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Thread: Ancient Chinese exercise chart showing Qigong (2nd century BC)

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    Default Ancient Chinese exercise chart showing Qigong (2nd century BC)

    I thought this was rather interesting and would like to share it: a Western Han Chinese exercise chart, painted on silk (part of the Mawangdui Silk Texts of Hunan, China, this particular piece found in Tomb #3), depicting men and women practicing what appears to be Qigong. This painting and everything else in the tomb complex is dated to the middle of the 2nd century BC. Before the Han Dynasty, Chinese philosophers such as Kong Fuzi (Confucius), Mengzi, Laozi, and Zhuangzi wrote about such physical exercise coupled with meditation to maintain one's health. Is this evidence for Qigong in ancient times as we know it today? Or merely a precursor (or, indeed, various different holistic traditions that perhaps merged into one over time and shouldn't be labelled or brought under the same umbrella term)?



    A modern recreation tries to piece together the fragments and show how they most likely looked when freshly painted two millennia ago:




    I'm no expert, I just think this is a cool discovery. If anyone is knowledgeable about what ancient texts say about Qigong, or if these paintings are in any way strikingly similar to the modern day practice, I'd like to hear about it!

    Yours truly,
    TWC's resident groovy cool liberal arts professor



    (Not really, just kidding, I'm still just a PhD student. )

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    Default Re: Ancient Chinese exercise chart showing Qigong (2nd century BC)

    From my vague memories of Chinese history there's no manuals of exercise until the medieval period, although systems of exercise are mentioned in other works.

    The martial arts tradition and perhaps the associated stretching exercises are thought by some to have been largely transmitted from India. IIRC the earliest depictions of familiar eastern martial arts poses are in Indian temple sculpture, can't remember the temples in question.

    From memory the first written reference to an unarmed martial art is from medieval India, although the universal arts of fist fighting and wrestling are depicted in many cultures before this. No doubt there were indigenous Chinese traditions in these well known forms, as there was in Europe, Iran etc.

    Certainly Buddhism arrived in waves in China from India, bringing elite culture and ceremony from the subcontinent, and in all likelihood the health regimes which in India became Yoga, and quite possibly a strong armed and unarmed martial arts tradition.

    There's a fairly specific notion of 104 (sometimes slightly more) vital points across many Indian and East Asian martial arts, making it likely they share a common ancestral form, perhaps informed by Ayurvedic medical practice (where the notion of 104 vital points first appears) I am persuaded there was martial arts tradition including the 104+points, certain exercise regimes and a philosophical component looking chiefly to Buddhism formed in India and was taken to China where it became a major tradition in its own right.

    I recall a TV documentary "The Way of the Warrior" where many martial arts were reviewed. The makers were struck by the numerous common points across the East and South Asian traditions, not so much in the weapon systems (India has a some freaky weapons, whip swords and punching daggers and so on) but in the unarmed forms. They investigated the 104+ vital point theory, as these are a guarded secret they did not publish them but claimed they were practically identical across older Chinese forms (Pa Kua? one based on whirling in circles, and another base on animal poses) "Kung Fu"(temple boxing) , Kalapiyarat (sp?), Korean and Japanese traditions. The presenters claimed they had shown the list to western medical professional and asked to consider if the points described corresponded to potentially lethal points on the human body and it was agreed most were.

    I have no doubt there are indigenous exercise and fighting styles around the world, however I'd imagine it likely the Chinese images here are influenced by Indian thought.
    Jatte lambastes Calico Rat

  3. #3

    Default Re: Ancient Chinese exercise chart showing Qigong (2nd century BC)

