What is Gao Style Ba Gua Zhang ?

Scott Jensen With Gao Style Ba Gua Zhang Inheritors and Masters Shifu Ge and Shifu Li

Scott Jensen With Gao Style Ba Gua Zhang Inheritors and Masters Shifu Ge and Shifu Li

Introduction to Gao I Sheng Style Ba Gua Zhang

Gao I Sheng Style Ba Gua Zhang is a traditional Chinese martial art named after Gao I Sheng.  The art of Ba Gua Zhang was created by Tung Hai Chuan in the 1850’s in Beijing, China.  Gao was born in 1866 and studied from one of Tung Hai-Chuan’ s top students named Cheng Ting Hua.  He also studied with Chou Yu-Hsiang a famous student of Cheng Ting Hua.  Gao I Sheng became very skillful and taught a great many students.
For more information on the early history of Gao Style Ba Gua Zhang check out Dan Millers’ really excellent article on this system in the Ba Gua Journal Vol. 4, No. 2.  These journals are currently available from Plum Flower Press 1-800-531-0693.
Gao I Sheng’s Ba Gua Zhang evolved to reflect a unique flavor.  From my experience Gao Style Ba Gua Zhang is very beautiful it embodies a feeling and look of swooping, scooping, swimming and swirling.  In general, the postures tend to be low, extended and with great rotation of the joints.  I find Gao Style Ba Gua Zhang is quite effective in stretching and unwinding the spine, hips and shoulders.

Gao I Sheng Style Ba Gua Zhang Ding Shyr or Circle Walking

Ding Shir or Fixed Posture Circle Walking is one of the trademarks of Ba Gua Zhang.  Ding Shyr is an extremely beneficial form of Qi Gong.  This exercise is literally done while walking in a circle.  While walking the legs use a step know as the Mud Gliding Step that is very different even the opposite of normal walking.  The Mud Gliding step helps to develop the power of Ba Gua Zhang by building a connection between the upper and lower body.  It also strengthens the legs and feet and builds the balance, stability and continuous power that Ba Gua Zhang is famous for.  While walking the arms are held in a variety of different positions.  Each position helps to open and strengthen the upper body and build connections between the arms and spine.
Ding Shyr is much more strenuous than it looks, especially at the beginning.  For a new student Ding Shyr can be quite challenging. It takes all of one’s concentration to step correctly and holding the arms up can be painful.  Often people will break an intense sweat. After practicing Ding Shyr for a while it becomes much easier.  Once the tissues of the arms, shoulders, and back open up and soften the Qi and Blood begin to circulate freely.  This feels fantastic.  As the legs get stronger and the stepping becomes more familiar the lower back and pelvis can relax.  As the lower back and pelvis relax the breath naturally sinks deeper into the Tan Tian area of the belly and the Qi sinks into the ground.  This is relaxing and calms the mind.  As the mind calms and the Qi and Blood circulate the internal organs are nourished and become healthier.  These results are wonderful!  But it takes some consistent effort to achieve them.  So don’t give up!  The results are worth the effort.

Gao I Sheng Style Ba Gua Zhang Pre-Heaven Palms

Gao Style Ba Gua Zhang has a series of circular forms known as the Pre-Heaven Palms.  These include a two single palm changes, a double palm change and eight circular palms.  In addition, there is another circular form linking several of the circular palms called the Black Dragon Swings Its Tail.
The circular palms contain many good applications but are most beneficial for body development.  The circular forms are where we see the most dramatic and beautiful movements that embody the swooping, scooping, swimming and swirling feeling I described above.  I love these forms.  They are really fun to practice.  I like low stances every so often and these forms have some fun ones.  If you don’t really care for low stances just do them at a comfortable height.  If you would like to further open your hips and increase your ability to get down then these forms may be just the ticket!
The Pre-Heaven Palms are quite challenging to learn and perform.  They are like a very advanced deep form of Qi Gong with self-defense applications.  If at first you don’t feel much connection or feel very comfortable please keep trying and give them a chance.  As your body changes and becomes more supple and stronger the twisting and spiraling motions will become easier and more familiar.  After you have studied some of the Post Heaven or 64 Linear Techniques and the two person forms the Pre-Heaven Palms will start to make sense.  Then you will see how they are building and preparing your body for the offensive and defensive techniques.  They contain some wonderful skills for escaping form grappling holds and locks.

Gao I Sheng Style Ba Gua Zhang Post-Heaven Palms

Following upon the circular or Pre-Heaven forms are the straight line or Post-Heaven Palms.  These are 64 techniques performed on or obliquely crossing a straight line.  These techniques are practiced flowing across the floor similar to Xing I Quan.  First,  each technique is done on one side of the body and then on the other alternating back and forth.  This way the body receives balanced exercise and the practitioner becomes ambidextrously skilled in using them.  These lines have great rhythm and feel good. There are very few if any of the swooping low stances.  I really like finding somewhere to do long continuous lines of them.  The rhythm of the movement quiets my mind in much the same way that circle walking does.  Most people find these movements much easier to learn and perform than the either the Ding Shyr or the Pre-Heaven Palms
The Linear or Post Heaven Palms are also very practical for self-defense. The applications are just devastating!  The straight line techniques have a variety of striking and throwing techniques with some very painful (for the opponent) chin na style grabbing.  Cheng Ting Hua, whom Gao I Sheng studied with, was a specialist in Shuai Chiao or Chinese wrestling and these techniques certainly reflect and continue that expertise. Gao I Sheng was and Gao Style Ba Gua Zhang is famous for the effectiveness of these techniques.

