The use of calisthenics, stretching, and breathing exercises to maintain good health, fight disease, and enhance the quality of life is of great antiquity. This type of physical activity has a long documented history in both India and China. Artwork, medical manuals, folklore, treatises, scriptures and reports on the subject go back over 4,000 years. Likewise, military physical conditioning techniques, military codes of conduct, and training with military weapons (bow, sword, staff, saber, knife, spear, etc.) are of comparable antiquity.
Over many centuries in China, traditional medical remedies (e.g., herbs, massage, diet, heat, acupuncture, exercise routines, etc.) were combined with esoteric and magical Taoist practices. In addition, trade and cultural exchanges between India, Tibet and China transferred Buddhist theory and practices, Tantra,
Yoga, Dao-yin, medicinal herbs, medical techniques, and martial arts training techniques between the three regions. Indeed, one could say that yoga is an Indian style of qigong, or that qigong is a Chinese style of yoga - both statements, in my opinion, are true. Both emphasize the underlying unity of the individual and the cosmos, living in harmony with the true Way or Tao, giving up selfish concerns, solitary retreats, avoiding violent interference with others, natural and compassionate living, seeking a higher understanding or enlightenment, living a healthy lifestyle, storing and circulating energy (prana, qi), practicing meditation, and seeking mystical insights. These methods and practices were explored and adapted in China thousands of years to help maintain good health, to prevent and cure diseases, to restore vitality, to calm the mind, and to enhance the spirit of the patient or practitioner. Seeking ways to enjoy a long, healthy, energetic, ethical and enchanted life were, of course, of widespread and perennial interest.
Interesting theories abound about the origin and development of the Eight Section Brocade. It is likely that ancient dances, military drills and exercises, shamanistic rituals, and Taoist practices were all sources for the specific and formal movement routines of Dao-yin or Qigong. Literature that talks about such health and fitness exercise postures or routines, with some movements quite similar to movements in the Eight
Section Brocade, goes back nearly 2,150 years.
In 1973, archeologists in China excavated the tomb of king Ma who lived in the Western Han Dynasty
(206 BC - 24 AD). In this tomb at Mawangdui, on the outskirts of the city of Changsha in Hunan Province, they discovered medical manuals, compilations, and a silk scroll on which were drawn 44 humans in various poses or postures. Under each pose, or Dao-yin diagram, was a caption with the name of an animal or the name of the disease that the posture might help cure. A number of the postures in the Dao-yin Tu closely resemble some in the Eight Section Brocade (The Wonders ofQigong, 1985, pp. 13-17).
Making beneficial exercises interesting and enjoyable has always been a challenge to creative people.
Hua T'o (110-207 CE) is one of the famous physicians of the Han Dynasty. In The History of the Later Han, Hua T'o wrote:
"Man's body must have exercise, but it should never be done to the point of exhaustion. By moving about briskly, digestion is improved, the blood vessels are opened, and illnesses are prevented.
It is like a used doorstep which never rots. As far as Tao Yin (bending and stretching exercises) is concerned, we have the bear's neck, the crane's twist, and swaying the waist and moving the joints to promote long life. Now I have created the art called the Frolics of the Five Animals:
the Tiger, the Deer, the Bear, the Monkey, and the Crane. It eliminates sickness, benefits the legs, and is also a form of Tao Yin. If you feel out of sorts, just practice one of my Frolics. A gentle sweat will exude, the complexion will become rosy; the body will feel light and you will want to eat."
- From: Drawing Silk: A Training Manual for T'ai Chi, p. 6.
One tradition is that the Buddhist teacher, Bodhidharma (448-527 CE), a famous Grand Master of Chan (Zen), introduced a set of 18 exercises to the Buddhist monks at the Shaolin Temple. These are known as the
Eighteen Hands of the Lohan. This Shaolin Lohan Qigong (i.e., the art of the breath of the enlightened ones),
"is an internal set of exercises for cultivating the "three treasures" of qi (vital energy), jing (essence), and shen (spirit)," according to Howard Choy. The Kung Fu master, Sifu Wong KiewKit, referring to the Shaolin Wahnam style, says "the first eight Lohan Hands are the same as the eight exercises in a famous set of chi kung exercises called the Eight Pieces of Brocade." There are numerous versions, seated and standing, of Bodhiidharma's exercise sets - including the related "Tendon-Changing and
Marrow-Washing" qigong set. Some versions of the 18 Lohan (Luohan) Hands have up to four levels, and scores of movement forms for qigong and martial purposes.
