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Baguazhang Qigong

Bagua Qigong (Pa Kau Chang Ch'i Kung)


If you have ever tried to catch a fish with your bare hands, then you know the frustration of a martial artist trying to combat a Baguazhang stylist. Baguazhang (Pa Kua Chang), like its sister arts Taijiquan (T'ai Chi Ch'uan) and Xingyiquan (Hsing-I Ch'uan), is commonly referred to as an "internal" or "soft" style. Like the Taijiquan practitioner, the Baguazhang stylist's movements are relaxed, supple, smooth and continuous. However, while the Taijiquan practitioner will usually practice at a slow steady pace, the Baguazhang practitioner will vary his rhythm and change directions quickly. His movements are continuous, but they are sometimes fast and sometimes slow, and his flexible body is always twisting, turning, coiling, and circling. Evasive footwork and snake-like body movements are characteristic of the style.

While the origins of Baguazhang are not clearly defined, research indicates that the style was probably developed on Kuang Hua mountain by the Taoist Bi Cheng-Xia (Pi Cheng-Hsia). Dong Hai-Quan (Tung Hai-Ch'uan), who is best known for popularizing and spreading the art in Beijing, is thought to have been a student of Bi Cheng-Xia--no one knows for sure. Bi took elements of the martial art styles that were indigenous to the Kuang Hua mountain region and integrated Taoist philosophical concepts to forge a highly effective health maintenance and martial arts system. The intent was to form a connection between the Taoist philosophy and the human body through the combination of body movement (martial technique), breathing, and meditation.

Every complete Chinese martial arts system will include elements of the following:

1) Qigong (Ch'i Kung)--breath control, visualization, and non-specific body movement techniques for various purposes--increased circulation to the distal points of the extremities, increased vital capacity, meditation, and Qi development.

2) Neigong (Nei Kung)--training designed specifically for the development of muscle groups, ligaments, and tendons not usually under conscious control.

3) Waigong (Wai Kung)-- external, i.e. visible, aspects of any martial art including firm balance, flexibility, good posture and stance work, proper mechanical alignment, coordination, and stability.

Ideally, these elements will be developed in a progressive, balanced curriculum designed by an experienced teacher who will guide each student's individual development. Baguazhang (Pa Kua Chang), being a complete martial art system, contains elements of all three of these disciplines.

Baguazhang Master Park Bok Nam has practiced his art for over 32 years. Although Park is Korean, his teacher Lu Shui-T'ien (1894-1978) was a native of Shandong Province, Qingdao City, who fled China during the Sino-Japanese War. Lu was a guerrilla fighter during the war and when the Japanese put a price on his head, he left China, settled in nearby Inchon, Korea and lived in Inchon's large Chinatown.

During the 17 years Park studied with his teacher, his father supported him and he did nothing but practice Baguazhang all day, everyday. His teacher's Baguazhang training program was a balanced program incorporating elements of Qigong, Neigong, and Waigong training. Twice during the seventeen years Park studied with his teacher he went to the mountains of Korea for one year solitary retreats in order to dive deeper into his practice and especially develop the Qigong aspect of his training. This article will discuss some of Park's viewpoints on the practice of Qigong.


We will not try to strictly define Qi (Ch'i) in this article, but we are going to make the assumption that everyone has something in their body that the Chinese call "Qi." We are going to further assume that this Qi can be divided into the two general categories of internal Qi (nei Qi) and external Qi (wai Qi). Park likes to give the following example to help define these two different types of "energy" in the body. Take two individuals and send them to work; one goes to a construction job and digs ditches, the other goes to an office job, sits at a desk, answers the phone and works on a computer. At the end of the day, both of these individuals feel tired even though their respective expenditure of energy is quite different. The construction worker has spent a lot of physical, external energy; the office worker has expended a lot of internal, mental energy. Even though the work performed and the energy expended is quite different, they both feel fatigue because they both have expended equal amounts of energy.

This example of the difference between internal and external energy expenditure, although simple, will be enough to give you an idea of how Park defines internal and external Qi on the most basic level.

