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Ba Gua Zhang and the Book of Changes Part 1

Ba Gua Zhang is said to be related to the Book of Changes (Yi Jing), and Ba Gua is a martial art that truly exemplifies continuous change and transformation. Many Ba Gua practitioners use Yi Jing trigrams and hexagrams to illustrate the underlying theories of this unique martial art. This post examines some of the relationships between the Yi Jing and Ba Gua Zhang, including the way different Ba Gua styles and different practitioners view the relationships between the Yi Jing diagrams and Ba Gua Zhang postures, movements, and applications.

Ba Gua practitioners tend to employ a Daoist approach to looking at the Yi Jing. In this approach, the symbols themselves are more important than the words that describe and explain them. A transmission on the Yi Jing ascribed to the “Hemp Clad Daoist,” a teacher of the famous Daoist sage Chen Tuan, tells us that the lines that make up the symbols are representations of the cycles of Yin and Yang and the circulation of Qi. These images don’t rely on texts or textual explanations but speak directly to people who understand the symbols.[1]

The text goes on to essentially say that Confucians worked with the Yi Jing using words and lost the true meaning. Daoist teacher Ni Hua Ching elucidates this important idea when he says that Chen Tuan used the Yi Jing to unravel the principles that underlie the words. Ni goes on to say that in the beginning the sages were inspired by nature. Symbols were used as an interpretation of what they saw. If one wishes to understand the symbols deeply, the real source is to look for the reality of the Pre-Heaven Stage, which is without words. One should therefore start with the pictures, because they go beyond what language can define.[2]

One caveat is that because the trigrams and hexagrams are representing fleeting moments in time in which transformation is about to occur, or has just occurred, the energetic configurations illustrated by the Yi Jing diagrams are open to interpretation. The moment we say the energy configuration is one thing, it is understood that it is already changing to something else. Therefore, in the end, words are inadequate and the phenomena described by the Yi Jing diagrams must be sensed internally to really understand them.

Pre-Heaven & Post Heaven Arrangements of the Trigrams

Ba Gua practitioners  typically utilize the two standard arrangements of the Eight Trigrams when applying the Yi Jing to their art. These arrangements are the Pre-Heaven and Post-Heaven sequence. The Pre-Heaven arrangement is attributed to Fu Xi, the first mystical Sage-Emperor of China, while the Post Heaven arrangement is attributed to King Wen of Zhou (12th century BCE).

Pre-Heaven Arrangement

In the Pre-Heaven diagram, change and movement arise out of the tension between polar opposites. The trigrams reflect forces, activities or states of being that are continuously interacting and inter-transforming. Wang Bi’s famous commentary on the Pre-Heaven Arrangement of the Trigrams says: Water and Fire drive each other on, why Thunder and Wind do not work against each other, and that is why Mountain and Lake reciprocally circulate.

In contrast, the Post-Heaven Arrangement of the Trigrams (below) reflects the passage of time and reflects man’s temporal sense of the changes in heaven and earth. Here rather than the primordial opposing forces shown in the Pre-Heaven Arrangement, the passage of time through the seasons and through one’s lifetime is reflected. In the Post-Heaven Arrangement of the Trigrams, the top is represented by Li-Fire which is associated with summer and the South, while the bottom is the North, associated with winter and the Kan-Water Trigram. Zhen-Thunder is in the East and is associated with spring thunderstorms and new growth, while Dui-Marsh in the West is the gathering that takes place in the fall harvest.

Post-Heaven Arrangement

Ba Gua Zhang and the Eight Trigrams

Many Ba Gua Teachers introduce the trigrams and their characteristics as follows:













1. Qian Diagram: 3 Links (Qian San Lian).  The eyes should not leave the hand, the hand should not leave the elbow, and the elbow should not leave the ribs. These are the three links in the Qian diagram.

2. Kun Diagram: Six Sections (Kun Liu Duan Walking in the lower limbs with movements in the hip, knee, and feet, plus rightward and leftward rotation, belongs to the six sections in Kun diagram.

3. Zhen Diagram: An Upturned Bowl (Zhen Yang Yu) Tightening strength in the two shoulders, lowering the elbows, lifting the anus and rounding the hip belong to a supine broad-mouthed bowl, the Zhen diagram.

4. Gen Diagram: Gen is a Toppled Bowl (Gen Fu Wan)

Uplifting the neck and touching the upper roof with the tongue belong to a toppled bowl, the Gen diagram.

5. Li Diagram: Li is Empty in the Middle (Li Zhong Xu)

Being hollow in the chest and rounding the upper back, and tightening the upper back and holding in the chest, belong to deficiency in Li diagram.

