AN AUTHENTIC DEPICTION OF DAMO’S YIJINJING
by Jin Ti’an [Tisheng]
[published Sep, 1936]
[translation by Paul Brennan, March, 2020]
The art of Yijinjing [“Sinew Changing Classic”] was passed down from the Zen master Damo, founder of the Shaolin school of martial arts. It is divided onto an internal version and an external version.
The exercises of the internal version emphasize softness, using techniques of meditation and energy movement. It is not genuine Shaolin and should not be taught as such. Masters of it are unwilling to casually teach it to people anyway and guard it as a Shaolin secret. Martial arts practitioners who just want to look impressive are often practicing Shi’erduanjin [“Twelve Sections of Brocade”] instead, which has the same number of exercises and has similar principles, but is actually a different art, and although they are related, they must not confused for each other.
As for the exercises of the external version [the subject of this book], it emphasizes hardness, using techniques for building up the sinews and developing strength. This version has been widely spread, but I have not seen many authentic books about it. There are many versions of it to be found in book stalls, but although they are all the same thing, there are actually huge differences between them. We may hope to find a definitive book, but there just isn’t one.
Generally speaking, this art is more popular in the north. The various exercises in this book are the secret teachings of Zou Zhongda, a pharmacist from Shanxi. According to him: “This is the true transmission of this Shaolin art as it was spread into Shanxi and Shaanxi. It is superior to the more common versions that have been published in books.” These exercises lay particular emphasis on the upper limbs, but are nevertheless an excellent means of training strength and the movement of energy, as well as stretching the sinews and vessels.
I have practiced these exercises diligently, four or five times a day. After the first few months, it boosted my appetite, my muscles and bones felt extremely comfortable, and various illnesses no longer threatened me. After a couple of years, not only was my body much healthier and my spirit full of vigor, my arm strength had increased so much that I could lift very heavy weights. My inherent disposition toward frailty, frequent illness, and inadequate strength had been fully conquered. A couple of years will be sufficient to sweep away frailty and make the arms capable of lifting hundreds of pounds.
Old age is going reduce vitality anyway, but by conscientiously practicing this art, although it will not transform you into a young person again, it will nevertheless prevent illness and prolong life. An old practitioner of it in Jiangxi became known as “Clear Determination”. He is now eighty years old, but his spirit is still like that of a young man, and he walks ten miles every day without any difficulty at all. He said to me: “When I was middle-aged, my body was weak and often ill. A friend recommended to me that should I take up Yijinjing, so I did, and after practicing it diligently, I quickly became healthy. For forty years now, I have not yet been bothered by any illness, and I still walk with confident strides. If this isn’t because of Yijinjing, then what?” From this old man’s words, we can know the effectiveness of this art.
I am about to send my drawings and explanations for these exercises to the publishers
in order to send this art out into the world and share it with enthusiasts, and also to provide a means of correcting the errors in other books on the subject.
- written by Jin Ti’an
Stand facing toward the east, your feet about a foot apart, pointing straight and parallel rather than with the toes turned outward. Focus your mind and regulate your breath. Your eyes should be open, your mouth should be closed, and your head should be upright. Rouse energy in your abdomen. Your hands lift up, the elbows slightly bending, the palms facing toward the ground, then the strength of your arms has to focus downward, as though pushing on something in order to raise your body up. Your fingers should lift up with tension and then the heels of your palms should push down with tension. Lift up and push down in this way for a total of forty-nine times, counting silently in your head. See drawing 1:
This exercise is a posture of connecting to one’s primordial energy, of returning to one’s innate nature. Your fingers should lift quickly and then the palms should push down slowly. Alternating your full attention between fingers and palms causes you to have increased strength and abundant energy. Lifting up and pushing down is a subtle merging of the passive and active aspects. If your spirit is scattered and your strength is not focused, the exercise will not produce results, and so this is something to avoid. When your hands lift up, your elbows slightly bend, keeping palms below waist level. If your hands lift higher than your waist, this will diminish the results of the exercise. Be mindful of this point.
