on Pa Kua Chang ~ Way of Eight Palms

Of the three Taoist ‘internal’ martial arts, Pa Kua Chang is probably the most recent in its formal development. Though its origins are hidden, it emerges from the mountains of Kiangsu province in the early 1800’s and as such has a partly documented history. However, it takes its premise, its famous ‘way of eight changes’, from China’s cultural past at its most ancient – indeed from a time quite lost to us. Its reference, and gateway of understanding, is born of the I Ching – oldest of seers – and of that oracle’s preternatural pattern of the primary eight tri-grams set out around a circle.

It is a familiar symbol: our own points of compass – that is, of arrival and departure – exactly correspond to it, as do the sacred mandalas so loved and revered as devices of meditation and Virtue by Buddhists of the northern tradition.

Its precedents in history, therefore, would be hard to over-estimate. Indeed one could say that the ways of energy, of activity, that we are here exploring, are the archetypal energies of Tao; that is to say, of our ever-flowing, cosmological existence…  And how we approach such things, without being daunted to our very core, is precisely what Pa Kua allows. We bring to our study the free movement of our bodies, together with a fluid, mental contemplation.

It begins in walking a circle.

t might be said, though only in very general terms, that learning the Forms of Tai Chi cultivates an energy of intrinsic wholeness in our bodies; that Hsing I cultivates energy of our active intent; and that Pa Kua cultivates energy of our Mind. Certainly, starting off, it can be dizzyingly confusing and we must be gentle of ourselves and of each other’s mental condition. We should approach our enterprise happily therefore, but with due seriousness.

In all cases, we are here examining differing, although never entirely separate, properties of chi: the very stuff of our lives. Furthermore we are following an old, old path of transformation – of human alchemy:

Essence into chi, chi into spirit, spirit into emptiness

– where emptiness is a release of internal consciousness, and, in the poetry of Tao, the student Carp becomes the immortal Dragon…

The Forms of Pa Kua are characterised by a loose circularity and by their eight palms and corresponding tri-grams, which are –

palm chang tri-gram designation attribute
Up-turned palm yang chang heaven  ch’ien Creative
Down-turned palm lo shuan chang earth  k’un Receptive
Out-turned palm fu chang lake  tui Joyous
Thrusting palm shu chang fire  li Clinging
Embracing palm pao chang thunder  chen Arousing
Splitting palm p’i chang wind/wood  sun Gentle
Expanding palm liao chang water  k’an Abysm
Upholding palm t’iao chang mountain  ken Still


Walking the circle elicits gentleness, contemplation, and the emergence of dragons.

Each thought and step, transformation.