Baguazhang is based on circular movements and on spiralling force. Its flowing techniques are evasive and in constant motion, and are mainly based on the use of palms. This style is often considered the natural counterpart of xingyiquan, a more linear style based on short, explosive movements. Baguazhang greatly increases inner strength and balance. The body undergoes a constant traction in torsion, a veritable stretching for the trunk muscles.
Basic practice stems from walking in a circle, standing changes (dan cao) and the eight mother palms (bamuzhang). This is followed by other training models, forms done barehanded and with weapons. Baguazhang training is mental and physical challenge, requires great concentration and patience, a calm and centred mind, a continuous development of elastic force producing deep internal changes.
This style, at the heart of internal practice, completes the training in the three Chinese internal martial arts and in the Cheng Ming school is reserved only to the most advanced students. Thus are the secrets of the style guarded and one can penetrate in the innermost heart of martial arts.
Baguazhang practitioners look at Dong Haichuan 董海川 (1797-1882) as the founder of their style. It is believed that Dong developed baguazhang by merging fighting techniques with meditation exercises that Daoist monks practised while walking in a circle.
The structure of baguazhang is very complex and is founded on the yijing (易經, the Book of Changes) and on Daoist cosmogony. The interaction between the yijing and baguazhang is difficult to grasp: the 64 palm changes correspond to the 64 exagrams and are taught by degree through the forms.