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Pa Kua

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.

grandmaster 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 Tung's birth.

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.

tung 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.

Circle Walking

We resume coding for txt. 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 time.

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 reference books.

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 points.

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 the novice.

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

We resume coding for txt. 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 particular moves.

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 movements.

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.

Pa Kua is but a part of Jung Gwo Ch'uan. Learn it and part of the mystery will be revealed to you.
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