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A Look at Bajiquan

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A Look at Bajiquan: What You Need to Know

Written December 3rd, 2014

“…what distinguishes Bajiquan from other styles of Chinese martial arts, is the clear emphasis of ‘abrupt’ or explosive force and power generation in the majority of its movements, as opposed to the fluid movements and “softness” that are often associated with the popular image of Chinese martial arts.” — Quote taken directly from the write-up

Abstract: This is first edition of a segment of write-ups entitled “What You Need to Know.”  This series is dedicated to the promotion of better general understanding of traditional Wushu styles, by sharing information about specific styles I gain knowledge about, preferably after I have some degree of training in them.  Sections of each edition will be divided into background history, training, weapons, and a list of branches of the style.  The look at “traditional Wushu” in this series is not to be confused with the standardized competition and performance routines performed in modern Wushu Taolu, which are also called “traditional” in modern Wushu circles; rather, this is specifically about the actual traditional Chinese martial arts styles themselves, and is meant to share some accurate knowledge about the traditional Chinese martial arts needed to make educated observations about these styles.  This specific edition will look at Bajiquan.

It’s that time of year for me again.  Final exams for this semester are right around the corner (and just when I got back fresh from my Thanksgiving break).  Following my return from the 10th Pan American Wushu Championships, I’ve had to make drastic changes academically these past few months.  But more importantly here, I’ve had the opportunity to learn a bit of Bajiquan (八极拳; bājíquán, Eight Extremes Fist).  And after gaining a little more experience in traditional Chinese martial arts training, I’ve decided to write more about traditional Wushu.  Ever since, I’ve played around with the idea, and given this recent experience I’ve had, I’m finally going to do it.

Before I begin, I should point out my personal experience with this style, in order to establish where my perspective is coming from.  My first awareness of and interest in Bajiquan came from video games such as Virtua Fighter and Shenmue (シェンムー; a game that I’m going to write about very soon, which this write-up is setting up), but namely Shenmue, where the style was mainly featured.  In 2009, during my first trip to the Beijing Shichahai Sports School in China, home of the Beijing Wushu Team, I saw that some so-called seniors from my Wushu school were learning “Bajiquan” from Beijing Wushu Team member Zhang Feng, who was also our primary coach during out time training there.  Seeing this as an opportunity, I overtly expressed my desire to learn as well.  However, I was told that my coach at the time, who I was beginning to have trouble getting along with, did not want me learning “traditional” Wushu, and only wanted me to focus on competitive Wushu.  But perhaps this was for the best, because as it turns out, what I saw at Shichahai was ultimately not what I was looking for, as I would later find out.  As time went on, I would quietly abandon my pursuit of learning Bajiquan.

Come this past fall, I was approached by a very unassuming Chinese man, Mr. Eric “Yixin” Geng (who I will simply refer to as Mr. Geng out of respect), while teaching for my collegiate Wushu club at my university, who was curious about what we were doing (he said he saw us wielding Chinese martial arts weapons, swords, staffs and spears, which caught his eye).  Serendipity would follow not long after, as I found out this man had a background in traditional gongfu, including Bajiquan.  Long story short, I saw this as another learning opportunity, not only for myself, but for my club to be able to absorb traditional Chinese martial arts as well.  After all, Zhao Changjun, my Wushu idol, said that traditional Wushu should be valued just as, if not more importantly than modern Wushu.  And after Mr. Geng demonstrated Bajiquan to the officers of the club, everybody came to an agreement that we wanted him to share his knowledge with us.  Not long after, Mr. Geng did indeed start teaching traditional gongfu for us, specifically Bajiquan.  As of right now, I have completed learning one form of Bajiquan, and though I am far from perfecting it and have a long way to go, I have learned quite a bit from my experience so far.

The reason that I am pointing this anecdote out is the importance of the distinction I found between modern Wushu’s interpretation of “traditional” Wushu styles, and the original traditional Chinese martial arts styles, which should be shared here as well.  As I said in “‘Traditional’ In Modern Wushu: Clarifying the Distinction”, there is a clear difference that needs to be distinguished between the competition/performance interpretations of “traditional” Wushu styles, which are only limited to Taolu (套路; tàolù, forms), and the actual traditional Wushu styles themselves, which are trained differently and more than just forms and techniques for show.  Given the fact that is a look at traditional Wushu, I am not referring to modern Wushu in this case, but rather, the actual traditional Chinese martial arts styles that have been developed throughout the history of China.  In this case, my initial perception of Bajiquan was the contemporary, standardized forms under modern Wushu, which is not the same as authentic, traditional Bajiquan.  Like many other styles of traditional Chinese martial arts, Bajiquan is a much more complete system of practice (To get a good idea of what I’m talking about what I’m talking about, here’s a popular YouTube video that shows traditional Bajiquan:

Here, I will attempt to shed some light on the real traditional Bajiquan mentioned, by sharing general knowledge about the style needed to get a basic understanding of it, to the best of my ability.  Also, because this is all general knowledge, the majority of the information here will not be new, but rather knowledge that is quite easy to research on your own, if you know where to look.  This will be the first edition in a segment I’d like to call “What You Need to Know”, as in what you need to know about traditional styles of Wushu.  This is a look at Bajiquan.

