Master Wu Guo Zheng’s talk on the history of Bagua

Bagua is an art form that has a very confusing background in regards of history. Dong Hai Chuan usually is considered the founder for most lineages. Yet there is also the history of Bagua developing from the Wudang temple. History in China is something that is almost impossible to pinpoint due to many legends, rumors and events that continually changed through out all eras of China.

We do know that it was usually found in the hands of those who were of a higher branch in some form of combat. From the personal elite bodyguards for the emperor, to high level assassins. The nature of both occupations would not allow for any public information about bagua and its secrets.

My line of Bagua, said to have been developed my Dong Hai Chuan, has passed through the hands of five successors. From Dong Hai Chuan, Cheng Ting Hua, Gao Yi Sheng, Wu Jin Yuan, and Wu Guo Zheng. Each style of Bagua takes on a very different form depending on the teacher of the style. This is also a mystery of the history of Bagua. Each student should in someway resemble their masters. However all of Dong Hai Chuan’s students are masters of very different styles of Bagua, not resembling each other any more than distant cousins.

What is the reasoning for this odd development of Bagua? Some say that Dong Hai Chuan taught each of his students special techniques that would more compliment their way of moving and previously studied styles. If we understand a little more about Dong Hai Chuan, then maybe we can understand a little more about the history of Bagua.

This is a piece of my masters speech that I have translated to inform those outside of circles that I am lucky enough to be a part of. Keep in mind my masters speech is more like a casual discussion of the lineage given to at the cultural university to a group of martial arts majors.

_________________________________________(Translated By Robert Jay Arnold)

Today isn’t a serious meeting but more of me just talking about some of the things related to Bagua and aspects of the different lineages.

All of the styles of the styles of Bagua are very different with variations and emphasis. In order to understand why Bagua styles can be so vastly different we must first understand the history of Bagua. In order to understand the history of Bagua we must look in to the life of a man named Dong Hai Chuan.

Dong Hai Chuan was born in 1797. A little over 200 years ago during during the Qin Dynasty. A time of many different revolts, conflicts and other term-oil. Dong Hai Chuan came from He Bei and at a very young age took interest in the martial arts. He began studying many of the arts that were in his area. However it’s indicated that he got into some kind of trouble because of hurting an individual and when the authorities came looking for him he was forced to flee.

When he left he went to find every kind of martial arts teacher that he could. Always enjoying the process of developing in the different styles. We know he studied with many different famous masters at the time which would later lead to his development and creation of Bagua.

During this development process there are many legends about Dong Hai Chuan and his accomplishments but the point for now is to have a general understanding of the lineage and not so much into the stories of Dong Hai Chuan. We could have speeches all day on just some of the many events that he encountered.

He continually practiced all of the arts he encountered until the age of 50 without pause. Yet, he had no reputation in the martial arts world. It wasn’t until 1855 that he came to Beijing at the age of 58 years old when he was compelled to work at Shu Wang Fu’s Imperial Palace. Another interesting point is we know that Dong Hai Chuan was also a enoch.

There are two possible reasons that Dong Hai Chuan may have decided to go to Shu’s Imperial Palace. Reason number one is to avoid being found by certain authorities that were looking for him. The other possibility is that he may have been a spy for the Tai Min Jun (People’s Army). These reasons fit very well with what we understand about the history in that era.

In 1855 he officially began working for the imperial palace. After working there for many years, slowly he began to pass the teachings of Bagua. We know this is where the beginnings of the history of bagua start to formulate and develop. His reputation slowly began to pick up even though the art at that time remained unnamed. It wasn’t until his encounter with Yang Lu Chan who’s style was known as The cotton fist, or neutralizing fist (known today as Taichi) that people began to notice Bagua. We’ve seen the pictures of them crossing hands advertising their fight in old books, magazines and films

If we think about it how old were they at that time? They were both fighting in their sixties. When we watch a fight today how old are the fighters usually? 20 or 30 year olds make for a much more exciting show. Dong Hai Chuan was 68 at this time, while Yang Lu Chan was just a little bit younger. These were to elderly men fighting. I’m sure it couldn’t have been too exciting.

Later we know that Dong Hai Chuan had another fight with Guo Yu Sun, a match between Bagua and Xing yi. How old was Guo Yu Sun at this time? He was younger than Dong Hai Chuan by thirty years. How could a 40 year old have a fight against someone who is almost 70 years old? If they did have a match it couldn’t have been the same concept of fighting that we are used to. We know in the martial arts world we have a concept of respect for the previous generations of masters. Dong Hai Chuan was of the same generation as Guo Yu Sun’s master. Which also makes us wonder why Guo Yu Sun participated instead of his master. This is just a brief look at some of the matches and details that added to the strength of Dong Hai Chuan’s reputation.
Later Dong was able to start gaining students and officially start passing the art in 1866. The already popular Tai ji Chuan (Tai chi) and Xing Yi Chuan lead to Dong Hai Chuan giving his art s style with three words. Ba Gua Zhang (Bagua). Bagua took its name for the first time in 1866. We can see bagua is about 144 years old. So it is a very young style in comparison to others such as Shaolin and other styles that have over 30 or more generations. As for Gao Bagua my father was the fourth generation me only the 5th generation successor of Gao Bagua.

