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

The Principles

In this section we will briefly describe some of the principles that are being trained during the execution of this version of the single palm change in its three phases: the turn around, the winding, and the unwinding. We will also address a few of the possible single palm change variations which are based on those principles.

The Turn Around: The turn around, and its associated footwork, is perhaps the most important aspect of the single palm change in terms of training for fighting mobility. The practitioner who is interested in training Ba Gua as a fighting art should learn to execute this turn around movement (the kuo step) swiftly and fluidly while maintaining stability and balance. The first kuo step, and the associated coordination of the upper body motion rotating around the body's center axis with this step, are the key principles in this maneuver. The key element in this move is the swift, fluid, efficient change of direction while maintaining stability and a continuous connected strength. If there is a break in the fluidity of motion or the whole body connection and strength, the movement will be awkward, clumsy and inefficient.

As one variation, the simple change of direction and change of palms can be executed directly after the kou step. If you look at this photo 6 of Luo De Xiu, you can see that he is in a good position to execute a direct change of palms and change of direction if he were to take a straight step with his left leg cutting through the center of the circle while executing a piercing palm maneuver to change palms. This technique, which is similar to the change demonstrated by Park Bok Nam earlier in the article, is a very useful move when evading an opponent's attack and maneuvering to outflank him.

Photos 6, 7, and 8 of Luo De Xiu's single palm change

The bai step and turning of the upper arm which is executed in photos 7 and 8 of Luo's change develops the practitioner's ability to coordinate the upper and lower body and develop a horizontal power which is manifest from the rotation of the body. In this motion, the upper and lower body should move in a unified manner rotating around the practitioner's center. The hip/shoulder, elbow/knee, and hand/foot alignments (referred to in the classics as the "three external harmonies") should always be maintained. Additionally, this movement trains the practitioner's ability to generate power from the body out to the hand utilizing the alignment of the body and the power of the rotational movement. This being the case, the importance of coordinating the timing, alignment, and unity of the upper and lower body in this motion cannot be overemphasized.

As one possible variation to the move shown by Luo in photos 7 and 8, many schools of Ba Gua utilize a move similar to the one shown in the Jiang Rong Qiao illustration #2 on the previous page and also shown in the 2nd photo of Zhao Da Yuan earlier in the article (except his left foot would be in the bai bu position). The mechanics of body motion and the generation of power are all the same. The only change is in the motion of the arms. In Ba Gua terms, the maneuver Luo is executing is sometimes called "the Green Dragon Turns its Head" while the move executed by in Jiang Rong Qiao's illustration is called "Leaning on the Horse and Asking Directions." Usually the hand motion associated with this part of the single palm change is used to deflect or join with an opponent's attack in order to utilize an evasive maneuver as discussed previously, or set up for an arm break or a throw.

Liu Feng Cai demonstrates the single palm change Liu Feng Cai demonstrates the single palm change

The actual hand and arm positions in this "turn around" motion can be executed with any one of a number of variations. See photo #3 of Sun Lu Tang on page 18 of the Pa Kua Chang Journal, Vol. 5 No. 5, for one other possible variation. Sun Xi Kun's posture at the beginning of the article is very similar to Luo's with a slight variation in the body alignment. You will notice that Liu Feng Cai's change is a shortened version of the single palm change sequence Luo is executing. This change lies somewhere between the basic change shown by Park and that executed by Luo.

Photos 3, 4, and 5 show the winding in Luo De Xiu's single palm change

The Winding: The winding up of the body is demonstrated here by Luo De Xiu in photos 3 through 5. The principle in this portion of the change is in learning how to once again rotate the body around it's center while maintaining balance and stability. In doing this the practitioner is also learning how to generate horizontal power. The degree of the body turning, or winding, will vary from one system to the next and it will even vary within the same system depending on the experience level of the practitioner or the focus of the practice.

Sun Hui Xiang demonstrating a
lower single palm change, photo 13

Several systems of the Cheng style of Ba Gua train all forms and movements at three levels. The first level is called "single step" where the motions are very distinct and more exaggerated. At this level, the practitioner executes a big kuo step and the winding of the body will be executed so that the body twists as far as possible. The illustration of Jiang Rong Qiao's form depicts the tight kou bu and the maximum twist of the body. The maximum twist is also shown here in photo 13 and in photo 9 on page 26 the Pa Kua Chang Journal, Vol. 5 No. 5. The maximum twist helps develop suppleness and flexibility in the spine as the spine is twisted from the base all the way up to the top of the neck. This large twisting motion can also be utilized in application when the practitioner is executing an arm break, shoulder strike, and/or as a set up for a throw. In order to condition the appropriate muscles, ligaments and tendons of the legs and torso to be able to train the body to generate this kind of power, the beginning student will maximize this twist. When practicing the maximum twisting motion the practitioner should always maintain the proper body alignments so the knees are not twisted to an unnatural angle. The next level of training is called "moving step."

