The Baduanjin, or Eight Pieces of Brocade, is one of the oldest sets of exercises in continuous use in the world. Although it was finally systematized in its current form in the early 20th century, at least four of the eight exercises are found in a manuscript excavated from the tomb of King Ma of the Western Han dynasty, who ruled around 160 BC. Most of the other exercises can be traced back to the Southern Song dynasty (around 1150 AD) and are traditionally attributed to the famous Chinese general and martial artist, Yue Fei. The exercises are sometimes attributed to two of the "Eight Immortals" (Zhongli Quan and Lu Dongpin) who are said to have been active more than 1,000 years ago.
The Baduanjin is one of many sets of "qigong" exercises in use in China today. Qigong is an art dedicated to improving health and functionality by increasing and improving the circulation of qi, a force that Chinese medical traditions believes circulates throughout the body, traveling through a separate set of channels than the blood and nervous systems, and proving vital energy. Mystically, it is linked to the vital energy that powers the Universe. Thus, in Chinese tradition, qigong exercises are said not only to improve health, but to engender mystical closeness to the Univers e. They are also used by martial artists to strengthen the "neigong" or internal energy, the root of power in the so-called "soft" systems such as Taiji, Bagua, and Xingyi.
Each of the eight exercises focuses on a different part of the body, encouraging the flow of qi through different channels and meridians, and thus providing the practitioner with greater energy and vitality. Accordingly, they are traditionally considered best performed in the morning. In China, millions of people arrive at parks, on sidewalks, vacant lots, or any area where there is a little room to engage in their morning exercises. Baduanjin is often seen along side-or often as a "warm up" before--practice of Taiji.
The meaning of "Eight Pieces of Brocade" is subject to different interpretations. Some authorities say that practicing the exercises provides the body's movement with a silken-like quality. Others suggest they form a complete package of healthy exercises, providing a finished product like a well-made piece of embroidered brocade.
As with the interpretation of the name, there are a wide variety of variants of the names of the individual exercises, the methods of their performance, the order in which they are performed, and the number of repetitions. Some teachers utilize a slow and steady movement, much like Taiji, while others utilize a more rapid and forceful application more like Western callisthenic exercises. Some repeat the movements only 2 times; others up to 16. Some teachers are sticklers for correct form while others consider strict attention to detail less important than simply performing the exercises. Less common today, the Baduanjin in tomes past was sometimes done seated.
In the SKKAA, we generally follow the following rules when practicing the Baduanjin:
◊ Exercises are done slowly, with proper breathing (inhaling while preparing, exhaling while stretching, reaching, or performing the exercise)
◊ Attention to detail is important and senior instructors should assist students in correct placement of hands, correct stances, proper direction of the head, etc.
◊ At camps, when time is limited, we generally practice only twice on each side. An ideal workout would consist of at least four repetitions on each side.
◊ The order of the exercises we follow in the SKKAA is as listed here.
Additional information on the exercises can be obtained from:
Master Lam Kam Chuen, The Way of Energy: Mastering the Chinese Art of Internal Strength with Chi Kung [ed. Qigong] Exercise. New York: Fireside Books, 1991. This book has an excellent section on the preparatory exercise of "Hugging a Tree" or "Holding a Balloon."
Chang, Edward C., trans. Knocking at the Gate of Life and Other Healing Exercises from China: Official Manual of the People's Republic of China. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, 1985.
The Shorin-ryu Karatedo and Kobudo Association of America (SKKAA) utilizes the ancient Chinese art of Taiji Quan as an adjunct to its martial arts training. Taiji Quan-also sometime called simply Taiji, and sometimes spelled Tai Chi, T'ai Chi, or Taichi-contributes several key concepts and a number of highly useful practices that help SKKAA members perform karate and kobudo more efficiently and effectively. Although many of the SKKAA's seniors have been practicing Taiji for 30 years or more, few have received extensive formal training from recognized Taiji masters. As a result, the SKKAA does not award "rank" in Taiji-a concept that is alien to Taiji in any case-but it does formally recognize changing levels of proficiency in order to assist the student in understanding his or her progress and to help instructors gear their teaching toward the individual's level of skill. The SKKAA recognizes the levels of beginner, intermediate, advanced, senior, and instructor, with specific requirements for each level and certification of progress by means of a diploma for advancement from level to level.
