The most misunderstood of the Internal Arts is Pa Kua Zhang (Eight Trigram Boxing) which is only now becoming familiar to the American
people. In fact it still has a long way to go before it will be as
recognized as Tai Chi Ch'uan.
The average person may not have heard of
Tung Hai Ch'uan also known as Cheng Ying-Fang. He was a native of Hebei
Province. His home town Chu Chia Wu. Although his exact birth date is
not known, it is safe to say he was born sometime between 1796
and 1816. The latest data extracted from the Pa Kua Journals indicated
some research was done which traced Tung Hai-Ch'uan's life through some of his
family relations and concluded that 1813 was probably the year of
Although there is no record of Tung's birth, we know he died in 1882, from the tomb which
bears the date of his demise. On his tomb is also inscribed
a list of Tung's followers, some of whom we will speak of later. It
is thought Tung died when he was in his sixties.
No one can be sure of
Tung's early life but researchers believe he was involved with the martial
arts from an early age. The region of his birth, in fact, was very popular
for its martial arts. Various sources indicate that it was one of the many
styles of Shao-lin. It would be a good guess to assume he studied the
early root systems of Shao-lin like LoHan or Hung Ch'uan (Red Fist). Of
course each village in China had its own distinct version of
Shao-lin, so it nearly impossible to state the exact styles that Tung favored.
It is enough to know that he had a very good foundation in martial arts and
that he became quite good at Shao-lin fairly early in his life.
Many believe Tung
become involved in learning Pa Kua sometime in his twenties. Where and how
he learned the Pa Kua is still controversial.
There are countless versions of where Tung developed his Pa Kua. One of
the ideas that historians have deduced is that Tung developed Pa Kua from
another martial art called Yin Yang Pa P'an Chang, which he learned from
the Master Tung Meng Lin. Another theory states that before Tung, there was
mention of Eight Directional Walking, called Li Kua and K'an Kua, which
could be the predecessor to Pa Kua. A third theory states that Tung
learned his art from a master known as Pi Cheng-Hsia on Nine Flower
Mountain. Yet another states that Tung developed the Pa Kua from his own
mind, using his understanding of the I-Ching.
Who can say what was in
the mind of Tung Hai Ch'uan when he developed his ideas into movement?
Many like to associate Pa Kua with the book of changes (I-Ching), but
again many historians feel the mysteries of Chinese philosophy was later
incorporated with the internal arts.
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Circle walking is not unique to Pa
Kua. The early Taoists used circling walking in one of their many rituals
to harmonize mind and body. It is thought Tung practiced many of the
Taoist rituals and could have incorporated cycle walking into his
concepts of the newly formed Pa Kua system. Likewise, Hsing-I Ch'uan was
later connected to the study of Wu Hsing (the Five Elements) and Tai Chi
Ch'uan became associated with the philosophy of Yin/Yang. It is of no
matter what influenced what first, the important thing is that Pa Kua now
exists and we can enjoy the chance to learn this unique art form.
We must always remember that half the fun of martial arts is the mystery of it
all. Some of the old stories you read about the masters' unbeatable
fighting skills may be in fact shear nonsense. Some modern day masters
take offense when they hear these studies propagated. However, I feel that as
we become better acquainted with the history of our art, we all come to
take these stories at face value. They are simply fun to read; they
serve to add color to our art. They help students work hard to achieve
high levels by boosting their imagination.
To sum up, if a student
trained to reach mastery of Pa Kua, then the stories mean nothing. If the
student fails to reach mastery it make no difference what they believe,
because they still don't know the true essence of our art.
When I was
learning Pa Kua I loved to read the old legends of the masters' fighting
abilities. The stories never hurt me. Now that I have exceled in my
training I realize that they are only stories and I am simply amused by them.
In fact, I still tell some of these stories to my students. Of course I
also tell them they are only stories, but they serve to make
learning our art more interesting and colorful. There is nothing wrong
with hero worship - people been doing this since the beginning of
In the developing years of Pa Kua it was more commonly know as Pa
Kua Ch'uan Chang (rotating palm). Later it was renamed Pa Kua Jou Shen Lien Huan Chang (supply
body continuous palm).
