This article has the following major sections. Click on a link to jump to that section.
- The Circle Walk Practice of Ba Gua Zhang
- Origins of the Circle Walk Practice in Ba Gua Zhang
- The Circle Walking Method
- Why Walk the Circle?
- Circle Walking Variations
- The Benefits of Circle Walking Practice
- The Pa Kua Chang of Sun Lu-T'ang
- The Circle Walk Practice of Ba Gua Zhang
- A Detailed Study Of Ba Gua Zhang's Single Palm Change
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The Circle Walk Practice of Ba Gua Zhang
The Circle Walking Method
Practitioners who have studied Ba Gua Zhang for any length of time are no doubt very familiar with Ba Gua Zhang's circle walking practice. Walking the circle is the cornerstone of the art, all systems of Ba Gua Zhang practice this method and thus "walking in a circle" has become Ba Gua Zhang's trademark. However, even though the circle walking practice is common to all major systems, a student who has studied the art from a variety of different teachers can quickly become frustrated when trying to investigate exactly how the circle walking practice is performed.
There are at least a dozen dif ferent circle walk stepping techniques and each teacher seems to have his or her own detailed criteria for practicing these techniques. Investigating the art of circle walking, one may run across some of the following: the lion step, the dragon step, the chicken step, the tiger step, the snake step, the crane step, the rippling step, the mud walking step, the shake step, the stomp step, the hesitation step, the continuous step, the sliding step, the digging heel step, the gliding step, and even steps such as the camel step and the elephant step. Some of these are different names describing the same step and others are steps used only for specific leg strength and body training. One will also encounter Ba Gua Zhang schools who walk the circle painstakingly slow and others who walk very fast. Then one may also encounter the lower, middle, and upper "basin" walking positions along with a wide variety of upper body postures one might assume while walking. Additionally, there are various sizes and combinations of circles as well as different ground surfaces and apparatus (such as bricks, poles, or stones) that the practitioner will walk on. To the beginning student who simply wants to know how to walk the circle and why circle walking is important, all of this may seem very confusing.
The truth is that the circle walking technique will vary depending upon the result one intends to derive from the practice. There is no one "correct" method. Every school of Ba Gua which is teaching a complete art will have a wide variety of circle walking methods which they practice and each method will be designed for a specific training purpose. Some practitioners, like the Daoists, practice for meditative purposes and thus the walking will be slow and steady with the mind calm and focused; others practice to build leg strength and thus the posture is very low and the step is such that the legs work very hard; others practice to improve stability and balance while in motion and thus the stepping foot is lifted high while the practitioner moves slowly; others practice to improve cardiovascular endurance and develop a high degree of mobility and thus the walking is very fast and the directional changes are frequent; others practice to develop a balanced Qi flow in the body and thus the movement and breathing is very smooth, the dan tian is stable, and the stepping method facilitates a full circulation of Qi from head-totoe; others practice to build upper body strength and full body connection and thus the various upper body postures are held for long periods of time, consequently the change of direction is infrequent and the walking position is at a middle or upper level so the legs will not tire before the arms. While some practitioners might practice only one of these methods, others practice many of them. Practice method depends on what component of martial arts development the practitioner desires to improve or at what stage of development in the training process the individual practitioner has reached.
While Ba Gua Zhang practitioners will sometimes argue about the "correct" circle walking technique, the fact of the matter is that there is not one "correct" way to practice this exercise. Those that believe that there is only one way to walk the circle have only been introduced to a very small portion of a vast art form. The incompleteness of their training leads to ignorance. There are, in fact, many valid techniques utilized in circle walk practice, the technique used depends on the results desired. The primary guidelines in practice involve maintaining a relaxed, comfortable posture and focused intention while walking. If these guidelines are followed, variations on the theme are endless.
Because Ba Gua Zhang is an "internal" family martial art, the primary guidelines one will follow during practice are; (1) to allow the body to feel natural, relaxed, comfortable, and connected when walking the circle so that one can encourage a balanced flow of energy in the body and stabilize the body to improve balance in motion, (2) to walk smoothly and continuously so that the body does not waiver, bob or wobble and the overall flow of the movement is always smooth and continuous, never choppy (even when the practitioner changes rhythm and speed or executes a fa jing maneuver, the movement flows smoothly), and (3) to maintain focused intention so that the mind and body are in harmony.
Tension restricts the flow of Qi and throws the body off balance; a comfortable, relaxed body and focused mind promotes a balanced flow of Qi, a stable, mobile body, and facilitates quick movement. Additionally, if the practitioner feels natural and comfortable, less fatigue will be experienced and the practitioner can practice longer. Even practitioners who practice to develop upper body and/or leg strength should try to remain relaxed and comfortable while experiencing the muscle fatigue. Important points which most teachers stress to the beginner are all aimed at allowing the body to feel relaxed and comfortable while maintaining certain structural alignments. In the chapter entitled "Exercise Method Conforms to Natural Principles" in the book Liang Zhen Pu Eight Diagram Palm author Li Zi Ming states that,
In practice, it is necessary to pay attention to these important details:
In summary, each part of the body has specific conditions to meet and maintain during the execution of Eight Diagram Palm, but the coordinated synthesis of all these conditions, when performed in synchrony, allows the practitioner to move in a completely natural manner, breathing at ease and moving relaxed. It is a manner of moving in accordance with the laws of natural physiology that we can cultivate more energy than we expend thereby enhancing one's life force.4
- The lower body is sunken downward while the upper body is held erect.
- The head is held straight up while the shoulders and elbows are dropped.
- The back is rounded yet straight and erect while the chest is held in a hollow.
- The wrists are sunken while the palm remains pressing.
- The waist is relaxed while the buttocks are tilted up and slightly forward.
- The knees are flexed with the toes grasping the ground.
The upper body posture held while walking the circle will vary from school to school. Typically each school will have a set of eight postures which are held in succession while performing the basic circle walking practice. These eight postures are known as the "Eight Mother Palms", the "Eight Great Palms", the "Nei Gong Palms," or the "Inner Palms." In the most common posture, the hips are rotated in towards the center of the circle (about 45 degree off the path of the circle), the forward (upper) palm is held at eye level and is facing the center of the circle, and the eyes are looking towards the center of the circle through the index finger and thumb of the upper hand. In most schools, the lower hand is held 3 to 5 inches below the elbow of the upper arm, however, some schools hold the lower hand down in front of the dan tian (see the "guard stance gallery" on pages 16-17). The shoulders are relaxed and allowed to drop down, the back is slightly rounded. The elbows are bent slightly and allowed to sink down. The upper body is relaxed.
The head is positioned so that the eyes are looking straight into the center of the circle (not up, down, or to the side). Typically the practitioner will walk around a tree or pole so that there will be an object of focus during practice. The head and neck position is critical to avoid stress and strain in the neck and eyes after walking for an extended period of time. If the eyes are not looking straight and the neck is not held erect, the eyes and/or neck can become tired or stiff after 10 to 15 minutes of walking. When muscles become tired or stiff, Qi does not circulate properly and becomes stagnant in that area. When Qi becomes stagnant in the head and around the eyes, it can be dangerous. The Ba Gua Zhang classics say "Hollow the chest, suspend the crown, and sink the waist."
Continue: Why Walk the Circle?