Origin of Ba Duan Jin - One Set of Health Qigong

The word “Ba”(八) in Ba Duan Jin does not simply stand for the number of the segments, sections or the eight movements, but mean that in the practice of Ba Duan Jin, there are various elements which are inter-restricted and inter-related and revolve circularly. As the “Guidance of Ba Duan Jin” in Eight Letters on how to Comply with the Health Preserving and Care (《遵生八笺》)written by Gao Lian in Ming Dynasty says, “Practicing Ba Duan Jin in the early morning will help you absorb the essence of the Heaven and the Earth. It is good for your health for such kind of repeat practice is like the cyclic Eight Diagrams”. The Chinese character “Jin” (锦) consists of two radicals------“gold” (金)and “silk”(帛) which can show its refinement and elegance. In addition, the character “Jin” also means the compilation of all the single postures and that BaDuan Jin contains a complete set of way for maintaining good health which is similar to the smoothness and incessancy of silk floss.

The name of Ba Duan Jin first appeared in a magnificent personal monograph ------Yi Jian Zhi (《夷坚志》) written by Hong Mai in the Southern Son Dynasty------“In the seventh year of Zhenghe, Li Siju was appointed as a government official who was responsible for recoding the emperor’s statements and actions. He always tried to stand and sit at mid-night, adjusting breath and having massage and such practice was called Ba Duan Jin.” The record shows that Ba Duan Jin was already popular in the Northern Song Dynasty and it could be practiced either in standing or in sitting at that time.

As the standing style is much easier for practicing, it is widespread. The book 《Health Qigong•Ba Duan Jin》re-arrangedand modified the information on 《The Standing Style of Ba Duan Jin》, so it will focus on the analysis and introduction of the origin and other relevant information of Ba Duan Jin.

The earliest record of the standing style in the documents about health preservation is found in the 35th volume of Taoism Essence (《道枢》)written by Zeng Zao in the Southern Song Dynasty——“Uplifting the hands with palms up to regulate the Sanjiao; opening bow from left to right as shooting vulture; holding the two arms separately to harmonize the spleen and stomach; looking repeatedly towards both the left and right side to ease illness and strain ; stooping down to harmonize the internal five organs (heart, liver, spleen, lungs and kidneys); swallowing saliva and breathing in while rolling the fingers; moving the body like an eel to relieve stress; touching the feet with the hands to strengthen the waist.”But there was not a fixed name like Ba Duan Jin and all the postures were not compiled into a pithy formula. It was named as “Relaxing Method of Taoist Lu” in a folk encyclopedia (《事林广记》) written by Chen Yuanliang in the Southern Song Dynasty and the content was a pithy formula. Ba Duan Jin developed greatly during the Ming and Qing Dynasty and was spreaded widely. At the end of Qing Dynasty, the name------ Ba Duan Jin first appeared in the book New Method with Illustration for Maintaining Health------Ba Duan Jin (《新出保身图说•八段锦》). With elaborate illustration, the complete set of movements was formed. The formula was: “Uplifting the Hands with Palms Up to Regulate the Sanjiao; Opening Bow from Left to Right as Shooting Vulture; Holding One Arm Aloft to Regulate the Functions of the Spleen and Stomach; Looking Backwards to Ease Illness and Strain; Swinging the Head and Moving the Body to Relieve Stress; Raising and Lowering the Heels to Cure Diseases; Thrusting the Fists and Making the Eyes Glare to Enhance Strength; Moving the Hands down the Back and Legs and Touching the Feet to Strengthen the Kidneys”. Since then, the movements of Ba Duan Jin were fixed.

During the process of popularizing, Ba Duan Jin has developed into many schools. For example, in the Qing Dynasty, Lou Jiedescribed the standing style as “Holding the hands high and posing as an opening bow from left to right; holding one arm in strength and swing to semi-shoulder like using sword; arresting and releasing quickly like monkey and being august like ferocious tiger; finishing all movements quickly and lightly as swallow. Besides, there are Illustration of extra-form of Yi Jin Jing for strengthen fitness (《易筋经外经图说•外壮练力奇验图》) (Qing Dynasty, Anonymous), Gymnastic illustration of BaDuan Jin (12- movements) (《八段锦体操图(12式)》) and so on. Such kinds of Ba Duan Jin all derived from Buddhism and the monks at that time took it as the way to keep healthy and improve martial art skills.

Generally speaking, there are mainly two schools practicing Ba Duan Jin------the South School and the North School. Featuring as gentle movements, the South School which was said to be handed down by Liang Shichang mainly employs standing style. With lots of horse riding stance, the masculine movements which were said to be created by Yue Fei are the characteristic of the North School. Studies of the relevant literature and movements show that the South School and the North School stem from the same origin because there is no documented evidence about the legendary founder of the two schools.

There is no final conclusion about who founded Ba Duan Jin at what time. However, at least four postures showed in the pictures of the Guidance Map which were unearthed in No.3 tomb of the Western Han Dynasty at Mawangdui (Hunan province) are similar to the postures of Ba Duan Jin, such as “Holding One Arm Aloft to Regulate the Functions of the Spleen and Stomach”, “Moving the Hands down the Back and Legs and Touching the Feet to Strengthen the Kidneys”, “Opening Bow from Left to Right as Shooting Vulture” and “Raising and Lowering the Heels to Cure Diseases”. In addition, the similar postures can also be found in The Record of Methods for Keeping Healthy and Prolonging Life (《养性延命录》)edited by Tao Hongjing in Northern and Southern Dynasties. For instance, “swing left to right as wolf”, “raising and lowering the heels for three times”, “posing the left and right hand as holding a bow”, “raising one arm” and “thrusting fists of the two hands” are respectively similar to “Looking Backwards to Ease Illness and Strain”, “Raising and Lowering the Heels to Cure Diseases”, “Opening Bow from Left to Right as Shooting Vulture”, “Holding One Arm Aloft to Regulate the Functions of the Spleen and Stomach” and “Thrusting the Fists and Making the Eyes Glare to Enhance Strength” in Ba Duan Jin. Those similarities prove that there is a definite relationship among Ba Duan Jin, Guidance Map and the Record of Methods for Keeping Healthy and Prolonging Life.

At the late 50’s of the 20th century, the People’s Sports Press published successively series of book about Ba Duan Jin written by Tang Hao, Ma Fengge and etc. and then organized several groups of professional editors to modify and adapt the traditional Ba Duan Jin. The government attaches great importance to Ba Duan Jin and that is why there are more and more people practicing it. As a national traditional sports event, Ba Duan Jin began to be taken as a course in colleges and institutions at the late 70’s and early 80’s of the 20th century. All of these greatly promoted the development of the theories of Ba Duan Jin and enriched its connotation.

The following basic conceptions can be concluded through careful reference to and textual research of abundant historical literature and materials:

•Traditional Ba Duan Jin should be originated at the time before the Song Dynasty and developed greatly in the Ming and Qing Dynasty.

•There is not any final conclusion about the founder of the traditional Ba Duan Jin, but it can be concluded that Ba Duan Jin is the intellectual property accumulated by generations of experts in health preservation and its practitioners.

Ba Duan Jin was a kind of guided skill which focused on body movements before the end of the Qing Dynasty.

•Although there are different schools such as the South School and the North School and different ways for practicing, they all derived from the same origin and influence each other during the developing process and there is a trend of assimilation for the different schools.

(Translated by Wang Suyan