Martial Arts Musings – Breath Easy

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by GM Jeff Helaney

The development of Chinese Qigong can be viewed by looking at four different periods. The first period probably started around the time the “Yi Jing” (Book of Changes) was introduced in the area 1122 B.C., and lasted until the Han dynasty (206 B.C.). At this time Qigong practice entered into the second period, which was sometimes called the religious Qigong era and it most probably lasted until the Liang dynasty (502-557 A.D.). It was during this period that Qigong began to be developed for martial purposes. This began the third period Qigong, that of martial Qigong. A number of different martial Qigong styles were created based on Buddhist and Daoist Qigong. This era of development extended until the Qing dynasty was overthrown in 1911; after that point Chinese Qigong training became intermixed with Qigong practices from many other countries.

Most resources cite the “Yi Jing” (Book of Changes; 1122 B.C.) as the first Chinese book related to Qi. The Yi Jing introduced the concept of three natural energies (San Cai): Tian (Heaven), Di (Earth), and Ren (Man). The study of these concepts was the first step in the development of what would later come to be known as Qigong. During the Zhou dynasty, between 1122 and 934 B.C., Lao Zi (Li Er) spoke about breathing techniques in the “Dao De Jing” (or Tao Te Ching). The book stressed the way to obtain good health was to meditate on Qi to achieve softness. Later in the “Shi Ji” (or Historical Record) of the Spring and Autumn and Warring States Periods (770-221 B.C.) described more complete methods of breath training. Somewhere around 300 B.C. the Daoist philosopher, Zhuang Zi, discussed the relationship between health and the breathing in the book “Nan Hua Jing.” The book indicates that a breathing method for Qi circulation was being used by some Daoist at that time. There are several medical references to Qigong during the Qin and Han dynasties (221 B.C.-220 A.D.) in books like the “Nan Jing” (Classic on Disorders) by Bian Queth. The Nan Jing describes how to use breathing to increase Qi circulation. Also, the book “Jin Kui Yao Lue” (Prescriptions from the Golden Chamber) by Zhang Zhong-Jing describes how to use breathing and acupuncture to maintain Qi.

During the Eastern Han dynasty (c. 58 A.D) Buddhism was entered China from India. Many Buddhist meditation and Qigong practices, which had been practiced in India for thousands of years, were absorbed into the Chinese culture. Unfortunately much of the training was directed at attaining Buddhahood and the techniques were kept secret. For hundreds of years religious Qigong training was not taught to laymen. It was only during this period Qigong practice became available to the general population. It was during this period that the traditional Daoist principles were combined with Buddhism and a religion called Dao Jiao was created. A number of the meditation methods combined the principles and training methods of both sources. Additionally, Tibet had developed its own branch of Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhists were also invited to China to teach. The Tibetan practices were also absorbed into Chinese culture.

Documents from this time show that the religious practitioners trained their Qi to a deep level, working on the internal functions of the body to obtain control of their bodies, minds, and spirits. Qigong practices and meditations were being passed down secretly within the monasteries, while traditional scholars and physicians continued their Qigong The Jin dynasty, 3rd century A.D., the Daoist Jun Qian used the movements of animals to create the Wu Qin Xi (Five Animal Sports), that taught people how to increase Qi circulation through movement. Additionally, a physician named Ge Hong wrote a book called Bao Pu Zi that spoke of using the mind to lead and increase Qi .During the Liang dynasty a Buddist monk named Da Mow wrote two classics while in seclusion at a Shaolin Monastery, the books were called: “Yi Jin Jing” (Muscle/Tendon Changing Classic) and “Xi Sui Jing” (Marrow/Brain Washing Classic). The Muscle/Tendon Changing Classic taught the principles of how to gain health and change physical bodies from weak to strong. The Marrow/Brain Washing Classic taught the principles of how to use Qi to clean the bone marrow and strengthen the blood and immune system, and how to energize the brainThis training was integrated into the martial arts forms, and it increased technique effectiveness.

In addition to martial Qigong training, the Shaolin priests also created five animal styles of Kung Fu that imitated the way different animals fight. The animals were the tiger, leopard, dragon, snake, and craneAround this time a book called the “Qian Jin Fang” (Thousand Gold Prescriptions) was written by Sun Si-Mao which described the method of leading Qi, and also described the use of the Six Sounds. Buddhists and Daoists had already been using the Six Sounds to regulate Qi in the internal organs. During the Song, Jin, and Yuan dynasties (960-1368 A.D “Yang Shen Jue” (Life Nourishing Secrets) by Zhang An-Dao discussed several Qigong practices. “Ru Men Shi Shi” (The Confucian Point of View) by Zhang Zi-He describes the use of Qigong to cure external injuries such as cuts and sprains. “Lan Shi Mi Cang” (Secret Library of the Orchid Room) by Li Guo describes using Qigong and herbal remedies for internal disorders. “Ge Zhi Yu Lun” (A Further Thesis of Complete Study) by Zhu Dan-Xi provided a theoretical explanation for the use of Qigong in curing diseaseIn the Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279 A.D.), Marshal Yue Fei was believed to have created several internal Qigong exercises and martial arts. It is alleged he created the Eight Pieces of Brocade system to improve the health of his soldiers. Fei is, also, credited as the creator of the internal martial style Xing Yi.

