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Bagua Zhang – Dong Hai Chuan and Ma Wei Chi

November 19, 2009 Leave a comment

Bagua Zhang (Eight Trigrams Palm) was created by Dong Hai Chuan around 1853, and was taught publicly after 1870. Dong did not originally call his art Bagua Zhang. His art was originally called Zhuan Zhang (Rotating Palm). The trigrams are symbols which are used to represent all natural phenomena as described in the ancient Chinese text of divination, the Book of Changes (Yi Jing). Zhang means palm and designates Ba Gua Zhang as a style of martial art, which emphasizes the use of the open hand, however some practitioners of this system also will use the closed fist (Ma Wei Chi was known for his fist and forearm strikes). Ba Gua Zhang, as a martial art, is based on the theory of continuously changing in response to the situation at hand in order to overcome an opponent with skill rather than brute force.

Each Bagua system is different. To understand that, you need to know that Dong Hai Chuan only accepted students that had already mastered another system. He taught each student what he needed, and not a specific universally taught curriculum.

Another thing to understand is that Bagua systems vary greatly in complexity of curriculum, and how flowery they are. Older systems tend to be less complex, and have less flash. Dong Hai Chuan himself, may have only practiced a single palm change walking the circle. He only taught a few palm changes. Dong’s students took his forms and theories and combined them with the martial arts they had studied previously. This resulted is in each of Dong’s students ending up with a different interpretation of Ba Gua.

Dong had five main students that he taught. Their names are listed on his tomb. My lineage is through Ma Wei Chi who is one of these five.

Dong Hai Chuan
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Ma Wei Chi (1851 – 1880)
He was from Beijing and had an unusually violent temper (most Bagua men are reserved). He had two nicknames. His first was “Mei Ma” (Coal Ma) because he worked in a coal shop. He was often a braggart, and famously demonstrated the art of Iron Spear before the face of Prince Su. His specialty was the spherical punch. His other nick name, was “Ten Day Ma”. This nick name was because he was noted for his 10 day (or longer)delayed fatal injuries to his opponents. It was not that ten days were needed before an opponent’s injuries would finally kill him; Ma Wei Chi could easily kill an opponent outright, rarely needing to strike more than once. Rather Ma Wei Chi’s strikes were designed to cause latent internal damage that would only later cause death. The ten-day delay would prevent Ma Wei Chi from being considered the legal cause of the death, keeping him out of trouble with the authorities. He was not liked by the martial arts community, and had few students. There is much controversy over his pre-mature death.

Positioning: a Circular approach

August 18, 2009 1 comment

While most people will tell you that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, a Bagua man might disagree. As far as I know the approach is unique to Bagua. But I do remember one of my Kempo instructors often quoting “Where the circle ends, the line begins, and where the line ends the circle begins”. Of course over the years I’ve heard many of the same principles, and quotes from instructors of many different systems. They all seem to have a different understanding of the meaning.

Before I go into the theory itself, I want to mention one other theory. “All movement must be natural movement.” This means different things to different people. Some take this very literally, and will talk about how we walk, etc.. They will contend that we have to move in a zig-zag pattern shifting from side to side, from one foot to the other as we lean shifting our weight to move. Others will contend that moving naturally means to move naturally in accordance with the principles of the system being practiced. The first approach is the quickest and easiest to learn. If your goal is solely escaping arts, it is a good approach. However if you think you may be forced to engage with an opponent on a physical level, though it takes longer to develop the second approach may be better. Perhaps the best approach is to learn one then the other in the order mentioned here?

As I’ve mentioned in other blog’s the best position to be in, in relation to your opponent is directly behind them. If you move in a straight line moving once will bring you to 90 degrees on them, moving twice will bring you directly behind them. To get back to where you started, you need to repeat the process. With that in mind if you started in front of your opponent, you would have to move a distance of 1, four times to go around your opponent, and return to the starting point. This would form a square around your opponent. A square with four equal sides measuring 1+1+1+1= 4. It is important to keep in mind that to get behind your opponent requires moving twice with this method. If however you move around your opponent in a circle that same distance is 3.14 (Pi). A distance of 3.14 is shorter then a distance of 4. Therefore moving in an arch you get behind your opponent quicker covering a shorter distance. This also means you only move once, not twice to get there.

Most systems will follow a principle of moving once, or moving twice. Even if they don’t verbalize it that way. Other systems will constantly flow through circles, and techniques, but even these will tend to follow one of the two principles when they actually emit energy, and apply a technique. This is another topic I’ll come back to later.