The Ba Duan Jin or Eight Pieces of Brocade is perhaps the most popular form of chi kung that came out of China. Chi Kung (pronounced chee goong) is the cultivation of the universal life force energy or chi. Though there are some debates among historians, Marshal Yueh Fei is credited with the invention of Ba Duan Jin during the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD). The purpose of this article is to explore the benefits of Ba Duan Jin practice from a purely physical calisthenics point of view.
I believe that practicing the physical movements of Ba Duan Jin alone even without the intent to manipulate chi would bring a lot of health benefits. I want to make it clear though that the aim of this brief discourse is not to discredit the existence of chi but to emphasize the extreme efficacy of Ba Duan Jin as an exercise. Besides, I believe that chi kung and other chi practices perfectly complement bodyweight calisthenics. Absorbing chi (sometimes called bio-electrical energy) in my opinion is the real key to longevity.
Ba Duan Jin is an effective exercise first and foremost because it promotes proprioception. Proprioception is a fancy term but its simplest definition is “a sense of self (proprio came from the Latin word proprius, meaning “one’s own”). Another simple interpretation considers proprioception as the ability to know where a body part is without having to glance. Acute self-awareness is important whether you’re accomplishing a physical or a mental task.
Ba Duan Jin promotes deep breathing. Oxygen is the most important component of life. On the cellular level it is the fuel that feeds the 75 trillion cells in the human body. A product of this synthesis is the substance called adenosine triphosphate (ATP), labeled by scientists as the basic currency of life. No amount of physical or mental activity can take place without utilizing ATP. A physically active person produces and uses daily an amount of ATP proportional to his ideal body weight. Without it, we are literally dead. Therefore, anything that improves the transport of oxygen to each and every cell will result to better health.
Another thing that Ba Duan Jin practice accomplishes is that it promotes joint mobility. Its routines involve all the major joints where movements originate from namely the shoulder, elbow, hip and knee. I put a lot of importance on joint mobility during strength training because what good are big and strong muscles if your joints are stiff? The synovial fluid that brings nutrition to the joints only reaches those joints if you move those joints around.
Ba Duan Jin also contains elements of dynamic tension particularly in the execution of exercise no. 6 called Energy Punch. Dynamic tension is a strength training method that pits muscle against muscle via isometric contraction. The low horse stance required during the performance of this routine also trains the legs. The musculature of the legs and hips are the largest in the body and subjecting them to intense training would trigger the production of more testosterone, which will result to bigger muscles and increased strength.
Lastly, the seventh routine, which is a bending exercise, works the core. It gently stretches and provides just enough contraction to the legs, the abdominals and the often neglected lower back muscles.