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Ba Gua Zhang’s 36 Songs Revisited – Songs 13 to 24

Part two of our re-translation and commentary of the Ba Gua Zhang’s 36 Songs, covers songs 13-24. The commentaries for each song are excerpted from Writings on Ba Gua Zhang Skills (八卦掌术集成) by Guo Gu Min (郭古民)

The 36 Songs give critical advice about the body alignments and training methods of Ba Gua Zhang

For Songs 1-12: CLICK HERE

Song 13

This palm is quite different from others,

Before the hand moves, the shoulder should attack.

Before extending forward, first shrink backward,

Inhaling fully and then exhaling, power is abundant.

Commentary:

This palm is different from other martial arts. Whenever extending the hand, it is necessary for the arm root (the shoulder) to issue force (Fa Li) and attack. The arm shrinks before extending in order to accumulate power. When the shoulder root is drawn back to its utmost, before sending and releasing, Fa Li will be dense and powerful.

此掌与人大不同Ci Zhang Yu Ren Da Bu Tong,

手未动兮膀先攻Shou Wei Dong Xi Bang Xian Gong.

未从前伸先后缩Wei Cong Qian Shen Xian Hou Suo,

吸足再吐力独丰Xi Zu Zai Tu Li Du Feng

Song 14

This palm is quite different from others,

The power of the front and rear palms are linked.

When you want send out the tip, move the root first,

Every form is like this, none should be neglected.

Commentary:

This palm is different from other martial arts. The power of the front hand must be linked to the power of the rear hands. This called uniting the spirit of the front and rear palms. The tip of the arm is the fingertips, and the root of the arm is the shoulder root; the foot is the root of the body. Before moving the tip, it is necessary to move its root. Power has its basis in root power, which is abundant and powerful. Otherwise, without this foundation one cannot emit sufficient force. Every gesture and every form is like this.

此掌与人大不同Ci Zhang Yu Ren Da Bu Tong,

前掌后力掌相通Qian Shou Hou Shou Li Xiang Tong.

欲使梢兮先动根Yu Shi Shao Xi Xian Dong Gen,

招招如是不得松。Zhao Zhao Ru Shi Bu De Song.

Song 15

This palm is quite different form others,

Before attacking the West, make noise in the East.

Know how to point above while striking below,

Great skill to roll up the pearl curtain and reverse the flow.

Commentary:

This palm is different from other martial arts. In extending the hand and using the techniques, if one adheres to fixed methods it is difficult to be victorious. If one strikes westward by pointing to the east, and strikes the lower by pointing to the upper, the opponent does not know how to defend, and victory will be achieved in every situation. For those with unique skills, shifted lower and the upper like rolling up a beaded curtain, makes it difficult for the opponent to defend.

此掌与人大不同,Ci Zhang Yu Ren Da Bu Tong,
未击西兮先声东。Wei Ji Xi Xi Xian Sheng Dong.
指上打下孰得知Zhi Shang Da Xia Shu De Zhi,
卷珠倒更神通Juan Zhu Dao Liu Geng Shen Tong.

Song 16

Even the most naturally skilled still fear three penetrations,

Not walking the outside gate is useless.

If he walks outside, I walk inside,

Simply extending my hand, it is not difficult to succeed.

 Commentary:

Although the opponents attacking and defending skills are marvelous, when I continuously change the palms the opponent is confused. I can seize the opportunity if I can avoid the central position by using leftward and rightward changes. To defeat the opponent it is necessary to walk forward to the outer door. If in the moment I pierce toward him, I stay in the center and he goes outside, I must adapt tot the circumstances, piercing inward to control him, entering with the hand, easily adapting my force.

天然精术怕三穿Tian Ran Jing Shu Pa San Chuan,

不走外门是枉然Bu Zuo Wai Men Shi Wang Ren.

他走外兮我走内Ta Zou Wai Xi Wo Zou Nei,

而得不费难Shen Hou Er De Bu Fei Nan

 Song 17

It is not skillful to use the palm in only one side (one way),

At a minimum in attacking, two sides (two aspects) must be employed.

