Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The History of Ba Gua Zhang

Ba Gua Zhang is a fascinating martial art. Over at Ground Dragon Martial Arts, there was a reprint of an old article from the Pakua Chang Journal dissecting the foundation stories of BGZ and the best research of the time. Below is an excerpt. The full post may be read here.

The Origins of Ba Gua Zhang – Part 1

Written by Dan Miller, et al, Pa Kua Chang Journal Volume 3, Number 1, November – December 1992, Edited by Dr. Troy Schott D.C.
  The following blog posts will be selected articles from the illustrious Pa Kua Chang Journal. The Journal ran for about seven years, initially as the Pa Kua Chang Newsletter, it was a refreshing look into the actual current and historical state of baguazhang. I will do my best to give credit where credit is due, however, in some cases, the translator of material is not immediately known unless stated in the article. Also, I have edited the article in many places for relevance and have left notes here and there. If I make any grevious mistake in the rewriting of this material, please let me know. – Troy Schott, D.C.

Stories abound about how the art of Ba Gua Zhang was originated. The only clear lineage that exists is that of Dong Hai Chuan and so many feel that Dong was the founder. Dong rarely spoke of his own background. His relationship with his students was very strict and thus none of them dared to ask. Whether or not Dong invented his this art on his own or learned it from another is a common topic of debate in the Ba Gua Zhang community. Although there are dozens of stories and anecdotes, the various theories of Ba Gua Zhang’s origins can be boiled down to the following four:

  1. Dong Hai Chuan developed Ba Gua Zhang after learning Yin Yang Ba Pan Zhang from Dong Meng Lin. This version of Ba Gua’s origin was published in the 1937 text Yin Yang Ba Pan Zhang Fa written by Ren Zhi Cheng.
  2. The Unofficial History of the Indigo Pavilion (1818) talks about eight direction stepping, Li Gua and Kan Gua as Ba Gua that was popular prior to Dong Hai Chuan (pre-1813). From the writing in this text, some have deduced that this Ba Gua was the predecessor to the Ba Gua Zhang taught by Dong.
  3. Dong Hai Chuan learned his art from Bi Cheng Xia on Qiu Hua (Nine Flower) Mountain. A discussion of this theory would also include any of the various stories about Dong learning from an “unusual person in the mountain vastness.” When the Bi Cheng Xia theory is examined, we will include popular theories regarding other Daoists that Dong might have learned from.
  4. Dong Hai Chuan was the founder of Ba Gua Zhang. The individuals who subscribe to this theory believe that Dong spent his youth learning other martial arts and invented Ba Gua Zhang based on his early experience combined with circle walking meditation practice he learned from a Daoist.In addition to the theories mentioned above, some take Ba Gua Quan (other styles which have the name Ba Gua) that were not taught by Dong as Ba Gua Zhang; for example, there is a Shaolin-like art in Henan called Fu Xi Ba Gua and another in Shandong called Shaolin Ba Gua. Then there is also the other arm of Ba Gua (Tian Family Ba Gua), which the practitioners claim was hidden for 400 years and such other versions of Ba Gua’s origins.
  Since the exploration of each of the theories listed above will be in-depth, this post will be presented in serial over the course of several postings. The primary source of this information is taken from the work of Professor Kang Ge Wu of Beijing. While working on his master’s degree in 1980-81, Professor Kang wrote his thesis on the “Origins of Ba Gua Zhang.” When I visited with Kang last year in Beijing, he gave me a copy of his findings and the translation of his report forms the foundation of this article.
Professor Kang’s research was extensive and involved close examination of over 650 documents from the Qing Palace history books and over 230 papers written on martial arts. He also examined the situations of 413 teachers in 24 provinces and cities, personally investigating in 16 cities and counties, and 9 provinces. Kang interview over 256 people resulting in over 274 documents. Many of the people he interviewed were elderly boxers of the older generation who spoke openly about their martial art. While conducting his research, Jang was a motivating force in the effort to restore Dong Hai Chuan’s tomb and participated with over 400 others in the unearthing and moving of the tomb.

Although the research conducted by Kang Ge Wu was fairly thorough, there are some conclusions he arrives at in his final analysis that I would not be so quick to make. In his summary, Kang concluded that it was Dong Hai Chuan who originated Ba Gua Zhang (theory 4 above). His reasons for discounting some of the other theories (theory number 3 in particular) are weak in terms of the standards of scholarly logic we are accustomed to in the West. When these points arise in the article, I will discuss why I think Kang has jumped too hastily to his conclusion. My own research into Ba Gua’s origins, which includes examination of documents written by those with an opposing view to Kang as well as interviews with Ba Gua Zhang practitioners in the United States, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Mainland China leaves me with unanswered questions and thus no conclusion concerning Ba Gua Zhang’s true origins. 
Throughout this article, I will try to present both sides of the story and let the reader decide on their own how Ba Gua Zhang originated. The first theory we will examine is the one which claims that Dong Hai Chuan learned Yin Yang Ba Pan Zhang from Dong Meng Lin, and then created Ba Gua Zhang.

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