Background History

In terms of origin, the most established consensus is that Bajiquan is traced back to Mengcun county, Cangzhou city, Hebei province, China; the other belief is that Bajiquan originated from the Yueshan Temple in the Henan province.  There is also the debate of whether or not Bajiquan comes from Shaolin (少林;Shàolín) or Wudang (武当;wǔdāng), which is ongoing and has not been settled.  Although there is no confirmation as to who the founder of Bajiquan was, it has long been established that the earliest known practitioner of Bajiquan was Wu Zhong.  In olden times, the style’s name was “Baziquan” (巴子拳; bāziquán or 鈀子拳; bǎziquán), which translates to “rake fist”; this is based on the shape of the fist in the style itself, which in most traditional branches of the style, is held loosely, and therefore likened to a rake.  Its alternative, or rather, full and “original” name, is “Kaimenbajiquan” (开门八极拳; kāiménbājíquán, literally “open doors/gates Bajiquan”).  The first two Chinese characters of 开门 (kāimén; to open doors/gates) in this full name have an analogous meaning, where the second character 门 (mén) means “door” or “gate”, which in the culture of Chinese martial arts, refers in turn to vulnerable areas of attack on the body, divided by height and side.  In this context, the first character 开 (kāi; literally to “open”) refers to the opening of the various 门, which can be translated as “opening” areas to attack.  This concept evokes what kind of fighting ideas and strategies are involved within Bajiquan training and techniques.  The term Baji (八极; bājí, Eight Extremes/extension in all directions) itself comes from the Chinese philosophical book of Yijing (易经; Yìjīng, Classic/Book of Changes) and Chinese and Daoist philosophy, like Taiji (太极; Tàijí, grand ultimate), Wuji (无极; wújí, extreme emptiness), and Bagua (八卦; bāguà, Eight Trigrams), which also refer to styles of Chinese martial arts.

In the traditional Chinese martial arts community, Bajiquan has an established and well-respected reputation.  In Chinese history, Bajiquan was the known style taught to the bodyguards of Pu Yi (the last emperor of China and the Qing dynasty), Mao Zedong, and Chiang Kai-shek; this has made Bajiquan known as the “style of bodyguards.”  In popular media, Bajiquan has also been prominently featured in Japanese games such as Virtua Fighter and Shenmue as mentioned before, as well in the Japanese manga (漫画; Japanese comics, also the term for the original Chinese “mànhuà” genre of literature) Kenji (拳児) by Ryuchi Matsuda, who has studied and practices Chinese martial arts.  Bajiquan seems to have a special place of respect in Japanese popular media, and is translated in Japanese as “Hakkyokuken.”

Training

Recently, I was asked how I would compare Bajiquan to modern Wushu Changquan (长拳; chángquán, Long Fist) and Nanquan (南拳; nánquán, Southern Fist).  And while I eventually had an answer, it was certainly difficult to summarize the character of Bajiquan simply in terms.  Bajiquan is certainly not classified as a southern style of Chinese martial arts.  However, Bajiquan is surely not the same as Long Fist styles, or at least modern Wushu Changquan.  Many people generalize the image of Chinese martial arts with fluid and elaborately pretty movements when comparing it to other martial arts styles, which can be attributed to Changquan styles.  But Bajiquan carries virtually none of these traits.  While there do exist fluid and extended movements in Bajiquan, it is important to understand that fluidity and extension in Bajiquan is different from the fluidity and extension in Changquan and Nanquan, or any other style of Wushu for that matter.

There is also the classification of Bajiquan as an “external” (外家; wàijiā, literally “external family”) or “internal” (内家; nèijiā, literally “internal family”) style of Chinese martial arts, where “external” refers to the training focused on purely physical techniques, and “internal” refers to the training of qi (气; qì, vital energy), intent, spirituality, internal health.  In an interview with Qi Magazine, Ma Yue, son of the late Grandmaster Ma Xianda, and inheritor of the traditional Ma Style Tongbei (马氏通备; Mǎshìtōngbèi, not to be confused with the traditional Wushu style 通背拳; tōngbèiquán, literally “through-the-back” fist) Wushu system (which includes Bajiquan in its training), defined Bajiquan by saying, “Baji…is internal…You have to train so the energy comes from the inside out to your skin, to you muscle, to your bones.”  Thus, there is no doubt that the complete practice of Bajiquan contains internal elements.  However, given my extremely limited experience, I have no insight or knowledge of this aspect of training in Bajiquan.

