It seems odd to us today that such a thing could happen. However, if we look at the historical background of the Chinese martial arts, we will see that it is, in fact, understandable that a martial art could remain so little known.

First, after so many thousands of years of development, there were countless numbers of martial arts styles in every period of Chinese history. This made it impossible for the government to keep a formal record of them, especially since martial artists and soldiers were never very highly regarded by the society.

Second, a majority of the most highly skilled martial artists avoided publicity and practiced in the mountains. More than two thirds of the Chinese martial arts originated within religions such as Buddhism, Daoism, and Islam. Many religious practitioners kept themselves in seclusion as they strived to cultivate themselves for enlightenment. Martial arts training was only a part of their training as they developed themselves both mentally and physically. For such people, political power, wealth, and reputation were as insubstantial as clouds. Because of this, there are many more records of priests who achieved Buddhahood or enlightenment than there are about important martial events.

Third, since most of the Chinese population was illiterate, even in the last century, it was very difficult to compile and record history. In fact, in order to preserve the essence of the arts, the secrets of each style were often composed into songs or poems which could be more easily remembered by illiterate people.

Because of these reasons, the history of each style was passed down orally from generation to generation, instead of being written down. After being passed down for many years, with new stories being added occasionally, the history eventually turned into a story. In many instances, a more accurate record can actually be obtained from martial novels written at that time, since they were based on the customs and actual events of the period. For example, the novels Historical Drama of Shaolin (Shaolin Yen Yi) by Shao, Yu-Sheng and Qian Long Visits South of the River (Qian Long Xia Jiang Nan) by an unknown author, were written during the Qing dynasty about two hundred years ago. The characters and background in these novels are all based on real people and events of the time. Of course, some liberties were taken with the truth, but since the novels were meant to be read by the public of that time, they had to be based very strongly on fact. Because of these and other similar novels, most martial styles are able to trace back their histories with some degree of accuracy.

This is the case with the history of Baguazhang (Pa Kwa Chang). Nobody actually knows exactly who created Baguazhang. In fact, it was only in the Qing dynasty (1644-1912 a.d.), that the first hand-written history of this style was composed.

Lan (blue) Yi (small house attached to a pavilion) Wai Shi (historical novel), Jing Bian Ji (Safeguard the Border Record): “In the second year of Jia Qing (1797 a.d.), there was a person from Shan Dong Ji Ning (named) Wang Xiang who taught Feng, Ke-Shan the fist techniques; Ke-Shan learned his techniques completely. In the spring of the 15th year of Jia Qing (1811 a.d.), Niu, Liang-Chen saw that the Eight Square Steps were contained in Ke-Shan’s fist techniques. Liang-Chen said, ‘Your stepping looks like marching Bagua.’ Ke-Shan asked, ‘How do you know it?’ Liang-Chen replied, ‘What I learned was Kan Gua (i.e., Water).’ Ke-Shan said, ‘What I learned was Li Gua (i.e., Fire).’ Liang-Chen said, ‘You are Li and I am Kan, both of us Kan and Li may interact and learn from each other.’” This record confirms that Baguazhang has existed for at least two hundred years.

From the middle period of Qing Dao Guang (1821-1850 a.d.) to Guang Xu sixth year (1881 a.d.), Baguazhang reached its peak, and was considered in its most popular and greatest period especially in northern China. According to the available documents, it seems likely that the popularity of Baguazhang during this period was due to the Baguazhang Master Dong, Hai-Chuan. Since then, a more accurate and complete history of the art has been kept.

There are a few documents available to us which describe that Master Dong, Hai-Chuan actually learned his Baguazhang arts from a Daoist named Dong, Meng-Lin in Jiu Hua Mountain, An Hui Province. Dong, Meng-Lin was called “Huang Guan Dao Ren” (The Yellow Cape Daoist) in the Daoist society and called “Bi Deng Xia” (Blue Lamp Chivalry) or “Bi Cheng Xia” (Blue Clear Chivalry) in the Chinese martial arts society. He taught Baguazhang to three disciples: Dong, Hai-Chuan, Li, Zhen-Qing and Ma, Yun-Cheng (Bi Yue-Xia). Among these three, Dong, Hai-Chuan has been the most well known and has passed down most of the students. Therefore, we have the more complete historical documentation of Dong, Hai-Chuan.