It's more than likely that if you search further, you will discover other early names
for this mysterious art form.
Whatever Tung Hai Ch'aun called Pa
Kua, it is thought that the system he taught was very flexible. This can be
said because Tung taught each of his students somewhat differently. He
based what he would teach each student on that student's kung fu background.
In fact it is said there were two totally different styles of Pa Kua
taught by Tung Hai Ch'uan's students.
Cheng Ting Hua taught a style
known as "Southern City Pa Kua" which made use of Cheng knowledge of his
Shuai Chiao. This style of Pa Kua made use of the grappling nature of
Shuai Chiao incorporated into his Pa Kua. On the other hand Yin Fu, Tung
Hai Chuan's first student, taught a style called "Eastern City Pa Kua,"
which made use of the striking power of the open hand. It is not a
question which style is better, the best style is the one that suits the
student's nature and physical abilities.
We could further elaborate about
the vast history of Pa Kua, and the fighting ability of the past masters,
but for now I feel you have a good general idea of Pa Kua's formation.
For those who wish to study history even deeper there are many good
reference books available. With a little effort a
great deal of historical information can be obtained from these
Understanding the history of our art is an invaluable asset,
but there is nothing better
than the first hand experience of learning Pa Kua, which is worth all
the history books in China. Nothing compares to the hands-on experience
learned from a qualified teacher.
But what would a novice expect to
learn in a Pa Kua class? How difficult is it to learn Pa Kua? How
effective is it in actual combat? What do you learn first and what is
the highest level of learning in Pa Kua? These are questions the
novice wants to know about, so we will try to clarify some of these
As I said in the beginning, Pa Kua still remains elusive to the
average American. Unless you have some background in Chinese Martial
Arts most of what you read will seem confusing to you. The average
beginner can even witness a class in Pa Kua and still be confused by
what all the circular movements mean in terms of combat.
The first thing
to understand is that there are two types of movements that the human body is
capable of. The first is straight line movement and the second is
circular movement. In Shao-lin the straight line is obvious to the eye.
In the case of simple punching technique it is obvious to the onlooker
that a punch has been delivered. But in Pa Kua it is difficult to see
the actual applications of the circles.
Let me say at this point
that in reality everything is part of a circle. This becomes clear
when studying the various forms of Pa Kua. The arms swing in
continuous circles while striking and evading the attacker. In Pa Kua
most of the striking is done with the open hand rather than a fist. For
all practical purposes the open hand is far stronger then a closed fist.
There is less likelihood the hand will be broken by a badly formed fist.
In fact the entire arm is used rather than the hand. The stepping
in Pa Kua is done in circles rather than straight lines. The goal is to
be able to move around an opponent rather than straight into him.
Therefore, the first thing a new student learns is how to walk in circles.
There is definite foot work that has to be learned in order to be able to
move fast and turn fast. It is said of Pa Kua that it is the fastest of
the martial arts as far as foot work goes.
The circle walking may look
easy at first, but it won't take long before the novice realizes how
difficult it can be. The waist must be trained to twist so the body can
face the circle while walking the circle. Some pick this up quickly
while others take some time to develop good walking habits. Then the
palms are the next point of focus. There are eight basic positions of
the palm that have to be learned, and again how long this takes depends on the novice.
The applications of the movements are in
many cases the last things a novice will learn. In some schools teachers
will not show applications until the students have shown good circle
walking and proper hand formation. In Shao-lin movements are understood
much faster, but in Pa Kua, because we use so many circling movements, it
is hard to see any definite application for defense. Here is where many
lose their interest in Pa Kua, because they simply cannot understand
what all these fancy circles are used for. It is also much harder to
remember the path of circling movement as compared to Shao-lin straight
line fighting techniques. It is far easier to remember a block and
strike rather than some continuous flowing circle that never seems to
have a definite end. For this reason the applications remain elusive to
People have a tendency to
want self defense gratification quickly, and Pa Kua does not offer that
as quickly as the standard Shao-lin does. Only those who understand the
significance of circular movement will continue to train. Of course, Pa
Kua has self-defense use but this understanding comes slowly as all good
things do. Those who have the fortitude to continue will at some
point realize the effectiveness of Pa Kua as a defense and will see how it promotes
better understanding of all the arts.
