Rochester Chen Style Taijiquan

Ba Duan Jin (Eight Brocade)

The eight brocade is one of the most widely practiced conditioning exercise sets in China. Its long existence has resulted in its adoption by a diverse collection of practitioners (young, old, healthy, infirmed, martial artists, ...), which has lead to numerous variations.

  1. Push up the heavens to regulate the triple warmers
  2. Draw bow to shoot vulture
  3. Raise single arm to regular spleen and stomach
  4. Turning to tonify nervous system
  5. Shake head and wag tail
  6. Touch toes to reinforce kidneys
  7. Clench fists and look angry to build up strength
  8. Jolt body to keep away illness

Coordination

Most of the exercises follow a coordination of progressive extension from the ground, and relaxation back to the ground

- Toes lightly grip with a suction feeling
- Body comes forward slightly activate the calves
- Use a feeling of drawing up to the buttocks
- Lightly tuck the buttocks up toward the dan tien
- Elongate the torso
- Stretch up the back, shoulders, arms
- Release the stretch using the opposite sequence

Breath

There are many possible complex breathing patterns. The pattern that we use has the following principles:

- Inhale on stretch for most of the exercises
- Exhale on release
- Feeling the breathe drawing up the body in coordination with the stretch.
- On the exhale, let all tension and fullness flow down to the dan tien and then to the feet
- To ensure that you are not building up pressure in the body, let the exhale be longer than the inhale. There can be a soft, nature pause at the end of the exhale. That pause will start a reflex for the next inhale, rather than having it start with a conscious effort.
- Note: “Touch toes” has opposite breath

High peaks / Low Valleys (Yin/Yang)

One key aspect of this qigong set is the progressive stretch and progressive relaxation. Similar sequential methods are found in many qigong, relaxation and body awareness arts. The stretch and fullness is intended to be ordered and expressed completely. The relaxation is also ordered and felt deeply. This full alternation between yin and yang is sometimes stated as “high peaks, low valleys.” This cycle is intended to smooth the flow of qi throughout the body. At a more tangible level, you become aware of your relaxation and tension, you promote the flow of fluids and achieve a calm mind.

CAUTION

Several of these exercises are usually taught with cautions for people with high blood pressure. In particular, the bent-over exercises and any strong inhales are usually not taught to people with high blood pressure. The instructors at Rochester Chen Taijiquan do not have medical training. You and your physician should make the decision on the suitability of these exercises for you.

The description of the health benefits given with each exercise below comes from books and traditional writing and teaching on this exercises set. These descriptions do not come from medical and scientific authorities.

Brief description of the exercises

1. Prop (push) up the heavens to regulate the triple burner

- Primary Purpose: Stretching of the abdominal region aids in regulating qi for (1) respiration, (2) digestion, (3) elimination. Straightens and strengthens back. Stretching torso and back is preparation for following exercises.

- Stance: Narrow horse stance, standing up

- Gaze: Generally toward hands. Looking upward aids in stretching the triple warmer.

- Breath: Inhale on stretch, exhale on relax

- Fingers interlaced, palms push up overhead

- Important to stretch the lower, middle, and upper torso. Lifting the heels aids the intention of pushing upward

- On downward portion of cycle, relax hands down to crown or nipples

- Similar exercises: Reeling silk "vertical circles in front of the body." Although we usually don't do that move with the heel lift it is also taught that way.

 

2. Draw bow to shoot vulture

- Primary Purpose: The deep sitting and twisting during the draw strengthens and stretches the waist and kidney area. The draw and hand positions provide a strong stretch for the tissue of the upper body. The lungs are stretched open. Increase the concentration by visual focus on extended fingers .The legs and hips are strengthening by the deep stance.

- Stance: Low horse riding stance

- Gaze: Sighting through upstretched fingers

- Breath: Inhale on stretch, exhale on relax. One- and two-breath versions

- Draw a bow on either side at shoulder height

- Pulling hand pulls string to shoulder. Start pulling with hand forward to set up stretch across kidney area.

- Outstretched hand pushes against bow. Outstretched hand is in either "secret sword hand" or "Buddha hand."

- Secret sword hand: Thumb against nails of small two fingers. Other two fingers extended upward.

- Buddha hand: Index finger extended upward, thumb pulled back with tip pointing forward, curled and rounded to point down and back toward the palm.

- Sink into low horse stance during the draw

- Similar Exercises: Reeling silk "Lazily tying coat", Hun Yuan qigong "pulling qi across the body."

 

3. Raise single arm to regular spleen and stomach (separate heaven and earth)

- Primary Purpose: Beyond the soft tissue stretching, the alternation of stretching relaxes and stimulates the front of the body, increases circulation to the spleen, stomach and liver. The alternating stretch is supposed to "rock" the body to have this effect.

- Stance: Feet shoulder width, standing up

- Gaze: Forward

- Breath: Inhale on stretch, exhale on relax

- From palms up around solar plexus, move one hand to above head, the other to ribs

- One palm stretches downward while the other stretches upward

- Push palms. Arms twist so fingers point inward and beyond on stretch

- Downward palm can go back a little

- Feel the stretch throughout the torso, shoulder, arms, and hands. Also coordinated from below

- Fingers are very straight, but not hard and locked.

- Similar exercise: Hand movements from "Golden rooster stands on one leg"

 

4. Turning to tonify nervous system: AKA "Looking back like a bow at the moon," related to "Carrying the grain with a shoulder pole." Considered the most powerful of the ba duan jin (my favorite!)

