ZHAN ZHUANG AND EIGHT PIECES OF BROCADE
I have been practicing the first two positions of zhan zhuang for about 4 weeks. I would like to include Ba Duan Jin at the beginning of my zhan zhuang. Can you tell me if it is safe to do Ba Duan Jin, or is there a danger of doing them too soon. I am 57 years old.
Zhan zhuang is a generic term referring to a category of chi kung exercises where a practitioner remains stationary in one chosen poise for a length of time. The Horse-Riding Stance and the Three- Circle Stance are two most popular examples.
In some modern kungfu literature written in English in the West, zhan zhuang is sometimes translated as “standing on stakes”. In my opinion, this is a mistranslation and may give a most misleading picture of what zhan zhuang is. This problem is due to mistaking “zhuang” as “stakes”.
“Zhuang” has a few meanings, and although one of them is “stakes”, the correct one in this context is “stances”. Literally zhan zhuang (which is in Mandarin pronunciation) means “standing at stances”. Hence, stance training is a better translation for zhan zhuang.
The term zhan zhuang is popularly used in north China, where the Mandarin pronunciation of the Chinese language is prevalent. In south China, stance training is more popularly known as "chat ma", which is in Cantonese pronunciation, the prevalent dialect in the South.
Cantonese is a very interesting and poetic language. "Chat ma" literally means “tying up a horse”! But if you mention "chat ma" to any Cantonese speaking kungfu practitioner, he knows you mean “stance training”. Translating "chat ma" as “tying up a horse” is as misleading, and comical, as translating zhan zhuang as “standing on stakes”.
Many kungfu students have heard that "zhan zhuang" or "chat ma" is very important in kungfu, but most of them do not know why. They think that stance training develops solid stances, which is only part of the picture. More important than solid stances, stance training develops internal force and mental clarity. It is a most ingenuous method evolved by masters through the centuries where a practitioner reduces his form to the bare minimum so that he can focus on his energy and mind. It is probably the single most decisive method from which kungfu masters derive their tremendous internal force.
"Zhan zhuang" is therefore a very powerful form of chi kung exercise. Paradoxically, because it looks simple — and is simple — it is easy to make mistakes when one trains without proper supervision. Because there is only one form, if you make just one mistake, you are 100% out. Making mistakes in powerful chi kung training can lead to serious side-effects.
On the other hand, "Ba Duan Jin" or Eight Pieces of Brocade is a gentle form of chi kung. There are eight exercises and each exercise consists of a few movements. Hence, even if you make a few mistaken movements, you are only a few percent out, and the gentle nature of the exercises further minimizes their harmful effects.
The way you asked the question, suggests that you practice chi kung without a master's supervision. At 57 it is best for you to leave powerful exercise like "zhan zhuang" aside. "Ba Duan Jin" is an excellent set of exercise for you. You can have marvellous results if you practice "Ba Duan Jin" as chi kung, which is energy exercise; but even if you practice the set as gentle physical exercise, you still can have many benefits, such as loosening your joints and muscles, giving you balance and elegance, making you relaxed and improving your blood circulation.
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