The Eight Mother Palms of Ba Gua Zhang are an essential part of Ba Gua training and the primary foundational Nei Gong exercise. develops both the footwork and the internal strength that are critical to advanced internal development and combative skill. Most styles use eight basic palms as the foundation, although in theory many variations are possible. In Liang style Ba Gua Zhang we generally employ 10 palms in training – eight key palms and two variations. Generally one beings with downward sinking palm because this posture activates Dantian, roots the body, opens the Ren and Du channels and connects the Heart and Kidneys (Water and Fire).
1. Downward Sinking Palm (下沉掌) Xia Chen Zhang
Generally one beings with downward sinking palm because this posture activates Dantian, roots the body, opens the Ren and Du channels and connects the Heart and Kidneys (Water and Fire). As your palms sink downward, an internal upward movement of is created which initiates circular internal flow of Qi along the body’s longitudinal axis. More will be said about this in future lessons. The palms sink downward so that the elbows naturally extend. It should feel as though you are pressing a large beach ball into a tub of water. There is a gentle resistance and a natural equilibrium. If you push the ball too hard into the water, it slips away; if you push too lightly on the ball it does not compress into the water and you do not feel it pushing back against you. Maintain this balance of forces as you walk.
In some styles of Ba Gua Zhang, the Downward Sinking Palm is referred to as “Fierce Tiger Leaves the Mountain.” In other styles a version of this palm is associated with the Bear. If your alignments are correct when walking the circle using this palm configuration, it can feel internally as though your hands are grasping the ground like a tiger walking down a hill.
Downward Sinking Palm – Fine Points
- Sink the palms downward and as you rotate the arms inward, let the chest and shoulders round slightly. There is a feeling of space in each armpit.
- The fingertips of both hands point inward to face each other while the thumbs point at the two Kua.
- Internally the palms rotate inward and move toward each other while simultaneously there is a feeling of them rotating outward and pulling apart. These two forces balance each other so that the body feels relaxed and supple, yet loaded like a coiled spring.
- It should feel as though you are pushing a ball down gently into the water.
- The sinking of the arms is a function of the sinking of the tailbone and sacrum opposed by the uplifting of the head and upper back. This is aided by sitting the kua and bending the knees so the weight falls through the Yongquan acu-point – simultaneously there is an internal feeling of straightening through the knees and pushing upward from the soles of the feet. These forces also balance and cancel each other.
- Slacken and sink the shoulders to help the elbows extend naturally.
- Empty the chest, lift up the upper back and sink the lower back.
- Twist the kua inward and close the knees as you walk the circle.
- The fingers of each hand are separate and the palm center is hollow. The hands assume the shape of the “tile palm”
Each of the Palm Positions has poem that hints at the key points and the internal alignments. It is useful to memorize the poems in order to help you perform each palm correctly.
Song of the Downward Sinking Palm
Empty the chest, pull up the upper back and sink the lower back,
Twist the hip, close the knees and grasp the ground tightly.
Slacken the shoulder and stretch the elbow for downward-sinking palm,
Inhale in lifting, exhale in extending like the chicken form.
2. Mountain Pushing Palm (推山掌) Tui Shan Zhang
This palm is also called the Double Bumping Palm (双手撞掌) Shuang Shou Zhuang Zhang. Many Liang style practitioners call this posture the Moon Embracing Palm (抱月掌)Bao Yue Zhang. The Mountain Pushing Palm is sometimes described as: “the strength to push eight horses.” In Yin Style Ba Gua this posture is associated with the Rooster and in Ma Gui Ba Gua with the Crab.
In this palm, one must extend the two hands, round the back, relax the shoulders, and drop the elbows. The little fingers turn upward, the thumbs face downward and the palm roots press inward toward the center of the circle. The two elbows are curved. Draw in the Kua and look between the two hands. The body is straight, but it sits down. Turn the Yao so that the body faces inward toward the center of the circle. As the palms push outward, the chest opens. This allows Zong Qi (Chest Qi; Gathering Qi) to open and circulate smoothly.
Mountain Pushing Palm – Fine Points
- From the previous posture push the palms outward as the thumbs drop downward.
- The hands are at the height of the shoulder and there is a quality of embracing something.
- The hands push outward as if protecting the chest.
- The chest is relaxed and the back tightens slightly as the elbows extend to push the palms forward.
- Loosen and relax the shoulders and feel as though the shoulder blades are glued down or “buttoned” to the ribs.
- The fingers are slightly separated and the palm centers are hollow.
- The fingertips, hands and arms feel as though they are drawn towards each other, yet at the same time they feel as though they are moving apart; as though they are pulling something apart.
- As you walk and rotate, it should feel as though you are simultaneously embracing something and pushing something ahead of you.
- Other names for this palm are the Mountain Pushing Palm and the Double Bumping Palm. Both convey the image of pushing or bumping something with the palms.
Song of the Mountain Pushing Palm
Two hands flat push to protect the chest,
Tighten the back, elbow stretches and embraces forward.
Lift the knee and stretch the leg to walk in the crane form,
Slacken and button the shoulders, with palm hearts empty
3. Fruit Offering Palm (猿獻桃掌) Yuan Xian Tiao Zhang
The Fruit Offering Palm is also called “White Ape Offers the Fruit” or the “Double Embracing Palm.” The wrists pull inward, the shoulders sink and shrink inward, and the elbows drop. Hold the two elbows closely together with the fingers turned backward, and the two palms facing one another. The hands have a unified energy, as if holding up an object with both hands. Hold the neck straight, and look through the Hu Kou (Tiger’s Mouth) of the two hands. Spread the back and take in the chest. The body sits down, as you turn the waist and take in the kua. The posture is like monkey nibbling at a peach or dragons and triggers crouching.
