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:
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.
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.