Professor Wang Jiafu has traced the history of Dao-yin fitness exercises, and states "Books and diagrams about daoyin appeared in growing numbers in the Western Jin Dynasty (266-316 AD). By the time of the
Sui and Tang dynasties (581-907 AD) daoyin had branched out into other forms of fitness exercises, such as the popular baduanjin." (Wonders ofQigong, p.13).
("The Ten Treatises on Restoring the Original Vitality"), attributes the development of the Eight Section
Brocade to one of the legendary Eight Immortals of Chinese folklore, Chong Li-quan. The respected qigong and Chinese scholar, Stuart Alve Olson, says the seated Eight Section Brocade form was created by
T'ao Hung-ching, a Taoist adept living in the fifth century CE, and further developed by the Taoist sage
Chen Tuan (Chen Hsi-yi, Hsi-yi) living in the tenth century CE.
During the period of 800 - 1200 CE, variations of these exercises were done in Wudang Mountain Daoist
Temples for health and meditation purposes, and some were used as warm up exercises by monks training at the Shaolin Temple in hard style martial arts. One can also see some movements and postures in the Five Animal Frolics that are comparable to the Eight Treasures. Medical doctors throughout China prescribed specific exercises to help prevent or cure various illnesses, along with the other curative methods of traditional Chinese medicine. Many of these health exercise practices continue to this day, and the Eight Treasures are most often considered a Wai Dan medical qigong exercise set.
During the Southern Sung Dynasty in China (1177 - 1279 A.D.), the famous General Yeuh Fei developed a set of twelve exercises that were used to train his troops, and some contend they were one source of an Eight Section Brocade style. General Yeuh Fei is also credited with developing the Hsing I internal martial arts style. At first, there were twelve movements in this exercise set, all done in a vigorous manner, and done with the weight of military equipment on the body.
In more recent centuries, eight of the exercises, done with far less speed and force, became widely used as a warm-up exercise set in many soft style internal martial arts (i.e., Taijiquan, Bagua, Hsing I), and in the scores of Chi Kung (Qigong) practice routines; and, became widely known as the Eight Section Brocade or Eight Treasures Exercises. The soft qigong style (Rou Gong) of the Eight Section Brocade, emphasizing
I have been taught this exercise set by six different t'ai chi ch'uan and/or qigong instructors. Some instructors have done the movements very slowly, very deliberately, only two times, and with a minimum of muscular effort. Some teachers did the movements at a moderate pace, each movement was done 8 to16 times, and the degree of exertion was moderate to demanding. Some encouraged low horse stances, others used higher shoulder width stances. Some were precise about repetitions, others not. There were slight to significant variations in the style and form of the movements depending upon the speed with which they were done, in the order of the movements, and in the breathing patterns. All but one instructor taught us to do the movements in a standing position; thus, there is both a Wen or slow, soft and seated style; and, a
Wu or active, standing style of the Ba Duan Jin. One instructor emphasized yin-yang balance, meditation, opening qi channels, circulating the qi, visualizations, and other esoteric and arcane aspects of Southern Complete
Reality Taoism. The literature on the subject, and videotaped lessons, also reflect the different styles, goals, intensity, and qigong objectives used in performing this very popular chi kung set.
I enjoy doing the movements of the Eight Section Brocade at a moderate pace, doing up to 6 repetitions of each movement, and using the breathing patterns and the order of the movements as presented below.
I use the set for warming up my body before T'ai Chi Ch'uan practice or during walking. I tend to do the set in a relaxed and easy manner, and primarily for stretching. Occasionally, I do the Eight Treasures very slowly, with emphasis placed on breathing, energy movement and gathering, and for meditation. What is most important is 1) doing the entire set once each day, and 2) using a pace and doing a number of repetitions that are suitable to your current level of physical conditioning and the overall state of your health, and 3) recognizing the limitations of any exercise regime.
