The most striking feature of 八卦掌/Baguazhang – Eight Signs Palm is its circular walking. The continuous movement is designed to train the speed & stability of the Footwork. The first question people ask about it, almost every time, is “Why do you walk in a circle?” Let’s examine this short piece discussing the basis and Basics of Baguazhang’s core Training Method: Turning Palm (轉掌/Zhuan Zhang).
Baguazhang uses Stepping to beat people. Advance Step before advancing forward, Retreat Step before retreating backward. Step across to the left before moving the right foot, step across to the right before moving the left foot. Returning Body first Swing Steps, Turning Body first Hook Steps. Walking is the forefather of one hundred exercises, but one hundred exercises aren’t equal to one Walk. Baguazhang is defined as being good at Walking’s Boxing Art, it takes Walking & Turning while Issuing Maneuvers & Exchanging Patterns, Escaping Body & Changing Shadow. Only Walking can then avoid the enemy’s cutting edge, while also being able to cause people to be confused. Avoid his use of Solidity, & strike him at his Emptiness, Unorthodox & Orthodox mutually generating one another, therefore it is named Turning Palm.
Baguazhang is one of the less well known of the Internal Style Chinese Martial Arts. Among these Styles the most famous are collectively referred to as “the Big Three Internal Styles”: these are Taijiquan, Xingyiquan, & Baguazhang. Taijiquan is the most widely spread & well known of the three, characterized by its slow movement & use of Soft Jin. Xingyiquan has become better known in recent years, & is characterized by its use of Hard Jin, straight lines, & aggressive, realistic tactical disposition. Baguazhang, meanwhile, remains a bit of mystery to many martial artists. Known for its Circle Walking practice, & perhaps emphasis on change inspired by the obvious Yijing’s connection, for many it still conjures images of mystical, esoteric training with near-miraculous results.
The truth is that Baguazhang is an eminently practical Martial Art with Training Methods based on some of the most advanced physiological principles. It merges physical training & mental cultivation in a way that maximizes the core principles of both. It just goes about developing skills based on those principles in admittedly Unorthodox ways, such as Walking in a circle. As it says above: “it takes Walking & Turning while Issuing Maneuvers & Exchanging Patterns”.
Short & to the point, Bagua’s Walking Turning Moving Stepping Method is intended to explain the rationale behind the peculiar practice of endlessly walking in circles. There are several unique features of this Style that seem counterintuitive to many people. The first few lines of the text explain some of the unusual, but foundational types of Footwork used. These are examples of Mechanically superior methods get “more bang for the buck” then just trying to outmuscle or overpower opponents.
Originally, Baguazhang was called “Turning Palm,” but over time grew to encompass a more complete approach to training fighting skill & building health. Nevertheless, Turning Palm remains the core: both the foundational skill & the highest expression of skill at the same time. From a strategic viewpoint, it is the most efficient way to train mobility: circles take up a relatively small space, compared to straight lines; continuous Walking means the Footwork is continuously trained; improved Footwork means improved mobility. And mobility is a primary concern in Chinese Military Theory.
The single most important idea in this piece is stated by the line “Walking is the forefather of one hundred exercises, but one hundred exercises aren’t equal to one Walk.” Continuous motion will both improve mobility & build the stamina necessary to keep moving. Thus, Walking in a circle, or “Turning Palm”, is the foundational exercise. The spatial economy of Walking the Circle is also subtly emphasized by stating that Walking, by itself, is superior to multiple training methods. Why spend time on a ton of different types of training when you can get ALL of the benefits of ALL of those methods in just one method?
“Only Walking can then avoid the enemy’s cutting edge, while also being able to cause people to be confused.” This line lays it all out, strategically speaking. If you’re mobile then you’re much less likely to take hits from an opponent. It has the added benefit of confusing the hell out of most people. It seems a bit far fetched, I know. But trust me on this: people describe it as “disappearing” when you step into one of their physical & psychological blind spots. In a sense you do, literally disappear from their perception: you Walk out of their expectations & into a superior relative position. As the opening line states: “Baguazhang uses Stepping to beat people.”