Secrets of the Twelve Emei Forms – part 1



This is part of a series of translations taken from Zhou Qianchuan’s explanation of what we know in our school as the Twelve Emei Daoyin. Dr Shen held these exercises to be the best traditional exercise system developed in China, and I have been luckily enough to learn from and translate for Shen Jin when she taught these exercises in the UK. I hope to make some progress with these translations, but am at the whims of the universe when it comes to having the time and ability to do so. Perhaps more than my translations of the life story of Gongga Huofo, it would be really useful for people to let me know of any inconsistencies or deeper meanings that I have missed.


I have rendered the original text of the verses in italics and Zhou’s commentary is then underneath this in regular font.


A Simple Explanation of the Joined Verse on the Heaven and the Earth Forms


Imitating heaven then earth, [from] round and empty pattern emerges; large and small, open and closed, perfected in the mind.


These four lines express the fundamental philosophy of the ancient health practitioners (养生家). A foundation built on the point of view that “heaven and earth are one”, and an emphasis on the word ‘rounded’. The ancient people, imitating heaven and following earth, observing what was far away and examining what was close by, fixed the fundamental principle of movement exercise upon the circle – realising that all methods of movement arose from ‘roundedness’ and ‘emptiness’. Looking at this objectively(??), one can contemplate the manifestation of ‘emptiness’ in the internal circle – the area (体积) of a circle is large and its capacity (容积) is also large, therefore it can receive and contain the [rejuvenating] breath (吐納). In the external circle one can contemplate the manifestation of ‘fulness’ – if the external manifestation is round, it will be lively (灵活) and there will be no obstruction whether drawing a line or a dot [with one’s movements], so [one] will be able to circulate and rotate. Thus, roundedness and emptiness give rise to the manifestation of lively freedom, circulating breath, and unlimited transformation.


Neither the Heaven nor the Earth form depart from the manifestation of roundedness. They are both based on roundedness in their ‘essence’, and on movement in their ‘manifestation’ (體用). This manifestation can then be differentiated as either internal or external – externally one uses ‘large and small’ as the manifestation, and internally one uses ‘open and closed’. External manifestation is talking about the large or small size of one’s postures, internal manifestation is discussing the opening and closing of the qi dynamic. However, internal and external rely on mind as their sovereign, as this is the hinge which unites any contradiction between the two. Therefore, internal and external cannot be separated, and are in fact indivisible – this is the precisely the undividedness of posture, breath, and mind.


In the four lines above the general focus is on the word ‘round’, but looking at this according to external form then the emphasis in on the words ‘large’ and ‘small’, and looking at it according to internal environment then the emphasis is on the words ‘open’ and ‘closed’. ‘large’, ‘small’, ‘open’, and ‘closed’ require the mind to perform its function of interconnecting, as only then [will one] experience profundity, and only then will one’s manipulations be effortless – only like this will it be called ‘perfected’. Here, we are only talking about opening and closing, but why are we not talking rising and sinking? This is because opening and closing are the key to rising and sinking – when talking about the opening and closing of the qi dynamic, the rising and sinking of the qi dynamic are included within it according to natural law. This opening, closing, rising, and falling of the qi dynamic are completely reliant on the mind in order to manifest. Within this principle of using the function of the mind, are the three methods of ‘unification of spirit and qi’, ‘unification of spirit and channels’, and ‘unification of spirit and form’ which are formulas spoken of in ancient times. The unification of spirit and channels and the unification of spirit and qi both talk about breath (呼吸、吐納) and manipulation of internal channels, they are known as formulas relating to cultivation of the ‘internal environment’. The unification of spirit and form talks about external posture and the manipulation of movement and interconnection in the internal channels – known as the putting in place of ‘externally manifest’ postures.


To be continued…

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Andrew Wormald

Acupuncture, Tuina Massage & Qigong Specialist

Andrew is a lifelong practitioner of traditional self-cultivation practices. This journal is a space to share insights and information with like-minded people.

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