History of Ba Duan Jin

My friend Pan Huai is interpreting for me the official Chinese-language instructional video for Ba Duan Jin (Eight Pieces of Brocade), a popular Qi Gong routine. If you know Chinese, you can watch the video for yourself:

photo (46)

The video begins with a brief history of Ba Duan JIn. The earliest evidence of the form was found in the Mawangdui Han Tombs excavated in 1972-1974. The archaeological site is in Changsha, the capital of Hunan Province in south-central China. The tombs date from the Western Han Dynasty (202 BC – 9 AD).

The Han Dynasty was a high point in the production of fines silks and brocades, and numerous extraordinary textiles were found in the Mawangdui Tombs. Many of them were painted with intricate scenes, and one of them, called Dao Yin Tu, shows figures exercising.

Dao Yin (or Tao Yin) is an ancient precursor to modern Qi Gong and Tai Chi. Dao Yin is also the name of a modern form of Qi Gong. The Dao Yin Tu (Tu means drawing) shows more than forty exercising postures. At least four of them are similar to postures of what is now known as Ba Duan Jin.


More about the Mawangdui Tombs:

The earliest written record of Ba Duan Jin dates from the Northern Song (pronounced soong) Dynasty (960–1279). The routine is described as well as illustrated. The Song Dynasty documents contain the first written mentions of the name Ba Duan Jin.

Ba means eight, Duan means pieces or sections, and Jin refers to the finest silk, or brocade. Jin has the connotation of a person’s best, most precious and decorative possession. The Ba Duan Jin Qi Gong is composed of eight postures, and the name suggests that this form of exercise is the most valuable thing a person could have.

According to one Song Dynasty source, the exercises were performed at midnight (!). There were both standing and seated versions of Ba Duan Jin. A number of variations on the standing form have evolved over time.

A Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) manual describes the postures of Ba Duan Jin by name and provides illustrations. The figure below, which is from a Qing Dynasty manual, shows the sitting form of Shuang Shou Tuo Tian (Two Hands Hold up the Heavens). A script, which can be chanted, guides the sequence of movements.

Image courtesy of Gueyang Shanren

Image courtesy of           Gueyang Shanren

In 2001, the Taiji and Qigong department of the Chinese National Sports Committee set out to study and standardize Ba Duan Jin. Experts from a number of fields such as physiology and sports medicine participated in the study.

Experiments were conducted to determine which versions of the exercises and also what sequence of postures were the most beneficial and effective. The resulting standardized Ba Duan Jin routine is described in detail in the official instructional video that we’ll be studying in this series of posts.

Next: the essential principles of Qi Gong.

Finishing Yi Jian Mei

All that’s left are the four instrumental lines in the middle of the song and the closing. That middle section begins from this position.


Line 1: Step with the left foot around to face stage right, then step out toward the front with the right to face front again. The arms close and cross. Swing the sword backhand out to the right.

Line 2: Turn the sword over and draws a big backward C as if winding up for zuo gong bu lan. Facing stage right, step right and strike the odd pose shown below. The hands are positioned as if to push the blade—but you would cut yourself! So don’t actually touch the blade with the left hand.


Line 3: Turns around to the left while straightening, and set the left foot down facing the opposite way. Stab forward, left hand touching the upper arm, gong bu, as shown.


Then step forward on the right while wheeling the sword in front (hilt circles clockwise) to point the sword, and look, to the back, left arm extended as shown.


Step forward on the left, closing the arms so the wrists cross. Left foot is turned out to face left near corner. Step around so the right foot also points to the left front corner and lifts the left foot from the knee. Collapse the sword as shown below.


Line 4: Step left, cross step right, left (travelling to stage right), then walk in a circle right-left-right. Pivot the left foot and xie bu to prepare to resume at verse 3 in this position:


While traveling left, draw big clockwise circles with the sword. At the start of the walking-in-a-circle part, circle the sword to go palm up and lead with the hilt. Swing it around for finish in xie bu.

On the very first step left, Long Feng rises to make a little hop onto the right cross-step. The lift coincides with the lift of the sword. It’s a cute little step.

Shou Shi begins from the position shown at the top of this post (after the long repeat). Close the arms and take the hilt in the left hand. Extend the left arm and set the sword fingers at the hip.

Swing the left across in front while twisting the wrist as if to hold a tray. At the same time, lift the left knee and pulse up with the right. Looks like this:


Then take four steps, LRLR in a circle to face front, left xu bu. Spiral the sword down on the left on the last two steps..

Step back with the left, bring the right back to the left, knees bent, feet shoulder width. Make another circle with the right hand at the same time. Lower the right hand and straighten the knees. Feet together. That’s it!

Chen ZiQiang Videos

Chen ZiQiang is the son of Chen Xiaoxing and nephew of Chen Xiaowang. He’s also the great grandson of Chen Fake. (In case you’re wondering, as I was, that’s pronounced Fah-kuh.) Kungfumagazine.com has a good article (from 2006) on Chen ZiQiang: What it Takes to be a Taiji Master in Chen Village.

