Using the Bagua Bubble for Posture Correction

Shifu Chao sometimes uses the analogy of a big bubble to describe a person’s everyday postural tendencies and more often to prescribe specific Zhang Zhuang postures. This is similar to the metaphor in the Tai Chi classics of threading a nine bend pearl.

How it works. Visualize a large bubble around your body, as you move towards the back of the bubble you have to bow forward, and as you move to the front you arch backward it a sort of limbo posture. Directly in the center of the bubble is a straight posture, which is not very common without some type of training. Holding postures at the front of the bubble can reverse bad habits of slouching and vice versa. Being aware of and learning to change the point you bend from, usually lowering it, is the first key.

A basic way to sink your breath and start with peng training is to think of your ming men point (top of the sacrum) pushing you forward into a front of the bubble bend. Don’t bend higher up at your T5 vertebrae which most people are accustomed to doing.

Make the chest, ribs, and indentation below the solar plexus soft, this will let the breath sink down to the floor of the diaphragm below the dan tien. Keep the weight totally on the Yong quan point and to the inside of the foot, lift your heels if you have to. If your weight is distributed correctly your calves will start burning when you begin this posture.

Some Back of the Bubble Work

Training concepts for developing internal power.

Basic ideas for developing internal power through standing meditation or Zhang Zhuang:
Zhan Zhuang, or standing meditation, is the foundation of the internal power possessed and taught by Shifu Victor Chao. Zhang Zhuang translates as “standing like a post” but there is a lot going on internally. CXW, the great Tai Chi Master, said: “outside like a mountain, inside like a river.”

While standing in Shifu Chao’s method the posture is constantly scanned and corrected, it is the Bagua principle of constant alignment to change and it begins within one’s own body during standing meditation. Leg strength is developed, the joints can open and close with the breath and begin to link harmoniously. Later chi flow becomes something that you can control.

Six Harmonies Theory: The Science of Internal Power in Neijia Quan

The six harmonies are at the core of most Chinese internal martial arts. They comprise a training method of for aligning structure, intention, and energy together for maximum efficiency and power. When everything in the body works together towards one direction the different parts are in harmony. The six harmonies are made of three external and three internal harmonies. 

Using the Three External Harmonies in Zhang Zhang Practice

Shifu Chao’s method emphasizes training the three external harmonies or wai san he – 外三合. These are hands/wrists coordinate with feet/ankles, knees coordinate with elbows, hips coordinate with shoulders.

This training is strenuous and uncomfortable, especially at first. The legs need a few months to get strong enough to support everything on top with the new posture alignments. It doesn’t really get much easier even when your leg muscles start to develop, you can just hold it for longer and go lower/higher/wider with more power. It is bitter training but there are no shortcuts.

Peng jin and the three harmonies.

The goal of Zhang Zhaung and three harmonies training is the development of peng jin, ground force leveraged through the correct posture, and breathing method. When the postures start to adhere to the three external harmonies or wai san he you start to get power to push in simple directions. The more you develop the connections required for wai san he, the less you have to rely on the upper body strength to generate force. Soon you can start to uproot opponents in push-hands training.

Shifu Chao often mentions writings and sayings of the old masters to clarify these training concepts.

Threading Pearls

The analogy of threading pearls from the Tai Chi Classics is a helpful visualization tool for developing the three harmonies in your Zhang Zhuang practice. The string of pearls can metaphorically refer to joints connected along the ground path by tendons and fascia, or the spine with its vertebrae. It can also be a single pearl surrounding the body, which Shifu Chao calls the bubble. These visualizations are all simplified but they can point us in the right direction.

threading pearls internal power development concept
Figure A. Shows how the joints and skeletal structure can be aligned to leverage the ground force. Feeling the force from the ground to the top of the head is the easiest way to begin to feel and understand peng jin.

Figure B. This shows a top-heavy posture, to much reliance on upper body strength, and the breath is too high up in the chest.

Figure C. This shows a break in the posture, this can be caused by over-reliance on strong muscle group or bad posture from an injury. These types of issues can be annoyingly difficult to reverse and can really hold back your progress in developing internal power.

The Practice Methods:

Shifu Chao’s break down of important standing points for the lower body:

  1. Start from the ground up, nail the inside of your foot to the ground near the big toe, don’t put the weight on the outside of the foot or the heel. Later you will develop the connection to find the Yong Quan point.
  2. Next, learn to connect this weighted toe point with your knee, mostly the muscles around the knee, especially the muscle above the kneecap on the inside of the leg. The calf muscles should burn if you’re hitting this correctly.
  3. When you have that connection you can move on to the Kua. Shifu Chao teaches that the Kua begins halfway up the thigh on the inside of the leg.

