Ba Gua can be considered the whirling dervish of the internal arts. The practice of walking in endless circles performing complicated turning movements verges on dance. It is a martial art that uses agility to outmaneuver an opponent and attack from unexpected directions. While there are several stories of how it was developed, most branches credit Dong Hai-chuan (1798-1882) with inventing Ba Gua. It is known that he taught each of his students differently, based on their abilities. So the lineages from each of his students vary quite a bit from each other. Yin and Cheng styles (the main styles are named after Dong Hai-chuan’s students) are the most well known. Ma Gui was Dong Hai-chuan’s last and according to many, his best student. Despite his accomplished skill, he was very traditional in his teaching and taught few students and so Ma Gui style is not well known. His style emphasizes slow and heavy circle walking to build internal health.
What makes a martial art internal?
The internal martial arts make a distinction between health and fitness. Most typical forms of exercises train fitness. Fitness requires health, but increasing fitness levels doesn’t necessarily build up health. In fact too much exercise can even hurt your health, as anyone who has over-trained will understand. The internal arts are different in that the emphasis is first to build up health. This is why typically, exercises are done slowly and relaxed. Meditation and/or standing exercises to cultivate health are also an important part of the learning do this reason. Learning Ba Gua Central to Ba Gua is circle walking. There are eight animal postures held to train different types of alignment while walking. Through this practice the body is strengthened and health is cultivated. For each animal the are eight short sequences called Changes. These Changes are used to change direction and to learn techniques. It is also common to practice application drills which focus on a single martial technique. Ma Gui style emphasizes circle walking with a slow, deliberate step using the Bear posture. This builds strength in the legs and lower body. All the other elements in this style build on this, attempting to knit the body into a strong, integrated unit.
Tips for successful practice
Circle walking takes patience and perseverance. With time and practice it becomes clearer how it relates to martial application and to health building. While seemingly simple, there are many details to refine in circle walking. At the start, broad strokes are usually taught with more details added on as a student progresses. Focus your practice on the fundamentals. While it can be tempting to practice the more flashy moves, Bear circle walking is the practice that makes all the other parts of Bagua effective. Ma Gui style even takes the perspective that all of the other movements are simply ways of testing to see how your circle walking is progressing. Practice regularly to build health. The internal arts all rely on a foundation of health. The process of cultivating health is gradual and requires diligent training.