Photo 10 shows the kuo step of
Luo De Xiu's single palm change

In this practice, the kou step is a bit more open and the twist is not as pronounced. Luo De Xiu demonstrates this moving step practice in the photos on page 8. Notice that in his kuo step in photo 10, the foot is not turned in very far. You will also notice that in Sun Xi Kun's version, Sun does not even kuo at all, but steps with the foot and the knee facing straight ahead while he twists the torso around. This type of less pronounced turning motion can be utilized when setting up for a quick throwing technique.

The last execution is called "swimming body." At this level, the practitioner is executing the change in a manner such that the body never stops its forward motion after the first kuo step is executed. Here the energy is very fluid and continuous. The photos of Liu Feng Cai illustrate the swimming body style of the single palm change. Notice that Liu does not even take the second kou step, but simply executes and straight walking step. This type of execution is used when mobility and evasiveness are employed.

In all applications, this motion is usually executed close into the opponent's body in order to employ a joint lock, arm break, set up for a throw, and/or flanking maneuver. The practitioner will apply crisp power at the end of the winding motion when utilizing this move for an arm break or shoulder strike. Thus when practicing with this type of execution in mind, the practitioner will usually perform the more pronounce rotation and tight kuo step in order to insure stability.

The footwork will also vary with the intent of the application. Whereas the kuo bu footwork in the "turn around" segment of this maneuver was utilized to change direction rapidly, the kou bu in the "winding" section can be used to hook and lock the opponent's foot and leg or to set up for a leg sweep. Practitioners who are executing the single palm change with this strategy in mind will have a pronounced kuo bu as demonstrated by Sun Lu Tang on page 18 of the Pa Kua Chang Journal, Vol. 5 No. 5 and in the Jiang Rong Qiao illustration earlier. Others, who may use this movement for a fast throwing application, may use a very small, quick kuo bu as demonstrated in this article by Luo De Xiu and Sun Xi Kun. The practice of the single palm change can always vary depending on the intent of the practitioner's fighting application.

In addition to variations relating to different fighting strategies, variations of this winding motion can be also be tailored for training flexibility and suppleness in the spine, back, shoulders, and hips. Various arm positions are utilized to facilitate different varieties of stretching motions. You will notice that Luo's hand position in photo 10 is such that the hands and arms are kept out in front of the body while the lower arm and hand position of Sun Zhi Jun's son, Sun Hui Xiang, in photo 13 is tucked in under the armpit and close to the body. This facilitates a stretching motion in the back which aids in the development of flexibility and suppleness in the back and shoulder areas.

Sun Hui Xiang demonstrates a
lower single palm change

The Unwinding: Part of the purpose of the winding motion discussed in the last section is to prepare for the unwinding motion which is to follow. It is during the execution of the unwinding that the actual changing of the palms occurs.

Like the winding, the unwinding is training the practitioner how to develop rotational power around the center axis of the body, legs, and arms. However, whereas the winding primarily trained horizontal power, there are also components of vertical and oblique power exhibited in the motion of the unwinding. You will notice that as the body unwinds and the palms change, the hands are brought up high before they reach their final position. This is shown here by Luo De Xiu, Jiang Rong Qiao illustration 4, Liu Feng Cai photo 3, Sun Xi Kun photo 5, and Sun Hui Xiang above. The upward lifting and subsequent falling and rotating of the arms and palms as the body turns back in this unwinding phase is the key principle here. This is the "rise, drill, fall, and overturn" sequence that is discussed in both the Xing Yi and Ba Gua classics. These four different kinds of energy, or jing, are trained in this motion.

More of Luo De Xiu's
single palm change

In application, the unwinding motion of the body and "rise, drill, fall, and overturn" motions of the hands and arms are usually utilized in the execution of a deflection, redirection, or throw. In some instances it can be also used as a strike to the side of the head or the back of the head or neck. In the abbreviated version of the single palm change from the Yin Fu style of Ba Gua, which incorporates the piercing palm motion, the pierce can either be use as an entry, deflection, or a strike.

The unwinding of the body and the uplifting, rotating, and falling of the arms and hands also aids the practitioner in developing functional flexibility in the legs torso, spine, shoulders, and arms. By functional flexibility I am referring to training which works to stretch and loosen muscles that will need to be supple and loose during the execution of Ba Gua. It is great if someone can perform the full splits, however, performing the splits is not nearly as functional in Ba Gua as having a loose and supple twisting and turning movement throughout the whole body, especially in the pelvic region. There are many individuals who have very limber leg muscles, however, when asked to stand with their feet and knees facing forward and twist their hips as far as they can to one side or the other, they discover that the muscles in their pelvic region are not so loose. In Ba Gua functional flexibility involves twisting and rotating the muscles and suppleness in the joints - twisting the legs, twisting the hips, twisting the torso, twisting the shoulders, and twisting the arms. Additionally, the twisting is executed in a coordinated fashion while maintaining whole body connection. These elements are all trained in the single palm change.

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