How is Ba Gua Zhang Different from Other Martial Arts? Part 2

In the first part of this article, How is Ba Gua Zhang Different – Part I, I described how the principles of nature have been applied to the creation and development of this Ba Gua Zhang system.

In this article, I will focus on more specific differences between Ba Gua Zhang and other martial arts.


When my teacher of Ba Gua Zhang, Bok-Nam Park was in his teens he studied Tang Soo Do, the ancestor to modern Tae Kwon Do, the most popular martial art in Korea. He was quite good with his “spinning back kick” as he seemed to be able to hit his Tang Soo Do sparring partners with it at will.

When he first began to study with Lu Shui Tian, he had a sparring session with a one-year student of his. The young Park naturally tried to use his specialty, but each time he tried, regardless of his approach, he ended up on the ground. He could not figure out how this was happening, until he realized the footwork involved.

The main difference with Ba Gua Zhang lies in the use of the highly sophisticated practice of Ba Feng Gen Bu or “Eight Direction Rooted Stepping”, circle walking, and the directional changes of kou bu/bai bu (inward and outward stepping).

It is in this footwork that allows the practitioner to adhere closer to the natural principles discussed in the first part of this article-especially the concept of not using force against force and “finding the path of least resistance”. Good footwork creates opportunity seemingly by accident.

Where the concept of “root” is discussed, most schools of thought consider the ability to hold one position against an incoming force and send that force into the ground. Proper alignment is the key to this ability, but the idea to “hold one position” without moving is one that Ba Gua Zhang stays away from. With consistent proper practice over time, the practitioner of Ba Gua Zhang will develop the ability to be rooted while moving.

As a force (attack) comes at you, a simple change in angle can make that force miss. Good footwork allows you to maintain balance while making this angle change. Good footwork will also place you in an optimal position to “uproot” (or counter-attack) your opponent in the process of defending. That, in essence, is the goal of Ba Gua Zhang fighting.

Fa Jin:

The second aspect that makes the highly skilled Ba Gua Zhang practitioner different from most other martial artists is in the use of Jin, or “Martial Power”. This is the true power that the Chinese internal styles are known for. Unfortunately, very few can truly use it or even understand it.

Fa Jin, or “Emitting Power” is the martial power that is used for striking or attacking. Although footwork comes first in our ability to defend ourselves, without power you will have a very hard time ending a fight.

Fa Jin can be broken down into Dou Jin, or “Shaking Power” (also known as “short power”), and Zhong Jin, or “Heavy Power” (also known as “long power”).

Generally, the vibrational energy emitted with Dou Jin power is one that will do the most damage. This power can enter into your opponent and damage the inside of a person (organs or brain) without doing any physical damage on the surface (such as breaking a rib or leaving a surface bruise). If applied during Qin Na (Chin Na), the result is likely to be a break or dislocation. This power is very sharp in its application.

The Heavy Power strike, on the other hand, can be much more controlling and less damaging to an opponent. While the strike can have awesome power, this kind of power is more likely to spread out and feel blunt in its application. This kind of power can be used to control a limb as opposed to breaking it or to throw down or cause to lose balance instead of striking. It can also be used as a set-up for the more damaging short attack.

The high level practitioners of the internal martial arts of China (such as Tai Ji Quan and Xing Yi Quan, in addition to Ba Gua Zhang) are known for their ability to use Jin. It is not unique to Ba Gua Zhang (Pa Kua Chang). So why do I include it in this article to show how Ba Gua Zhang is different?

The key to the difference is again linked to the emphasis on stepping. The Ba Gua Zhang practitioner works to develop the ability to hit while on the move.

Although you can emit a greater amount of energy into a strike with your foot rooted to the ground and using your legs to generate force from the ground, remember that good footwork allows you to root while moving.

In essence, the highly skilled Ba Gua Zhang fighter can issue a great amount of power with the feet continuously moving. And the secret to this is that the energy generated for striking originates in the center, or Dan Tian area and not from the ground. This allows for somewhat of a separation of the upper and lower body in that the lower body is used primarily for mobility (and stability) and the upper body is used to generate striking power.

Since I also learned to use the ground to generate power before my training with Master Park, I asked him about this years ago. His answer made a lot of sense to me: “How is power generated with a jumping kick?”

Well said.

Fa Jin at the highest levels is most like a whip. The whip has no muscles and no joints so there are no encumbrances. All one has to do is properly manipulate the handle and the power will reach the tip. Since the human body has muscles, tendons, bones, and joints, all the drills and exercises throughout the years of training in this system are to eliminate as many encumbrances as possible. The goal is to refine martial arts movement to where there’s a smooth flow of the energy generated from the center to reach the striking weapon, and in turn, the target.

More than just Fa Jin:

Jin goes far beyond Fa Jin, however. Defensively there is Jin as well. Jue Jin, or “Sensing Power” is the ability to feel what an opponent is doing. With this ability the highly skilled practitioner’s attacking, defending and following of their opponent becomes less and less discernable.

There is a good basic discussion of Jin (also written as Jing or Ching) right in the introduction of Master Park’s first book, “The Fundamentals of Pa Kua Chang”.

The higher the level, the less physical, or muscular, is the movement. It becomes more the energy (Qi) that the body can generate and less the physical strength (Li). Qi Gong training must be incorporated for this skill to be developed. There are no shortcuts. A student must move through all stages of development or these higher levels will remain untouched.

Qi Rhythm:

Another distinction that must be found in the proper practice of Ba Gua Zhang (Pa Kua Chang) is in its Qi rhythm. By looking into the natural principles, it is the continuous changing principle of the Yi Jing, or “Book of Changes” that tells us this.

High level practice must incorporate the proper rhythm into all movements. Sometimes we need to move slowly and smoothly. Sometimes we need to be explosive. Sometimes we need to stretch and extend while other times we need to relax but hold the feeling. All this while coordinating and controlling the movement of Qi, breath and focus.

The fast and vigorous training (where self-defense is the focus) must be balanced with slow training. It is in this slow training that the practitioner more completely exercises the joints and uses muscles that are not emphasized in the fast movements. Whole body integration and connection, a true sense of one’s center, the deepest levels of Qi circulation and Qi control, and enhanced Sensing Jin are all developed to the highest level through the addition of Ba Gua Qi Gong.

This rhythm also applies to fighting. Knowing when to relax and move slowly (conserving energy) and when to be fast and explosive is an integral part of advanced Ba Gua fighting. If you go all out and are not successful against a skilled opponent, then what? Big trouble!

Hopefully, this article has enabled you to have a better understanding, and therefore a deeper appreciation, of just how sophisticated and unique the Chinese Internal Martial Arts Style of Ba Gua Zhang (Pa Kua Chang) is and how powerful it is in its ability to serve as a highly sophisticated system for self defense.

Originally published November/December 2002 Newsletter


Shifu Ahles
Shifu Raymond Ahles, the owner and Chief Instructor of the Blue Dragon School, is a certified instructor of Ba Gua Zhang Kung Fu & Chi Kung and a 7th Generation Lineage Disciple in the Ch’iang Shan Pa Kua Chang Association. In addition to his 30 years plus teaching experience in the martial arts, Shifu Ahles also holds a B.S. degree in Exercise Physiology, he’s a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and has an extensive background in the healing arts of Oriental Medicine including certifications in Advanced Amma Therapy, Chinese Herbs and Acupuncture. He is a licensed Acupuncturist and Chinese Herbalist in NJ.