    The oldest known martial art is Pankration from Greece.
    Pankration (/pæn.ˈkreɪti.ɒn/ or /pæŋˈkreɪʃən/)(Greek : παγκράτιον) was a sporting event introduced into the Greek Olympic Games in 648 BC and founded as a blend of boxing and wrestling but with scarcely any rules. The only things not acceptable were biting and gouging out the opponent's eyes. The term comes from the Greek παγκράτιον [paŋkrátion], literally meaning "all of might" from πᾶν (pan-) "all" and κράτος (kratos) "strength, might, power".[1]
    No idea about earliest Qigong. Traditionally Kung Fu (gongfu) was created by the Buddha. But this is discounted.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaoli...y#Patron_saint
    The first Shaolin Monastery abbot was Batuo (also called Fotuo or Buddhabhadra) a dhyana master who came to China from India[2] or from Greco-Buddhist Central Asia[3] in 464 AD to spread Buddhist teachings.
    According to the Continued Biographies of Eminent Monks (645 AD) by Daoxuan, Shaolin Monastery was built on the north side of Shaoshi, the central peak of Mount Song, one of the Sacred Mountains of China, by Emperor Xiaowen of the Northern Wei Dynasty in 477 AD. Yang Xuanzhi, in the Record of the Buddhist Monasteries of Luoyang (547 AD), and Li Xian, in the Ming Yitongzhi (1461), concur with Daoxuan's location and attribution. The Jiaqing Chongxiu Yitongzhi (1843) specifies that this monastery, located in the province of Henan, was built in the 20th year of the Taihe era of the Northern Wei Dynasty, that is, the monastery was built in 495 AD.
    The Kangxi Emperor of the Qing Dynasty was a supporter of Shaolin Temple, and he wrote the calligraphic inscriptions that still hang over the Heavenly King Hall and the Buddha Hall today.[4]
    Traditionally Bodhidharma is credited as founder of the martial arts at the Shaolin Temple. However, martial arts historians have shown this legend stems from a 17th-century qigong manual known as the Yijin Jing.[5]
    The authenticity of the Yi Jin Jing has been discredited by some historians including Tang Hao, Xu Zhen and Matsuda Ryuchi. This argument is summarized by modern historian Lin Boyuan in his Zhongguo wushu shi:
    As for the "Yi Jin Jing" (Muscle Change Classic), a spurious text attributed to Bodhidharma and included in the legend of his transmitting martial arts at the temple, it was written in the Ming dynasty, in 1624, by the Daoist priest Zining of Mt. Tiantai, and falsely attributed to Bodhidharma. Forged prefaces, attributed to the Tang general Li Jing and the Southern Song general Niu Gao were written. They say that, after Bodhidharma faced the wall for nine years at Shaolin temple, he left behind an iron chest; when the monks opened this chest they found the two books "Xi Sui Jing" (Marrow Washing Classic) and "Yi Jin Jing" within. The first book was taken by his disciple Huike, and disappeared; as for the second, "the monks selfishly coveted it, practicing the skills therein, falling into heterodox ways, and losing the correct purpose of cultivating the Real. The Shaolin monks have made some fame for themselves through their fighting skill; this is all due to having obtained this manuscript." Based on this, Bodhidharma was claimed to be the ancestor of Shaolin martial arts. This manuscript is full of errors, absurdities and fantastic claims; it cannot be taken as a legitimate source.[6]
    Undoubtedly the Sumerians being the first likely civilization must have had a martial tradition. Who knows?

    Unless chiseled in stone or written in clay, and scroll would disintegrate.
    1900 B.C. Egyptian grappling

    http://www.mtlsd.org/district/athlet...st%20sport.pdf
    Wrestling, mankind's oldest and most basic form of recreational combat, traces its origins back to the dawn of civilization. Carvings and drawings estimated to be between 15,000 and 20,000 years old, found in caves in southern Europe, illustrate wrestlers in hold and leverage positions. Sumerians cast wrestlers in bold relief on stone slabs at least 5,000 years ago,antedating all other artifacts of ancient sport. Asmall bronze statuette of wrestlers, apparently used as a vase, was unearthed in the ruins of Khafaji, 200 miles from Baghdad. This artifact,dated 2600 B.C., now is housed in the Iraqi national museum.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_sport
    Cave paintings have been found in the Lascaux caves in France that have been suggested to depict sprinting and wrestling in the Upper Paleolithic around 17,300 years ago.[1][2] Cave paintings in the Bayankhongor Province of Mongolia dating back to Neolithic age of 7000 BC show a wrestling match surrounded by crowds.[3] Neolithic Rock art found at the cave of swimmers in Wadi Sura, near Gilf Kebir in Libya has shown evidence of swimming and archery being practiced around 6000 BC.[4] Prehistoric cave paintings have also been found in Japan depicting a sport similar to sumo wrestling.[5]
    Last edited by RubiconDecision; November 23, 2015 at 08:32 PM.

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    Default Re: Ancient Chinese exercise chart showing Qigong (2nd century BC)

    Quote Originally Posted by Cyclops View Post
    From my vague memories of Chinese history there's no manuals of exercise until the medieval period, although systems of exercise are mentioned in other works.

    The martial arts tradition and perhaps the associated stretching exercises are thought by some to have been largely transmitted from India. IIRC the earliest depictions of familiar eastern martial arts poses are in Indian temple sculpture, can't remember the temples in question.

    From memory the first written reference to an unarmed martial art is from medieval India, although the universal arts of fist fighting and wrestling are depicted in many cultures before this. No doubt there were indigenous Chinese traditions in these well known forms, as there was in Europe, Iran etc.

    Certainly Buddhism arrived in waves in China from India, bringing elite culture and ceremony from the subcontinent, and in all likelihood the health regimes which in India became Yoga, and quite possibly a strong armed and unarmed martial arts tradition.

    There's a fairly specific notion of 104 (sometimes slightly more) vital points across many Indian and East Asian martial arts, making it likely they share a common ancestral form, perhaps informed by Ayurvedic medical practice (where the notion of 104 vital points first appears) I am persuaded there was martial arts tradition including the 104+points, certain exercise regimes and a philosophical component looking chiefly to Buddhism formed in India and was taken to China where it became a major tradition in its own right.

