Ba Duan Jin 3

The fifth exercise is yáo tóu bǎi wěi qù xīn huǒ. Yao here is shake or rock; tou is head; bai is move; wei is tail; qu is go away; xin is heart; huo is fire. Once again, the first part of the name describes the movement, while the second half describes the benefit. Rock the head and move the tail to get rid of “heart fire” — is this about heartburn???


Cloud Hands gives the name of this one as Big Bear Turns from Side to Side. Master Faye Yip, in her video, rocks from one side to the other and rolls the head. Repeat left and right four times.

Number six is liǎng shǒu pān jiǎo gù shèn yāo. Liang is two or both (hands) and pan is climb; jiao is foot or leg. Two hands climb (down) the legs. And the benefit: gu is strong; shen is kidney; this yao is waist. The two yaos have different accents.


Do eight repetitions of this nice gravity stretch. Doing this exercise just twice a week for the last six months has noticeably improved my flexibility. If you lay your hands along your feet, you can get a nice pull through the heels of the hands.

Ba Duan Jin 2

The third exercise is Separate Heaven and Earth in English, a pretty far cry from the Chinese: tiáo lǐ pí wèi dān jǔ shǒu.  Tiao is harmonize or reconcile; li is put in order; pi is spleen; wei is stomach; dan is single or sole; ju is yet another word for lift or hold up. Hold up one hand to harmonize spleen and stomach, in other words.

In this one, one hand is raised, palm up, and the other extends down, palm-down. Then the upper hand is spirals down and the lower hand spirals up along the centerline of the body. At about stomach level, the hands pass, the rising hand palm-up, lowering hand palm-down as in the video by Faye Yip, at about the four-minute mark.


Exercise four has a charming English name: the Wise Owl Gazes Backwards. The Chinese is wǔ láo qī shāng xiàng hòu qiáo, which when I look up each word comes out to something like “five work seven upwards towards behind look.” Rashka translates as “Look backward to eliminate five fatigues and seven illnesses.”

Sink down with both arms lowered, both hands facing back. Then open the arms to the left rotating the hands and arms all the way outward, so palms face up as shown.



Also turn the head all the way to the side. Notice that Master Yip does not turn at the waist. This is a stretch of the neck. Keep the head upright and suspended. Return to starting position. Repeat on the other side. Do both sides four times, alternating.

Ba Duan Jin 1

According to legend, the twelfth century Chinese general and folk-hero Yue Fei, also known as Pengju, created the Eight Brocades and required his soldiers to do the exercises every morning to stay fit for battle.


Exercise 1: The short way to say this (from Wiki) is Shuang Shou Tuo Tian–two (both) hands support heaven (tian). Rashka uses Qing (raise) instead of Tuo. Li means put in order. San jiao is the “triple warmer,” a term in Chinese medicine that refers (according to Michael Garofalo) to the heart, lungs and stomach.


There are quite a few variations of this exercise (and of all the others). I am using the one where you sink down, join the hands palm up in front of the dantien, then lift the hands slowly while straightening up. In front of the face, the hands invert to palm-up, then extend overhead.

Faye Yip follows the hands up with the eye, then looks down before releasing the hands and allowing them to float down. In any case, inhale while the hands rise and exhale as they come down. We’re doing eight of these (the number of reps also varies with different versions).

It’s a matter of choice (and fitness and desired level of exertion) whether to remain standing straight the whole time, or whether to squat, possibly all the way to horse stance with thighs parallel to the ground. I am doing the Yang-y modified squat you see in the two videos, one by Faye Yip the other by Peter Chen:

The Mandarin word for inhale is xiru. Exhale is hu. Breathe is huxi and breath is qixi.

Exercise 2: Kai Gong Si She Diao means open the bow to shoot the eagle/hawk/vulture; diao means bird of prey. This exercise is supposed to benefit the kidney and spleen.

Step left, sinking to horse stance in crosshands position. Look left and point left with the left hand while drawing back the right hand to the shoulder (elbow back). Then look right, extend the right arm, lower the arms, and straighten up.

We do this four times on each side, starting with the left side and alternating. Matoko Rashka describes a rather different version in which you shift from left bow stance to right bow stance. In either case, inhale while “drawing the bow” and exhale while switching sides.

Eight Pieces of Brocade

Ba Duan Jin is a Qigong routine that consists of eight exercises and takes about twelve minutes. The routine is “medical” rather than martial–practiced for its health benefits, and it is at least a thousand years old, mentioned and illustrated in Song Dynasty encyclopedias (the illustration below is not that old).


Sources of information:

Many videos are available on YouTube. I like the one by Master Faye Li Yip. The one by Peter Chen is good, too.