6. Kan Diagram: Kan is Full in the Middle (Kan Zhong Man)

Sinking Qi into the Dian Tian area and being full in the abdomen belong to fullness in Kan diagram.

7. Dui Diagram: Dui Lacks in the Top (Dui Shang Que)

One hand in the upper and another hand in the lower position, with the shoulder and elbow dropped and the wrist in flexible shape, and with the fingers and elbow in opposition, belong to lack in Dui diagram.

8. Xun Diagram: Xun is Broken in the Bottom (Xun Xia Duan)

Toe-out step and toe-in step in the feet, with the knees closed to protect the groin, mean broken in the bottom of the Xun diagram.

Other Trigram Associations

Qian –Heaven

  • Heaven is also said to represent the head pushing upwards toward heaven.
  • Heaven represents united Qi flowing and circulating without endpoints or limits – in Ba Gua Zhang this is understood as turning, walking the circle and rotating unceasingly and without limitation.


  • Earth is associated with the Ba Gua stepping method, embracing Earth’s tranquility and ability to support all things.
  • The lower limbs are Kun – the six segments of the trigram, representing the hips, knees, and ankles/feet.
  • Earth is yielding and soft in relation to Heaven’s firmness. In Ba Gua Zhang this means following the opponent, dissolving the attack and then striking or leading him into emptiness.

In Ba Gua Zhang Qian and Kun combine and inter-transform; yielding and softness combined with the hard and firm; hard within softness, softness; yielding within in firmness. The feet grip and tread on the Earth, while the hands and fingers press and the head pushes up (Ding) to Heaven.[3]


  • Fire flares upward and governs brightness. This is related to understanding Ba Gua Zhang theory.
  • In training internal boxing, one must understand the postures and theory and one must understand oneself and understand others.
  • Li’s middle broken line between two solid lines represents the emptiness within that contains the ability to enlighten.
  • Emptiness within allows one to exert one’s inner power in obtaining instruction and understanding the essence of the art.
  • The chest is Li: the chest should be empty and unobstructed in order to house a bright and present spirit.


  • Water flows downward.
  • This relates to developing Internal Qi in Ba Gua Zhang.
  • Kan’s solid line in the middle of two broken lines implies that the inside of the body is substantial and real, and to guard the real while not being distracted by external things which come and go.[4]
  • The solid line in the middle means the abdomen (Dan Tian) is substantial and full.

Cultivating Qi involves regulating Water and Fire. The Kan Trigram is full in the middle, meaning that the Dan Tian and the kidneys should be replete, full, and abundant. The yang line in the center indicates that there is yang-fire hidden within the yin. This fire or “moving qi between the kidneys” is the Ming Men (life-gate) fire. Water is heavy and naturally descends and sinking to Dan Tian, where it is transformed into fire. Fire is light and naturally rises to the heart. This is represented by the Li trigram. Li is empty in the middle symbolizing the hidden water within fire. Fire transforms to water and sinks downward to the kidneys where the cycle starts again. This process can be likened to water heated on stove, creating a vapor which rises upward only to coalesce and descend again. The two elements interchange in relation and in balance to each other. This is the method of cultivating inner Qi in Ba Gua Zhang.

Kan-Water and Li-Fire are manifestations of Heaven and Earth within the body. Li is firm on the outside but soft within, clinging the opponent and absorbing his force while at the same time having the ability to explode outward with force and power. Kan is changeable on the outside, just like water taking the shape of its container and seeping into the smallest crack. In Ba Gua Zhang one changes the external shape according to the changing circumstances and the intention, following the line of least resistance to reach the opponent’s center.


  • Thunder governs movement. In Ba Gua Zhang this is related to moving, rotating and circling.
  • The solid lower solid line capped by two broken lines represents unobstructed forward movement.
  • Thunder is shocking and powerful and travels far.
  • The buttocks and crotch are like an upturned bowl, supporting the Water (the fullness) held in the lower abdomen.
  • In the Nei Gong Zhen Chuan Zhen is related to the ribs, which in turn are likened to a fish gill that opens and closes allowing Qi and Jin to move upward and downward. [5]

In Ba Gua Zhang movement creates inexhaustible changes and transformation, so Thunder represents changing and moving and issuing shocking force. Thunder also has the connotation of not being startled or frightened by loud noises or external disturbances, but rather remain calm and self-reflective within with one’s inner Qi undisturbed.[6]

Thunder also represents not only the stimulation to move and act, but creativity and innovation and insight that lead to new directions, new movement. In training one must be open to discovery and to renewed understanding of a limitless art.


  • Mountain is an image of stillness and relates to stopping.
  • The two broken lines capped by a solid unyielding line represent movement – Earth’s upward movement stopping when it reaches its limits.
  • The upper back and neck are Gen. The solid line at the top of the trigram means the neck lifts vertically. The two lower empty lines mean the shoulders and scapula drop and the upper back is round.
  • The mountain can also represent the stillness of meditation in which one cultivates the Three Treasures – Jing, Qi and Shen.

