Three Treasures of Shaolin
Three Treasures of Shaolin - Neil Ripski 2017
Shaolin qigong practices have been referenced as legendary for a long time and as with any legend they need to be taken with a grain of salt. When I started martial arts the first I heard about qigong was the legendary three treasure exercises of Shaolin: the 18 Lohan Palm, the muscle tendon change and the bone marrow washing method. It was these three that were to have given birth to Shaolin as a martial arts mecca and were the source material for their ability. Naturally after hearing about this I was hungry to find and learn the three of them but my Chin Woo teacher at the time though them all lost and did not know anything other than legends about them.
The first of the methods I found was the 18 Lohan Palm by pure chance. My gongfu brother Daniel went to a Chinese Doctor who happened to have a class each week for his patients as a prescription for them. He called me when he found out and I quickly made my way down to Chinatown to meet Master Chen. For over 15 years now I have trained with Shifu Chen (Chen Qi Ming) and worked very hard to become his successor in the style. He is still practicing medicine a few days a week and is working on a book about Lohan Palm with me to help preserve the style.
18 Lohan Palm is a very balanced and safe training method that is based on an older method of understanding the body from Chinese Medicine – the six main meridians. It includes a standing qigong form, standing self-massages, seated form, seated massages, stretching routine and meditation training. It is gentle enough to train every day and safe enough to not cause qi gong bing (Qi Gong Sickness 氣功病) which is a real threat to any inexperienced and serious qigong practitioner.
Years after finding 18 Lohan I was lucky enough to reconnect with my gongfu brother Kevin Wallbridge, a professor of Chinese Medicine and founding member of the Academy of Classical Oriental Sciences in Nelson B.C. It was he who had the Yijinjing (Muscle Tendon Changing Classic) exercise and the Shaolin Nei Jing Gong (a classical Shaolin Bone marrow washing and Fa Qi method). With his help I finally had all three of the legendary methods I had heard about as a child in the 1980’s.
Over the past few years I have been researching, training and exploring the three of these exercises alongside another Shaolin qigong method known as Heavy Hands, an internal Iron Palm exercise, and finally have begun to understand the origin of the Shaolin monks’ legendary qigongs. The three treasures of the 18 Lohan, Muscle/Tendon Change and Bone Marrow Washing are a spectrum of Yin/Yang, Jing-Qi-Shen training that work as a well-rounded system to increase health to support long life, strength, a sharp mind and a strong spirit. Aspects all needed for serious meditative practices as well as martial arts training. The Muscle Tendon Change is one extreme end of the spectrum, working directly on the flesh, the tangible part of the self, the Jing, in this way we can call it the Yin side of the spectrum.
Yin can be defined many ways but the usage here is referring to Yin as Solid, Earthy, Dense, and Tangible.
The Bone Marrow Washing method is the other extreme of the spectrum the Yang the intangible and ethereal. It deals with Qi as an energetic field or substance and directing it to wash the meridians of the body to induce flow, remove blockages and create movement and understanding. It is as much a spiritual practice as a physical and mental one. The Shen (spirit), Yi (intellect), Xin (emotional mind / heart) and the sum of them all is exercised gently but powerfully when doing the practice.
The 18 Lohan Palm is the middle path of the three residing between the other extreme practices on the spectrum. It does not create the same level of fire (extreme sensation either physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually) which means it does not run the risk of inducing serious qigong sickness in the practitioner. The other two however are extremely volatile in this way and as such are generally kept as closed-door practices only to prevent people from causing harm to themselves.
After doing all these practices for many years however I can see the spark of the truth in the legends. A monk practicing each of these methods properly, under supervision of a teacher and without the distractions of the dust of the world of everyday life would become something more than a normal human. After only 100 days of the muscle tendon change I found I could withstand much more power from strikes with no effort, become more powerful myself and had a more focused intent in my movements and a deeper understanding of spiral power. After many years of Lohan Palm training the heaviness of my limbs has increased, my mental health is better, clearer and happier and my overall physical health is more robust. Training the marrow washing has given me an understanding of the method and idea of Qi, how connected and interconnected we all are to reality and how often we are busy staring at the finger pointing at the moon rather then the moon itself. A person training all three for years will become a well-rounded, healthful and compassionate human being.
Time is of course a factor in this type of training however and very few people other than those with a monks’ life could have the time on their hands to do it all. The entire Lohan system is ideally trained every day and takes more than two hours to complete with all its meditative sessions. It is the foundational practice to maintain the balance between the two extremes. While the muscle tendon change is quick and takes only ten to fifteen minutes to complete it is exhausting and generally requires a period of rest afterwards. The Shaolin Neijing gong (bone marrow washing) is a slow qigong exercise and takes between twenty minutes to an hour to complete. All told this means a daily regime of three hours before doing any martial arts practice or work!
When I imagine a Shaolin Wu Seng (Warrior Monk) training three hours of meditation and qigong daily before martial arts practice, chanting, reading and teaching; I can see how after years or decades of this routine they would become legendary martial artists and people. But at what cost?
Living in the dust of the world as most all of us do means we have other commitments, families, jobs, bills, friends, hobbies and so on. It is for this reason that we need to be careful with our time and our training time. It is the only commodity we truly have that we can spend. Is it worth giving up everything else in our lives for martial arts ability? I know at one time I would have answered yes, I did answer yes. But as I grow older and perhaps a little wiser I would say that the secret to life is balance. The secret to martial arts is balance. The secret to the three treasures is balance. Maintaining a balance in your life is the root of happiness and happiness will spring forth from a well cultivated balanced life.
There is a saying among my students that is heard often.
“We pursue enlightenment through bare fisted murder.”
Balance. Humour. Life.
Train smarter, not harder.