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Wang Shi Tong’s Old Eight Palms (Lao Ba Zhang): The Four Complimentary Forces

This article  builds on last month’s article on Lao Ba Zhang: Opening the Form.

The Four Forces

All of the movements in Lao Ba Zhang incorporate four essential, oppositional yet complimentary movements, that act together as an organic whole:

  1. Ning (擰)Twist/Roll
  2. Guo (裹)Wrap
  3. Zuan (鑽)Drill; Bore into Something; Auger
  4. Fan (反)Overturn; Oppose; Combat

    Wang Shi Tong Performing Old Monk Offers Alms Bowl

The famous Ba Gua exponent Jiang Rong Qiao describes these four energies as

  1. Gun (滾) Roll
  2. Guo (裹) Wrap: Guo is related winding and entwining (Chan 缠)
  3. Zuan (鑽) Drill: Drilling related to Piercing (Chuan 穿)
  4. Zheng (爭) Contend

Jiang Rong Qiao uses the words above to refer to the various types of Jin-Li (劲力), or “energy-strength,” encountered during one’s practice of the single palm change. The various ways of describing these Four Forces can therefore be summarized as follows:

  1. Twisting-Rolling: Ning (擰) and Gun (滾)
  2. Wrapping-Winding: Guo (裹) and Chan (缠)
  3. Drilling-Piercing: Zuan (鑽) and Chuan (穿)
  4. Overturning-Contending: Fan (反) and Zheng (爭)

The Four Forces & the Opening Movements of Lao Ba Zhang

To discuss the Four Forces, we are forced to describe them as separate entities, but in practice they are unified and integrated as oppositional and complimentary forces. The Four Forces co-exist in every movement. Within twisting and rolling, there is drilling. Drilling is also piercing (Chuan). Therefore, within piercing there is also rolling/twisting, and within rolling/twisting there is piercing/drilling. Fan (overturning) can also mean to “combat” or “oppose” and therefore is related to Zheng (contending or extending). [1] In wrapping, the intention (Yi) and force (Jin) are embraced internally, while in extending/overturning/contending intention and force extend outward. In wrapping there is extending and overturning and in extending and overturning there is also wrapping, twisting and rolling.

In Ba Gua Zhang, rolling and twisting describe the circular rotary movements of the arms, legs and body. The screw-like actions of the arms, legs and even the spine are described as drilling. These two actions also produce the so-called “Silk-Reeling” force. Wrapping describes enfolding and embracing inwardly, while Fan and Zheng (Overturning and Contending/Extending) refer to stretching outward and pushing outward externally. In these four actions, the bones and tendons extend and contract, stretch outward and withdraw inward, thereby producing the winding, twisting, wrapping and millstone pushing power that is characteristic of Ba Gua Zhang. Refined power (Jin) in Ba Gua Zhang is a product of the blending of these four forces. [2]

Ba Gua Master Jiang Rong Qiao discusses the Four Forces as follows:

Rolling, drilling, resisting, wrapping, Opposite forces mutually generating. This refers to change and transformation of the energy-strength in training. Rolling means the round shape of the arms in rotation. Drilling means arm-rotating movements in a forward spiraling motion. Resisting means outward pushing and opening. Wrapping means hooking and embracing inward. These four movements require muscle contraction to generate strength. If there is only circular rotation and rolling, there is no forward force. This type of energy-strength is inward. There is no opposition of outward and forward force, so the force cannot be maximized. Therefore, in training, it is necessary to drill within rolling, to let the rolling movement become spiral movement.

Resisting and wrapping are similar. The embracing movement of the two arms and elbows uses a wrapping force, but in wrapping force alone there is only an inward holding force. There is no outward-stretching force. So, there is no opposition of inward force and outward force. If there is an outward-stretching force within the wrapping force, there will be the mutually antagonistic contracting and expanding properties, so oppositional forces will be generated.

Opposite forces represent two qualities, not alike, that are contradictory. “Opposite forces mutually generating,” means, in other words, “contradiction coming into being.” The energy-strength in Ba Gua Zhang derives from the mutual opposition of rolling, drilling, resisting and wrapping. These four mutually opposing forces, opposite forces existing in contradiction, engender the emission of energy/force (Jin). 

