Breath leaves my lungs in a slow, measured fashion; matching the duration of each movement of my arms. My hands feel warm, the result of increased blood flow in response to mind’s following both breath and movement. My eyes either follow the movement of my hands or gaze into the distance; facilitating my ability to concentrate in an even, unbroken fashion.
I am performing the Baduanjin, or Eight Silken Movements. It was the one of the first Qigong I learned as a youth. Qigong is the combined focus of mind, breath and sometimes motion that exercises the body’s Qi or bioenergy. Qi is the focus of treatment modalities such as acupuncture, acupressure and moxibustion. One exercises and preserves Qi for a long and healthy life and for greater effectiveness in martial arts.
There are many legendary attributions as to who created this Qigong. However, as best historians can tell, the Baduanjin dates back to the Southern Song Dynasty, (960-1279). During that period, there was a general, Yue Fei, (1103-1142) who created the Qigong in response to the needs of his troops.
Yue Fei was a brilliant young general. He fought in the Jin-Song wars of his time. It was a brutal period of history. Armies consisted of some trained soldiers but also many untrained conscripts, who were brought in to simply increase numbers. Generals were largely unconcerned about much beyond providing enough care to keep these less-valuable troops functional.
In contrast, Yue Fei made certain that all troops under his command were well-trained and maintained. He is said to have held that one superior soldier counted for more than one hundred inferior ones. He even went as far as to invite scholars to come to his camp and tell classic tales of bravery or chivalry to his troops to keep their morale high.
Once Yue Fei had the troops of two other generals transferred to his command to bolster his numbers. He had been very effective in battle and the Emperor felt with greater numbers his success would be even better. However, when Yue Fei saw the condition of the troops that had been transferred by the other generals, he understood that they did not mean him well. The troops were either too old, infirm or completely inexperienced and out of shape. He knew he had to act quickly to avoid calamity in the next battle.
First, he had all the soldiers evaluated; those who were judged beyond training were allowed to return to their homes. Next, he began training the ones left and seeing to their well-being. To help them develop, he created exercise regimens and military training drills. Among the exercises, he created a special Qigong to help them preserve their health and vitality throughout the training period. This was the origin of the Baduanjin.
It is said that, after the training period was concluded, the new troops were indistinguishable from his veteran soldiers. Yue Fei is remembered by the Chinese as a supremely loyal and honorable general.
Today the Baduanjin is often taught as a basic Qigong. It is, unarguably, not as sophisticated as other Qigongs I have learned. It was, as stated, a Qigong for those totally unaccustomed to such practice. But the fact that it has endured through hundreds of years attests strongly as to its efficacy. As I perform the Qigong Yue Fei created so long ago, I am grateful to have an artifact from such a man as him.
These glimpses into history and philosophy help provide insight, inspiration, and motivation to anyone studying martial arts. A little practice at home goes a long way to advance ones skills.
Thank you for your kind comments. We are very fortunate in that Kung-Fu has a soul. To study it as intended is to encounter profound individuals in challenging circumstances who responded with tenacity, intelligence and creativity. It is a privilege to share.