I recently came across a youtube video by Lyte Burly which piqued my interest.
Lyte Burly is a controversial and (to my view) charismatic practitioner and proponent of the Martial Arts Style called “52 blocks”.
He has been putting out a series of videos which are critical or largely critical of Traditional Chinese Martial Arts. In particular he criticizes the Chinese Martial Arts for their lack of a “long range game”, as opposed to boxing and “52” (which is largely derived from boxing). Burly claims that Bagua (also known as Baguazhang) is one of these Arts that doesn’t work in real life, however he says that if you have mastered another art, Bagua concepts and techniques can add to your “game”.
(He also criticizes Wing Chun as being mostly about ineffectual chain punches).
Before watching the video, I had heard of Bagua but had never paid much attention to it. Some research revealed that Bagua is a completely Taoist based martial art. In fact the name “bagua” translates to “trigram palm”, and the system’s philosophy is based on the I Ching. Bagua is one of the 3 so-called “internal arts” of Kung Fu. The other internal martial art that we have all seen is Tai Chi (although Tai Chi, originally a true martial art with fighting applications but these have fallen by the wayside).
What Is Bagua a/k/a Baguazhang?
Bagua, also known as Bagua Zhang and Eight Diagram Palm, is a relatively new CMA, dating back to the 19th century, when the founder combined the Taoist circle walking meditation principles and Taoist energy principles to his own (unknown) style of Northern Shaolin to create a completely new and uniue style.
At one point in time, the Emperor insisted that every bodyguard at the palace be an expert in Bagua experts. Baguazhang is a fighting style which combines striking techniques with grappling techniques, including throws, takedowns, joint locks, and submissions. The style is based upon circular movements, circles within circles, and spiral movements within the circles.
Interestingly, Baguazhang is the only fighting art I know of which was specifically designed to fight against multiple attackers. Like Tai Chi, there is a primary form, which is variously called the “single palm change” and the unique exercise of “circle walking”.
Ba Gua Zhang Circle Walking
This form and the circle walking exercise are designed, among other things, to train circular evasive footwork, the ability to change directions unpredictably, and the development of the peripheral vision. There is also a mental training component to the form, which is supposed to train the student’s ability to “remain calm in the midst of motion” (interestingly enough one of the sayings of Wing Tsun).
The bagua fighter never stands still, even for a moment which is vital for survival against multiple opponents. The complex circular footwork, based upon circles within circles and spirals within circles, along with constant movement and the ability to change directions quickly and unpredictably, makes it difficult for the attackers in the group to track the bagua fighter. Experts in this art claim that they can strike with power even while in the middle of a step, because the power comes from the Dantien, not from the ground.
Because multiple attacker situations are even more chaotic than one on one fights, the ability to remain calm in the midst of a chaotic multiple attacker confrotation is an absolute necessity for survival. The Bagua fighter trains his peripheral vision as part of the circle walking exercise and never actually looks directly at any one attacker.
The style correctly points out that, because of the distribution of rods and cones in the human eye, peripheral vision reacts much quicker to moving objects than does “central” vision (when you are looking directly at an object).
Similarities Between Bagua Zhang And Wing Chun
Bagua is similar to wing chun in that it emphasizes hand strikes over kicking in order to maximize the fighter’s chances of staying on his feet in a real fight. However, Bagua emphasizes hand strikes using the palm instead of the fist.
While ground-fighting is not trained, stand-up grappling and throws are trained extensively.
In addition to the weaponless open-hand techniques, Bagua students also train on a large variety of weapons, including the sword, staff, and spear, as well as sone esoteric weapons such as the deer-honr knives.
The first video below shows techniques from the Cheng lineage, in which the grappling aspects are emphasized. At least to my eye, these techniques look graceful, fluid, and effective. I especially note the quick precise steps and their timing with strikes, and the instructor’s use of “fa-jing”, or short range shock power. The video also shows how spinning techniques, not used in Wing Chun, can be used effectively for offense and defence, with proper positioning and timing.
The second video video shows a wushu forms competition where one of the competitors shows off her bagua form. She had won the silver medal the year before in this competition ad displays beautiful stance, balance, flexibility, footowrk and fluid movements that illustrate what Bagua movements look like at a high level of skill. If you don’t think that this kind of movement exercise has value in real combat, keep in mind that Connor McGreggor did a lot of movement practice in preparing for his MMA fights.