One crossing and one straight to form triangle hands,

As though embracing a person in my arms.

Commentary:

If only one side is used in attacking and the other or defending, it is not effective. It is necessary to attend to the front, the back, the left and the right, keeping the eyes and ears open. So, at least two sides (aspects must be employed. In Ba Gua Zhang in order for the palms to change, there must be one crossing palm and one straight palm – like a triangle – this allows one to make infinite changes, and is like holding someone in your arms.

掌使一面不为功Zhang Shi Yi Mian Bu Wei Gong,

至少仍须两面攻。Zhi Shao Reng Xu Liang Mian Gong.

一横一直三角手,Yi Heng Yi Zhi San Jiao Shou,

使人如在我怀中Shi Nen Ru Zai Zai Wu Huai Zhong.

Song 18

High desires to be low and low desires to rise,

Incline the body, coil the steps and do not rush.

When turning obliquely and overturning backward the Yao applies force,

The force must be firm in overturning to the utmost.

Commentary:

When encountering the opponent, regardless of their height, one must ready to contend with him. When encountering a tall opponent, to attack him low, making it difficult for him to defend. When encountering a short opponent, attack him making it difficult for him to defend. Ordinary movement goes straight. In training this art, the body is oblique and the steps coil and revolve. The oblique body position seeks the direct straight force. When the sees the oblique, it is in fact straight and direct. Therefore, whether overturning obliquely or overturning backward the power of the Yao (Yao Li) predominates, because the waist is the axis of the whole body. When turning and rotating the power must exhibit Yang firmness in order to be effective.

高欲低兮矮欲扬Gao Yu Di Xi Ai Yu Yang,

斜身绕步不须忙。Xie Shen Rao Bu Bu Xu Mang.

斜翻倒翻腰着力Xie Fan Dao Fan Yao Zhuo Li,

翻到极处力要刚Fan Dao Ji Chu Li Yao Gang

Song 19

It is said this palm method is victorious due to its firm strength,

Master Guo said that supple softness is concealed inside.

Few people understand its real essence,

Combining firm and supple is advantageous.

Commentary:

Ba Gua Zhang originally possessed Qian and Kun (Heaven and Earth) Palms. Qian-Heaven and Kun-Earth Palm are respectively Yang and Yin. Therefore, although this palm method has Yang Firmness (Gang) it also requires Yin Suppleness (Rou).

Master Guo, named Ji Yuan, a native of Shandong, a contemporary of Master Dong, also became his disciple. Master Guo used to say: “Those who train this palm art to a a profound level know the theory of suppleness and firmness. Therefore, only when gentleness and firmness interchange and mutually assist one another, can it be possible to achieve excellence.”

人到掌法胜在刚Ren Dao Zhang Fa Sheng Zai Gang,

郭老曾言柔内藏   Guo Lao Ceng Yan Rou Nei Cang.

个中也有人知味Ge Zhong Ye You Ren Zhi Wei,

刚柔相济是所长Gang Rou Xiang Ji Shi Suo Zhang.

Translator’s Note:

Gang () is often translated as firm, hard, and unyielding, implying the use of firm hard force.

Rou () is often translated as soft, supple, pliant, and yielding, implying the use of an elastic, relaxed force.

Song 20

When firmness is foremost, suppleness is stored within,

When suppleness is foremost, firmness expands behind.

When the opponent is supple with his Yao and hands,

I should draw in with the Yao and move with stable steps.

Commentary:

The applications of gentleness and firmness have been talked about in the previous songs. Now, I would like to discuss its essence. If firmness comes first, it is necessary to dissolve (drain or release) it with supple pliancy. If supple pliancy comes first, it must conquered with firmness. Both attack and defense contain this theory. The opponent’s supple pliancy can be dissolved by the Yao or by changes with the hand. But, Ba Gua Zhang is different. Instead we must dissolve with the Yao and stabilize the step while transforming the footwork, without using any other force – then victory will be achieved. This is exactly marvelous and subtle stepping methods of this palm (this style).