Although Taiji claims ancient roots and origins tracing back to the legendary 12th century martial artist and Daoist, Zhang Sanfeng, the art of Taiji as currently practiced in China and around the world is much more recent. There are five major styles of Taiji, all but one of which go back no more than about 150 years. The five major styles are:
* The Chen style was founded by Chen Wangting (1580-1660) and has been passed down through the family through succeeding generations. All other styles ultimately trace back to the Chen style. It is characterized by having a broader scope than other styles (incorporating a number of empty hand forms and weaponry), utilizing a greater combination of hard and fast techniques along with "soft" and slow movements, and a greater emphasis on the martial application of its techniques.
* The Yang style was created by Yang Luchan (1799-1872), a student of the Chen style's 14th generation master, Chen Changxing (1771-1853). (For more information on Yang Luchan, see Christopher M. Clarke, Samurai, Scoundrels, and Saints.) Yang Luchan struck off on his own, modifying what he had learned and passing his interpretation on to two sons, Yang Banhou (1837-1892) and Yang Jianhou (1839-1917). Yang Jianhou's son, Yang Chengfu (1883-1936), was responsible for popularizing Taiji in China, introducing the slow, "soft" form commonly recognized as Taiji and the concept that the art could be practiced for health and mental well-being without concern for its martial applications. Yang style is by far the most widespread today. (For more information on Yang Chengfu and the development of Taiji, see Christopher M. Clarke, Warriors and Wisemen.)
* The Wu or Wu/Hao style was created by Wu Yuxiang (1812-1880) who had trained with Chen Youben, another 14th generation member of the Chen family who taught a different variation of the art than his contemporary, Chen Changxing, the teacher of Yang Luchan. (The "Hao" in the name of the style refers to Hao Weichen (1849-1920), who reformulated the style, and is used to distinguish this branch from the other "Wu" style.) Steeped in philosophy, the Wu/Hao style aims at internal development, using the external movements of Taiji as a means of improving the flow of qi and ensuring balance and harmony. Its movements are smaller and tighter than the expansive Yang style.
* The Wu style of Wu Quanyou (1834-1902) and his son Wu Jianquan (1870-1942) derives from the teachings of Yang Luchan and Yang Banhou, both of whom taught Wu Quanyou. Wu Jianquan became one of China's most famous teachers. He taught smaller movements than the early Yang style, and eliminated all vigorous jumping techniques in favor of a rhythmic, flowing style. This style became especially popular in South China after Wu Jianquan moved to Shanghai in 1928.
* The Sun style was created by Sun Litang (1861-1932) who was already a master of Xingyi Quan and Bagua Quan-both "soft," "internal" martial arts-before training with Hao Weichen in Wu-style Taiji. Considered the most subtle style, it is characterized by high stances, small circular movements, and a focus on the use of the mind and qi, rather than strength.
The SKKAA practices forms and techniques derived from the Yang style. The practice of Taiji helps improve balance and concentration, reduces stress, and provides an opportunity for moving meditation. Hidden within its techniques, however, are both principles that make for more efficient and effective empty hand and weaponry techniques, and self-defense applications. The most important principles that carry over from Taiji to Shorin-ryu are relaxation, sinking of the weight, involvement of the entire body in a sequential unfolding of power from the stance through the waist to the hand or foot, yielding, and avoidance of "dead" stances from which movement and reaction are impeded. These principles are practiced in two forms-the mainland standard short form and the form created by Master Lee Ying-arng-in two-person exercises such as "pushing hands" (tuishou), and in self-defense applications.
Early Taiji Quan utilized many weapons. Today, only two remain common: the jian (straight sword) and dao (broadsword). Some schools also still teach the qiang (spear) and kun (staff).
Note on terminology
Taiji in Chinese means the "Grand Ultimate" and refers to the ancient Daoist philosophical concept of the harmony of yin and yang, or the harmony of opposites (hard and soft, male and female, etc.). Many people today, especially those who do not practice its martial applications, refer to the art simply as "Taiji." Taiji Quan means "Grand Ultimate Fist" or "Taiji Boxing," and suggests the incorporation of the "harmony of opposites" is the core principle of a martial art with fighting applicability. The "Grand Ultimate," or Taiji, is symbolized by the well-known "yin-yang" symbol.
Twisting the waist
Stretching over the leg
Snake creeps down
Standing pull (short)
Standing pull (long) Moving
Walking push - on one side
Walking pull - on one side
Walking push - alternating sides
Walking pull - alternating sides
Grasp bird's tail
Lift hands (or Play Chinese guitar)
Eagle spreads wings (or double whip)
Deflect downward, parry, punch
Lift hands, elbow, shoulder
Sea bottom needle, Fan through back
Repulse the monkey
Wave hands like clouds
Brush knee, twist step Stationary
Carry tiger to the mountain