Bagua Zhang is one of the three main Chinese martial arts of the Wudang school, the other two being Taijiquan and Xingyiquan. It is more broadly grouped as an internal practice (or neijia quan). Bāguà zhǎng literally means "eight trigram palm," referring to the trigrams of the I Ching (Yijing), one of the canons of Taoism.
The practice of circle walking, or "turning the circle", as it is sometimes called, is Baguazhang's characteristic method of stance and movement training. All forms of Baguazhang utilize circle walking as an integral part of training. Practitioners walk around the edge of the circle in various low stances, facing the center, and periodically change direction as they execute forms. For a beginner, the circle is six to twelve feet in diameter. Students first learn flexibility and proper body alignment through the basic exercises, then move on to more complex forms and internal power mechanics. Although the internal aspects of Baguazhang are similar to those of Xingyiquan and Taijiquan, they are distinct in nature.
Baguazhang contains an extremely wide variety of techniques as well as weapons, including various strikes (with palm, fist, elbow, fingers, etc.), kicks, joint locks, throws, and distinctively evasive circular footwork. As such, Baguazhang is considered neither a purely striking nor a purely grappling martial art. Baguazhang practitioners are known for their ability to "flow" in and out of the way of objects. This is the source of the theory of being able to fight multiple attackers. Baguazhang's evasive nature is also shown by the practice of moving behind an attacker, so that the opponent cannot harm the practitioner.
Although the many branches of Baguazhang are often quite different from each other (some, like Cheng style, specialize in close-in wrestling and joint locks, while others, like some of the Yin styles, specialize in quick, long-range striking), all have circle walking, spiraling movement, and certain methods and techniques (piercing palms, crashing palms, etc.) in common.
Baguazhang's movements employ the whole body with smooth coiling and uncoiling actions, utilizing hand techniques, dynamic footwork, and throws. Rapid-fire movements draw energy from the center of the abdomen. The circular stepping pattern also builds up centripetal force, allowing the practitioner to maneuver quickly around an opponent.