刚在兮柔Gang Zai Xie Xi Rou Nei Cang,

柔在先兮刚后张Rou Zai Xian Xi Gang Hou Zhang.

他人柔腰与手Ta Ren Zhi Rou Yao Yu Shou,

我则吸腰步稳扬Wo Ze Xi Yao Bu Wen Yang.

Song 21

When a movement reaches its endpoint the body must turn,

Shed the body and transform into a shadow without leaving a trace.

All changes depend upon the steps,

The Yao extends first in entering and exiting, advancing and retreating.

Commentary:

Ba Gua Zhang there are numerous techniques, but at the extreme endpoint of a movement you must change and transform; at that moment the body must rotate and change. This is the method of shedding the body and transforming into a shadow without leaving a trace. No matter what changes and transformations take place, their foundation lies in the steps. The footwork must be precise, but also free and unrestrained when entering and exiting, advancing and retreating. The eyes must also be clear and all must be assisted by the Yao.

用到极处须转身,Yong Dao Ji Chu Xu Zhuan Shen,

脱身化影不留痕。Tuo Shen Hua Ying Bu Liu Hen.

如何变换端在步Ru He Bian Huan Duan Zai Bu,

出入进退腰先伸。Chu Ru Jin Tui Yao Xian Shen.

Song 22

The spirit in turning the palm is transmitted from the neck bone,

In turning and twisting the neck, the hands must move first.

Shrink the neck when changing, extend it when issuing [force],

Like a spiritual dragon with head and tail linked.

Commentary:

The neck bone is the pillar of the head and body. The neck and head are connected to the spinal column, and it is easy to lose power if the head is slightly inclined. The nape is the back of the neck. To turn the nape means to turn the neck, which must be supported by the arm. In changing techniques, the neck it must shrink and withdraw in order to accumulate power. When applying techniques using the tricks, the neck must straighten in order to issue power. The neck extended and withdraws like a swimming dragon whose head and tail are linked.

转掌之神颈骨传Zhuan Zhang Zhi Shen Jing Gu Chuan,

转项扭项手当先。Zhuan Xiang Niu Xiang Shou Dang Xian.

变时缩颈发时伸Bian Shi Suo Jing Fa Shi Shen,

要如神龙首尾连Yao Ru Shen Long Shou Wei Lian

Song 23

When striking the opponent with the hand, the shoulder as its root,

The shoulder cannot extend completely.

Therefor advance with the front foot when going forward,

It is futile to advance the rear foot.

Commentary:

The hands are employed when attacking and striking, but the force of hand and palm come from the root of the arm – the shoulder. The arm root is extended but also shrunk very slightly. Issuing force (Fa Li) must be supported by the step. As for the principle of advancing step, it has been talked about previously. In walking forward, it is necessary to walk with the front foot. If one enters with the back foot, the body can only advance a little and entering and Fa Li will be affected.

打人凭手膀为根Da Ren Ping Shou Bang Wei Gen,

膀在肩端不会伸Bang Zai Jian Duan Bu Hui Shen.

故欲进时进前步Gu Yu Jin Shi Jin Qian Bu,

若进后步枉劳神Ruo Jin Hou Bu Wang Lao Shen.

Song 24

Power must be naturally released from tendons and bones,

Power issues form the bones and is channeled by the tendons.

The big tendon of the heel connects with the brain and spine,

Promote destructive power by using the follow step.

Commentary:

The techniques of good boxers do not rely on power, but they cannot succeed if there is no power. For power to be sufficient, it cannot be generated superficially, but must emanate from the tendons and bones. Power emanating from the bones is firm and hard, and power that comes from the tendon is a supple and pliable.. When the two are combined becomes an entire (whole body) power.

The big tendon of the foot links with the brain. When using the follow steps to assist the techniques its force solid and unhurried.

力足发自筋与骨,Li Zu Fa Zi Jin Yu Gu,

骨中出硬筋须随Gu Zhong Chu Ying Jin Xu Sun.

足跟大筋通脑脊,Zu Gen Da Jin Tong Nao Ji,

发招跟步力能摧。Fa Zhao Gen Bu Li Neng Cui.