The Root

The root is the most important others are built up on top of it. It needs to be stable. Arch the foot so that the body-weight is born by the Yong Quan point or at first the big toe. See the below video for correct alignment.

The Center

The kua starts halfway up the inside of the thigh and includes the hip sockets, the dan tien, ming men and sacrum as well as the muscles. You need to learn control of all of these areas to direct peng jin effectively. This area is why internal martial arts are difficult to master and why it’s easier for most people to get upper body muscular power.

The Top

We use both the chin and the crown point to lengthen the spine from the sacrum up. Shifu Chao often tells new students to think of an African lady that can support a basket on her head. Both the chin and the crown point can be used to pull the whole posture into alignment.

Try it out

Shifu Chao refers to these methods as the weightlifting of internal martial arts. Once you begin to understand peng jin, and later peng duan jin, Bagua Zhang, Yi Chuan, Xing Yi Chuan and Tai Chi Chuan will all start to look a lot different to you.

Xin Yi Quan, Xing Yi Quan & Yi Chuan

A quick look at three close relatives in internal Chinese martial arts.

This is a rough outline, I’ll add more to it later:

Eldest brother: XinYi Quan

  • Shanxi
  • Heart and willpower are at the basis of training
  • Difficult – Requires a high level of control/manipulation of the emotional, heart or Xin.


Middle Brother: Xing Yi Quan

  • Hebei
  • Create physical postures or “shapes” that align with attack, defense or health outcomes.
  • Slightly more accessible for most people than it’s siblings, with a deceptively subtle depth.


Youngest brother: Yi Chuan

  • Wang Zhanzhai
  • Fewer forms but very thorough Zhuang Fa, or standing training methods.
  • In one way this art simplifies and streamlines it’s two elder brothers.
  • However it requires a direct and faster than normal connection between one’s intent and the physical reflexes. Difficult to learn. Easy to over do hard muscular force and loose progress.




Xing Yi Hands, Bagua Feet and Yi Chuan Body Mechanics.

The internal martial arts of Xing Yi Chuan (Hsing I) and Ba Gua Zhang (Pakua) compliment each other in many ways. In fact these arts are so compatible that some people think they share a common ancestor art or even that Bagua evolved from Xing Yi. The obvious advantage of cross training in these two styles is that Bagua develops deft footwork while Xing Yi developes very effective hand work. Another advantage to training in Bagua if you are primarily a Xing Yi man is that you can learn more indirect attacks that are helpful against a bigger opponnent. The Xing Yi striking system is very highly developed and enhance any internal martial art especially those with methods based off of the centerline. This works with Bagua because the centerline concept is there, it’s just rotated tot he side of the body.

First generation Ba Gua masters like Chen Ting Hua down to third generation masters like Gao Yi Sheng, studied Xing Yi before, during and/or after they began training in Bagua and this tradition carried on to later generations. The same thing went for several prominent Xing Yi masters such as Li Cun Yi, who also practiced palm changes.

Li Cun Yi’s text, Xingyi Lianhu Quan states:

“For generations neijia quan has been transmitted together with Daoism as a whole piece. Only recently has it been separated into branches, e.g. Xingyi and Bagua…”

The tradition of training these two arts together was kept at the Yi Zong school where Gao style bagua was trained with Hebei, Li Cun Yi style, Xing Yi. In the combined curriculum of these two arts there is enough material to accommodate any training goal; including push hands, health improvement of fighting ability.

Many of us have heard of the bagua and xing yi master who fought each other to a stand still and agreed to teach the arts side by side from then on. This story points to the original reasoning for the combining or cross training of these two styles. The motivation was clearly to create the most effective martial art possible. Also a beggining student can train in Xing Yi first to achieve a good foundation that can be built on later with Bagua or even Tai Chi Chuan.

So while it is true that Xing Yi is generally more linear and Bagua circular, both of these arts begin in stillness with Zhuang Fa practice.

Later on some of the core concepts of these two arts were used in the formulation of Yi Chuan. Many people know that this art came from Xing Yi, but Bagua was an influence on Wang as well. An example of this is the holding down a tiger posture.

Yi Chuan’s standing training is the best way to learn the correct body mechanics for power development in any of the internal martial arts. It’s kind of like learning the grammar of the neijia quan. Very few lineages of the internal arts are still taught with the comprehensive standing practices that Yi Chaun preserved. Shifu Chao’s classes are all based around Zhaung Zhaung practice, only when the student lears to connect the body to move as one unit are the bagu and or xing yi forms taught. Now you could say that in application Yi Chuan doesn’t use the centerline method as much as Xing Yi or Bagua. So when the student learns to use the ground force enough to be very at static pushing, shifu teaches these arts.