benefits such as reduced heart rate, lower blood pressure, improved circulation, and reducing the effects of, or even eliminating, diabetes. Taijiquan, Baguazhang, and many other internal or mindfulness based fitness styles claim the same health benefits as a vigorous walk.
Some added benefits of walking and mindfulness martial art practice include improved appetite, weight loss, improved muscle tone, and stronger bones. The American Heart Association and internal martial art masters also agree that a regular exercise program will reduce the chance of falling, or getting injured by a fall, in your later years. Wouldn’t it be great if you could combine martial art practice with the simple act of walking? Well, you can; Baguazhang is a martial art dedicated to walking.
Circle Walking in Baguazhang Practice
Eight Trigram Palm, or Baguazhang, is the youngest of the Chinese internal martial arts, with much of its growth happening at the beginning of the last century. Despite its newness, it has spread worldwide and is one of the most popularly practiced martial arts.
The basic practice of Baguazhang is easy; you hold fixed postures from traditional standing practice while walking in a circle. Walking in a circle forces you to practice a unique toe-in and toe-out step crucial to escaping, entering and defeating an opponent. For the Baguazhang martial artist, standing is good, but walking is better.
Baguazhang trains both stillness and movement with the circle walking practice. The beginner learns how to walk and change directions on the circle while developing leg strength and flexibility in the torso. For anyone who has not suffered a serious misfortune, leg strength is a key to good posture and health.
The mobility gained from circle walking practice gives you an advantage for self-defense. You will learn to change foot and hand positions while moving. This skill to keep moving while defending yourself improves your chance of getting to safety.
Walking in Baguazhang differs from an ordinary stroll. Since you are walking in a circle you are not distracted by your surroundings, allowing you to achieve a meditative state.
The fixed upper body postures stretch and strengthen the torso, and add variety to your practice. You can learn an endless number of ways to change the fixed postures as you change directions on the circle so your practice will not become boring or stagnant.
Before you begin circle walking practice, you need a circle to walk around. As you become comfortable with the stepping pattern needed for good practice, you will not need a visual cue, but it is helpful for beginners. The easiest method is to put an object down and declare that the center of your circle. You could use a coat rack, a tall box, a shoe, anything that helps you find the center of your circle.
I have hung a plant hook in the center of my practice area, and when I am practicing I hang an extendable painter’s pole from it. The pole creates a visual reference for my practice and hides away easily.
Outside, you can create a circle with some sidewalk chalk, marking the edge of a circle on your driveway or patio. If you have access to a gym with a basketball court, the circle in the middle of the court is a good place to walk about.
The circle needs to be large enough that you are comfortable walking around it. A small circle can cause you to strain your knees or become dizzy quickly. Advanced students walk a circle in eight or ten steps. Beginners should start with a circle two or three times that size.