Another thing to look at is the location the style was held in. Do you think that the common people would be allowed to enter the imperial palace and practice martial arts? Of course not. Also it wasn’t easy for a member of the imperial palace to go out and teach who he wanted. So even though Bagua was being passed from 1866, we also no there is no chance that a lot of people were able to learn it aside from those who were of the imperial military and personnel. Until Dong finally retired for reasons probably related to his age.

Let’s start from the two students that we know have had the most influence over the style. Cheng Ting Hua and Yin Fu. We know that he was not able to teach outside of the palace until he retired in 1874. Realize that when he began teaching, he was probably around 77 years old.

Cheng Ting Hua is the second generation successor of our style of Bagua. Cheng Ting Hua was born in 1848. He began studying Bagua when he was 28 years old in 1876. He studied with Dong until he passed away in 1882. Yin Fu’s time with Dong Hai Chuan was about the same, even though some claim that he trained with Dong longer than Cheng. Every style has a different story about the same history so let’s not go too far into that. But we do know he wasn’t teaching to the outside before 1874 so there couldn’t be too much difference in his students training time.

Leading up to the discussion of our own style which is Cheng Gao Style Bagua ( Gao Style Bagua), I will ask a question. If the style of Bagua is less than 200 years old, then why are there so many different versions and lineages of Bagua? How could all of the techniques vary so dramatically from style to style?

In my personal opinion I believe it is because at the time Dong began teaching the system of Bagua it was not yet completed. He continued to mold and develop it at the same time he was teaching it to his students. So the things that Dong taught to all of his students varied in method. When do we ever see a master teaching his students completely different material? Many say that he had his reasons for teaching each individual different movements, but it leaves a lot of room for question. So we can see that more than likely the style was still coming together piece by piece.

The natural development for anything to be completed is never all of a sudden. Just as the earth went through a process that took a long time before it was able to have life. As the style passed to Cheng Ting Hua, the art was still in the process of developing.

I think everyone here should probably have an idea about Cheng Ting Hua already. He had a job making glasses and corrective lenses and was later killed by the French alliance in 1900. He died at 52 which is unfortunate because this is the prime age for internal styles.

Before he passed he taught to our grand master Gao Yi Sheng. Giving us the name Cheng Gao Bagua. My Grandmaster Gao was born in 1866 which was close to the time that Dong Hai Chuan had started teaching. He began his training in Bagua at the age of 34 in 1896. We are not too certain of the arts Gao had studied before Bagua. Gao was from the village in Wu Di county of Shandong China, which is the same village that my father and grandfather lived. He was very close to my grandfather before he left at an early age. Gao later earned a great name in the martial arts world when my grandfather invited him back many years later to stay at his residence as a bodyguard.

He came to stay with my grandfather around the age of 45. He stayed there for 5 years which were the most important five years in regards of our style. This is the time when took Bagua through a thorough refining and evolving period. This would be the same time period that some people say Song Yi Ren who was also a student of Dong Hai Chuan came and taught him. Whether Song Yi Ren is a real person or not remains to be seen. It might be true or it might just be a story to explain that Gao made great changes to the style. Possibly a clever way to show people of his new discoveries. That is when our style of Gao Bagua began to solidify into the art it is today.

Gao again left our hometown to teach and research the new form of Bagua making his reputation grow even more. It wasn’t until he was 60 years old that he returned to stay with my grandfather and began teaching to my father Wu Jin Yuan who was around 8 years old at the time. Starting at such an early age it can be difficult to grasp all of the complex ideas of Bagua, but Gao taught to my father everyday for the next 10 years being able to give him the complete style of Gao Bagua. Afterwards my father was able to make the final tweaks and adjustments to the style, where we got our stepping training, two person practice, My father’s story of training and teaching goes on until he was 60 years old, traveling to He Bei and many other places to further his training before coming to Xinzhu. He also learned from other masters adding many parts to the style including the Qing Ping Sword. We later referred to him as the old master. He’s not with us anymore so I’m just sharing a few words that he taught to me.


That is where the speech carried into a lot more details which requires a more physical explanation of the movement. I hope this gives you more of an idea about the art of Bagua. I will end it saying a few of my masters words, “It doesn’t matter what style you learn if you don’t train it. The best teacher in the world is nothing without a diligent student, but the diligent student will always make the best teacher.

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