The Great Journey
Masters and students of The Great Accomplishment Lineage (Da Cheng Chuan) come together for a unique international colloquium
This is the first of a two-part series.
The vast central mountains of China hold the birthplace of one of the world's most revered Chi Kung lineages. It is here, in the heart of China's boundless mineral wealth, surrounded by sacred mountains, spectacular temples and monasteries, that the martial arts tradition of The Great Accomplishment flourishes.
And it was here that masters and students from China and 15 other countries came together at the end of the millenium to demonstrate their skills in this profound art, known in Chinese as "Da Cheng Chuan".
For three days in the late summer heat of 1999, more than a hundred Chinese and foreign Chi Kung practitioners gathered in Datong, the industrial center of Shanxi province, under the guidance of three internationally acclaimed masters.
Word of this unique event had travelled through the countryside and many of the Chinese adepts journeyed for days from the surrounding mountains and valleys for the occasion.
It was to be the first time in nearly a decade that Master Guo Guizhi would demonstrate his prodigious power.
Now in his late sixties, Master Guo enjoys the extraordinary reputation of having been three times National Martial Arts Champion of China. He is the fountainhead of Da Cheng Chuan in its native province, with a living network of practitioners following his teachings throughout Northern China.
For the international colloquium, Master Guo was joined by Master Henry Look and his students from the United States and a delegation of over 30 other practitioners from 15 countries led by their master, Lam Kam Chuen.
Sifu Look, who has been teaching for many years in the Bay Area on the West Coast of the United States, is a leading figure in the martial arts world. He is widely credited with playing a major role in the transplantation of the authentic martial arts tradition from China to the West and is one of the most sought-after judges in US and world martial arts championships.
Master Lam Kam Chuen, who lives and teaches in London's Chinatown, achieved international fame with his ground-breaking book, The Way of Energy, which introduced the West to the Chinese art of Zhan Zhuang, better known as Standing Like a Tree. First published in 1991, over a quarter of a million copies have been sold in a dozen languages.
Zhan Zhuang (pronounced "Jan Jong") has the rare distinction of being the one system in the whole complex of Chinese exercise and martial arts that involves no movement.
Yet Standing Like a Tree is the foundation practice of what is widely regarded as the most powerful of all martial arts - Da Cheng Chuan, the Great Accomplishment.
Speaking at the international colloquium in Datong, the head of Shanxi's martial arts governing body told the assembled masters and students, " Da Chen Chuan combines all elements: the development of health, martial arts, philosophy and personality. It trains the entire body and mind. It is the training of a Buddha."
The foundation practice of Standing Like a Tree has the unusual capacity to transforms internal energy (Chi) of the body through exercise without movement. It is sometimes referred to as Standing Meditation.
"Like a tree with its deep roots, powerful trunk, and great spreading branches, you appear to remain unmoving," says Master Lam Kam Chuen. "In reality you are growing from within."
"You stand in carefully designed postures that stimulate the flow of your body's internal energy. Holding the positions helps you to relax while, at the same time, building up your power. Despite the tremendous energy that it is capable of eventually generating, it can be practised by anyone, of any age, anywhere, without special equipment or clothing, " he says.
Like so much of the martial arts tradition, the art of Standing Like a Tree was shrouded in secrecy for centuries. Now, it is practised by increasing numbers of people throughout China and is part of the training of some of the country's top athletes. It is also used in hospitals and clinics for the treatment of a wide range of diseases.
Standing Like a Tree is based on fundamental principles of Chinese medicine - the oldest continuous medical tradition in the world. The aim is to regulate the flow of vital energy by helping your whole system to relax while, at the same time, strengthening the ability of your body and mind to withstand stress. Research in China into its effects has shown increased blood circulation, greater breath capacity, enhanced muscle tone and strengthened immunity.
"When you are standing, you just stay as quiet as possible, "says Sifu Henry Look. "You don't try to do anything other than just be where you are and be very still. You will experience deep meditation. Many people don't understand this. With all my teachers I found that when they were relaxed they said they felt as if they were expanding naturally, physically and mentally."
The dozens of Chinese practitioners who had gathered for the colloquium were naturally fascinated to understand how this rare gem of Chinese culture had come to be appreciated in the West. The foreign students met together in a special session to report on their experiences.
"I have had many students with scoliosis of the spine," reported Ole Eskilden, a Da Cheng Chuan practitioner who teaches in Scandanavia." At least three of them have straightened up. One man, after four years of practice, seems to be totally changed both in body and mind."
