"Ba" means eight and "Gua" means direction, thus Ba Gua relates to the eight directions from which the circle of the I Ching is constructed. This circle is a type of diagram that attempts to explain in a visual and associative manner the ancient Chinese worldview that perceives reality as a perpetually circular movement of change.
The full name of the system is "Ba Gua Zhang" in which "zhang" means palm of the hand. Indeed in Ba Gua Zhang, there is wide use of the open palm (with eight basic positions of the palm) within a circular movement.
The most distinctive characteristic of Ba Gua training is walking in a circle. The trainer walks on the circumference of an imaginary circle while practicing the eight positions of the palms of the hand. The walking in a circle is accompanied by a rich variety of steps, turns, feints, sleights and attacks.
The principle in Ba Gua is to attract the opponent into the circle in order to attack him from the side or behind without encountering him or her head on. Here, as in Tai Chi and Hsing Yi, training is based on fixed patterns of movement.
The history of Ba Gua is extremely unclear and no one really knows how it began. The first references to this martial art appear only at the end of the eighteenth century. Tradition points to Tung Hai chuan as the person who brought Ba Gua to the world.
Legend tells of two hermit monks who saved the life Tung Hai chuan on Mount Omei in Sichuan Province and taught him Ba Gua. Today there are many systems of Ba Gua taught throughout the world, but only about twelve of them can be traced back to the dynasty of teachers that originated with Tung Hai chuan.
Grandmaster Wang Shu Jin began studying Ba Gua at the age of eighteen under the tutelage of Chang Chao tung. Chang Chao tung's teacher was Ma Wei chi who learned directly from Tung Hai chuan. Grandmaster Wang Shu Jin thus is a member of the dynasty that began with the founder of the system himself.
Many legends surround Ba Gua, each more wondrous than the other. Tung Hai-chuan became a living legend and many of the stories describe his amazing talents. His students relate that once, while he was resting against a wall on the opposite side of the room, deep in thought, they were sitting around the table. Suddenly the wall collapsed on top of him. His students rushed to him in a panic and could not find him under the rubble. Suddenly to their amazement they saw him dozing on a chair at the very table where they had been sitting before.
Another story is told about Tung falling asleep on the couch on a cold winter evening. One of his students approached to spread a blanket over him but the blanket fell on an empty couch. When the student looked up in amazement Tung was already sitting at the other end of the room laughing at him.
Ba Gua at the Israeli Tai Chi Center
At the Israeli Tai Chi Center students usually begin to practice Ba Gua basics from the very beginning. When combined with Tai Chi and Hsing Yi training, it improves them all.