The overthrow of the Qing dynasty in 1911 and the founding of the Chinese Republic caused significant changes in Chinese society. With these changes in culture, Qigong practice has entered a completely new era. Qigong is just one area where the western world has had on a significant impact on a previously closed society, by allowing a freer exchange of ideas Since the cultural revolution in China during the 1970’s a number of previously closed doors have opened and Qigong has become a both a wide spread health art and form of medicine through out the world. Today it is not unusual to see large businesses and hospitals all over the world offering Tai Chi or Qigong classes as part of a preventative health program.

Although the types of art practiced vary, the goal of naturally boosting health is being metCurrently, significant research is being made into the practice and art of Qigong on preventative health and as a treatment for even aggressive maladies such as cancer. Although our ‘science’ has yet to be able to adequately define how Qigong works, there is preliminary data to indicate that the practice of Qigong does have an effect on certain diseases.

There are thousands of different forms of Qigong in China and most of them are not designed for healing purposes, but for preventive health. It is important for us to differentiate these styles and to understand why their function and forms are so different. We have learned that historically, Qigong can be roughly divided into five major traditions: the Confucian, the Buddhism, the Taoism, medicine and martial arts. Each discipline has its own set of goals, methods and forms. Although most Qigong may bring health benefits to some degree, medicalQigong (a small portion of Qigong) was the only one specially developed for treating and curing disease Medical Qigong refers to the Qigong forms used by TCM practitioners with emphasis on how to use vital energy (Qi) to take control of illnesses or get rid of diseases, as well as how to prevent them.

Although Qigong is considered mainly a self-training method, the Qi emission (or external Qigong) has always been part of the medical qigong practice in the attempt to help others to regain health. Therefore, there are differences between internal Qigong training and external Qigong therapy in the history and development of medical Qigong. An example of the difference between medical and non-medical can be found in the Ling Gar form of Qigong and in Zhi Neng Qigong. Lin Gar is a form of Qigong that encourages Qi through movement and positioning, much as Tai Chi does. The health benefits of this art are directed towards preventative health. The flowing movements of this art support joint and muscular health while breath control and moving meditation focus on the more esoteric aspects of the art. Internal energy is created and harnessed through movement and focus. The energy is then focused and distributed throughout the body through the meridians.

Zhi Neng Qigong (Intellectual Qigong) is a form of medical Qigong where the focus is using limited movement to clear the mind and draw in ambient energy. The energy is directed towards ailing systems through meditation and imagery. Through the use of La Qi (Fa Chi) energy can be directed either inward to the practitioner or outward towards a patient. Unlike many forms of Qigong, the energy is not produced internally from the practitioner, but rather barrowed from nature. Understanding the Place and Practice of Qigong in Today’s SocietyQigong is an integration of physical postures, breathing techniques, and focused intentions.

Although Qigong has strong roots into mystical and philosophical ground, the practical healing and stress management applications are the most popular aspects of the tradition today. Both the health and spiritual applications are rapidly gaining in popularity as people realize that disease and stress are relieved by peace of mind. Qigong is one of the four main components of traditional Chinese medicine: Acupuncture, Massage (Tunia/Anima), Herbal Medicines and Qigong. Of these modalities, Qigong is the one that can be most easily self initiated. Both massage and herbal remedies can also be done as self care, however, Qigong is a core component of TCM self healing.Qigong practice is classified as martial, medical, or spiritual. All the different styles have three main things in common: they all involve a posture, (whether moving or stationary), breathing techniques, and mental focus.

Some practices increase the Qi; others circulate it, use it to cleanse and heal the body, store it, or emit Qi to help heal others. Practices vary from the soft internal styles such as Tai Chi; to the external, vigorous styles such as Kung Fu. However, the slow gentle movements of most Qigong forms can be easily adapted, even for the physically challenged and can be practiced by all age groupsIn common usage Qigong is defined in this way: Qi = vitality, energy, life force, Gong = practice, cultivate, refine; Qigong = to cultivate and refine through practice one’s vitality or life force. Traditional Chinese Medicine believes that the primary mechanism triggered by the practice of Qigong is a spontaneous balancing and enhancing of the natural healing resources in the human system. For thousands of years people have benefited from these practices believing that improving the function of the Qi maintains health and heals diseaseQigong creates an awareness of and influences our well being in ways that are not traditionally part of exercise programs.

Most non-medical Qigong forms do not involve the meridian system used in acupuncture nor do they emphasize the importance of adding mind intent and breathing techniques to physical movements. When these dimensions are added, the benefits of exercise increase exponentially.         

Even allopathic medicine is now beginning to recognize health benefits associated with the practice of Qigong. Qigong is believed to trigger a wide array of physiological mechanisms which have profound healing benefits. It increases the delivery of oxygen to the tissues. It enhances the elimination of waste products as well as the transportation of immune cells through the lymph system. And it shifts the chemistry of the brain and the nervous system People do Qigong to maintain health, heal their bodies, calm their minds, and reconnect with their spirit. Qigong is not a panacea, but it is certainly a highly effective health care practice. Many health care professionals recommend Qigong as an important form of alternative complementary medicine.

The gentle, rhythmic movements of Qigong have been known to reduce stress, build stamina, increase vitality, and enhance the immune system. It has also been found to improve cardiovascular, respiratory, circulatory, lymphatic and digestive functions. Those who maintain a consistent practice of Qigong find that it helps one regain a youthful vitality, maintain health even into old age and helps speed recovery from illness. Western scientific research indicates that Qigong may reduce hypertension and the incidence of falling in the aged population. One of the more important long-term effects is that Qigong reestablishes the body/mind/soul connection

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