While a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine will define Qi in much more complex terms, Park generally believes in keeping explanations very simple and letting the student reach deeper levels of understanding through direct experience. When teaching, Park will give a student an exercise that produces specific results and allows the student to explain what he or she is feeling rather than give the student lectures on what he or she is supposed to be feeling. Park emphasizes that there is a big difference between knowing something in your head and knowing something in your body. When you "know" it in your body it becomes a reflex occurrence and it will not soon be "forgotten." Once when Park's instructor was teaching, Park started to take notes on what his teacher was saying. His teacher asked, "What are you doing?" Park replied that he was taking notes so he would not forget what his teacher was telling him. Park's teacher took away the notebook and said, "You go outside right now and practice this 1000 times. This is the only way you will remember!"

Once the student has experienced a sensation as a result of an exercise, Park will ask the student to explain what he or she has felt and then guide the student to deeper experience by adding to the exercise or by teaching a higher level technique. In this manner, all the student's knowledge of Qi, or martial arts practice in general, is experiential. Changing, or adding to, the basic training exercises is an integral part of continual development. Park's experience has told him that once you reach a certain level of development with one exercise, you need to change the exercise or change the breathing technique in order to progress further. However, the only person that can tell you how and when to change your exercise to reach higher levels is an experienced teacher. Everyone is different and thus there are no cookbook methods--all Qigong practice should be closely monitored by an experienced instructor. In the realm of Qigong, an exercise that could help one person could easily damage another.


Balancing Internal and External

In order to live a healthy life, an individual should exercise (in a balanced manner) both the internal Qi and the external Qi. External exercise (swimming, biking, running, weight lifting, martial arts forms and fighting, etc.) will strengthen the external, but will not efficiently or fully exercise the internal. Internal exercise (breath control, meditation, visualization, yoga, and other Qigong training methods) will not efficiently or fully train the external, but will develop the internal. To achieve optimum levels of health, martial arts development, or fighting skill, internal and external training should be balanced.

Modern health, fitness, and physical education disciplines tend to emphasis the external methods of physical development. However, in terms of health and longevity, internal development is equally, if not more, important. As a simple example Park likes to point out that a man who is physically very strong can easily be overcome by internal disorder or disease while an old person, who may be physically weak in terms of muscle strength, could be very robust and strong internally and thus live a long, healthy life. In Chuang Tzu there is a story that is apropos:

T'ien K'ai-chih said, "I have heard the Master say, 'He who is good at life is like a herder of sheep--he watches for stragglers and whips them up.'"

"What does that mean?" asked Duke Wei.

T'ien K'ai-chih said, "In Lu there was Shan Po - he lived among the cliffs, drank only water, and didn't go after gain like other people. He went along like that for seventy years and still had the complexion of a little child. Unfortunately, he met a hungry tiger who killed him and ate him up. Then there was Chang Yi - there wasn't one of the great families fancy mansions that he did not rush off to visit. He went along like that for forty years, and then he developed an internal fever, fell ill, and died. Shan Po looked after what was on the inside and the tiger ate up his outside. Chang Yi looked after what was on the outside and the sickness attacked him from the inside. Both these men failed to give a lash to the stragglers."

Bagua Diagram

The Baguazhang Qigong System

Park's system of Qigong has three component parts. These components are initially trained separately in a series of progressive exercises so that the practitioner can develop each component in isolation. Once a student has reached certain levels of development in each of the component areas, more advanced training is initiated which combines the component elements. The component parts in this system include breathing development and breath control exercises to help increase the body's vital capacity, meditation exercises to help increase awareness, focus and concentration, and body movement exercises to help increase circulation of blood and Qi. Park's "equation" for Qi development is as follows:

Qi Development = Breathing + Body Movement + Mind

Park believes that each component of this equation should be initially trained in isolation starting with very simple exercises. If a beginning student were to try to train breath control, meditation/visualization, and body movement in the same exercise he or she would not gain full benefit from the exercise--it is too much to digest all at once. There is also a higher risk of developing an internal disorder when something too difficult is attempted by a novice.

All systems of Qigong will contain elements similar to those listed above and the simple Qigong methods discussed in this article, although attributed to Baguazhang, will not differ much from other system's methods. Qigong development that is specific to Baguazhang will not be attempted until the student has experience with the fundamental methods of Qi development. The three component parts of Park's Baguazhang Qigong training are discussed below with an explanation of some of the introductory exercises.

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