SHAOLIN EIGHTEEN LOHAN HANDS
Many readers have asked me about the famous Shaolin Eighteen Lohan Hands. They were taught by the great Bodhidharma in 527 CE to monks at the Shaolin Monastery in China when this First Patriarch of the Shaolin arts found the monks weak and often sleepy during meditaion, which is the essential path towards enlightenment.
The Shaolin Eighteen Lohan Hands are fundamental chi kung exercises that can bring tremendous benefits if they are practised as chi kung. Over the years, I have successfully used selections from the Eighteen Lohan Hands to help many people overcome illness, including so-called incurable diseases.
But if they are practised as physical exercise, which is often the case nowadays, naturally the practitioner will only get the benefits of physical exercise. The crucial difference between chi kung exercise and physical exercise lies not in the outward form (which can be the same for both types of exercise), but in the internal dimensions of energy and mind. If one does not know what these internal dimensions are, it is unlikely that he (or she) has practised chi kung, although he may have performed the outward form for years.
At the Shaolin Monastery, these Eighteen Lohan Hands evolved into a kungfu set called “Eighteen Lohan Fist”, which forms the prototype of Shaolin Kungfu today. Nevertheless, the Eighteen Lohan Hands continued to be practised as chi kung exercise.
Because of its long history, there are many versions of the Eighteen Lohan Hands being taught today. Shown below are the Eighteen Lohan Hands taught in my Shaolin Wahnam School. The illustrations are reproduced from a manual used more than 10 years ago by my chi kung students.
- Lifting the Sky
- Shooting Arrows
- Plucking Stars
- Turning Head
- Thrust Punch
- Carrying the Moon
- Nourishing Kidneys
- Three Levels to Ground
- Dancing Crane
- Carrying Mountains
- Drawing Knife
- Presenting Claws
- Pushing Mountains
- Separating Water
- Big Windmill
- Deep Knee Bending
- Rotating Knees
This pattern is also found in many other kinds of chi kung. This is not surprising because "Lifting the Sky" is one of the best of all chi kung exercises.
The holding of the hands is in the “One-Finger Zen” hand form, which is a typical Shaolin hand form. If you see someone holding the hand in the from of a fist with one finger sticking out, you can reasonably conclude that he has not learnt it in a proper way from a Shaolin master.
These illustrations can only show the outward form of chi kung. Once again, I wish to stress that chi kung form alone is not chi kung. Chi kung is the art of energy management, and the form is just a tool or means to implement energy management. If you merely perform chi kung form, you are only doing physical exercise. If you wish to learn energy management, you have to learn from a master or at least a competent instructor, not just from webpages, videos or books.
If you think that this exercise is just for loosening your neck muscles, you are thinking of it as a physical exercise. As a chi kung exercise, it is used literally to cleanse your head and nervous system. Of course you have to learn such advanced skills from a chi kung master, not from a physical education instructor.
Besides developing powerful punches for martial art, this exercise massages and strengthens your heart. Correct breathing and making the appropriate sound are necessary for obtaining the desired effect.
If you wish to revitalize yourself without having to take pep pills, this chi kung exercise may help you. It stimulates your “water” energy at your ming-men, or “gate of life”.
Many of my students love this exercise the most. It makes you look and feel young, and enhances your nervous system. You can have these benefits only if you can generate a shower of chi or vital energy down your body with this exercise.
Ask a typical western doctor, and he will tell you that your kidneys have nothing to do with sex. Ask a Chinese physician, and he will tell you that your kidneys have everything to do with sex. In fact, the Chinese medical term generally used to describe sickness related to sex is “shen-kui” which means “kidney injury”. “Why were the Shaolin monks interested in sex?” you may ask. No, the Shaolin monks did this exercise not because of sex, but because “Nourishing Kidneys” also enhances their intellectual and general vitality.
As a physical exercise, “Three Levels to Ground” can make your legs strong and flexible; as a chi kung exercise, it can strengthen your heart system, generate better energy flow, and increase your vitality.
This exercise helps you to channel vital energy to your legs. But the benefits are not just for the legs. As the body is interconnected by countless meridians, inducing better energy flow at the legs is sometimes necessary to solve problems in other parts of the body. Someone with kidney stones or a dull intellect may overcome his problem more efficiently if he incorporates this “Dancing Crane” exercise.
If you wish to have powerful arms but do not want to undergo tough and rough conditioning, or if you wish to overcome some chronic pain at your back, “Carying Mountain” is a useful exercise.
“Qi jing ba mai” or the “eight wondrous meridians” is often mentioned in chi kung texts but seldom understood. “Drawing Knife” is an effective exercise to generate energy flow to these eight wondrous meridians.
If you suffered from diabetes, had trouble with your digestive system, or often felt worried and anxious, this exercise may overcome your problem.
I have never failed to be amazed by the profundity in simplity of this exercise. If you wish to overcome your rheumatism, or to enhance your sex life, or to have internal force for martial art, or to have mental freshness - just to mention a few of its benefits - practise this exercise.
This is an excellent exercise for the heart and the lung systems. It will also give you powerful arms.
Many people will find it hard to believe, but if you perform this exercise correctly and sufficiently, you can develop enough internal force to break a brick without having to lift weights or strike sandbags. Those with diabetes or problems related to the liver and spleen systems, will also find this exercise very useful.
Here is another excellent exercise for the lower body. It also opens up the meridians at the legs so that negative energy from other parts of the body can be efficiently drained out into the ground.
You may be surprised, but “Rotating Knees” may help to overcome sex problems, or enhance sexual performance and enjoyment. Strong, healthy knees, obviously, ensures that you will still be agile at eighty and beyond.
Unless you are already well versed in chi kung, even if you can perform these eighteen sets of movements correctly but without effecting the internal dimensions of mind and energy, you will only get the benefits of physical exercise. The illustrations, therefore, are not meant for self practice, but for satisfying curiosity, and perhaps as a means for preserving for future generations what the Shaolin Eighteen Lohan Hands look like.
You will be mistaken if you think that the mind and energy dimensions are not explained here because I want to keep them as secrets. Even if I explain them here, many people may not believe the explanation. Even if they believe it and follow the instructions, they may not get the desired result. Worse still, and this is a main reason why many masters “keep the secrets”, practising advanced chi kung without a master's supervision may bring serious adverse effects.
You will appreciate the warning better if you remember that what is involved is mind and energy, the two most powerful things in the world. As an analogy, learning how to swim or drive a car is safe with proper supervision. But one would not, and should not, go swimming or driving merely after reading some swimming or driving instructions.
Questions-Answers Series January 1998