Gao I Sheng Style Ba Gua Zhang Two Person Forms

In addition there is a series of two person drills and two person forms, one for each of the 64 linear techniques.  Two person drills are done with a partner.  In a two person drill one person attacks the other with a specific movement.  Then the defender uses a specific Post-Heaven technique to neutralize the attack and counterattack.  The other person is then able to use the same Post-Heaven technique to neutralize and counterattack.  This continues in a flowing cycle.  These drills help people to quickly learn how to use the Ba Gua Zhang moves for self-defense.  They develop the practitioners sense of distance, timing, body alignment and sensitivity.  They also make the solo practice of the Post Heaven Palms much more intelligible and realistic.  These two person drills really allow you to hone your ability to apply these techniques and to escape from them as well.
The two person forms or Separating Palms are basically similar, only longer and more involved.  They have between 5 and 15 or more movements and feature a varied combination of offensive and defensive movements.  These forms develop many sophisticated skills like adhering, blending , adding on and leading.  They are excellent and help bridge the gap between structured training and free fighting.

Gao I Sheng Style Ba Gua Zhang Tian Kan

Tian Kan or Heavenly Stem exercises are a form of Qi Gong.  They are performed with the feet planted, while rotating the hips and spine to make various arm motions.  They are very helpful for building the system of coordinated body movement required in Ba Gua Zhang.  The Heavenly Stem referred to is the spine.  In Tian Kan the practitioner learns how to generate power for striking or throwing by beginning the movement in the feet, building it in the legs, directing it through the waist and then issuing it through the fingers.  These exercises are also part of the North American Tang Shou Tao Association Xing Yi Quan system.  When combined with the practice of Ding Shir they form the foundation of Gao Style Ba Gua Zhang.  In our class, we practice an additional set of warm ups and developmental exercises from the Liang Zhen Pu System of Ba Gua Zhang.  These exercises are usually taught before the student learns Tian Kan.

Gao I Sheng Style Ba Gua Zhang Weapons

Gao I Sheng Ba Gua Zhang has the following weapons: large broadsword, large straight sword, double headed spear, cane and duck knives.  These forms are beautiful, of medium length, and except for the large broadsword not too difficult to learn.  Weapons training especially with the large weapons builds strength and helps one to practice some of the self defense techniques without a partner.  Although it is unlikely that anyone will fight with these weapons in this age they are fun to practice and form an important part of the culture and history of the art.  Most of these weapons are rather distinctive to the art of Ba Gua Zhang and are not practiced by many other styles.

Gao I Sheng Style Ba Gua Zhang Historical Connections

There is strong historical connection between Gao I Sheng Style Ba Gua Zhang and Tang Shou Tao Xing Yi Quan. While in Tianjin, Chang Jing Fung learned Xing Yi Quan from Li Cun Yi and Ba Gua Zhang from Gao I Sheng.  Chang Jing Fun then migrated to Taiwan to avoid the communist takeover in China.  In Taiwan he became famous for his martial skill and the ability of his students.  There he taught Hung Yi Hsiang.  Hung Yi Hsiang created the Tang Shou Tao method and taught Hsi Hong Ji who taught Dr. Black and other senior instructors in the North American Tang Shou Tao Association.  For more information check the Ba Gua Journal which has a definitive article on the Tang Shou Tao Association.  The self defense application of the Xing Yi Quan as taught by Chiang Jing Fun and Hung Yi Hsiang was influenced by Gao Style Ba Gua Zhang.
This influence can be seen in the Ba Bu Da (Eight Step Striking) Forms.  Some of these movements are really very close to the 64 linear techniques of Gao style Ba Gua Zhang.  If you know Tang Shou Tao Xing Yi Quan, when you learn the Gao techniques light bulbs are going to go off as you recognize the similarities.
What is really interesting to note however is where did the Gao 64 come from?  Well the answer is …. Xing Yi Quan, with some Eagle Claw, Tai Qi Quan, and Shuai Chiao mixed in!  So originally the 64 linear techniques came from Xing Yi Quan then became Ba Gua Zhang then returned to Xing Yi Quan (Ba Bu Da).   What a full circle! When you learn both of these arts they really complement one another.  The synergistic combination of both styles is excellent and well repays the investment of time and effort.

The Teachers from Tianjin

Liu Shu Sheng and Ge Laoshir (Laoshir means teacher; literally old man) are from Tianjin and have inherited the complete Gao system.  They were students of Liu Feng Cai.  Liu Feng Cai was a grand nephew of Gao I Sheng and studied with Gao I Sheng.  Liu Feng Cai reached a very high level of skill and was particularly famous for his mastery of the Pre-Heaven or Circular Palms.  Liu Shu Sheng is Liu Feng Cai’s grand nephew.  He is the senior most practitioner of Gao Style Ba Gua Zhang and the responsibility for its’ transmission rests with him.  His generosity and the generosity of the late Wang Shu Shen is greatly appreciated by us all.  Ge is short stout practitioner who is very expert in the application of the Gao Techniques and works as bodyguard and chauffeur in Tianjin.  He is also a champion in Shaui Chiao.  Ge is a lot of fun and gets excited when people start to understand what he is teaching and perform it correctly. They also have a very complete system with many two person forms and weapons