Dong Hai-Chuan was born in Zhu village, Wen An County, Hebei Province on the 13th of October, 1797 (Qing Jia Qing 2nd year), and died on the 25th of October, 1882 (Qing Guang Xu 8th year). Dong, Hai-Chuan taught many students, the best known of whom were Cheng, Ting-Hua (?-1900 a.d.), Yin, Fu (1842-1911 a.d.), Liu, Feng-Chun (1855-1900 a.d.), Li, Cun-Yi (1849-1921 a.d.), Shi, Li-Qing, Song, Chang-Rong, Zhang, Zhao-Dong (1858-1938 a.d.), and Liu, Bao-Zhen. From one of the sources, it is believed that Liu, Bao-Zhen did not only learn Baguazhang from Dong, Hai-Chuan but was also considered as the second disciple of Li, Zhen-Qing, a classmate of Dong, Hai-Chuan. If this information is true, then it was not only Dong, Hai-Chuan who had a close relationship with his other two classmates, but also his students. One of Master Liang, Shou-Yu’s Baguazhang masters, Wang, Shu-Tian (1908-?), was a student of Liu, Bao-Zhen’s student, Guo, Yun-Shen.

Cheng, Ting-Hua, who was the second disciple of Dong, Hai-Chuan and was commonly regarded as Dong’s best student, was born in Cheng village, Shen County, Hebei Province. Because he managed an eyeglass business, he was also known as “Glasses Cheng.” Cheng, Ting-Hua died in 1900 while resisting foreign troops during the Opium War. Among his students, the best known are his oldest son, Cheng, You-Long (1875-1928 a.d.), his youngest son, Cheng, You-Xin, Zhou Xiang (1861-? a.d.), and Sun, Lu-Tang (1860-1932 a.d.). Sun, Lu-Tang wrote two very valuable books in 1916 and 1925: The Study of Bagua Fist and The Study of Bagua Sword. In fact, one of master Liang, Shou-Yu’s Baguazhang teachers was Zheng, Huai-Xian (1896-1981 a.d.), who was a student of Sun, Lu-Tang. Yan, De-Hua, a student of another one of Cheng, Ting-Hua’s students, Zhou, Xiang, wrote a book: The Practical Applications of Baguazhang Maneuvers in 1939. In addition, a student of Cheng, You-Long, Sun, Xi-Kun, who wrote a book, The Genuine Baguazhang Maneuvers, also contributed a great effort in promoting Baguazhang during that period.

Yin, Fu who was the first disciple of Dong, Hai-Chuan, modified what he had learned from Dong, Hai-Chuan to originate what is now called the Yin style of Baguazhang; he also taught many students. Two of his students, Yin, Yu-Zhang and Gong, Bao-Tian, both wrote books entitled Baguazhang. These books, which were published in 1932, are valuable contributions to our understanding of the art. One of Gong, Bao-Tian’s students, Liu, Yun-Qiao (1909-1992 a.d.), had taught Baguazhang in Taiwan until 1991. In addition, another student of Yin, Yu-Zhang, Pei, Xi-Rong, contributed great effort in developing Baguazhang in southern China. Yin, Yu-Zhang has a student, Jiang, Hao-Quan, currently teaching in the United States.

Fu, Zhen-Song (1872-1953 a.d.), a student of Sun, Lu-Tang, also brought the Baguazhang art to southern China and became one of the pioneers in developing Baguazhang there. Fu’s eldest son, Fu, Yong-Hui, continued in his father’s steps and with great effort contributed in spreading Baguazhang in southern China. Another student of Dong, Hai-Chuan, Li Cun-Yi (1849-1911 a.d.), also passed down his art to many students. Among them, Shang, Yun-Xiang (1863-1938 a.d.), Hao, En-Guang, Zhu, Guo-Fu (1891-1968 a.d.), and Huang, Bo-Nian have contributed significantly to the popularity of Baguazhang. Huang, Bo-Nian was one of the Baguazhang teachers in Nanking Central Guoshu Institute before World War II. Huang, Bo-Nian wrote a well-known book called: Dragon Shape Baguazhang. In addition, a student of Shang, Yun-Xiang, Jin, Yun-Ting, had a student named Ling, Gui-Qing who also made a large contribution to the popularity of both Xingyi and Bagua in that period. Huang, Bo-Nian has a student, Fu, Shu-Yun, currently teaching in the United States.

