Bagua (also known as Pa Kua) comprises one of the major 3 internal styles of China alongside Xingyi (Hsing-i) and Taiji (Tai Chi). As with these other 2 internal styles, the practice of Bagua generates Qi (internal energy) for both health and combat purposes. Baguazhang features almost exclusive use of palm techniques, thus making Bagua uniquely distinct from the Xingyi and Taiji styles, both of which focus largely on fist techniques.
The origin of Bagua is murky, with many variations of the main tale. It is said Ba Gua Zhang was developed by Tung Hai Chuan during the Ching Dynasty. Some versions place Tung wandering around a mountainous area of China, freezing and starving to death where he was rescued and nurtured back to health by a reclusive Taoist hermit who then taught him the secrets of Pa Kua to preserve the health he had restored. Others place Tung becoming a eunuch in a palace to avoid capture by authorities who were after him, where over time he developed the style. Whatever the history, it rapidly became a popular style for both its effectiveness and even more so due to its health benefits.
The most distinctive trait of Baguazhang is that movement imitates the Taoist Bagua symbol of the I-Ching (Book of). Techniques are demonstrated and executed while walking low in a static circle. Bagua movements are intended to be smooth and co-ordinated, with the body employed as a whole. Reliance is not placed on the use muscle power generated from a single portion of the body, rather the source of power in Baguazhang is the Dantian, (considered the body's Qi centre located in the lower part of the abdomen two inches below the navel).
Bagua is also distinguished from other martial arts by heavy emphasis on coiling and uncoiling movements. Pa Kua incorporates the concept of continuous change, with a pratitioner able to rapidly change directions to evade the opponent while using the hands to distract the opponent from devastating kicks and throws. Pa Kua moves in continuous, fluid circles within circles, utilizing an impressive array of dynamic footwork, confusing the opponent, first to evade and then to entrap the opponent. The Pa Kua practitioner seeks constantly to entice the opponent in and then execute a flanking move to end up either behind or to the side so as to not have to deal directly with the opponents arsenal.
The energy of Pa Kua has been likened to that of a wire mesh ball. Its tendency is to wrap the opponent's attack up within itself and then literally spit him out, often with violent consequences. The energetic structure is like that of Hsing I Chuan, namely, a Yang exterior coupled with a Yin interior. A practitioner of the art will seek to immediately control, and then maintain that control, of an opponent's center, thereby giving the opponent minimal chance to hit back with any authority. An experienced Bagua practitioner is able to defend, attack, grapple, joint-lock (Qinna), in addition to being able to understand and manipulate Qi flows both within themselves and within their opponents.
Bagua practitioners also practice with many weapons, ranging from small concealed weapons to oversized broadswords. Training with these weapons help teach the practitioner about the proper linkage and internal balance, as well as how to use the weapons effectively and, perhaps more importantly, how to defend against them.