"Self-cultivation of the nature is merit, Self-cultivation of the body is virtue."
-Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch, Chapter 3


"Shaolin Eight-Section Brocade" (Chin.: Shàolín Bāduànjǐn 少林八段锦)

Today there are three main sets of internal energy skills (Chin.: qìgōng 气功) that have been spread throughout the world. They are:

1. Muscle & Tendon Changing Sutra (Chin.: Yìjīnjīng 易筋经)
2. Eight-Section Brocade (Chin.: Bāduànjǐn 八段锦)
3. Five-Animal Plays (Chin.: Wǔqínxì 五禽戏)

Of these three, two originated in Shaolin Monastery. Five-Animal Plays was created by Hua Tuo (Chin.: Huà Tuó 华佗), the legendary physician, toward the end of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220) (Chin.: Dōng Hàn 东汉). It mimics the movements of five animals: the tiger, bear, deer, ape and crane. It would become the concept on which Shaolin master Bai Yufeng (Chin.: Bái Yùfēng 白玉峰), Dharma-name (Chin.: fǎhào 法号) Chan Master Harvest Moon (Chin.: Qiūyuè Chánshī 秋月禅师), would base the development of his famous Shaolin Five-Animal Boxing (Chin.: Shàolín Wǔxíngquán 少林五形拳) during the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368), mimicking the dragon, tiger, leopard, snake and crane.

Here we introduce Shaolin Eight-Section Brocade (herein referred to as Baduanjin). It is one of the earliest physical exercise techniques practiced by the Shaolin monks (Chin.: Shàolínsì sēngrén 少林寺僧人). Consisting of eight movements, each is repeated eight times for a total of sixty-four. Each movement can also be picked out and practiced individually to reap the same health benefit.


According to legend, in the Tang Dynasty (618-907), the Shaolin senior monk Ling Qiushan (Chin.: Shàolínsì gāosēng Líng Qiūshàn 少林寺高僧灵丘善) practiced the Baduanjin qigong set daily and lived to the age of 109.

By the Song dynasty (960-1279) Baduanjin had already spread far and wide throughout China. Nowadays there are many different versions of the set. There are also standing, sitting, and lying practices of Baduanjin. This article covers the standing form of the traditional Shaolin Baduanjin qigong set.


Baduanjin has the function of relaxing the muscles (Chin.: shūjīn 舒筋), facilitating blood flow (Chin.: huóxuè 活血), regulating the qi and blood (Chin.: tiáolǐ qìxuè 调理气血), as well as promoting metabolism (Chin.: cùjìn xīnchéndàixiè 促进新陈代谢). Practice over a long period of time can create a strong and healthy physique, help resist and dispel illnesses, and prolong life.

For young children Baduanjin can develop wisdom and train willpower and perseverance. For the middle aged it can release stress from work and relax the nerves. For the elderly, the benefits are too copious to list.

Baduanjin Mnemonic (Chin.: gējué 歌诀):

Shàolín Bāduànjǐn
Shaolin Eight-Section Brocade

一。双手托天理三焦 shuāngshǒu tuō tiān lǐ sānjiāo
1. both hands supporting heavens regulates triple burners

二。左右拉弓如射雕 zuǒyòu lāgōng rú shè diāo
2. left-right drawing bow as if shooting golden eagle

三。调理脾胃须单举 tiáolǐ píwèi xū dān jǔ
3. regulating spleen and stomach with single-arm raise

四。五劳七伤向后瞧 wǔláo qīshāng xiàng hòu qiáo
4. adjusting the brain and inner organs looking backward

五。摇头摆尾去心火 yáotóu bǎiwěi qù xīnhuǒ
5. shaking the head and swinging the tail expels inner heat

六。双手盘膝固肾腰 shuāngshǒu pánxī gù shèn yāo
6. both hands level on knees to strengthen the kidneys, waist and lower back

七。攥拳怒目增气力 zuàn quán nùmù zēng qìlì
7. grasping fists with glaring eyes increases energy and power

八。背后起点诸病消 bèihòu qǐdiǎn zhū bìng xiāo
8. lifting heels in back to vanish various ailments

Detailed Functions:

1. Both hands supporting heavens:
Regulates the Triple Burners (Chin.: lǐ sānjiāo 理三焦) between the chest and abdomen. The Triple Burners control clearing away obstructions to spread original qi (Chin.: yuánqì 原气) and bodily fluids (Chin.: shuǐyè 水液) through the body.

Upper Burner: (Chin.: shàngjiāo 上焦) diaphragm and above.
Middle Burner: (Chin.: zhōngjiāo 中焦) between diaphragm and navel.
Lower Burner: (Chin.: xiàjiāo 下焦) below navel.

This exercise pulls and stretches the waist, back, chest and abdomen to induce full circulation of qi and spread natural bodily fluids so that the entire body receives their nourishment.

