Well I was thinking of what kind of article to write next and it hit me…talk about the various types of Qigong. Seems rather simple, however really thinking about it, I doubt most people have been exposed to all of them. They may have been exposed to one or two branches most. For more general information on Qigong go here. So let’s start the tour.
In the world of Qigong you can classify 3 major “types” which then can be broken down even further, the major categories are:
Spiritual: This is an area which has many divergent streams which can be hard to pin down. One can throw every major philosophy in China and it’d fit in here. The focus here is mostly to “understand yourself in the scheme of things”. The most notorious schools that are known for this are the Taoist and Ch’an Buddhist.
Medical: This one is pretty straight forward, its focus is improving health. Having said that other branches of this area are longevity and Chinese medical practices. This is the primary Qigong promoted in many countries. Some examples of this include: Baduanjin (8 set of brocade) and the Five Animals Play.
Martial: Martial Qigong is what you see in those old kungfu movies with the really bad voice overs. Generally if you’ve trained in any Chinese martial art you’ll get to a point where this is covered- they just don’t tell you. That said this type of Qigong is used for martial purposes (as you could guess), so it is things like how to stop a spear, make your skin tougher, how to generate more power etc. The Ch’an Buddhists also known as Shaolin monks are very well known for this especially in their “Iron Shirt” training.
So far, we’ve covered the 3 major branches one could break Qigong into; another classification would be the 3 Philosophies:
Most people have heard or been exposed to 2 of them being Daoism and Buddhism however there is a Confucian branch which isn’t so well known. With all that said, each of these philosophies are used as a context how to view one’s practice training and life- so there is a perspective one takes on when following one of these categories.
Confucianism: Confucianism is based off the philosophy of Confucius or Kong Tze, a philosopher in the Warring States era. This philosophy stresses worldly relations such as filial relationships (past and present), how to respect others, and ultimately how to be human. In a Qigong context, “Confucian” qigong is a mirror to such core tenants. In that historically it was used to detach oneself from one’s emotions (so one is not reactive) and to help with intellectual activities.
Daoism: Daoism is probably mostly known for the Yin/Yang sign (which by the way…isn’t historically related to them at all- that’s a different story though). The transmitter was someone named Lao Tzu who was an imperial archivist would left the “mundane” world in order to pursue “himself”. The Qigong related to the Daoist is vast, since they were the ones who used it originally. The focus even differs depending on which sect of Daoism you’re looking into. Some are into immortality, others are using it for health, yet others martial. I’d personally say…you could find any category in this philosophy. A core overall theme though to this paradigm is “go with the flow”.
Ch’an Buddhism: Buddhism is a philosophy not native to China: it migrated from India during the mid-Han dynasty (5-6thBCE). It was said to have come in before, however sources are inconclusive. However for our purposes of Qigong history it was during the 5-6th century a man called Bodhidharma came to visit China from India. While on his trip, Bodhidharma went to visit the Shaolin Buddhist temple where he demonstrated some forms derived from Kalari Payattu and yoga (probably hatha) since he found them physically weak. This later would encompass Shaolin or Buddhist Qigong. Theme wise; Buddhism is predominately focused on enlightenment and compassion. It is because of that the physical Qigong is meant to help “transcend” the mind and to make one understand that this is all an illusion (maya).
And then some…
Following up with the 3 main philosophical schools; there are still minor ones such as Islamic and Shamanic Qigong.
Further, even after the philosophical schools- there are still more ways we can categorize things. There is regional (such as North, South, East and West). Then you could break it down provincially, or one could even categorize via ethnicity (such as Tibetan/Lama and Hakka).
What Combination Would you Like?
With all these “camps” talked about, I’ve found any one of them can be matched with one another. Yes, there is spiritual Confucian Qigong as there is Buddhist Martial Qigong, as well as a combination of any or all of them together. To make it even more mind-boggling there are the “Neo” traditions which combine 2 or more philosophical schools then add whatever category they like to focus on. An example of this would be the Longmen Pai (Dragon Gate) which is in the Daoist philosophical branch however combines with Ch’an Buddhism (in its philosophy and techniques borrowed).
The beauty in this concept of limitless combination is although eclectic, it is fully customizable to whom you are at any moment. The downside to this as with anything is, if you add to many things to a jambalaya it is no longer a jambalaya. So in that regard, a lot of people may stick with a certain stream of thought for a prolonged period of time then switch out. There are various stories of people in China who switched out of various paradigms or “philosophies” at different times in their life.
Does this sound weird? Well you need to understand in Chinese culture and philosophy; a practitioner can be a Confucian, Daoist and Buddhist or anything else, at the same time. Unlike the western demarcation of philosophies or religions, the Chinese say “all roads lead up the mountain”, so it is no wonder they have no problem combining all of them. It is at that point it comes down to preference s and goals.
Walking up the Mountain
Well, having a map of the terrain now- which path do you want to walk on? As said earlier all roads lead to the top; however you may like certain things at certain time periods. THAT’S FINE. Just understand that it may switch later as you grow and develop. The great thing about Qigong is that it can accommodate everyone, no matter what their journey. That said, it is just one vehicle, and the vehicle is only as good as its driver. So, ask yourself if you’re ready to take the reins (as in the old days) or take the steering wheel. If you are, you’re on your way so enjoy the ride!
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