    I recall a TV documentary "The Way of the Warrior" where many martial arts were reviewed. The makers were struck by the numerous common points across the East and South Asian traditions, not so much in the weapon systems (India has a some freaky weapons, whip swords and punching daggers and so on) but in the unarmed forms. They investigated the 104+ vital point theory, as these are a guarded secret they did not publish them but claimed they were practically identical across older Chinese forms (Pa Kua? one based on whirling in circles, and another base on animal poses) "Kung Fu"(temple boxing) , Kalapiyarat (sp?), Korean and Japanese traditions. The presenters claimed they had shown the list to western medical professional and asked to consider if the points described corresponded to potentially lethal points on the human body and it was agreed most were.

    I have no doubt there are indigenous exercise and fighting styles around the world, however I'd imagine it likely the Chinese images here are influenced by Indian thought.
    Not many people know about them, but Indian martial arts traditions are badass indeed. That being said, I don't think they have any bearing on these particular paintings excavated from China, simply because they come from the tombs of Mawangdui, meaning they belong to the 160s BC. This is before the reign and majority of Emperor Wu of Han a few decades later, so the Chinese had not yet made any significant forays into Central Asia, let alone to India. Buddhism entered China in the 1st century AD during the Eastern Han period, a century and a half after these silk paintings were made and entombed with their owner belonging to the Western Han period.

    Quote Originally Posted by RubiconDecision View Post
    The oldest known martial art is Pankration from Greece.

    No idea about earliest Qigong. Traditionally Kung Fu (gongfu) was created by the Buddha. But this is discounted.

    Undoubtedly the Sumerians being the first likely civilization must have had a martial tradition. Who knows?

    Unless chiseled in stone or written in clay, and scroll would disintegrate.
    1900 B.C. Egyptian grappling

    http://www.mtlsd.org/district/athlet...st%20sport.pdf

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_sport
    Good points! I also suddenly remember the boxing art of the ancient Minoans, from the frescoes found at Knossos, Crete.



    I wasn't trying to assert the claim that the ancient Chinese were the first to develop martial arts, since it seems pretty well established that even the Archaic-era Greeks beat them to the punch on that front. I was simply pointing out that Qigong could very well have existed since the Warring States period, perhaps even as far back as the 5th century BC. And this would have had nothing to do with traditional gongfu martial arts, but simple exercises that would accompany meditation in a holistic system meant to improve and maintain one's personal health.

  5. #5

    Default Re: Ancient Chinese exercise chart showing Qigong (2nd century BC)

    I would be shocked if the earliest martial arts failed to have spiritual and esoteric attributes. Wrist-locks alone look mystical except to physicists. Those who survived combat would be considered blessed by the gods and on a geas.

    Okinawans hid the art of Te or Tee in their folk dancing, and such intentional subterfuge likely could obscure the martial arts from sculpture or paintings.



    The drawing on a scroll hides the hidden application to preserve secrecy(bunkai).
    Last edited by RubiconDecision; November 24, 2015 at 11:18 PM.

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    Default Re: Ancient Chinese exercise chart showing Qigong (2nd century BC)

    Quote Originally Posted by RubiconDecision View Post
    I would be shocked if the earliest martial arts failed to have spiritual and esoteric attributes. Wrist-locks alone look mystical except to physicists. Those who survived combat who be considered blessed by the gods and on a geas.
    Indeed, the temples along with the aristocracy (or combinations of the two, such as the Templars or Teutonic Knights) had the resources to develop specialist skills.

    If the nobility claimed the use of weapons for themselves (a common social arrangement in pre modern societies) then the temples might evolve forms of unarmed combat, bathed in their particular philosophical or religious mindset. The martial class of medieval Europe had a very religious mindset available (certain forms of mystical chivalry, eg the example of Parsifal or Galahad) if they weren't of the usual bloodthirsty character.

    Temples in ancient India (as in the ancient middle east) often had associated temple dancers (often sacred prostitutes) and so fighting, dancing and lovemaking probably all got a mystic makeover.

    There were always religious thinkers prepared to gloss activities with their outlook of course. "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance", how many motorcycle mechanics are Zen Buddhists?
    Jatte lambastes Calico Rat

  7. #7

    Default Re: Ancient Chinese exercise chart showing Qigong (2nd century BC)

    Certain motions are difficult to discern as Qigong, or calisthenics, or dancing from scrolls...and this might be intentional...and prevents the transmission of bunkai (hidden techniques from kata) in traditional Japanese martial arts.

    In the movement of Qi(Chi or Ki) certain distinct motions and lines indicate the movement of energy. Victorian drawings used that on occasion and is distinctive, and such symbology might be embedded in ancient sources.

    Note the vector symbology here. I can't find a good energy flow example but I've seen them in Tai Chi Chuan.

    Certain ideograms might also be used to identify a movement and be consistent.

    It seems like in the Seventies, I saw a scroll on Hsing I (now called Xing Yi Quan) that featured chi movement and ideograms on the chest of the practitioner indicating a code.
    Last edited by RubiconDecision; November 26, 2015 at 03:01 AM.

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