Ba Duan Jin – 8 Strands of the Brocade – 八段錦 Beginners Level Qi Gong

The “Ba Duan Jin (八段錦)” or “Eight Strands of the Brocade” is one of the most famous sets of Qi Gong.  Legend has it they were handed down by Lu Dongbin (born 796), who became one of the Eight Immortals.  Lu is remembered as a poet, sword master, scholar, philosopher, philanderer and drinker, and not necessarily in that order.

The exact exercises vary greatly – I have learnt five variations over my years of study, all with similarities, but all quite different and distinct – some focussing more on movement, some more on massage and meditation.  It is a health promoting set – there are no martial application to any of the moves (perhaps explaining the variation, with no “nuts and bolts” to return to)In fact, according to Dan Docherty, the title Ba Duan Jin is a Chinese play on words – the same sounds with different characters could mean “mend broken sinews”, suggesting its original use.

There are 8 exercises, each performed 8 times, the whole set taking about 20 minutes to complete.  I teach them to new students, as a pathway to learning more vigorous and demanding Nei Gong (internal work) later on.  They can even be performed sitting – a Tai Chi younger brother has been teaching this set seated at an old peoples home.  For a more thorough description of a very similar set, see the excellent book “The Way of Energy” by Lam Kam Chuen.

The following demonstration and description is a memory aid for students, and not a “do it yourself” guide – do not attempt this Qi Gong without consulting a qualified instructor. 

The first four exercises are performed from the “Wood” standing meditation position (Zhan Zhuang – standing with your arm in a relaxed shoulder-height circle), the second four from a neutral “Wu Ji” position (with arms loosely at the sides).

1. Supporting the Heavens – Strengthens Qi (Spleen, Lung, Kidney)
1. Breath In – hands just above head, palms up, fingers pointing towards each other.
2. Breath Out – straighten and stretch arms and legs, fingers remain palm up pointing towards each other.
If balance is good, come up onto toes when pushing upwards.  This exercise often has the fingers linked together as they press upwards, parting and travelling down the side of the body as you sink.

2. Drawing a Bow to Shoot the Eagle (or Hawk) – Opens the Chest, Strengthens the Zong Qi (Circulation)
1. Breath In – Turn waist to the right, crossing forearms (left above) and opening between shoulder blades.
2. Breath Out – Sink and Open the arms as if drawing back a bow string – first 2 fingers of right hand pointing upwards, first 2 fingers of left hand as if pulling a bow string – opening the chest.
3. Breath In – return to wood position
4. Breath Out – no movement, relax
Repeat on the other side, 4 on each side.  A common variation is for the hands to be in loose fists, with the thumbs pointing upwards.
3. Stamping a Seal on Heaven and Earth – Strengthens Digestion/Lymphatics, Harmonises Qi
1. Breath In – left hand to beside left ear, palm up and fingers pointing backwards; right hand to under right armpit, palm down and fingers pointing forwards
2. Breath Out – straighten legs, stretch left arm up and right arm down “stamping the seal on heaven and earth”.
3. Breath In – return to wood position
4. Breath Out – no movement, relax
Repeat on the other side, 4 on each side
4. Cow Gazing at the Moon – Strengthens the Back/Kidneys, Calms the Heart/Nerves
1. Breath In – turn waist to left, maintaining wood position in arms
2. Breath Out – sink into the stance, push upwards and outwards with the palms.
3. Breath In – return to wood position
4. Breath Out – no movement, relax.  A common variation is with hands on the knees, fingers pointing inwards.  Arch your back as you breath in, then look over your shoulder at your buttocks as you breath out, gently stretching your back (alternating sides).

5. Lowering Head and Hips (Sway Head and Shake Tail) – Clears Heat from the Heart to Calm the Spirit
1. Breath In – lift left arm laterally palm up, arm straight, following the movement with your eyes until it is straight above your head
2. Breath out – lean to the right, opening the left ribs, letting the arm increase the stretch to the right; bring the weight into the left leg, and come onto the ball of the right leg.
3. Breath in – straighten the body, and allow the left arm to return to horizontal, lateral to the body; follow movement with your eyes.
4. Breath out – arm returns to water position.
Repeat on the other side, 4 on each side.  This is usually performed in a narrow stance.
6. Circling the Arms – Strengthens Back and Legs, Strengthen the Kidneys/Loins
1. Breath in – arms rise palms up at the sides of the body; legs straighten.
2. Breath out – sink into the stance, arms circle forwards until palms are pushing down into the ground.
3. Breath in – straighten the legs; arms circle behind the back, palms facing forwards.
Repeat 2 and 3, 8 times, return to water position.  This is usually performed in a deep horse-riding stance, and if flexibility allows can be performed down into a deep squat.
7. Clenching Fists and Glaring Fiercly – Increases Strength and Focus
1. Breath in – arms rise palm up in front of the body; once at shoulder height pull them into your hips, making a fist with the thumb inside the fist.
2. Breath out – punch forwards with your right fist, ending with knuckles facing upwards. As you reach the extreme of the punch simultaneously clench your teech, squeeze your thumb inside your fist, glare with your eyes, and close your lower gate (pelvic floor exercise).
3. Breath in – open the right fist and turn it palm up as it returns to the hip, ending in a fist with thumb inside at the hip.
4. Breath out – repeat 2 with left hand.
Complete 8 punches, and return to water position.

8. Shaking the Body/Bouncing on the Toes – Strengthens the Wei Qi (Immune System), Smooths the Qi
1. Place the backs of your hands in the kidney area of your lower back.
2. Breath in – come up onto your toes, massaging your back upwards with the backs of your hands until you hit the ribcage.
3. Breath out – sink, then shake the body by lowering and raising your legs allowing the backs of the hands to massage the whole lower back area as you shake up and down; breath out through your mouth.
Repeat 2 and 3 –  8 times.


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