Fascinating History of a Fitness Routine That’s Still Used Today
Origin of the “8 Pieces of Brocade” in Qigong
A young boy was growing up in southern China when his town was invaded by an army from the north. The boy, Yue Fei, wanted to fight the invaders, but he faced a dilemma. He also needed to care for his elderly mother.
Torn between competing Chinese virtues of loyalty and filial piety, he became flustered.
That’s when his mother told him to take off his shirt, and proceeded to tattoo 4 Chinese characters on his back: jing zhong bao guo — “serve the country loyally.”
Now, Yue could serve his country while fulfilling his mother’s wish. A skilled martial artist, he headed into battle as an unstoppable force, and soon rose to the rank of General.
But this was nearly a thousand years ago, and another powerful army of invaders arrived: the Mongols.
Yue came up with a fascinating way to get his soldiers ready for battle, a fitness routine he created through the ancient art of Qigong.
Already 3000 years old in Yue’s time around 1100 CE, Qigong blends exercise with breathwork and meditation. (More later on the magical routine he invented, The 8 Pieces of Brocade.)
Yue and his army were undefeated against the invading forces, and he became a national symbol of hope. One legend said he defeated over 100,000 northern invaders with just 500 men.
But what I love about Yue is that he had high ethical standards. He sought to protect civilians, and cared for soldiers on and off the battlefield, personally providing them medicine when needed. He also made sure his soldiers never took advantage of townsfolk as they passed through various locales.
A generous man, Yue was awarded many gifts from the imperial court which he chose to share with his soldiers.
As with many accomplished men, jealousy arose among his peers, and he was later deemed too powerful and dangerous. At the age of 39 years old, Yue was executed based on trumped up charges. The Song Dynasty, of which Yue belonged, then fell to the invading Mongols.
The magical practice he left behind
But before Yue’s passing, he left behind a fitness routine he taught his army: The 8 Pieces of Brocade. A brocades is a silk fabric, so the name implies the practice makes us feel like we’re wearing a silk robe.
Yue also created it for wounded soldiers to heal faster. Soon, civilians began enjoying the benefits and it be came known for bringing practitioners vibrant health and longevity.
The forms care for an aspect of health most of us ignore: our energy body (or bioelectromagnetic field, aka the “aura”).
Qigong is said to release stagnant energy (chi) from the body while regenerating new chi and circulating it through our systems, bringing healing and relief of various ailments.
The forms send blissful energy through the meridians that connect our organs, stretching fascia to massage the organs while synchronizing breath with movement. This boosts inner strength and renews our life force.
Qigong (“chee-gong”) translates to the cultivation of life-force energy.
Renewing Ancient Forms for Modern Minds
Feels like wearing a Silk Robe
Benefits of the 8 Brocades
Let’s look at the benefits of each form.
1. Raising Hands to Support Heaven — a great release after being on a phone or computer too long. This relieves tension in the arms, neck and shoulders while smoothing out our energy field. This form is said to stimulate the “Triple Heater” (body’s thermostat) while clearing and releasing stuck chi. The move is said to alleviate anxiety, insomnia and chronic fatigue as well as panic attacks, while sending renewed energy through the endocrine system
2. The Archer (also known as “Drawing the Bow to Shoot the Bird of Prey”) — here we emulate a warrior drawing his bow to shoot at a target. This form not only boosts our focus and increases yang energy but is said to benefit the kidneys while opening the lungs and heart, as well as stretches the arms. Doing this while in “horse stance” also strengthens the lower body.
3. Separating Heaven And Earth — this one is similar to the first form except we push up with one hand toward heaven, and down with the other hand toward earth, while we remain in the mystical center in between. This form is said to benefit the stomach and spleen while toning our core and boosting overall stability.
4. Wise Owl Gazing — An amazingly simple stretch sends new energy though the spine, while relieving muscle tightness and any pinched nerves. This also boost the health of our eyes, neck and back.
5. Big Bear Searching — here we move like a bear on a mountain side looking for food. This harmonious form uses breathwork to help bring new energy to the heart and lungs, increasing longevity and overall health.
5. Punching Fist with Fierce Gaze — Purge anger from the liver (where Chinese medicine believes it’s stored). This move also strengthens concentration and releases tension.
7. Touching Toes to Purify Kidneys — this is a great one to gather good chi out of the air, and then purify our kidneys while touching our toes. Tracing the meridians down the outside of our body and and coming up the inside, this helps the bladder and entire urinary system, while purging the negative emotion of fear from the kidneys. This one leave us with a sense of quiet confidence.
8. Chi Shower (“Shaking the Tree”) —this is sometimes referred to the “Cure for 99 Diseases” (though not mention literally), a testimony to how powerful the Ancients found this form. It’s said to help drain toxins from the lymph nodes, strengthen the heels and calves, stimulate the immune system, and send negative energy into the earth while receiving renewed energy from above.
Try the 8 Brocades with this Free Class.
Joe Moody shares ancient wisdom for modern minds at Club Qigong.
Standard disclaimer: None of the statements on this page should be construed as dispensing medical advice and/or making claims regarding the cure of diseases. You should consult a licensed health care professional before starting any supplement, dietary, or exercise program.