In the superficial sense, many people seem to associate the practice of Bajiquan forms and performances with the popular zhenjiao (震脚; zhènjiǎo, stomping/stamping foot on the floor) technique.  While this is a distinguishing attribute of Bajiquan forms and training, this is not the only feature of the style, nor is it the main feature of Bajiquan.  To be more accurate, I would say that, what distinguishes Bajiquan from other styles of Chinese martial arts, is the clear emphasis of “abrupt” or explosive force and power generation in the majority of its movements, as opposed to the fluid movements and “softness” that are often associated with the popular image of Chinese martial arts.  In my experience, many of these movements in forms are often trained with, or in transitions into mabu (马步; mǎbù, horse stance).

The training of Bajiquan, specifically in the sense of Taolu, is vast and varies in curriculum from style to style.  Solo, bare hand forms can be divided into dajia (大架; dàjià, literally “big/large frame”) and xiaojia (小架; xiǎojià, literally “small frame”).  Dajia forms, one of which is the one Bajiquan form I have learned, contains comparatively bigger and simpler techniques and movements, and is where modern Wushu Bajiquan takes its movements from, whereas xiaojia forms feature comparatively smaller, more intricate techniques and movements.  Traditional Bajiquan also has duilian (对练; duìliàn, choreographed fight sets), which emphasize the martial applications and fighting ideas of Bajiquan, such as kao (靠; kào, bumping with various parts of the body).  There is also the training of Jingangbashi (金刚八式;Jīngāngbāshì, Buddha’s Warrior Attendant Eight Methods), which is not as well-known, but is still a part of traditional Bajiquan training, and is itself from Shaolin.

In terms of specific techniques, all real Chinese martial arts styles train four specific elements of fighting: kicking (踢; tī), punching (打; dǎ), takedowns (摔; shuāi), and grappling (拿; ná).  Kicks in Bajiquan forms are specifically low and limited under the waist level, and do not go above the waist.  Bajiquan is also known for its elbow techniques; perhaps the most well-known technique or posture of Bajiquan is mabudingzhou (马步顶肘; mǎbùdǐngzhǒu, horse stance horizontal elbow strike).  However, there are also many fist techniques in Bajiquan forms, ranging from straight punches, to swinging fist strikes like “whipping” or hammer fist strikes.  Additionally, Bajiquan also contains many openhanded techniques, such as palm strikes and pushes.  As with all other styles of Chinese martial arts, throws and takedowns also exist, which are hidden in the stances, and movements into stances within forms.  Grappling, or qinna (擒拿; qínná, grappling) techniques in Bajiquan are mainly focused in locking the wrists, hands and/or arms.  As far as fighting goes, Bajiquan is observed to be a style focused on infighting and close range, since Bajiquan techniques are focused in this range.

An interesting fact about Bajiquan is that it historically, it has been combined with and trained alongside Piguazhang (劈挂掌; pīguàzhǎng, literally “chop-hanging palm”), though today these two styles are mostly taught separately.  Unlike Bajiquan, Piguazhang mainly focuses on fluidity as well as extended, flexible and loose arm movements, and can be seen as a complement to Bajiquan.  There is a saying within the Chinese martial arts culture that goes, “八極參劈掛, 神鬼都害怕。  劈掛參八極, 英雄嘆莫及” (“Bājí cān pīguà, shénguǐ dōu hàipà. Pīguà cān bājí, yīngxióng tàn mòjí”), which can be translated as, “[When] Baji is combined with Pigua, gods and demons are afraid.  [When] Pigua is combined with Baji, heroes sigh, [being] unable to match [it].”

Weapons

As a complete style, Bajiquan, like many other traditional styles of Chinese martial arts, also includes the training and practice of weapons.  Weapons training within Bajiquan ranges from dao (刀; dāo, saber/broadsword) to jian (劍; jiàn, sword/straight sword).  But the weapon that is most well-known and underscored in Bajiquan, is the qiang (枪; qiāng, spear), which I will highlight here.