The names of the eight exercises vary, especially in English, but even in Chinese to some extent. Below, I am following Matoko Rashka:

  1. Shuāng shǒu qíng tiān lǐ sān jiāo – Support the Heavens to Condition San Jiao
  2. Zuǒ yòu kāi gōng sì shè diāo – Draw the Bow to Shoot the Eagle
  3. Tiáo lǐ pí wèi dān jǔ shǒu – Raise the Hand to Condition the Spleen and Stomach
  4. Wǔ láo qī shāng xiàng hòu qiáo – Look Backward to Elimnate Five Fatigues and Seven Illnesses
  5. Yáo tóu bǎi wěi qù xīn huǒ – Swing the Head and Tail to Eliminate Xin Huo
  6. Liǎng shǒu pān jiǎo gù shèn yāo – Hold the Feet to Strengthen the Kidney and Lower Back
  7. Wò quán nù mù zēng lì qi – Punch with Fierce Glower to Build Strength
  8. Bèi hòu qī diān bǎi bìng xiāo – Shake the Back Seven Times to Prevent Illness

Additional Ba Duan Jin pages: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

Eight Energies

Each of eight forms of energy (or power) has a traditional name in Chinese and is associated with an element such as Earth, Air, Fire or Water (which, to the imaginative, it resembles). On a practical level, each corresponds to a movement in the first part of the moving form and to a technique used in combat or in the sparring game called push-hands. These are techniques for meeting and defeating (or at least deflecting) an opposing force.


Each form of energy is defined as a combinaton of Yin and Yang — yielding or resisting — first on contact with an attacking force, then at the center, and then at the end, or release. The yin-yang nature of each form of energy is represented by three straight (yang) or broken (yin) lines. The trigrams representing the eight energies can be seen in the symbol above.

In general, Yin is the defensive weapon of the smaller and weaker of two opponents. It is axiomatic in Tai Chi that a small, weak opponent may defeat a bigger, stronger attacker by yielding (and using the attacker’s size and weight against him). The eight energies are:

  1. Ward-off: Peng corresponds to SKY, trigram yang yang yang.
  2. Pull-back: Lu corresponds to EARTH, trigram yin, yin, yin.
  3. Press: Ji corresponds to WATER, trigram yin yang yin.
  4. Push: An corresponds to FIRE, trigram yang yin yang.
  5. Grabbing (pull-down): Tsai corresponds to WIND, trigram yang yang yin.
  6. Breaking (splitting): Lieh corresponds to THUNDER, trigram yin yin yang.
  7. Elbowing: Zhou corresponds to LAKE, trigram yin yang yang.
  8. Shouldering: Kao corresponds to MOUNTAIN, yang yin yin.

Peng is all hard opposing energy. Ward off meets the attacking force with unyielding resistence, uses outward opposing force, and holds its ground. It is a straightforward exertion of strength, but also is achieved by correct alignment and positioning.

Lu all yielding, soft energy. Pull back gives and turns away from an attacking force, allowing it to pass by. The attacker’s own energy is used to propel him past you.

Ji rebounds with hands connected, to repel the attacking force. This is the energy associated with water, which is soft on the surface but irresistably powerful force at its center.

An meet a force with resistance, then yields momentarily before surprising with a strong thrust.

Together, Peng, Lu, Ji and An comprise the familiar combination called Grasp the Bird’s Tail, or Lan Que Wei, found in nearly every Yang form.

Tsai commits to a string pull downwards, throwing the opponent all the way down to the ground before releasing.

Lieh yields, turns, and then breaks with splitting force at the finish. Repulse Monkeys and Slant Flying are both splitting movements using Lieh.

Zhou first yields, folding the elbow, before striking. The water is again soft in contact, but powerful at its center, and the lake is unyielding at the bottom.

Kao is unyielding at contact, striking with the shoulder, but then becomes rooted and immovable like a mountain.

Ten Important Points

Yang Cheng Fu, grandson of Yang Luchan and foremost proponent of modern Yang-style Tai Chi, published two books in Chinese, one of which has been translated into English (by Louis Swaim).


The master’s most famous written legacy is the list of “Ten Important Points” for the practice of Tai Chi. Numerous translations are available for this part of Yang Cheng Fu’s teachings. For the first and second degree tests, we are required to know and understand (not necessarily to quote) the ten important points.

I was delighted to find that Lau Sui Taijiquan provides the ten important points in Chinese! The Chinese phrases are direct from Yang Cheng Fu’s classic text. For the English, Master Gohring relies on CK Chu, so that’s what I have used here.