In the Liang Style, this is not traditionally one of the Eight Palms, but rather a transitional movement between the Mountain Pushing Palm and the Heaven Uplifting Palm. However it can also be trained for extended periods
Ba Gua Master Sun Lu Tang, correlates this palm with the Dui (Lake) Trigram, consisting of two solid lines and a third broken line at the top. This symbolizes that the upper body is soft and supple, while the middle and lower body are firm, when performing the Fruit Offering Palm. Sun Lu Tang states that if the Fruit Offering palm is practiced smoothly and correctly, the Lung energy will be clear and smooth.  Sun Xi Kun advised that when walking in the Fruit Offering Palm, one should walk as though pushing a boat down a flowing stream. 
Fruit Offering Palm – Fine Points
- The elbows are brought inward and upward so that the back expands.
- The inward and upward action is like offering something.
- The arms twist and wrap inward and the palms spiral upward.
- The palms touch and the fingers open like a flower unfolding its petals
- The chest is relaxed and empty and the shoulders drop downward.
- The back opens and curves and Mingmen spreads and opens.
- Your gaze goes towards the tip or you left forefinger (when walking counter-clockwise).
- You can imagine the hands are like a lotus flower floating on the water. The hands open softly from the inside out, like a flower opening its petals to the sun.
Song of the Fruit Offering Palm
Push up the head from below and offer fruit,
Shoulders and elbows wrap to draw inward and open outward.
Body crouches with treading steps,
Palms hollow and fingers open like a floating lotus flower.
4. Heaven Upholding Palm (托天掌) Tiao Tian Zhang
The Heaven Uplifting Palm is sometimes called Great Roc Spreads Wings. Sun Lu Tang called it Blue Dragon Flies Upward. In Ma Gui Ba Gua this is called the Eagle Posture. The little finger edge of the hands overturns so that the palms face the sky. The palms face upward as though holding up two bowls of water. The shoulders hang down, and curve inward, but also have and energy of spreading outward. The head presses upward. The hands and arms simultaneously lift upward and pierce outward with a spiraling energy.
Master Sun Lu Tang relates this posture to the Zhen (Thunder) Trigram and the “Dragon Flying Upward, both of which symbolize the arousing of the True Qi. Circling in the posture is like the “Black Dragon Coiling Around a Pillar.” If practiced smoothly your liver will be comfortable and harmonious. The middle line of the Trigram represents the balanced Qi within the posture and the balance of movement and stillness within the technique. 
Heaven Upholding Palm – Fine Points
- From the Downward Sinking Palm position, bring the hands upward towards the chest, leading with the fingertips. Then push outward and upwards as the palm simultaneously pierce outward and lift upwards.
- The arms extend outward and upward as though simultaneously upholding plates or objects and penetrating through something.
- The fingers of each hand are separate and the palm center is hollow. The hands assume the shape of the “tile palm.”
- The elbows sink and the shoulder loosens and relaxes. The arms are in the shape of a bow.
- The hands raise slightly higher than the shoulders. The raising action of the arms comes from the back and ribs rather than the shoulder muscles. This action is assisted by raising the vertex and the upper back, sinking the tail and sitting the Kua, all of which balance the uplifting motion.
- The arms and chest form a gentle concave curve. The two arms therefore form less than a 180 degree angle. The alignment of the chest and the arms sets the hand just in front of the shoulders.
- If the arms raise too high you will feel unstable. If they do not lift enough it will feel as though you are collapsing.
- The arm that faces the inside of the circle will not point exactly toward the center of the circle, but will point slightly behind the center of the circle and the direction you are walking in.
- When circling counterclockwise, your left forefinger points toward the center of the circle and your eyes gaze toward the tip of your left forefinger.
Song of the Heaven Upholding Palm
Walk forward by upholding heaven with two hands,
Slacken the shoulder and drop the elbow, the arm like a bow.
Five fingers separate and penetrate forcefully,
Hu Kou round and open, palm center empty.
5. Lion Rolls the Ball Palm (狮子滚球掌) Shi Zi Gun Qiu Zhang
This palm is also called the Ball Holding Palm or Lion Rolls the Ball. Imagine you are holding a large ball between your palms. Your left hand comes up from below as though drawing a curve and your right hand arcs over to hold the other side of the ball. The two palms face each other and there is a magnetic attracting and repelling energy between them. At the same time the body and the arms have a unified round energy that is like a ball that is turning and rotating.
Master Sun Lu Tang relates this Palm to the Xun (Wind) Diagram characterized by a broken bottom line with two solid lines above. This signifies that the one is hard and firm in the upper and middle body and soft and supple in the lower body. When practiced smoothly True Qi spreads to every part of the body, reaching even the smallest place 
Lion Rolls Ball Palm – Fine Points
- The two hands and arms feel like they are holding a ball.
- The two palms combine as you turn with a feeling of embracing or holding the yao (back and waist).
- The back is round and the upper (outside) arm creates a faint tugging sensation in the lower back, which in turn feels like it pulls the leg forward.
- The shoulders are dropped and loosened and ribs extend forward.
- Keep the shoulders level and cultivate a regal quality by erecting the head with a feeling of prestige.
- The palm centers are hollow and empty as though conforming to the shape of a ball.
- The side of the body stretches forward to walk the circle and the high (outside) hand helps pull the steps.
- Create a feeling of roundness in the body. Feel like your hands are holding a ball as you walk and turn, but also that part of the ball is composed of the chest and back themselves.
- This posture is sometimes called Lion Holds the Ball.
Song of Lion Rolls Ball Palm
Lion rolls the ball, hold the waist and twist,
The two palms combine and stretch the body forward to walk.
Rotate left and turn right to change back and forth,
Gather prestige, erect the neck and look at the palm heart.