Eight Trigram Palm, or Baguazhang (Pa-Kua Chang), is the youngest of the Chinese internal martial arts with much of its growth happening at the beginning of the last century. Baguazhang is easy to practice and the health benefit that continuos walking provides is obvious.
The practice of circle walking, or Turning the Circle, is Baguazhang’s (Pa-Kua Chang) characteristic training method. Practitioners walk around the edge of a circle in various postures and periodically change direction as they execute martial forms. This practice trains flexibility, body alignment, and martial agility. Since the circle walking practice can be applied to any martial art, Baguazhang contains a wide variety of techniques that are executed while moving. This variety can be overwhelming, but the greatest masters of the art are known for training extensively in only a few postures or palms. In short, Baguazhang is an excellent activity for those looking for a new exercise program or for those seeking to improve their martial art practice. It takes the simple post training skills of classical martial art training and ads a walking component that, when combined with some imaginative changes of direction, provides a fitness program that never grows stale.
For those who are not familiar with the classical Chinese texts, Bagua comes from the Book of Changes or Yi Jing. The Yi Jing is the seminal work in Chinese thought and has influenced most of Asia. The Yi Jing uses Eight Trigrams to expound on the study of change in Yin and Yang theory. A solid line is Yang, and a broken line is Yin. If you stack three such lines on top of each other (one each for earth, man, and heaven) you have eight combinations. Doubling these Eight Trigrams creates sixty-four hexagrams that make the book of the Yi Jing.
Recognized as the founder of Baguazhang, Dong Haichuan burst onto the martial arts scene in Beijing where he impressed the prince of Su Wang Palace, defeated all challengers, and taught his art to the masters of other well-known forms. Before Baguazhang took on the name of Bagua, it was just circle walking. Dong Haichuan created the Eight Trigram Palm from his love for martial art practice and his understanding of nature. He claimed to have learned from Daoist or Buddhist monks in the countryside of China. Some stories say that he learned both Daoist and Buddhist circle walking.
A foundational practice in many martial arts is holding a stance for increasing durations. The supreme genius of Dong Haichuan was taking the fixed posture training, or post skills, and putting them into motion by simply walking around a circle. Baguazhang trains both stillness and movement with circle walking practice. The beginner must learn proper stepping patterns to walk and change directions on the circle. Circle walking is also the method used in applying Baguazhang for martial purposes. With regular practice you will be able to change direction and hand positions while moving; improving your chances of getting to safety. Dong Haichuan was so effective in applying his art that masters of other arts came to him for instruction. Dong accepted these masters as students and encouraged them to apply circle walking practice to their martial art. This emphasis on walking is especially relevant in the modern world where physical activity is neglected for more sedentary activities like browsing the Internet for articles on Baguazhang. Walking is one type of physical activity that is both safe and beneficial to health.
Benefits of Walking
A daily walk is a great way to manage your weight, and managing your weight is the first step to better health. Like all physical activity, walking strengthens the heart, so it can pump more blood with less effort and with less pressure on the arteries. This means reduced blood pressure with a 30% to 40% lower risk of heart disease in women.
High cholesterol is one of the silent killers in America today, and walking can help reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL or bad cholesterol) in the blood, which can cause plaque buildup along the artery walls. One effect of high blood pressure and cholesterol that many are unaware of, is the increased risk of stroke. According to a Harvard study of more than 11,000 men walking can cut the risk of stroke in half.
Some studies have even shown that people at high risk of diabetes cut their risk in half by combining consistent exercise like walking with lower fat intake and a 5% to 7% weight loss. Other studies show that regular physical activity can prevent depression, colon cancer, constipation, osteoporosis, and impotence. Walking can lengthen lifespan, lower stress levels, relieve arthritis and back pain, strengthen muscles, bones, and joints. Keeping fit can also improve sleep and elevate general mood and sense of well-being. Many of these benefits have been associated with the internal martial arts as a side effect of better Qi flow. The types of walking we do in Baguazhang is different from a normal stroll. You are walking in a circle and the concentration you have to spend on your surroundings is reduced. Also, you are holding your upper body in fixed postures that stretch and strengthen the torso. The fixed postures of the upper torso also add variety to your practice, and with time 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.
The internal martial arts also incorporate ancient principles of exercise or Qigong (air-breathing) from Daoism, Buddhism, and India Yoga. Today, we know that many of these exercises provide good cardiovascular health (aerobic exercise), and that the old masters recognized proper functioning of the human anatomy without the aid of textbooks. The activities they created as training aids to their martial arts improved both anatomical and aerobic function. Fortunately, the Baguazhang practitioner does not have to look very far to find an excellent practice to train internal power. Walking the Circle while holding the fixed postures is an excellent vehicle for internal power training, provided the student does not use force and keeps focused on breathing.