The Mountain is still and serene, unchanging in the face of snow, wind, rain, and heat. In Ba Gua Zhang the Mountain represents calmness, biding one’s time to select when it is auspicious to move and change. Even within movement the heart and spirit are calm and decisive waiting for the opportunity.

Gen-Mountain also epitomizes some of the mysterious characteristics of Ba Gua Zhang such as hidden, unseen kicks, the hands going outward without revealing the form, and striking and without a leaving a trace or shadow.

Together the Zhen and Gen trigrams represent knowing when to move and when to stop; when to be active and when to be still. This can also be understood knowing one’s limits. When to move and when to rest, when to advance and when to stop and reflect.


  • Wind represents following, penetration and liveliness. In Ba Gua Zhang this manifests as a clever mind and body, and following the opponent to find his weak points.
  • Wind is active, but also soft and penetrating.
  • Wind’s two solid lines with a broken line represent a powerful force that is far reaching – there is nowhere that wind does not reach – but at the same time, Wind’s external softness allows it to penetrate into the smallest spaces.
  • The feet are Xun, moving rapidly, advancing and retreating like the wind.
  • Wind is lively and active, spiraling and swirling continuously, but it can also be gentle and persistent inexorably and unceasingly pushing forward and penetrating.
  • In the Nei Gong Zhen Chuan, Xun is associated with the shoulder and back, which must be mobile – the shoulders drop and the back expands outward. [7]

Wind’s penetration can also refer to penetrating into the opponent’s nature in order understand his intentions, simultaneously concealing your own intentions while lightly following and leading. The Wind Trigram can also be understood as Wood. Wind and Wood are connected, Wind’s power bends the bamboo, but bamboo’s supple flexibility allows it to bend without breaking.

Thunder and Wind arouse each other. Of all the forces that move things, there is none swifter than Thunder. Of all the forces that bend things, there is none swifter than Wind. Therefore: Thunder and Wind do not interfere with each other, but rather support each other creating lively, spirited penetrating movement that can be limitless and unceasing. Without the initiating force of Thunder, there is no movement and initiation; without the steering push of Wind the energy of Thunder finds no direction.


  • The Marsh is an image of water seeping. This can also relate to being like water entering the smallest crack in the opponent’s defense.
  • Ba Gua Zhang adopts it sentiments of exchanging and collecting.[8]
  • The marsh fosters all forms of life, therefore making everything pleasant and joyful.
  • Dui represents relaxed and supple shoulders supported from below by a firm, substantial body.
  • In the Nei Gong Zhen Chuan, Dui is associated with the kua and groin area which must store essence and be firm and stable. [9]

Dui stands for two connected bodies of water – a marsh, a rice paddy, or sometimes a lake. The seeping waters of the marsh communicate with the ten thousand things. The rice paddy nourishes and gives joy, hence the connection with Dui with joy. The two yang lines below with a broken line above illustrate internal hardness with external softness; internal abundance with external lack. The inter-connected water of the marsh refers to training with colleagues or scholars meeting to discuss and study – true friends joining together. Gao Yisheng says: In Baguazhang, the holding of the knees, the closing of the arms, and hands, the joining of the crotch and hips and the internal and external three harmonies all contain this sentiment of Dui. [10]

The joy of internal boxing comes from adhering to the principles of Xun and Dui, having insight and joy and cultivating friendships with others.


[1] Chen Tuan: Discussions & Translations. Livia Kohn (Thee Pines Press, 2001) pp.121-22.

[2] Life & Teaching of Two Immortals (Vol 2): Chen Tuan. Hua Ching-Ni (Santa Monica: Seven Star Communications, 1992) p. 31.

[3] The Cheng School Gao Style Baguazhang Manual: Gao Yisheng’s Bagua Twisting-Body Connected Palm. Gao Yi Sheng, Edited by Liu Feng Cai (Berkeley, Blue Snake Books, 2012) p. 44-45.

[4] Ibid, p. 46

[5] Nei Gong: The Authentic Classic: a Translation of the Nei Gong Zhen Chuan. translated by Tom Bisio, Joshua Paynter and Huang Guo-Qi (Denver: Outskirts Press 2011) p. 57.

[6] The Cheng School Gao Style Baguazhang Manual, p. 48-50.

[7] Nei Gong: The Authentic Classic, p. 49.

[8] The Cheng School Gao Style Baguazhang Manual, p. 50.

[9] Qi Gong: The Authentic Classic, p. 41-45

[10] The Cheng School Gao Style Baguazhang Manual, p. 51.