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The Ba Gua Zhang of Zhang Zhao Dong

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Zhang style Ba Gua Zhang is the evolution of a master Xing Yi Quan master to Ba Gua Zhang.

Already an expert in Hebei Xing Yi, it is said that Zhang Zhao Dong combined the Fa-Jins of Xing Yi and Ba Gua. Actually, he rather used the Xing Yi Fa-Jins that he adapted to the Ba Gua moves.

The most interesting thing in the history of this master is the succession of his style and teaching.

For a teacher who sought to refine his style in simplicity,  his succession will evolve in multiple moves, sometimes without much meaning … but as this popular branch benefited from the first publication of a best-seller, it became the most known (it was the “America’s Voice” of  the time), at the expense of the transmission which was the closest to Zhang’s teaching.

Fortunately, as always, a solid foundation of his teaching remains alive through discrete and gifted students. In a funny way, a very genuine branch from the initial style will be developed in Japan, among the Chinese community.

The most common branch is a flowery form made of overabundant moves, which calls itself, and in all modesty, “original form”, but which differs a lot, in its moves and concepts, from the original form (the real one).

The idea is not to say “this is good, this is not”, but to see how, in one generation, in the purest tradition of Chinese transmission, a style will go from one extreme to the other.

What made Master Zhang so great was this ability to blend skillfully, in a practical aspect, the Fa-Jins of Xing Yi and the Ba Gua moves.

His “official” succession will then promote forms which do not give this ability.

The second thing is what the heart of Zhang Zao Dong’s teaching really was.

The master himself was teaching once a week in his school, and was regularly giving private lessons by appointments. He also had a solid group of students / disciples which was close to him.

In his Tianjin school, the master’s teaching had two complementary aspects:

 – The “strength exercises” (Li Gong”) and Fa-Jin exercises,
 – The walking and footwork exercises.

The “strength exercises” were composed of two sets of practices for physical strength, linking the body, conditioning and coordination.

The first set includes twelve strength exercises, which give a solid body.

The second set consists of 64 exercises that work on coordination, strength and flexibility.

Fa-Jin exercises have three steps:

– The 8 Palms and their Fa-Jin,
– The Mother Palms and their application,
– The 64 strikes and 32 techniques.

The 8 palms are six ways of striking with the palm in two directions. This also include several Nei Gong for each palm, exercises to do alone, some while moving, and some with a partner.

In the Zhang Zao Dong school of Ba Gua, many exercises develop palm power and hand conditioning.

These exercises quickly provide real changes of the quality of the palm in its power, its listening skill and its structure.

The first exercises are the eight palms:

– Piercing, the palm of the sky,
– Bringing back, for the earth,
– Pushing, for the fire,
– Embrassing, for the water,
– Slicing, for the wind,
– Cutting, for the thunder,
– Lifting, for the lake,
– Twisting, for the mountain.

Each palm is traditionally connected to a Yin/Yang trigram of the Yi Jing (this is not very useful for fighting arts, but it is the origin of their name).

Each palm gives a shape to the hand for a specific strike and one movement, one direction.

The palms are then used in three series of exercises:

– Nei Gong, to develop energy circulation,
– Li Gong, for strength and to link the whole body with the hand,
– Fa-Jin, to amplify striking impact.

A strike from a “trained” hand causes the penetration of the force and the ability to disturb the whole structure of the opponent, and that much differently than with fists.

The mother palms are based on the eight palms, but with direction changes which are put in circle walking. So the new thing at this point is circle walking and the way of changing from one palm to the other in a dynamic movement.

The “64 strikes and 32 techniques” are fast combinations and ideas of techniques for fighting. This is step exclusively focused on combat, and quick resolution of any physical confrontation.

In the walking exercises, there are a dozen ways to walk the circle and their fighting applications.

In these, there were several simple and practical ways to change direction:

– The “2 Manifestations”
– The 4  Changes for wrestling,
– The 3 Palms for fighting (single, double and fluid).

The footwork exercises are a form which combines the understanding of the walking exercises and of the kicks. We call this practice the “72 legs” …

So this is it for the teaching of the Tianjin school under the direction of the master when he was teaching.

Oh by the way … There was also a form (with three levels of evolution) which was taught afterwards, and which was a summary, a reminder of all that had been worked before. Needless to say that without the preliminary and fundamental training of the school (everything I have just detailed), the form was useless and empty…

The school of Master Zhang Zhao Dong, a school not widespread but yet so rich.