If you go into a Chinese arts and crafts shop, take a look at the rows of little statues and porcelain figurines. You will find the traditional gods of happiness and good fortune. You will almost certainly find the beautiful goddess of mercy and compassion, Kwan Yin. Among the many figures you may also come across a smiling Buddha with a little fat belly (see the photograph on page 62). He is standing up with his arms stretched over his head. His palms press against the sky and his fingers face inward to meet over his head. He is performing the opening exercise of Ba Duan Jin, as anybody acquainted with these matters will instantly recognize.
Like all popular traditions in any culture, the origins of these exercises are shrouded in myth and legend. Some say the exercises began several thousand years ago. There are historical records of similar types of exercise dating back 4000 years to the time of the Yao settlements, when regulated body exercises and special breathing techniques were said to be used to cure disease. The most recent evidence of the long history of these movements comes from a silk book unearthed in 1979, known as the Dao Ying Xing Qi Fa (Method of Inducing Freeflow of Chi). The book dates from the Western Han dynasty, which ran from 206BC to AD24, and bears 44 drawings of men and women in exercise positions resembling those in this chapter.
Whatever the truth of the very ancient history of these exercises, it is known that the famous General Yeuh Fei who lived during the Southern Sung dynasty (AD 1177-1279) developed^ set of 12 fundamental exercises to train his army. These he later simplified to eight — Ba Duan Jin. The fact that he and his army were never defeated in battle was attributed to this training.
To this day, visitors to the famous Shaolin Temple in Henan, China, will see statues of monks performing Ba Duan Jin. The monks themselves use this system as part of their daily training.
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