Continuing from the previous exercise, take a moment to regulate your breath, causing your body to relax, then continue into Section 2. Still standing straight, bring your feet together. Your arms straighten, your fingers curl to make fists, which are placed in front of and against your thighs, your thumbs aligned toward each other. Then your fists tighten and your thumbs strongly lift up, the higher the better. As your fists grip and your thumbs lift, the strength of your arms should be focused downward, as if resisting against an object. Perform this gripping and lifting for a total of forty-nine times, counting silently in your head. During the exercise, your spirit should be concentrated and your energy should be calm, your mind focused on the single thought of performing the exercise. See drawing 2:
This exercise develops finger strength. Your fists should grip tightly and your thumbs should lift quickly. Arm strength bearing downward as though resisting against something causes strength to gather in the fists and thumbs, making your fists able to grip more tightly and your thumbs able to lift higher. Other versions have the fists to the sides of the thighs and the thumbs pointing forward, but that is not as effective, for the strength expressed is not as full, and thus the energy is not as concentrated. If your spirit is lacking, the exercise will feel false, and so you have to clearly distinguish between the different versions in order to obtain the one that is most authentic.
Continuing from the previous exercise, take a moment to regulate your breath, then continue into Section 3. With your body still standing upright, your feet spread to be about a foot apart, pointing straight and parallel rather than with the toes turned outward. With your mouth closed and your eyes open wide, first wrap your thumbs over your fingers to again make full fists and hang them straight down at your sides, the backs of the fists facing outward. It is not necessary to exert much strength in the beginning, but keep your arms from bending. Your fists then squeeze and your arms straighten downward, causing your elbows to turn inward as you fill your fists and arms with tension. Perform the exercise in this way, your fists squeezing and your arms straightening, for a total of forty-nine times, counting silently in your head. See drawing 3:
This exercise develops arm strength. With your feet spread apart and your lower body therefore in a more solid position, your thumbs grip to make full fists and you exert strength, your arms straightening downward until your elbows are pointing inward. The strength of your whole body is thus gathered into your arms and reaches to your fists, and this is the way that this exercise develops arm strength.
Continuing from the previous exercise, take a moment to regulate your breath, then continue into Section 4. First bring your feet together, your body still standing upright. With your fingers and thumbs grasping as full fists, your fists go forward, slowly lifting up until at shoulder height, the backs of the fists facing outward, the centers of the fists facing each other, shoulder width apart. Your upper body must not wobble. Your fists then squeeze tightly and your arms reach out with tension. While squeezing and reaching, your arms must not drift off to the sides. Squeeze and reach for a total of forty-nine times, counting silently in your head. See drawing 4:
This exercise develops strength in the shoulders, back, fists, and arms, because although strength is concentrated in the fists and arms, the act of reaching out means your shoulders also have to stretch forward, which in turn causes the muscles of your upper back to engage, an extra tension that does not have to be deliberate since it is automatic. While your arms rise up, if you are unable to concentrate strength in them, they will slip into the wrong position, the posture will fall apart, your spirit will scatter, and the exercise will bring no benefit. Avoid this error.
Continuing from the previous exercise, take a moment to regulate your breath, then continue into Section 5. With your feet together and your body standing straight, your fists slowly rise up until straight above you, the backs of the fists facing outward, the centers of the fists facing each other, your elbows slightly bent to keep your arms at least an inch away from your ears, as your heels rise about a quarter of a foot off the ground. Then your fists squeeze, your arms tensing downward, as though you are pulling on something, while your heels are coming back down. Allow your fists to loosen and your arms to relax for a moment. Rise and lower in this way for a total of forty-nine times, counting silently in your head. See drawing 5:
This exercise develops the strength of the whole body, your lifted arms working your shoulders, back, and chest, your lifted heels working your legs and hips. If your legs and hips do not exert their full strength, then your body will wobble unstably and make the exercise difficult. Your arms tensing downward does not mean they are lowering, but that they are pulling down without moving, using an intention of moving to create tension. When your heels come down, they should lower slowly rather than abruptly. If your heels drop down heavily, it will give a jolt to the blood vessels throughout your body and startle your heart. Give attention to this point.
Continuing from the previous exercise, take a moment to regulate your breath, then continue into Section 6. With your feet spread about a foot apart [though the drawing shows them still together], pointing straight and parallel rather than with the toes turned outward, your hands grasp into fists, but with your thumb drawn outward to be tightly clamping down over the joint of just the forefinger rather than curling over the fingers to the center of the fist. Then your fists lift from the sides until your upper arm is at shoulder level, whereupon your elbows bend inward as far as they can so that your fists are about an inch away from your ears. Your arms should be directly to the sides, not shifting forward or back, up or down. With the centers of the fists [the fist mouths] facing toward your shoulders, your fists squeeze and your forearms tense to bend further inward, your upper arms tensing upward against them. Perform the exercise in this way, with your fists squeezing, your forearms tensing inward, and your upper arms tensing upward, for a total of forty-nine times, counting silently in your head. See drawing 6:
This exercise develops strength in the elbows and wrists, as well as in the chest, shoulders, and upper back. With your elbows bent, create tension in the muscles of your forearms. Your fists go toward your ears and downward to try to touch your shoulders, causing the wrists to bend and exert strength. With your arms placed to the sides, your chest opens, making your internal organs comfortable. As your upper arms tense upward against your forearms, create tension also in your shoulders and upper back. During the exercise, your upper body must avoid wobbling in any direction. Your legs should tense to keep you standing stably.