The Opening of Lao Ba Zhang is essentially a variation of the Single Palm Change, and the Single Palm Change is the basis of the other changes in Lao Ba Zhang. From the Opening and the Single Palm Change all other changes and tactics originate and take shape. When practicing the Opening and Single Palm Change, you should recognize and engage with all of these forces simultaneously, so that no force operates alone, or in a one-dimensional manner. Once you can sense the simultaneous operation of the Four Forces in the Opening and Single Palm Change, one should then gradually apply this principle of training to the other seven palm changes in Lao Ba Zhang, and to the form as a whole. If Lao Ba Zhang is practiced in this way, then even as power is released it is simultaneously being gathered. Sun Lu Tang explains this as follows:

Rising makes drilling. Falling makes overturning. Rising makes crossing. Falling makes flowing. Rising and drilling are piercing. Falling and overturning are striking. Rising is also striking. Falling is also striking. Striking, rising, and falling are like smoothly turning machinery. In practice, you need this method. It is not any different from Xing Yi Quan. [3]

Practice Method for Understanding and Manifesting the Four Forces

An extremely useful exercise that can help you understand and actualize the Four Forces is to practice the opening movements of Lao Ba Zhang in a linked sequence (see video). Practicing the opening movements of Lao Ba Zhang allows detailed engagement with the key actions of the Single Palm Change, Lao Ba Zhang’s (and Ba Gua Zhang’s) seminal movement. In the pictures below, Tom Bisio runs through the four movements of the opening sequence, and adds a turn so that the movements can then be practiced on the other side without stopping and restarting. This practice method also clearly demonstrates how the opening sequence is  a variation of the Single Palm Change.

External Alignments During the Movements

  • The head is erect and the tail sinks so that the buttocks are smooth.
  • The shoulders and shoulder blades sink down. The elbows drop.
  • The shoulders are level. The body does not tilt.
  • The knees are bent, with the weight transferring into the ground through the Yongquan acu-points.
  • There is space under the armpits.
  • The Six Harmonies (Liu He) are observed throughout the movements. Hand and foot, elbow and knee, shoulder and hip all move together and maintain alignment. There is harmony between Heart-Mind and Yi (Intention), between Yi and Qi and between Qi and Jin-Li (force/power).
  • Nine Segments (Nine Palaces) are fused into one. In the arms, the shoulder is the root, the elbow is the middle, and the hand is the tip. In the legs, the hip is the root, the knee is the middle, and the foot is the tip. In the body, Dantian is the root, the heart is the middle and the head is the tip. These nine segments must unite into one – then there is no hesitation or disconnection in one’s movements, and the strength of the whole body will be unified
  • In general, the hands are maintaining the “Tile Palm” formation (see picture below), although at different moments this palm formation may be more obvious and others less obvious.








The Tile Palm: Palm center is hollowed; forefinger is relatively straight; the three fingers curve and are balanced by the thumb; the back of the hand is also curved like a roof tile.

Internal Alignments During the Movements

  • The body winds like a screw into the ground, but at the same time is like a coiled spring that is pushing upward and forward.
  • Both hands press forward but are restrained by the back and the dropped shoulder blades.
  • Mingmen feels like it pushes backward. Dantian is firm and full.
  • Qi and breath gather in Dantian and Ming men, and circulate up the back and out into the arms.
  • The arms, the back and the legs are like drawn bows.


[1] Ba Gua You Shen Zhang: Eight Diagram Swimming Body Palm, by Wang Shu-jin, translated and annotated by Marcus Brinkman and Bradford Tyrey. p.6-7.

[2] Classical Ba Gua Zhang: Fighting Systems and Weapons, Jerry Alan Johnson and Joseph Crandall, 1990. p. 45.

[3] Bagua Quan Xue, by Sun Lutang, translated by Joseph Crandall. Pinole, CA: Smiling Tiger Martial Arts, 2002, p. 15.