If a student studies the Pa
Kua or any of the internal arts seriously, the time will come when the
student will fall in love with the beauty, grace and powerful
effectiveness of the art. The love of the art becomes much more than
the defensive nature of the art. It becomes poetry in movement. The
defensive aspects, once known to you, become secondary. You become
transfixed with the blending dance-like movements. Your only goal is to
try and make your execution of the form as perfect as possible. It
becomes a challenge of your own abilities to try and perform the
so-called perfect form.
Many wish to learn Pa Kua because of its
reputation as a powerful fighting art. There is nothing wrong with this
as a starting motivation to learn. But once you become proficient with
the fighting techniques you will find yourself returning to the
classical forms to try and attain perfection of each movement. This is
where the real pleasures are derived . This is the reason I am still
fascinated with classical structure. To see form done correctly, is
beauty to the eye of the beholder. The speed, grace and power are
evident when done by a master.
A Private World
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While you perform your form your mind
becomes transfixed and calm and focused. You are caught up in a
whirlwind of moves that takes you to a higher plane in your mind. It
truly is a moving meditation that brings you to your private world deep
within yourself. I cannot say it is only Pa Kua that transports me to
this higher plane. All aspects of the martial arts seem to have their
own way of captivating you. Each of the arts has its own special
flavor. Nothing can replace Pa Kua's special feel and
One thing to keep in mind is that all the masters
of Pa Kua were well trained in other forms of martial arts. For a
beginner to start Pa Kua without any other background in the Chinese
fighting arts only makes the learning harder and more confusing.
However, those who have a background in other aspects of Shao-lin
find Pa Kua to be fascinating and effective, as well as an intangible part
of the entire scope of Chinese fighting arts. For this reason, many
teachers will recommend beginners to start with fundamental Shao-lin
learning before moving on to the Pa Kua art.
Pa Kua is much like Tai Chi
Ch'uan in this respect. Even today many will argue whether Tai
Chi is an effective fighting art or is just for health. The answer
for those in the know is that, of course it is a powerful and effective fighting
art, but again without the background in fundamental Shao-lin this is
hard to see from a novice point of view. Hsing-I Ch'uan on the other
hand is easy to see, for it incorporates many of the concepts of the
fundamental Shao-lin fighting methods, and utilizes the straight line
theory as opposed to Pa Kua's circles and Tai Chi's soft circular
Those who have studied Shao-lin for a long time realize their
training would be incomplete without the three internals. They are the
very fabric of which the art is made, and they play a huge role in mastery of
the Shao-lin arts. It is inconceivable to me that anyone could come
close to understanding the full scope of Shao-lin without first learning
the full spectrum of our arts. No single aspect of our art is in itself the
best part. To fully understand the entire scope of our art requires the
study of more than a small part of it. By learning both the internal
and external the entire picture of Shao-lin fighting becomes clear.
Simply said, if you study a little, you will know a little. If you study
a great deal you will know a great deal. With shallow study, there will
always be gaps in your learning, questions unanswered, parts missing which you
cannot explain. The mystery will remain a mystery until you finally
decide to look at the complete picture of Shao-lin fighting strategy.
Only then will you appreciate the beauty and power of the Pa Kua and how
it relates to the external arts. It is not separate from the external.
You cannot separate the internal from the external. It is part of the
whole. For those who only want a portion of Shao-lin and are satisfied
with the external aspects only, then nothing else need be said. But for
those who are looking for total mastery and understanding, then nothing
else will do than to look at it all. Then the entire picture of what
Shao-lin is will become clear to you. This is what we call Jung Gwo Ch'uan
which encompasses the entire spectrum of Chinese fighting arts.
is but a part of Jung Gwo Ch'uan. Learn it and part of the mystery will
be revealed to you.