When done slowly, deliberately, and with full concentration on Yi guiding Chi (mind-intent guiding internal energy), the Eight Section Brocade is one of scores of exercise sets in the Chi Kung family. "Ch'i" or "Qi"
is breath, energy, vital force, air, or life power; and, there are different types of Ch'i. The Sanskrit word
'Prana' and the Japanese word 'Ki' are very similar in meaning to 'Qi.' The word "Kung"
or Gong implies a regular, systematic, intense, long term, and dedicated training regiment. Therefore, "Ch'i Kung"
or "Qigong" is a long term training program to circulate, cultivate, regulate, enhance, and guide vital internal energies to achieve health, vitality, and spiritual awareness. Prior to the 20th century, qigong was referred to as "Dao-yin."
In traditional Taoist practices, the teachers speak about the need to do this exercise routine for a minimum of 100 days before any benefits become noticeable. The cultivation of the "Dan Tien' or "Field of Elixir", like the cultivation of any garden or field, requires work (Kung) over an extended period of time before the crop grows to harvest size. The long term cultivation of the "Field of Elixir" demands that we continue these qigong exercises for many years to assure longevity and to aim towards attaining the special powers of a chen-jen or "realized being." The ancients Taoists said,
"Only after a hundred days of concentrated work is the light real; Only then is it the fire of spirit. To set up the Foundation requires a hundred days." - The Secret of the Golden Flower, Translated by Thomas Cleary, p.
All Ch'i Kung (Qigong) exercises are intended to improve health, increase energy, revitalize the body and mind, prevent or control disease, tone the internal organs, improve balance, reduce stress, boost the immune system, remove toxins, tone the muscles and tendons, uplift mood, contribute to longevity, and provide an integrated mind-body practice leading towards enlightenment and harmony with the Tao.
Take some confidence in this promise, "Every person who uses Qi cultivation methods consistently experiences some form of health improvement and personal access to greater energy and power"
(Roger Jahnke, OMD, The Healing Promise of Qi, 2002, p. 31).
Some experts contend that the Eight Section Brocade (ESB) is not a Qigong (Ch'i Kung) exercise set. They argue that the set is a Shaolin martial arts warm up and stretching exercise set. The movements can be done without the mental (Mind=Yi) emphasis being placed on guiding and moving the Ch'i in the body, unblocking Ch'i channels, circulating the Ch'i around the Microcosmic Orbit, storing Ch'i, converting Ch'i to Jing, etc. When the
Eight Treasures movements are done at a faster pace or with more muscular emphasis, it is not always possible to concentrate on Yi guiding Ch'i or other facets of serious Ch'i Kung training. Nevertheless, many of the physical and psychological benefits derived from using the Eight Treasures as a Ch'i Kung exercise routine will also be obtained if the Eight Treasures are practiced daily and solely as a martial arts warm up and stretching exercise set. If Ch'i is a reality, it must function without our conscious attention; but, we cannot gain additional benefit or advantage from Qi management arts (i.e., discovering, gathering, circulating, purifying, directing, conserving, storing, transforming, dissolving, or transmitting Qi [Jahnke 2002: 80])
in our martial arts practice or health regimen without disciplined conscious attention.
Most people will enjoy and benefit greatly from doing the Eight Section Brocade in a relaxed manner. The use of intense muscular contractions, excessive stretching, or aggressive movements are counterproductive.
Relax, breathe naturally and fully, move slowly, sink into the earth, become like freely moving water, be soft, be gentle. Don't be attached to your ordinary mind of free associations, worries, and concerns - observe them and then release them into nothingness. Free your mind of mundane concerns and cultivate calmness, inner peace, and not thinking. Allow yourself to feel your body and take pleasure from it during the movements.
Be fully aware of your surroundings through all of your senses. Listen to your body. Relax and enjoy yourself.
Cultivate a detached, open, and tranquil consciousness. Unburden your body-mind of anxieties and tensions and fully relax. All of these aims can be summarized by the term "Sung." Sung denotes relaxation, alertness, looseness, openness, sensitivity, awareness, calmness, and a tranquil mind.
Many additional ideas, quotations, references, notes, and reflections regarding the concepts and movements of the Eight Section Brocade Qigong and stretching set are to be found below in the "Comments" section for each movement.
"Breathing in and out in various manners, spitting out the old and taking in the new, walking like a bear and stretching their neck like a bird to achieve longevity - this is what such practitioners of Dao-yin, cultivators of the body and all those searching for long life like Ancestor Peng, enjoy."
Chuang-tzu, Chapter 15, circa 300 BCE.
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