Continuing from the previous exercise, take a moment to regulate your breath, then continue into Section 7. First your hands grasp into fists, the thumbs now covering over the rest of the fingers, and lift up until in front of your chest, the centers of the fists facing inward, the arms at shoulder level. Then they slowly spread apart to the sides, maintaining tension throughout, to form a single line at shoulder level. Your upper body slightly leans back, though your body must not go to the point that it is actually bending back. Your heels are on the ground, but your toes lift up an inch off the ground. Your fists grip tightly and slowly loosen. As your fists grip tightly, inhale. As your fists loosen, exhale. Tighten and loosen for a total of forty-nine times, counting silently in your head. See drawing 7:
This exercise develops strength in the fists and arms, and also regulates the internal organs. Your fists gripping and your arms extending increases strength. Inhaling and exhaling regulates your organs by way of “expelling stale air and taking in fresh”. In order to regulate your organs, you first have to get the inside to be stretched out and comfortable, and then it will be effective. Reaching out your arms and leaning your upper body back causes your chest to open and invigorates your internal organs. By then adding the expelling of stale air and taking in fresh air, the benefits will be noticeable. As for your toes lifting, engage the strength of your legs and do not let it slacken, otherwise you will teeter. Keep your mind deeply focused.
This section is the same general idea as in Section 4. Continuing from the previous exercise, take a moment to regulate your breath, then continue into Section 8. Your hands grasp into full fists and go forward from below, rising up to shoulder height, the centers of the fists facing each other. In Section 4, your fists were shoulder width apart, but in this exercise they are only about a quarter of a foot apart. As your fists rise up, your heels lift about a quarter of a foot off the ground so that the balls of your feet are entirely supporting you. Then your fists grip tightly and slowly loosen. Grip and loosen for a total of forty-nine times, counting silently in your head. See drawing 8:
This exercise develops strength in the arms for creating space. Once your fists squeeze, your arms spread apart with tension until they are at shoulder width, as though prying heavy objects apart. Once your fists reach shoulder width, they slowly loosen, then your arms slowly move inward again to come back to their original spacing. Practicing in this way will produce marvelous results that you will not fail to notice.
Continuing from the previous exercise, take a moment to regulate your breath, then continue into Section 9. Stand straight with your feet together, your feet pointing straight rather than with the toes turned outward, your head upright, your gaze forward. Your hands form full fists, then your elbows bend and your forearms lift up until your fists and forearms are at shoulder level. The centers of the fists are facing downward, about a quarter of a foot apart. Then your fists squeeze and your wrists and forearms rotate upward with tension so that the centers of the fists are facing outward, your fists moving toward your nose, but staying at least an inch away from it. As your wrists and forearms rotate upward, this should not cause your upper arms to move upward. Then your fists slowly loosen as your forearms and wrists return to their original position. Rotate upward and back downward for a total of forty-nine times, counting silently in your head. See drawing 9:
This exercise develops strength in the elbows and forearms. As your wrists rotate upward, your hands should seem to be holding a heavy object that they are trying to lift by way of rotation. Although you are not actually holding an object, your mind has to treat it as though you are. Otherwise you would be moving arbitrarily, the tension would not be concentrated, and the benefits you receive would be reduced. Other versions have the arms lifting up with the centers of the fists facing inward rather than downward, improperly releasing the tension in the fists. Not only would you receive less benefit doing it in that way, the exercise may also become confused with Section 6, which actually has a very different principle. You have to scrutinize and be able to discriminate between authentic and inauthentic versions.