Chen ZiQiang step-by step Pao Chui

Chen ZiQiang step-by step Pao Chui on YouTube

A lot of video has been posted, and continues to be posted (he is young and active), on YouTube. As recently as May 2015, an hour-long tutorial on Laojia Erlu was posted. He demonstrates each move multiple times, slowly, with names in both Chinese and English.

The intro is long, with history of Chen Taiji (interesting!) and Chen ZiQiang’s lineage and credentials. The actual breakdown begins around the 18-minute mark. The English translations of names vary from what I’ve seen elsewhere, but the Chinese names are the same. It’s my first opportunity to learn how to pronounce them correctly.

Chen ZiQiang Double Saber Demo

Chen ZiQiang Double Saber Demo

I learned about Chen ZiQiang when Grandmaster Gohring (my teacher) sent around the link to Chen ZiQiang’s demo of the double sabers, which we are working on in class. Other Chen ZiQiang video links to study:

The Chen sword demo is another step-by-step tutorial. Laojia Yilu and saber are just demos. For those who like to do push-hands, YouTube has a whole slew of Chen ZiQiang Tui Shou video.

Yi Jian Mei Chorus

I left off in this position, at the end of line 3, verse 3:


From here she pulls the sword up and over to the left, hopping onto the left foot. The sword circles down and up as she steps onto the right and touches the left. This move is a little like zuo xu bu liao in 32-sword.


Next she steps left, stabbing the sword down to the left, and then steps right, stabbing the sword right–this is somewhat like the optional flourish in Wudang sword. Then she hops onto the left, circling the sword overhead (from palm-up to palm-down). Then she steps back with the right, the sword turns palm-up, and she extends the sword to the right, left hand extended. Xie bu:


That’s the end of verse three. Now there is a two-line chorus. She does (more or less) you gong bu lan (no pause, keep going), but on the other side she skips on the left, then swings the sword all the way to the left as she steps out with the right. Then she swings the sword right while cross-stepping behind with the left into Xie bu:


Unwind all the way around (sword following overhead) and step out to the left. Fully spread-eagled here, facing front. The sword keeps swinging, lift the right knee facing stage left. Then step out to the right, stabbing up (facing back). Cross-step behind left, still facing back, left arm pointing to stage right:


Finally, unwind and step back with the right. Meanwhile, arc the sword down, leading with the point, across on the left, then circle it in front of the face (go from palm-up to palm-down, to palm-up, step back onto right, pulling the sword back with both hands. Step up on left and open to position shown.


The good news is, there is just one more instrumental verse, and then the form repeats to the end. Closing form is a little complicated, but the end is in sight.

Yin Yang Sword

I left off after the first line of verse three of Yi Jian Mei. Line 2: walk in a circle to the left, leading the sword (held high) by the hilt. Footwork is left-right-left-right. On that last right step, circle the sword as if drawing a big heart in the air with both hands like so:


Swing both arms closed while stepping forward on the left:


Then withdraw the sword, shifting back on the right, sword held palm-up and left hand palm-down, as shown below. That’s line two, verse three.


Yin Yang Sword is a stabbing movement with a shift forward and back. The hands turn so that either palms or backs of hands are facing each other. On the stab forward, sword palm is down, left hand palm-up. Then withdraw palm-up and turn the left hand palm-down. You could picture using your sword-fingers (left hand) to push shish-kabobs off a skewer (!).


After two such stabs, step up with the right foot, draw another big heart in the air and stamp the right foot once in cross-hands (left hand on top):


Swing both arms to the left, twisting at the waist:


Swing the sword to the right, stepping out to the right, and then cross-step left behind like so:


That’s line three, verse three. I have caught up with myself! The last line of verse three, which had me stumped anyway, is completely different the way Long Feng does it. It looks a bit like a part of Wudang sword (between the sits). I’ll tackle that next time.

Yi Jian Mei Corrections

I studied the first three verses of the Meng Fok video until I thought I could do them, then fell into a state of complete confusion when I tried to follow Long Feng. Took me a while to figure out what all the differences were between her form and Meng Fok’s.

When Meng Fok takes the sword, she steps right and left, pivots, and then steps left to stab overhead. Long Feng steps right, left, right, shifts left and stabs up, like so:


They are oriented differently. Meng Fok stabs to the back right corner, Long Feng to the front left corner.  I’m going to do this form Long Feng’s way.

The last line of verse two is also different, even though they start and finish in similar positions. In line 4, Meng Fok takes four steps, Long Feng takes only three (RLR). Somehow, they both unwind to this position (except Long Feng is in a deeper xie bu):


The first line of verse three is different. Both swing the sword right, but then Meng Fok lifts the hilt (standing on her left), where Long Feng stabs up (standing on her right):


They both wheel the sword and finish in the same position, like so:


That’s as far as I’ve gotten, so I’m not even quite as far along as I thought I was a couple of weeks ago. To be continued!