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Bagua (Baguazhang) literally means "eight trigram palm," referring to the trigrams of the I Ching(Yijing), one of the canons of Taoism.
The creation of Bagua, as a formalized martial art, is attributed to Dong Haichuan (董海川), who is said to have learned from Taoist (and possibly Buddhist) masters in the mountains of rural China during the early 19th century. Dong Haichuan is credited with creating what we know today as Bagua. Bagua is probably a synthesis of several pre-existing martial arts taught combined with Taoist circle walking. Working as a servant in the Imperial Palace he impressed the emperor with his graceful movements and fighting skill, and he became an
instructor and a bodyguard to the court. Dong Haichuan taught for many years in Beijing, eventually earning patronage by the Imperial court. The practice of circle walking, or "turning the circle", as it is sometimes called, is Bagua's characteristic method of stance and movement training. All forms of Bagua utilize circle walking as an integral part of training. Practitioners walk around the edge of the circle in various low stances, facing the center, and periodically change direction as they execute forms. Students first learn flexibility and proper body alignment through the basic exercises, then move on to more complex forms and internal power mechanics.
The internal aspects of Bagua are similar to those of Xingyi and Tai Chi. All three emphasize using internal power through correct posture, relaxation and expansion of the body, and spiraling energy (sun su jing). However, unlike the others, Bagua utilizes quick and light, circular walking, with large expansive movements. Bagua contains an extremely wide variety of techniques as well as weapons, including various strikes (with palm, fist, elbow, fingers, etc.), kicks, joint locks, throws, and distinctively evasive circular footwork. Bagua practitioners are known for their ability to "flow" in and out of the way of opponents. This is the source of the theory of being able to fight multiple attackers. Its evasive nature is also shown by the practice of moving behind an attacker, so that the opponent cannot harm the practitioner. Bagua’s
movements employ the whole body with smooth coiling and uncoiling spiraling actions, utilizing hand techniques and dynamic footwork. Rapid-fire movements draw energy from the dan-tien (center of the abdomen) while the circular stepping pattern build up momentum allowing the practitioner to maneuver quickly around one or many opponents. The most essential feature of Bagua is its circular walking technique combined with a continuous flow of coordinated hand transitions. The momentum produced by the swirling motion creates tremendous energy akin to the onslaught of a powerful tornado.