Naturally, Zhang, Zhao-Dong also had many students. Among them, Jiang, Rong-Qiao (1890-? a.d.), wrote a very valuable Baguazhang book: The Expounding of Baguazhang Techniques. Another student, Han, Mu-Xia, had a student named Wu, Meng-Xia who wrote the book: The Essence of Baguazhang Maneuvers.

In addition, Peng, Zhao-Kuang, whose teacher Yang, Rong-Ben studied with Shi, Li-Qing, passed down a valuable manuscript: The Principles of Ba Palm Maneuvers in 1955.66 Also, Zhang, Jun-Feng, whose teacher Gao, Yi-Sheng (1866-1951 a.d.) studied with Song, Chang-Rong, passed his manuscript: The Important Meaning of Baguazhang on to his students, Wu, Meng-Xia (also Han, Mu-Xia’s student) and Wu, Zhao-Feng.

In addition to these older publications, an author named Ren, Zhi-Cheng wrote a book called: Yin Yang Eight Coiling Palms, in 1937. It is interesting to note that Ren, Zhi-Cheng’s teacher, Li, Zhen-Qing was a classmate of Dong, Hai-Chuan, and though both of them learned from Dong, Meng-Lin, Dong did not learn Yin Yang Baguazhang. This tells us that in the time of Dong, Hai-Chuan there were probably several versions of Baguazhang already in existence.

Currently, the best-known styles of Baguazhang are Wudang, Emei, Yin Family , and Yin Yang. Some of the representative old masters of Baguazhang well known today are Sha, Guozheng, Li, Ziming (1900-1993 a.d.) (a student of Liang, Zheng-Pu), Lu, Zijian (who learned from a Daoist, Li, Chang-Ye on Emei Mountain), and Tian, Hui (Yin Yang Baguazhang).

Baguazhang has another branch which was developed in Korea. It was credited to Lu, Shui-Tian (1894-1978 a.d.), who brought Baguazhang to Korea when he moved his family there during the Sino-Japanese War. Mr. Lu’s teacher was Li, Qing-Wu and unfortunately, the origin of his Baguazhang is not clear.

Baguazhang has become so popular in China since the beginning of this century that it is impossible to discover all of its practitioners. The only ones who can be traced (and, in some cases, whose pictures can be found) are those who have written books, passed down documents, or who had been mentioned in any of the books. There are probably hundreds more who had mastered the styles, but we have no way of knowing their names. Furthermore, after so many years of being modified by different masters, there are now many different styles of Baguazhang. Naturally, the basic theory and foundation of all of these styles remain the same. It is very interesting today to see that each style has taken the same basic theory and principles and developed its own unique characteristics in both training and applications.

Currently, there are more than thirty different in-depth publications of Baguazhang in China. However, Baguazhang in the United States is still very new. The first English-language publication on Baguazhang, by Robert W. Smith, appeared in 1967. A book by Lee, Ying-Arng appeared in 1972, and recently a couple of books by Jerry Alan Johnson, and one Johnson co-authored with Joseph Crandall, were published in the 1980’s. It was not until the beginning of the 1980’s that Baguazhang gradually became as well-known as Xingyiquan to martial artists in the West. It would be very beneficial during this developmental stage of the art if there were more publications available in English. We hope that people who are experienced in Baguazhang will do their part in popularizing this great art in the West.

This article is based on the Baguazhang book, revised edition, by Grandmaster Liang, Shou-Yu, Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming, and Wen, Ching-Wu. A 180-minute Baguazhang DVD demonstrating the techniques is also available.

(photo credit: Jonathan Chang)