  1. Xu Ling Ding Jin. Head suspended. Be light and swift, as if the head is suspended from above, so the spirit can rise to the top. Do not use strength or become stiff, or the chi will not circulate.
  2. Han Xiong Ba Bei. Chest concave. This allows you to lift the back so the chi will sink down. If the chest sticks out, the chi rises and the center of gravity is too high.
  3. Song Yao. Waist loose. If the waist is loose, the root is strong. The change from substantial to insubstantial should come from the waist. If you are not strong, pay attention to the waist.
  4. Fen Xu Shi. Differentiate substantial from insubstantial (Video).This is essential to light and swift movement. If you cannot differentiate, footwork will be heavy and clumsy.
  5. Chen Jian Zhui Zhou. Sink the shoulders and elbows. If the shoulders are held up, the chi will not sink, the center of gravity will be too high, and you will not be able to repel opponents far.
  6. Yong Yi Bu Yong Li. Use mind not force. The whole body remains loose and open. There is no localized muscular force. Instead, the whole is light and swift, and chi flows freely throughout the body.
  7. Shang Xia Xiang Sui. Coordinate upper and lower body. “Root starts in the feet, springs from the legs, is executed through the waist and expressed through the fingers.” And “eye spirit follows them all.”
  8. Nei Wai Xiang He. Internal and external coordinate. Movement is nothing more than substantial and insubstantial, and opening and closing, and this occurs in the mind and heart as well as the body.
  9. Xiang Lian Bu Duan. Continuous and connected movement. The strength of Tai Chi is like a chain, unbroken and continuous, moved by mind and circulating without end.
  10. Dong Zhong Qiu Jing. Stillness in movement (“the slower the better”). Tai Chi uses quiet movement with long deep breaths, and the movement does not cause panting and shortness of breath.

For verbal instruction on the ten important points, also refer to Master Gohring’s YouTube playlist on this subject.

The Yang Family website offers a translation of the ten essential points: Part 1 and Part 2. Their version is based on a transcription from Yang Cheng Fu’s oral teachings.

History of Yang Tai Chi

The originator of Yang-style Tai Chi was Yang Luchan (1799-1871), who studied with Chen Changxing for 18 years. Yang was the first non-family member allowed to study with a Chen master.

Yang Luchan

Yang Luchan

Yang Luchan took his own style of Tai Chi to Beijing, where he trained many students and became very well known. In 1850, he was hired by the Imperial Family to train the palace guards. He was called Yang the Invincible because no one could defeat him in a fight (and allegedly, he never seriously injured his opponents).

Yang Luchan had three sons who also became influential Tai Chi masters. Out of the four major styles of modern Tai Chi (Chen, Yang, Sun, and Wu), three spring from the influence of Yang Luchan.

  • Yang Pan Hou, also retained by the Imperial Family, trained Wu Chuan-you, who along with his son created the Wu style of Tai Chi.
  • Yang Chien Hou trained his own son, Yang Chengfu, whose influence on modern Yang Tai Chi rivals that of his famous grandfather.
  • Wu Yuxiang developed the Wu/Hao style which eventually became Sun style.
Yang Chengfu (1883-1936)

Yang Chengfu (1883-1936)

Yang Chengfu’s Ten Important Points (published in the 1930s) define the modern Yang style of Tai Chi, with its slow, smooth and circular movements. Yang Chengfu was the first to popularize Tai Chi, offering classes to the general public in Beijing from 1914 to 1928.

History of Chen

Chen is the oldest and original style of Tai Chi, dating back possibly as far as the 14th century, when Chen Bu is said to have settled in Chen village (Chenjiagou) bringing with him a family martial arts tradition.

Confucius Institute: Chenjiagou (Chen village)

Confucius Institute: Chenjiagou (Chen village)

Seventeenth century documents make reference to the influence of Chen Wang Ting (1580-1660) in the development of a distinctive internal approach to martial arts that eventually gave rise to the various modern styles known collectively as Tai Chi.

The teachings of Chen Tai Chi were kept strictly within the family until the early 19th century. Chen Changxing (1771-1853) was the first Chen master to accept an outsider as a student; this was Yang Lu Chan, who eventually became the founder of Yang-style Tai Chi.

In the early 20th century, Yang-style Tai Chi became widely known in China, while back in the village, Chen remained obscure. Then in 1928, Chen Zhaopei was the first to bring Chen-style instruction to Beijing. He and his uncle Chen Fake soon established the Chen tradition as a leading style of Tai Chi.

Chen Tai Chi, along with many other Chinese traditions, was suppressed during the Cultural Revolution, but was restored to national prominence in the late 1970s and 1980s. International interest in Chen Tai Chi has been growing since the early 1980s with the support of the Chinese government.

Chen Fake’s students included Chen Zhaukui (1928-1981), who was in turn the teacher of Cheng Jincai, with whom Master Gohring studied.

For more detail, visit the Wikipedia page on Chen Tai Chi and The China Tai Chi Guide offers great, up-to-date information about Chen village for anyone who might contemplate going there to study.