Qiang (枪; qiāng, spear)

It is interesting to note that the qiang, of all weapons, is especially emphasized in Bajiquan.  In this sense, it is similar to Xingyiquan (形意拳; xíng​yì​quán, literally “shape-will fist”), which also emphasizes the qiang in weapons training.  Specifically, Bajiquan in particular trains the daqiang (大枪; dàqiāng, big/great spear), which is much longer and heavier than a standard length qiang in modern Wushu Taolu.  As with most training methods of the Chinese qiang, even in modern Wushu Taolu’s practice of the qiang, the most fundamental basics trained in Baji’s daqiang is the lannazha (拦拿扎; lánnázhā, block up, down, and thrust), which is emphasized in both forms and sparring.

Branches

As with many styles of Chinese martial arts, there are subsets, also called “branches” or “lineages.”  Though all branches of a specific style are conceptually the same style, it is important to understand that there are inherent differences that only become apparent when observing or studying in-depth the unique aspects of each specific style.  Of course, there are more styles other than those that are listed here, but the styles mentioned in this write-up are perhaps the most recognized and well-known.

Wu (吴;Wú) Style Bajiquan

Perhaps the most famous style of Bajiquan in Mengcun.  It is this style of Bajiquan that was featured in the Virtua Fighter games of the Sega Corporation.  The designer of Virtua Fighter, Yu Suzuki, specifically travelled to Mengcun in order research Bajiquan, where he met with Wu Lianzhi.  The result was the Virtua Fighter character Akira Yuki, whose fighting style is labeled as “Hakkyokuken.”  The influence of Bajiquan has also extended to, and is clearly seen in Suzuki’s other work, Shenmue and its sequel Shenmue II (the first game in the Shenmue series gives credit to a “Hakkyoku-ken actor”).  Wu Lianzhi himself is the lineage holder of Wu Style Bajiquan, and is well-known and respected as one of, if not the most recognized master of Bajiquan living today.

Wu Tan (武坛; wǔtán) Bajiquan

Not to be confused with Wudang, Wu Tan is a specific organization of traditional Chinese martial arts established in Taiwan by the late Liu Yunqiao, student of “God of Spear” Li Shuwen.  Wu Tan itself has many branches around the world.  A noticeable trait I have found in Wu Tan Bajiquan is a unique folding at the kua (胯; kuà, hips) in mabu and other stances, as well as a “shrunken” upper body posture.  Well-known and respected students of Liu Yunqiao also include Adam Hsu and Tony Yang.

Huo (霍; Huò) Style Bajiquan

Due to the lack of available information on this specific style of Bajiquan, I know next to nothing about it.  However, simply looking at the visual differences compared to other style on the surface, there is noticeably higher stances and smaller movements of the upper body.

Nanjing Central Guoshu Institute (南京中央国术馆;Nánjīngzhōngyāngguóshùguǎn) Bajiquan

The Nanjing Central Guoshu Institute established by the then-current Kuomintang government of China in 1928, as part of a movement to spread traditional Chinese martial arts to the masses in China.  The Institute had various teachers of various backgrounds.  In particular, my teacher, Mr. Geng, learned from his master (who I haven’t found the name of), who in turn was a student of the late He Fusheng.  As part of a standard curriculum, this particular dajia form of Bajiquan lacks the minutiae and specific frames of other styles, but is still Bajiquan nonetheless.

Ma Style Tongbei Bajiquan

Ma Style Tongbei is a very unique system of traditional Wushu that combines the training methods and forms of Bajiquan, Piguazhang, Tan Tui (弹腿; tántuǐ, Springing Leg), Chuo Jiao (戳脚; chuōjiǎo, literally “poking feet”) and Fanziquan (翻子拳; fānziquán, tumbling or “rotating” fist, literally “turning/flipping fist”).  This style of Bajiquan is unlike any other.  Of all the styles of Bajiquan, Ma Style Tongbei Bajiquan has the biggest, most extended and fluid movements.  In this sense, it is most similar in appearance modern Wushu Bajiquan, which is why it may appear to be the “strangest” interpretation of Bajiquan.  However, Ma Style Tongbei is very much a legitimate system of traditional Wushu, including its practice of Bajiquan, and it is no doubt respected as such in the traditional Chinese martial arts community.

If you are interested in learning this style, you are encouraged to seek out ant take the opportunities to do so!  In the spirit of sharing knowledge, I have decided to share some education links at the end of this write-up, for those that are interested in learning more about the style.  I hope you have gained some knowledgeable insight into this traditional style of Wushu, or at least know enough to adequately understand it from an intellectual standpoint! J

Kung Fu Quest (功夫传奇; gōng​fuchuán​qí, literally “Gongfu Romance”) Bajiquan Episode:

Experience Real Gongfu (体验真功夫; tǐ​yànzhēngōng​fu) Bajiquan Episode:

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