With its mysterious swirling hand patterns and elegant stepping, Baguazhang could suit a more cerebral type of Kung Fu student. Few martial arts look as mysterious, or as elegant, as the Chinese martial art of Baguazhang. It is characterised by flowing, open and graceful movements performed as the practitioner walks around the perimeter of a circle holding a posture, then suddenly spirals, twists and turns in a flurry of movement before changing direction and setting off again. In application the Baguazhang practitioner is evasive, seeking to move out of the way of the attacker’s force, and then return like a tornado with a strong strike or throw.

The name Baguazhang refers to the Bagua, the 8 trigrams, which date back to the Yijing (the ‘book of changes’, authored two and a half thousand years ago), and have been used in Chinese culture, medicine, philosophy and religious ritual ever since. The Bagua are often arranged in a circle, which is reflected in the circular stepping pattern of the martial art which bears its name. Like Taijiquan, the flowing movements of Baguazhang can be performed as a moving meditation and are often mistaken for a dance, but contain powerful throws, strikes and joint locks that have the power to incapacitate an attacker.

If you’re looking for a straightforward martial art then Baguazhang is probably not a good fit for you, but its sophisticated techniques would appeal to somebody who already has a background in a good basic martial art and is looking for something more challenging. There’s a good crossover in technique between Aikido and Baguazhang, for instance, and somebody already familiar with the throwing methods of Aikido would find lots to appreciate about Baguazhang.

History of Baguazhang

The Bagua, the 8 trigrams, arranged in a circular formation.

Alongside Taijiquan and Xingyiquan, Baguazhang is considered to be one of the big three internal (Neijia) martial arts of China. It was founded by a palace bodyguard named Dong Haichuan (1797 or 1813-1882) who served as a martial arts instructor and bodyguard in the Imperial Palace. Not much is known for sure about where Dong got his martial art, but it is usually considered to have Taoist origins, which is further supported by frequent referral to Taoist concepts like the Bagua, Yin and Yang and the Yijing in the art.

Indeed, there are many Taoist rituals that are performed at religious festivals that consist of walking in a circle, often with over-sized, ceremonial weapons. The use of these over-sized weapons is also something that has continued and is encouraged in Baguazhang, as a kind of weight training.

Baguazhang in Popular Films

Because of its graceful elegance and mysterious quality, Bagua has been used in many martial arts films. Jet Li’s The One (2009) was one of the first mainstream films to feature Bagua heavily (see the clip above), but more recently, Bagua was the fighting style used by the actress Ziyi Zhang in The Grandmaster, the story of Yip Man, the founder of Wing Chun Kung Fu, as you can see in the video.

Distinctive Features of the Art

Bagua practitioner Fu Zhensong with a large bagua saber.

The techniques found in most styles of Baguazhang are the single palm change, the double palm change and third palm change. After that, the individual techniques tend to vary greatly depending on the lineage of Baguazhang being practiced.

Baguazhang has a history of using unusual weapons, particularly large, oversized sabres and spears, but also smaller deer horn knives, and ‘judge’s pen’, which are two sharpened sticks, and straight and hooked swords.

Different styles of Baguazhang

Dong Haichuan, Imperial Palace bodyguard and founder of Baguazhang.

Dong Haichuan had many students. His most famous students came to him already proficient in different martial arts, and he personalised his teaching to suit their different abilities. Some had a background in Shuai Jiao (Chinese wrestling), so their style of Baguazhang became infused with throwing techniques. Others had a more Shaolin-based background, so their style of Baguazhang was more striking focussed.


Yin Fu (1840-1909) was Dong’s earliest disciple in the Imperial palace, and later became personal bodyguard to the Empress Dowager. The Yin style features many quick, long-range striking techniques. Some of the most famous Bagua practitioners come from the Yin Fu line: Men Baozhen, Ma Kui, Gong Baotian, Fu Zhensong, and Lu Shuitian.

Alternatively, Cheng Tinghua (1848-1900), known as “Spectacles Cheng” had a background in Shuai Jiao, so his style emphasised throwing techniques.

Sun Lutang (1860-1933), learned his Baguazhang from Cheng Tinghua, but also studied under the famous Xingyiquan expert Guo Yunshen and the Taijiquan expert Hao Weichen, who influenced his style.

But regardless of individual style, all these ancient masters kept the practice of circle walking alive and continued the lineage of Baguazhang alive, preserving one of the most exotic and artful martial arts styles you’ll find today.

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