The merging of martial arts with health exercise goes back into some of the earliest written records of martial arts in China. Ta Mo, briefly discussed in Chapter Two, came to China from India in the sixth century, is credited with writing a martial arts and health text and the founding of the Buddhist Shaolin temple. As discussed in Chapter Two and Three, starting during the period of the Boxer Rebellion at the turn of the century, the study of qi gong and Taoist alchemy was increasingly linked to martial arts practice. For a common boxer, the main purpose of training was to become impervious to attack and to enhance one's offensive ability. This genre of boxer combined qi gong practices with magic amulates, believing that these additions would help protect him. The boxer period hailed a grassroots movement to throw out the foreigners and it was during the same period select intellectuals became involved with martial art study. For many of these intellectuals their interest was deeper than that of the common boxer. To perfect their arts, they included spiritual and health interests. Taoist yoga and Taoist alchemy were the roots of this knowledge. This discipline of
Dave Phelps practicing Ba Gua at the ruins of the Great Wall.
postures, movements, and special exercises (such as minute stretching of the spine and visceral organ inner massage) concerned itself with developing and moving internal energy and with the transformation of the body.
Breath-control techniques were also important to Taoist yogic alchemy, which predate the terms qi gong and kung fu. These have always been associated with the development of special powers. Arthur Waley described this phenomenon of the Taoists and the powers attributed to the skill known as "womb breathing" as the essence of breath control.
He who has mastered it can cure every disease, expose himself with immunity to epidemics, charm snakes and tigers, stop wounds from bleeding, stay under the water or walk on it, stop hunger or thirst, and increase his own life span to become a chen ren or Purified One.66
Ba Gua is a Taoist yogic and martial art involving the use of Taoist transformational exercises and special breathing. Originating from mountain-dwellers seeking health and immortality, today Ba Gua is primarily an art of health. Ba Gua qi gong, the name for Ba Gua exercises that promote health and longevity exercises, is the main concern of this chapter.
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