This article has the following major sections. Click on a link to jump to that section.

  1. A Detailed Study Of Ba Gua Zhang's Single Palm Change
  2. Four Pillars of Training
  3. Ba Gua Zhang Movement
  4. The Definition of Single Palm Change
  5. The Form
  6. The Movements
  7. The Principles
  8. Conclusion

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A Detailed Study Of Ba Gua Zhang's Single Palm Change

Ba Gua Zhang Movement

Ba Gua Zhang is an art of principle. It is not an art of choreography, it is not an art of technique, it is not an art of "form." This does not mean it does not have choreographed sequences, techniques, or forms, this means that all of these things are rooted in theory and principle and thus there is an almost unlimited potential for variation in technique or form as long as the technique or form adheres to the underlying principles or energies of the movement being studied. Therefore, in examining, researching, or training the moves of Ba Gua Zhang, one should try to capture the principles of body motion, the internal harmony associated with the motion, and the energy movement inherent in the motion, not simply memorize a sequence of physical motions. While components of body alignment and mechanics are always important concepts to grasp in any motion, the underlying principles become far more important once the body alignments, connections and mechanics are understood.

In the study of any Ba Gua Zhang motion some of the components the practitioner wants to try to grasp are: the rudiments of the physical movement, the energy or principles conveyed in the movement, and the adaptations or variations of those principles, allowing for an unlimited expression of the art form.

Physical Movement

In the study of the physical movement, the student will be interested in first simply learning the "form" of the movement. This study would include components such as the proper sequence of movement; the body alignments associated with all of the sequences, gestures, and posturing of the movements; the mechanics of the motion which will provide efficient execution, natural strength, and subtle power; the internal and external body connections, the structure, and harmony of the movements; the timing of the movements and the rhythm of the movement sequence; the energetic flow, smoothness in transitions and fluidity of the movements; the mental intention and focus of each movement and the overall sequence; the harmonious use of breath in the movements; and examples of possible combat applications of the movements.

Principles of Movement

There is a central idea. Merely practicing is not understanding. Seek to understand the human ability. Study diligently for deep ideas. The result after a long time is that one is able to know.
- Sun Lu Tang

After the study and practice of the physical movement or sequence of movements has been thoroughly researched as outlined above, the practitioner should then turn his or her attention to a study of the overall principles associated with the sequence. One should ask, "What is this sequence of movements trying to teach me in terms of body mechanics, power generation, and martial application?" Taking the single palm change as an example, after the student has spent time practicing the proper execution of the sequence, he or she should step back and say, "What am I really doing here?" Brainstorm and make a mental list, "I'm changing direction, I'm changing my power, strength and awareness from one side of my body to the other, I'm exchanging my lead and rear hands, I'm developing rotational power around my body's center, I'm developing the ability to maintain constant strength, power, awareness and concentration while changing direction, etc." By learning how to look at the overall principles, patterns, and energy flow associated with movement sequences, the student will then be able to develop the ability to vary and change the movements, but continue to maintain the principles and patterns associated with those movements and sequences.

Variation and Change

Variation and change are the most important concepts a student can grasp in the study of Ba Gua Zhang. Learning how to take fundamental principles of body motion and adapt them to any given situation is what the art of Ba Gua Zhang is all about. Once the student has learned a movement sequence such as the single palm change and becomes aware of its inherent principles, he or she can then begin to vary the motion. Instead of turning inside the circle, execute an outside change (as shown by Sun Zhi Jun later); instead of maintaining a high posture during the execution, scoop down low when executing the change (as shown by Sun Hui Xiang later); instead of executing big movements, tighten everything up and make the motions small, quick, and subtle, etc.

Be supple in turning and changing, do not stop to hold postures, Yield infinite power high, low, far, and near. The waist movement coordinates the four tips, The eyes watch the eight directions. The handwork harmonizes changing situations, Applications change appropriately to protect left and right. The shoulderwork should be harmonized in the change of Yin and Yang, The bodywork should harmonize so rotation is strong
- Liang Zhen Pu

The student may also think about how the move may be changed to fit various combat scenarios and self-defense situations, but still maintain the same underlying principles. This variation does not only apply to combat or a response to the movements of an opponent. It also applies to the practice environment and terrain, the individuals physical condition, age, body size, personality characteristics, physical abilities, physical and mental aptitudes, and specific training focus.

As we discussed when we examined the circle walk practice in the Pa Kua Chang Journal, Vol. 4 No. 6, the circle walk practice can be varied many different ways depending on what aspect of training the practitioner wants to practice. He or she can adjust the training for purposes of upper body strength and connection, for leg strength training, for endurance, for cardiovascular training, for meditation training, for qi gong training, for training agility, mobility, and evasiveness, etc. Additionally, the student should learn how to vary the stepping techniques of the circle walk dependent on the combat application of particular moves. The smart student will also learn how to vary the steps depending on the terrain. What is the best way to step when on a flat surface?, a rocky terrain?, sandy terrain?, slippery surfaces?, etc. In each different environment the execution of the movements may change in order to best suit that environment. Every aspect of Ba Gua training should be studied in accordance with a consideration for all possible variables.

The idea in practicing Ba Gua is not to learn a choreographed form sequence, but to capture the principles and essentials of Ba Gua Zhang and then apply them to physical motion in the martial art and/or health maintenance context. Each individual should have a unique flavor to his or her Ba Gua based on their individual strengths and weaknesses as determined by their instructor. Therefore, there are almost as many interpretations of Ba Gua form as there are instructors of Ba Gua, however, the underlying principles are always the same. Practitioners who grasp the principles of the practice can easily learn how to modify the practice to suit different situations, environments, and personal training agendas. As Sun Lu Tang said in his book Ba Gua Quan Xue, "There is a central idea. Merely practicing is not understanding. Seek to understand the human ability. Study diligently for deep ideas. The result after a long time is that one is able to know."

To fathom the logic and comprehend the theories, One realizes that if a tree has luxuriant leaves and branches, its roots must go deep.

Those who do not learn how to research the principles and vary the motions according to circumstance will always be simply following choreographed form routines without any real understanding of what Ba Gua Zhang is about. They will always need an instructor to tell them how to think, how to practice, and how to apply the art. Their art will never belong to them and they will always be on the fringe of understanding. A Ba Gua stylist is a master of varying and changing appropriately to fit any circumstance, not a someone who is good at mimmicing choreography or mindlessly repeating standardized competition routines.

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