Continuing from the previous exercise, take a moment to regulate your breath, then continue into Section 10. Stand straight with your feet together, your hands forming full fists. Your elbows bend and your arms lift upward until your upper arms are at shoulder level, your forearms vertical, the fist mouths facing your ears, the centers of the fists facing forward, your arms and head making a posture that looks like 山 [the character for “mountain”]. Then your fists squeeze and your arms create a tension of propping upward as though holding up a heavy object, while your forearms have a tension of resisting against an outward pressure, all of these tensions driven by intention, and then slowly loosen your fists and relax your arms. Grip and release in this way for a total of forty-nine times, counting silently in your head. See drawing 10:
This exercise develops arm strength for propping up, using a tension of propping upward while the forearms have a tension of pressing outward, though it is not actually necessary to press outward while propping upward. The tension is driven by intention, what boxing arts masters call “an intention of strength reaching and yet not reaching the fist”, because strength should only arise where intention goes, [rather than manifesting undirected]. Other versions involve an outward resistance as soon as the arms are lifting up, making the posture awkward and the tension unfocused, causing the exercise to feel exaggerated. Carefully observe the difference.
Continuing from the previous exercise, take a moment to regulate your breath, then continue into Section 11. Stand straight with your feet together, your hands forming full fists. Your fists slowly lift over your abdomen until just below your navel, your elbows slightly bending, your fists at least an inch away from your abdomen. Your fists squeeze with your thumbs rising up, your arms having a tension of lifting up, as though they are holding up a heavy object, and then your fists loosen as your thumbs wrap over them again. When your fists squeeze, inhale. When your fists loosen, exhale. Squeeze and loosen in this way for a total of forty-nine times, counting silently in your head. See drawing 11:
With your fists and feet returning to their original position, calm your mind and do this breathing exercise: quietly recite the six sounds of “he, xu, hu, xie, chui, xi” nine times.
This exercise develops strength for pulling things up and is also a method of regulating the internal organs by way “expelling stale air and taking in fresh”, thereby cleansing the abdomen. The six sounds of “he, xu, hu, xie, chui, xi” are a mantra for regulating the organs, the sound “he” being associated with the heart, “xu” with the liver, “hu” with the spleen, “xie” with the lungs, “chui” with the kidneys, and “xi” with the triple warmer. It is necessary to first expel stale air and take in fresh, cleansing the abdomen, and then the functioning of the organs can be regulated. Doing this slow mantra nine times represents the “nine palaces” [each of the eight trigrams plus the center]. When quietly reciting these sounds, the sound should be low and drawn out over the course of a full breath. If the sound is high and quick, you will become short of breath and lose your focus. Be careful to avoid doing this.
Continuing from the previous exercise, take a moment to regulate your breath, then continue into Section 12. Stand straight with your feet together, your arms handing down at your sides, the palms facing forward, the fingers hanging downward. Your arms then slowly go forward with tension, lifting up until at shoulder level. As your arms lift up, your heels also rise up about a quarter of a foot away from the ground, the balls of your feet supporting you. Then your hands slowly lower as your heels come back down. Rise and lower in this way for a total of twelve times. See drawing 12:
Then your hands go forward again and your elbows bend, causing your palms to lift up and your elbows to poke downward, as your left heel rises up and then gently comes back down, and you return to your original position. Lift up and poke down again, your right heel rising up and then gently coming back down. With your feet alternating, your hands lift up and your elbows poke down for a total of twelve times.
This two-part exercise stretches the sinews and vessels of the whole body. After Section 11, your arms, legs, and torso all use tension and the movement of energy to stretch the sinews and regulate the vessels. Although you may give attention to everything from head to hips, there will unavoidably be parts that are emphasized more than others, and therefore use this exercise to balance everything out. Your arms rise and lower, then lift up and poke down, your heels rising and lowering, alternating left and right, and thus the sinews and vessels of your whole body will naturally get stretched and regulated. Both parts of this exercise are done twelve times, representing the “twelve hours” throughout the day [11pm–1am, 1am–3am, 3am–5am, 5am–7am, 7am–9am, 9am–11am, 11am–1pm, 1pm–3pm, 3pm–5pm, 5pm–7pm, 7pm–9pm, 9pm–11pm] and when combined together amount to twenty-four repetitions, representing the “twenty-four periods” throughout the year [start of spring, first rains, “waking hibernators”, vernal equinox, “fresh and shining”, rain for crops, start of summer, “small fullness” (referring to crop growth), “bearded crop” (i.e. rich yield), summer solstice, small heat, big heat, start of autumn, lingering heat, fresh dew, autumnal equinox, cold dew, frost arrives, start of winter, small snow, big snow, winter solstice, small cold, big cold].