- Primary Purpose: Turning of the neck and twisting the spine tonifies the spinal cord. Also, a significant tendon stretch in upper body. Turning the eyes and neck are said to improve qi circulation in the brain and head in general.

- Stance: Shoulder width, upright

- Gaze: Toward the backward-going hand. End looking directly back.

- Breath: Inhale on stretch, exhale on relax. One- and two-breath versions.

- Twist torso and turn neck to the rear, one palm going to the rear. Keep hips forward, while turning torso and neck as a far as possible.

- Push out palms, one to front, one to rear, fingers pointing straight upward

- Similar exercises: Reeling silk "turning the head"

5. Shake head and wag tail. The present version may be taken from one of the "four" brocade series. Important caution and alternative version given below.

- Primary Purpose: Tonify waist, back, neck and legs. Open governing vessel. Many versions are half upright. Stance: Feet shoulder width, legs straight

- Gaze: Natural

- Breath: Natural

- Bend over, relax neck so the weight of the head stretches the spine

- Wag your tail from side to side so your hands sway to the side of the feet

- Head and tail go in opposite, let head add a little to the side stretch

- Weight shifts to foot opposite the head

- Similar Exercise: Reeling silk "Rotating the torso"

- Lower back caution: Such a deep bend can stress disks in your lower spine. If you feel that this exercise is potentially risky for you, the alternative might be a good substitute.

- Blood pressure/heart/vertigo caution: Such a deep dropping of the head can be dangerous for persons with some conditions. If you feel that this exercise is potentially risky for you, the alternative might be a good substitute.

- Alternatives: Perform the exercise with the hands on the thighs, with the arms pretty straight. The back with then be tilted less than 45 degrees and the arms will take some of the load. Note the similar compromise for exercises such as "old man squats." You could also put the hands on the ankles while in a wide stance. You could sway while upright or squat while swaying.

 

6. Touch toes to reinforce kidneys

- Primary Purpose: Open governing vessel, stretch tendons in legs, compresses and releases kidneys, the front compression balances out several of the frontal stretches earlier in the set. Important caution and alternative version given below.

- Stance: Shoulder width, bent over to bring hands along side knees

- Gaze: Natural

- Breath: EXHALE ON STRETCH. Some styles inhale to kidneys when bent to get more packing. It feels potentially dangerous to me. I prefer a two-breath version:

a. Inhale when upright

b. Exhale when relaxing back down and pulling ankles

c. Inhale when coming up (could start the inhale a little early for mild packing if you understand the potential problems and work with the feelings)

d. Exhale and relax when upright

- Slide hands down from your sides to back of ankles, let back progressively relax down.

- Pull torso down by pulling on ankles and drawing elbows back

- Relax the stretch, slide up. Monitor feelings in head. Let blood flow down from head. Be sure to stop immediately if you experience pressure or dizziness.

- Lower back caution: Such a deep bend can stress disks in your lower spine. If you feel that this exercise is potentially risky for you, the alternative might be a good substitute.

- Blood pressure/heart/vertigo caution: Such a deep dropping of the head can be dangerous for persons with some conditions. If you feel that this exercise is potentially risky for you, the alternative might be a good substitute.

- Alternative: Perform the exercise sitting on the floor with the hands gently reaching toward the toes. The same sequencing of the spine is used. A more challenging variation holds the sole of the foot and stretches out the leg. This could be performed standing or sitting.

 

7. Clench fists and look angry to build up strength. Note that this version seems to be heavily influenced by "open window to view moon" and "stretch paws and spread wings" from other qigong sets

- Primary Purpose: Stimulate brain, open conception vessel

- Stance: Horse

- Gaze: Forward. Wide glaring eyes.

- Breath: Inhale when pulling inward - Do not "pump up" the body with pressure.

- Start with hands outstretched forward, palms up, make fists and draw hands to your sides while widening the eyes.

- Extend fist(s) and rotate palm down while exhaling, draw in and rotate on inhale.

- Front of body will be stretched open stimulating the conception vessel. Opening the eyes stimulates the brain.

- There are one-hand and two-handed versions. One-handed seems more common.

- Similar Exercise: Reeling silk "Horizontal circles, forward and back."

 

8. Jolt body to keep away illness

- Primary Purpose: Smoothes qi from head to toe. Many qigong sets end with some form of shaking to smooth out the qi, where the body releases any tensions and sinks into the dan tien. Note caution below.

- Stance: Feet together, stand upright

- Gaze: Natural

- Breath: Natural, some versions inhale on rise and exhale on descent

- Three different common hand positions: (1) Back of wrist along side tailbone, (2) hands hanging loosely at your sides, (3) Hands over dan tien, Men - right on inside, Women - left on inside.

- Up on the balls of your feet, down on your heels to jolt your body. Maintain a feeling of being held up by a string at the top or your head.

- There is also hard conditioning version that works polymeric strength in the legs. It seems like it could be damaging to your knees.

- Similar exercise: Hun yuan qigong "shake feathers"

- Caution: Do not shock your body to the degree that you are receiving a mild brain concussion. The object of the exercise is mild impact to relax and stimulate, not jar and abuse.

References

- The eight pieces of Brocade, Yang, Jwing-Ming

- Exercises Illustrated: Ancient way to keep fit, complied by Zhong Wu & Li Mao

- The Eight Treasures: Energy Enhancement Exercise, Maoshing Ni

- Internal Arts of the Shaolin Temple, Ted Knecht

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