ImageStudying the classical techniques and principles of bagua is valuable for martial artists and students of sportfighting. Bagua’s circular footwork patterns and blocks and parries help easy repositioning so opponents are consistently off balance and susceptible.

At bagua’s core is a focus on the simultaneous movement and awareness of the inner body, as well as a changing of directions referred to as a palm change. Moving all parts in unison and focusing on the lower and inner body integrates the mind and produces internal power. Done correctly, the end result should feel intense, relaxed and effortless.

Bagua’s unity of motion is in sharp contrast to other martial training methodologies, including wing chun, karate and tae kwon do. In these arts, the feet often remain stationary while the upper body attacks, potentially leaving one frozen against a more skilled opponent who is versed in timing, movement, distancing and rhythm. Bagua is an effective bridge here; by focusing heavily on footwork training the upper body is open to relax while being in an ideal position to strike.

Power of the Technique 

Bagua was created in the mid-19th century by Dong Hai Chuan, who synthesized shaolin kung-fu, a Buddhist temple art, with Taoist energy practices, which he learned from martial monks in the hills of rural China. Bagua is considered one of the three major “internal” martial arts. The palm or zhang is a primary weapon, and the constant changing of directions represents the addition of more opponents. Perhaps no other martial art seamlessly integrates history, philosophy and traditional cultural perspectives so literally into the power of their techniques as bagua. The Book of Changes and the eight trigrams inform and create all phenomena according to Taoist thinking, and the techniques behind the martial art of bagua do not merely employ a metaphoric usage of these principles.

Heavy emphasis on footwork is found in numerous experienced fighters who rely on footwork training to achieve whole-body power. These fighters will position themselves appropriately and strike a less-experienced fighter whose feet are crossed. Using multi-directional large and small circular footwork patterns in relation to the opponent, bagua helps one expose the vulnerable center of an opponent and take his balance through grounded non-linear movements.

Unlike aikido and other movement-based arts, the aim of bagua is not simply to move gracefully from harm and peacefully subdue the opponent. Instead, bagua’s agile movement centers on leading opponents into fatal strikes, reflecting its history as a lethal self-protection and combat science.

As with other internal martial arts, it is essential that the body of a bagua practitioner remains loose. The quality of stable, yet empty relaxation and how one reacts to force are as much a part of the art as its movements, postures and alignments. By engaging in slow, relaxed and controlled training the brain’s neuropathways adapt to learning smooth, fluid movements while staying energetically and physically balanced. As such, alignment and relaxed connected power become so integral that when sped up they become automatic. Ironically, this slow relaxation aids in the development of speed by helping the body function appropriately while under attack without the interference of the conscious mind. This doesn’t mean you react reflexively or mindlessly, but rather that the body efficiently transfers and redirects force based on its conditioning, and without needing a conscious command moves effortlessly from the lower back.  

Total Confusion 

In combat, bagua’s use of soft blocks and re-positioning disassociates and confuses opponents, giving them little frame of reference, because it seeks never to meet force head on. An opponent is misled into counterstrikes where power is increased savagely by the angle of their delivery. Training in constant repositioning and angling, while at the same time keeping the “ischial tuberosities” (or sits bones as they are called in yoga) pressing down, and the footwork light and agile and movement initiating from the lower back can focus each blow into a whole body strike.

The training methodology of bagua increases defensive prowess as well as striking power. Good fighters need to tirelessly train footwork patterns to create balance, flow and harmony within the chaos of a fight. In mastering one’s body positioning relative to an oncoming opponent, one can control an opponent’s aggressive actions and movement without force.

Bagua emphasizes staying rooted by effortlessly sliding your feet across the ground without lifting any part of the foot. Several traditional movement-based Japanese arts, including aikido, jiu-jitsu and ninjitsu, are similar in training the foot to connect to as much surface during movements as possible. Fighters from these disciplines will seldom lift their heel while rotating like a kickboxer; you will never see a classical internal martial artist rhythmically bouncing on the balls of their feet like a TKD stylist or bobbing and weaving and giving up their height like an aggressive sport fighter.

Both combatants stand ready.
The author executes a quick switch stance.
Then attempts to catch Xu with a front ball kick followed by a roundkick to the neck.
But Xu moves laterally and snakes his arm around the leg to execute a throw.


The author prepares to throw a jab/rear elbow combination at Xu.

Xu blocks the elbow.
He flows with the rotation.
And finally executes a strike to the base of the spine.