2. Drawing bow as if shooting golden eagle:

This exercise spreads the shoulders and expands the chest. The warrior-like posture gives vent to emotions in the heart. It sorts out qi in the liver and removes chest pain, side pain, and aches in the shoulder blades and across the upper back.

For business people or students who spend hours hunched over at their desks, this exercise can increase lung capacity and oxygen absorption, as well as strengthen the willpower and vigor.

3. Single-arm raise:
Regulates the spleen and stomach (Chin.: tiáolǐ pí wèi 调理脾胃). The spleen produces pure qi. The stomach eliminates impure qi.

In this exercise, the upper arm is tense while the lower arm is relaxed and the body is twisted. This massages the spleen, stomach, liver and gall bladder, assisting them in harmonizing qi. It promotes digestion and increases nourishment.

4. Looking backward:
Extended periods of toil without timely treatment of related ailments slowly produce accumulative harm to the five viscera (Chin.: wǔzàng 五脏) (i.e., heart, liver, spleen, lung, kidney) and the seven emotional states (Chin.: qīqíng 七情) (i.e., joy, anger, anxiety, thought, grief, fear, fright). These are called the five toils and seven injuries (Chin.: wǔláo qīshāng 五劳七伤).

Turning the body and twisting the arms adjusts connection between the brain and inner organs. The cervical vertebra is called in TCM the "heavenly pillar" (Chin.: tiānzhù 天柱). This exercise keeps it straight to stimulate the thymus, thereby improving the brain's ability to regulate the inner organs- strengthening immunity and the physique.

5. Shaking the head and swinging the tail:

Excessive thought increases inner heat. This exercise removes heartburn (Chin.: qù xīnhuǒ 去心火). The downward movement of the upper body makes heat in the heart decline and kidney fluid rise. This can reduce stress and worry, mouth ulcers, halitosis, insomnia, excessive dreaming, constipation, discomfort in urination (e.g. heat, redness), and other illnesses.

6. Both hands level on knees:
This exercise stretches the du channel (Chin.: dūmài 督脉) and urinary bladder meridian of foot taiyang (Chin.: zú tàiyáng pángguāngjīng 足太阳膀胱经), which has a nursing effect on the reproductive system and urinary system. It also strengthens the kidneys and muscles of the waist and lower back (Chin.: gù shèn yāo 固肾腰).

7. Grasping fists with glaring eyes:
The liver is the main contributor of energy and strength to the muscles. Ailments of the liver can be seen in the eyes. In this exercise, the eyes stare intensely at the fists to stimulate the liver system, increase blood in the liver and disperse unobstructed qi from the liver, thus strengthening the body.

The qi and blood of people who sit or lie down too long will be dense and sluggish. This exercise is particularly useful to such people, as it increases energy and power (Chin.: zēng qìlì 增气力).

8. Lifting heels in back:

This exercise massages the five viscera and six bowels to prevent and expel all illnesses. As the closing exercise, it collects qi and returns it to normal at the end of the set.


Master Deyang (Chin.: Déyáng Shīfu 德扬师父) gives a brief demonstration of the exercises in Shaolin Baduanjin.:


-少林禅城 Shaolin Chan City

Discuss this article on the forum....

Copyright © 2009 Shaolin Chan City, LLC. All rights reserved.


Matt said...

I have a question. I have learned Ba Duan Jin and I have learned it in the sequence that you list the movements in. I have seen a few performances where the movements are performed in the order the Shi De Yang Fa Shi does them in the video. Is there a reason for the difference and if so what is it?

I enjoy this site and its articles.
Thank you,

Da Shi Xiong Matt Talbert

SCC said...


The order in which the sections have been listed, and in which you have learned them, is the standard sequence.

Video versions are video versions and posted for reference only. Also note that it is possible to select any section and practice it individually. Ultimately, the order should not affect your practice.

Thanks for your interest. I hope it benefits you well.

Drew F. said...


Could comment on how breathing accompanies these particular movements, or if there is some standard pattern to follow?

Please excuse my lack of understanding of something basic, but I haven't been able to find any information on breathing. Any guidance would be helpful.

Drew F.

SCC said...

Hi Drew,

Different types of Qigong use different breathing techniques.

Shaolin Baduanjin is a soft Qigong set. Nasal breathing is done with the mouth closed and the tip of the tongue touching the roof of the mouth just behind the front teeth. The breath is kept at a normal rate, not forced or specially altered, and the movements accompany the breath.

For example, one exhales when extending and extends for the duration of the normal exhalation, then when retracting inhales completing the movement following the breath.

This way one is not under or over-extending the breath during practice by following the movements. Doing so can cause one's breath to become excited and increase the heart rate scattering Qi if done too rapidly, and can make one dizzy and faint if done too slowly. Rather the normal relaxed breath should guide the body.

I hope this explanation makes sense and is helpful to you.

Thanks for reading.