"At one of Master Lam's workshops in Denmark," Ole reported, "there was a woman who was overweight and had bad knees. She was due to have surgery. Master Lam used Chi Kung therapy on her knee and started her on special exercises.
"A short time later, she went to see the hospital for an X-ray. It showed that she no longer had a problem and the surgery was cancelled ! The consultant's report noted that she had been treated with Chi Kung."
Ole Eskildsen said he had experimented with Chi Kung therapy on people with extremely serious conditions and been deeply impressed with the results.
"One of my students in Germany was a teacher and had just married. He had just started Zhan Zhuang. Then he had a car accident and was paralysed from the chest down, " he told the meeting.
"I went to Germany for three days immediately after the accident. Using Zhan Zhuang Chi Kung I managed to get him to move his feet. I asked the doctors to put him on a TENS machine, to keep the circulation and chi flowing through the muscles in the legs when I wasn't there. Unfortunately they refused to do this. As a result, within one week, the chi had stagnated and he could no longer move his lower limbs."
"After this, however, he continued to do Zhan Zhuang Chi Kung, lying down and gradually moving and lifting his arms. Then he was able to do all the postures in a sitting position. Now, after three years, he is able to move around in a wheelchair, he can drive and he has returned to a normal professional and family life. He now has a daughter ! He has seen the deep benefit of Zhan Zhuang Chi Kung and practices it regularly."
"I have also had students with cancer," Ole Eskildsen reported. "One of them that I particularly remember was already in the third stage of liver cancer and was told by her doctor to wait for her death. She started doing Zhan Zhuang. She was very determined and did around four hours a day. Two and a half years later she is still alive. The X-rays showed that her tumour had stopped growing after one year; the latest X-rays show that it is now shrinking."
Ole Stenberg, a practitioner from Denmark, reported on the dramatic effect Zhan Zhuang Chi Kung has had on him after a decade of constant back pain.
"Fifteen years ago, I used to do weight lifting. I started to have pain whenever I sat down. I could stand but I could not bend at all," he said. "After 10 years of pain, I started doing Zhan Zhuang Chi Kung. After only 14 days, I started to feel better. After practising for two months, I attended a workshop. I can now sit all day in a chair.
"Doing the practice is like the layers of an onion: you have to gradually break through the layers of pain/no pain/pain/no pain. Sitting seems so simple when you can do it. You don't think about it. But when you are no longer able to do it, your whole life is affected. When you are able to do it again, you just feel incredible!"
"I have used a combination of massage and Chi Kung in hospitals in Sweden, Anders Hakansson, a massage therapist, told the meeting. "One woman who came to me for massage had multiple sclerosis and had been in a wheelchair for 20 years. She had no movement below her navel. When I treated her, I felt some connection between her spine and her feet, so I put her in a Zhan Zhuang Chi Kung sitting posture.
"After three weeks, I got a call from her: she was very excited. She had been a great dancer in her youth. One day, when holding the position while watching TV, her foot started moving to the music.
"I continued treating her for two years, used mainly lying down postures to bring energy to her spinal cord. She is now using a walking frame on wheels and can manage to hold the standing postures for up to half a minute at a time."
"Five years ago I couldn't walk very far. I was a real wimp," said Jean Willson, a social worker from the United Kingdom. "Now I can walk 10 miles a day. Before practising Standing Like a Tree I couldn't carry any weights. Now I can carry shopping and move furniture.
"I also use this practice in my work. As a trainer, I lead a lot of seminars. A constant problem is people starting to fall asleep in their chairs. Now when I see that people are about to drift off, I get them to sit up, hold their bellies and lift up their toes. This very basic Zhan Zhuang Chi Kung wakes up their energy and make them far more alert !"
Standing Like a Tree is also an invaluable tool in the world of complementary therapies.
Adam Hellinger, a Shiatsu teacher in North London, told the meeting: "A friend of mine, a woman in her late 50's, was a healer. Like many such people, she paid little attention to her own health. She was overweight and had developed a heart problem. She had been put on medication by her doctor and told to lose weight to reduce her Blood Pressure.
"She had tried to heal herself with crystals, without success. I suggested that she see Master Lam and she had one consultation with him. She told me that he had taught her a sitting posture, which she practiced three times a day. After three weeks, her blood pressure was below that of a healthy person 10 years younger than her. She also had a strong pulse - much to her doctor's surprise. Zhan Zhuang Chi Kung is now an intrinsic part of her life."
The Great Accomplishment, part 2