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Bajiquan is a Chinese martial art that features explosive, short-range power and is famous for its elbow and shoulder strikes. Bajiquan is now popular in northern China and Taiwan. Later, it was introduced to Japan, South Korea and other countries, such as the United States, Canada, Britain, France and Italy. Bajiquan was originally called baziquan or “rake fist” because the fists are held loosely and slightly open. They are used to strike downwards in a rake-like fashion. The name was considered to be rather crude in its native tongue, so it was changed to bajiquan. The term baji comes from the Chinese classic, the I-Ching, and signifies an “extension of all directions”.

According to the genealogical records of the Wu family, Wu Zhong’s great-grandfather left the family stronghold to settle about 50 km away in the isolated hamlet of Houzhuangke in the neighboring province of Shandong. Wu Zhong is said to have been born in Houzhuangke before returning to settle with the main branch of his family in the village of Mengcun, Hebei province. Little is known of Wu Zhong, except that he quickly reached an unparalleled level in the practice of martial arts. His prowess earned him the nickname “god of the spear”, as well as being recruited to serve as an instructor at the imperial court under Prince Xun. When he was about 60 years old, Wu Zhong returned to Mengcun where he devoted the last thirty years of his life to transmitting his fighting art, and the village became the source of the development of bajiquan.

The origin of the mastery acquired by Wu Zhong remains unknown to this day, it is currently the subject of many controversies between the different branches of bajiquan. Historical documents contain two versions of the origins of Bajiquan:

The Cang County annals, the Baji manual of the Wu family, and the Pobei manuscript indicate that an itinerant Taoist monk by the name of Lai and his disciple Pi would have stayed in Mengcun to teach bajiquan as well as the handling of the great spear to Wu Zhong. By the admission of the Wu family of Mengcun, this reference is probably to be considered as a legend.

The other is Zhang Yueshan, a monk from Yueshan Temple in Henan Province, was returning to secular life and traveling around. It is said that he taught the great spear method.

Besides those two theories, there is also speculation that the martial art originates from Shaolin Temple in Henan, unrelated to Zhang Yueshan.

In any case, all sources agree on the fact that Wu Zhong traveled a lot, and that it was only at the end of his life that he devoted himself to teaching bajiquan. It is presumed that the legend of Lai and Pi simply symbolizes the martial knowledge that Wu Zhong was able to acquire throughout his life, probably from the study of the other styles of the region, and that he crystalized it in the form of bajiquan.

At first, bajiquan was transmitted mainly to the Hui people of Meng Village, but it was also transmitted to Luohan, an area where many Han people live. Eventually, it came to be divided into the Hui lineage of Mencun and the Han lineage of Luo.

Prominent branches and lineages of the art survived to modern times, including Han family Baji, Huo family, Ji family, Li family, Ma family, Qiang family, Wu family (from Wu Xiefeng), Wutan bajiquan and Yin Yang bajiquan. Each has a unique element while sharing core practices. Some lineages are more common or only exist in Mainland China, while others have spread to Western countries.

The major features of baji include elbow strikes, arm/fist punches, hip checks and strikes with the shoulder. All techniques are executed with a short power, developed through training; among Chinese martial artists, baji is known for its fast movements. Baji focuses on infighting, entering from a longer range with a distinctive charging step.

The essence of bajiquan lies in jin, or power-issuing methods, particularly fa jin (explosive power). The style contains six types of jin, eight different ways to hit and several principles of power usage. Most of bajiquan’s moves utilize a one-hit push-strike method from very close range. The bulk of the damage is dealt through the momentary acceleration that travels up from the waist to the limb and further magnified by the charging step known as zhen jiao.

The mechanics of jin are developed through many years of practice and bajiquan is known for its strenuous lower-body training and its emphasis on the horse stance. Its horse stance is higher than that of typical Long Fist styles. Like other styles, there is also “the arrow-bow stance”, “the one-leg stance”, “the empty stance” (??; x?bù), “the drop stance” (??; p?bù), etc. There are eight different hand poses, in addition to different types of breathing and zhen jiao.