The History of Qigong Zhan Zhuang

Professor Yu teachings

This practice and the philosophy behind it date back some 27 centuries. As early as the 7th Century BCE, the Chinese Philosopher Guan Tse (730 – 645 BCE) perceived the fundamental nature of energy and saw it as the precondition for everything else in the universe.

Qigong internal energy flowHe wrote extensively about the “Natural Way of Life”, which he referred to as “The Way” (Tao).

Guan Tse stressed the fundamental importance in the human being of vital power (jing) as the precondition for all other activity.

“In order to do anything in this life, we must first have energy.”

In Zhan Zhuang Chi Kung training, developing internal energy through prolonged stationary exercise is the basis of all other practice and must be undertaken first. The great sage Lao Tse described “Standing alone and unchanging” in his classic, the Tao Teh Ching.

This was his way of describing this practice of standing meditation, through which we come to understand the great power of the universe. Chapter 25 of the Tao Teh Ching tells us: “By standing alone and unchanging, you will find that everything comes to you and the energy of the universe will never be exhausted.” In the period 450 – 350 BC, the world’s most influential medical text appeared: The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine (Huang Ti Nei Ching). It, too, speaks of the vital internal energy of the human being.

The court physician tells the Emperor:

“The sages were tranquilly content with nothingness and the true vital force accompanied them always. Their vital spirit was preserved within…”

Taoist Philosopher Chuang Tse

In the works of the great Taoist philosopher Chuang Tse (369 – 286 BC) we find a chapter on ‘The Great and Most Honoured Master’. It too expresses many of the essential qualities inherent in the practice of Zhan Zhuang Chi Kung. Chuang Tse tells us that the sages of old were “still and unmoved”. “Their breathing came deep and silent.” Their “minds were free from all disturbance”, “forgetting everything”. They were “open to everything and forgot all fear of death”. In the text, a disciple tells his master, “I am making progress”. “What do you mean?, asks the master. “I sit and forget everything…becoming one with the great void in which there is no obstruction.” In the first century CE the practice of exercises for the cultivation of internal energy were developed as part of Taoism (Do Jiaw).

These included the practice of remaining completely still in fixed positions. Emphasis was then placed on using the mind to control the movement of internal energy (Chi) within the body and then to project it outwards. The practice of Zhan Zhuang Chi Kung as developed by Great Grand Master Wang Xiang Zhai leads to exactly this enhanced circulation of Chi throughout the entire body without the risks created by mental tension.

Influence of Buddhism

A further influence on the Zhan Zhuang tradition was that of Buddhism, whose arrival in China from South Asia is usually attributed to the figure of Bodhidharma (Ta Mo). Ta Mo himself is said to have attained enlightenment through silent meditation in a cave near the site of the Shaolin Temple. It is the development of “one-pointedness” of mind (or the ability of the mind to be clearly focused) in the Buddhist tradition that Professor Yu sees making a major contribution to the development of Zhan Zhuang Chi Kung practice.

The harmony of body and mind is central to the practice of Zhan Zhuang. Take a simple example – at the very beginning we are taught to stand still. We begin in the Wu Chi position, with the hands loosely at the sides, feet pointing forward, knees unlocked. We just stand there. “What should we do with our mind? and what about our breathing?” students often ask. “Shouldn’t we be doing something special?” The answer is simple: “No, nothing special. You are standing in a natural way. Breathe in a natural way. Let your mind just do what it wants to.” At a later stage in the practice of Zhan Zhuang Chi Kung, in the same way that students learn to develop their bodies and hold certain positions, so the mind starts to be trained naturally too and is able to direct movement and energy. This is mind-body harmony.

General Yueh Fei teachings

This same principle is embodied in a form of martial art known as the “Six Harmonies Form” created by General Yueh Fei (1103 – 1142), the famous General of the Southern Sung dynasty. History says that he developed this form, along with other exercise systems such as “The Eight Fine Treasures” (Ba Duan Jin), in order to enable his soldiers to fight against invading Manchurian forces.

In “The Six Harmonies Form”, as in Chinese health systems and philosophy, the “mind” is said to reside both in the heart and in the brain. This acknowledges the powerful ruling force of the emotions in our being and their central role in our vitality. The concept of “mind” also includes the aspect of mentality that is usually meant by the term “mind” in the West – brainpower – deliberate, rational thinking, often associated with what is called mental control. Linked to both these aspects of our inner life is the control of physical movement.

The Chinese phrase is always understood to imply a unity of mental and physical activity. By the 12th Century CE, particularly under the influence of General Yueh Fei, this understanding of energy was employed in the development of internal martial arts . Harmony of the energy of both mind and body was seen as central to both health and strength. Viewed from this perspective, in fact, there could be no fundamental distinction between mind and body.

We can see this deep unity symbolized by the popular figure of the Laughing Buddha performing the first of the eight Ba Duan Jin exercises ! Professor Yu singles out the importance of these aspects of “mind” in Zhan Zhuang Chi Kung because of the importance of inner relaxation and the use of timing and energy rather than muscle – whether standing still, moving or applying the martial techniques.

Shin Yi Ba style

The next stage in the historical development occurred in the period from 1600 to 1680 when Master Ji Ji Ho developed his style known as Shin Yi Ba. He was a Kung Fu master who is said to have developed his form after watching two roosters fighting. The system he created was then used at that time at Shaolin Temple.

Shin Yi Chuan style

Around 1750, Master Tai Lung Bai developed a similar system which he called Shin Yi Chuan. Master Tai’s teachings were committed to writing by his student Ma Hock Lee. A century later Master Lee Lock Lung entered this tradition in Shanxi Province and then returned to his home in Hobei to teach, where the system came to be called Hsing Yi Chuan in the local dialect.

Master Guo – a boxing master

Next in the lineage came Master Guo Yuen Shun who died in 1903. Master Guo is said to have been “a boxing master of great attainments enjoying a country-wide renown.” It was from this master, in his native county of Shenxian in Hebei Province, that the young Wang Xiang Zhai – who was destined to reveal the secrets of the lineage publicly for the first time in this century – first studied, beginning at the age of eight.

Summing up this rare system of energy cultivation, the US quarterly “Internal Arts Journal” told its readers:

“These deeply spiritual and mysterious exercises contain the seeds of real internal power. In Zhan Zhuang Chi Kung one learns to return to the source of all power, to enter back into the very womb of universal energy and to experience the truth of the power of the void, the still point, the wuji”.