What’s Baguazhang?

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Baguazhang is a Chinese martial art that focuses on evasive footwork and using an attacker’s strength against them. Practitioners walk in a circle to improve footwork, and offensive techniques are limited to eight primary strikes. Advanced training includes moving in a progressively narrower space and weapons training.

Chinese martial arts traditions have been passed down for centuries and are still practiced in modern times. From the five animal styles of Shaolin kung fu to the graceful movements of taijiqian, Chinese martial arts encompass a variety of techniques. Baguazhang is a martial arts style that focuses almost exclusively on evasive footwork and using an attacker’s strength against him rather than using direct strikes. Ba gua practitioners are almost always on the move, presenting no vulnerability to any attacker. This martial art uses rotational movements to generate power in strikes.

The baguazhang curriculum focuses primarily on footwork. The main exercise is called “walking in a circle”. Practitioners assume a bent knee position and begin walking in a circle. The feet initially point perpendicular to the upper body, and each step covers a fraction of 45 degrees of the total circle, making the full circle take eight steps to complete. Because the style focuses on evasion and movement around an opponent, the practitioner should always face inward when walking in a circle.

Baguazhang relies heavily on fast footwork, so there are little or no kicking techniques. Offensive techniques are limited to eight primary strikes from a deeply rooted position. They include hand crest strikes, open palm, hand edge, and double palm strikes, among others. Bagua practitioners can execute these strokes from a standing position or when moving in either direction around the circle.

More advanced baguazhang training teaches the student to move in a progressively narrower space. At advanced levels, someone practicing circle walking may appear to turn in place and go through the motions. Some other forms include walking in a figure eight or completing a rotation and changing the direction of movement. Ba gua’s purpose is to prepare a martial artist to evade an attacker or to defend against multiple attackers, hence the rapid changes in movement and orientation.

Baguazhang incorporates weapons training with various weapons such as the jian or straight sword; the dao, or single-bladed sabre; the wooden stick of wax and the stag horn daggers. The use of weapons is a staple in virtually all Chinese martial arts, for it teaches the student full awareness of weight distribution and techniques – and many weapon techniques are performed as extensions of empty hand techniques. In the initial stages of training, practitioners hold iron weights while maintaining a defensive stance through movement to build hand and arm strength. Other curricula may include weighted vests.

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