Pakua Chuan can literally be translated as “Boxing of the Eight Trigrams”. This superior style incorporates the philosophy of The I-Ching (The Book of Changes) into its movements. There are eight animals represented in this style, and each animal represents one of the Trigrams.
Due to lack of earlier evidence of the Pakua Chuan style, Tong Hai-Chuan is generally considered the founder of this style. The lineage of Pakua in our school can be traced back through Master Su Yu-Chang to Liu Yun-Chiao, who was taught by Kong Pao-Tien, who in turn learned from Yin Fu, a student of Tong Hai-Chuan.
A major characteristic of this style is the way in which it is executed. Different from other styles, Pakua Chuan does not stop movement to perform a strike. The practitioner is in constant motion, changing techniques and direction, making each movement flow one into the other. From a martial point of view, the enemy is kept in the centerline, whilst the practitioner encircles him. Direct encounter is not a goal in this style. If one is attacked with an angular strike, the practitioner will avoid or deflect the attack by working in a circle.
The circle is not just a means for martial application. The body is contorted and twisted as the practitioner walks the circle. Much in the same way that as the earth circles the sun, it also spins on its own axis. In Pakua Chuan one works with the Natural (circle) and Non-Natural (linear) attributes. At a beginning stage of practice the practitioner focuses on the Non-Natural attributes, later learning to apply the Natural attributes. By working in a straight line first allows the practitioner to comprehend the techniques and work on the base level of energy. In Pakua, San Chien Tuei Tsao is sought; this refers to the line formed between the nose (1), the middle finger (2) and the center (3), also known as the axis. This is done in Pakua’s first and most important posture, which is characterized as Yi Ma Wun Lu (Holding the Horse’s Rein to Ask the Way - see fig.). This is an example of why Pakua Chuan first starts in a straight line. It is later that, when using the Natural, by walking in a circle the center is no longer a point as such, but is actually your Natural self, or the Universe. In a simple way one could say that by walking, or moving, in a straight line one is looking for something. When walking the circle one is applying that which is found.
So in the beginning we start with two (Liang Yi), also known as the Yin and the Yang, two sides if you like. The next step is building to four (Shu Shiang). These four are the basic directions: North, South, East and West. The four directions are divided into two parts, or Energies. The North and South are the Magnetic (Yin energy), whilst the East and the West are the Light (Yang energy). These four directions are also first done in a straight line, and then in a circle. Remember you must find something before you can use it! Here we are struck with a slight paradox, and trust me, when studying Pakua Chuan, this is only the beginning. So far I have mentioned the Yin and Yang twice, but claim them to be different. So where is the difference? First of all, you need to understand that the idea of Yin and Yang is only a way of describing two opposite things, such as the common example of the Sun and Moon. So when one is practicing the first part of Pakua Chuan, Liang Yi, the Yin and Yang refers to a general difference, such as left and right, and other basic concepts. Whilst in the second part of the practice, Shu Shiang, the Yin and Yang help to analyze the concept of the four basic directions. Here we are digging deeper into the philosophy.
Once the linear part of the Shu Shiang is studied we move onto the circular practice. Here again we want to use or enter the energy of the four basic directions. The next step is the Eight directions (Pa Kua). This is already a very advanced level of the style. Put in simple terms you want to work the four previous directions, Shu Shiang, on another dimension, making it into a sphere. It can also work as a kind of maze. A hypothetical example would be: if your body is destined to live 50 years, but through the practice of Pakua Chuan and having reached these higher levels of practice, when the fiftieth year comes, you don’t die because you have cheated death, and it cannot find you. Applied to a martial point of view, this practice involves techniques to confuse your opponent, so they don’t know where you are, and therefore you have the advantage.