Application of San Bao (Three Treasures) to the Warm-Up Exercises
Our Warm-Up Exercises should be done before every workout and serve several crucial functions. On the level of Jing (physical matter or essence), the Warm-Ups warm and prepare the body’s tendons and ligaments for movement, thus preventing pulled muscles and injury. In terms of qi, these exercises directly engage not only the Zhang Fu meridians, but also activate the Qi Jing Ba Mai, or Eight Extraordinary meridians. On the level of xin (heartmind, consciousness, or spirit) the Warm-Ups will sharpen the practitioner’s focus and direct intention where it is needed for each exercise. All three levels of these San Bao or “Three Treasures” must be cultivated over years of practice in order to perform the Warm-Ups correctly. While these movements may seem simple, they are in fact a very powerful set of Qigong. When one becomes skilled in the Warm-Up set, it becomes a continuous and graceful form unto itself.
Each component of the Warm-Ups can be executed either martially or at a slower Qigong speed. Working the exercises at martial speed works on reflexes and quickness; Qigong way will enable the practitioner to develop better qi sensitivity. Regardless of which mode one uses, Wuji must be present in each exercise. Literally, Wuji refers to a state of emptiness; in a practical sense it means that the body is relaxed yet firmly rooted, using only the minimum amount of muscle tension to complete a movement. Completing the Warm-Ups allows one to get a feel for the Wuji state which is then carried into the rest of the workout.
At the most fundamental level of jing or matter, the Warm-Ups prevent physical injury to the body during martial training or sparring. A torn muscle or ligament can pose a major problem for a practitioner, causing a setback of weeks to months of lost practice time. The Warm-Ups prevent injury during a workout by warming and stretching the body’s tendons, ligaments, muscles, and fascial connective tissue. Ensuring that the body’s tendons and ligaments are warm and supple allows for optimal range of motion and improved qi flow. As a testament to the efficacy of the Warm-Ups, Shifu Moore has told students that in his many years of practicing Ba Gua Zhang, none of his nor Shizu Park’s students have been injured due to torn muscles or ligaments while working out!
The Qi Jing Ba Mai are the eight “Extraordinary” or “Congenital” Meridians which develop when the body is a fetus. Upon birth these meridians shift their functioning to become a balancing mechanism for the 12 Zhang-Fu meridians and serve to balance any excesses or deficiencies of qi in the Zhang-Fu. One of the main purposes of the Warm-Ups is to reactivate the Qi Jing Ba Mai. One way this is accomplished is through the twisting and stretching of the spine. The first Warm-Up (turning from the core to swing the arms around loosely to both sides of the body) not only warms the abdomen and internal organs, but also twists each vertebrae up and down the spine’s length. This stretching of the spine ensures that there is space between each vertebrae, allowing for good qi flow in the spinal column and preparing the body for other exercises focusing on the spine, such as Lung Bei (Dragonback), Three Basins, and Waving.
The Warm-Ups also serve to open the Kua (groin or inguinal creases), an area of the body of crucial importance for any internal practitioner. Anatomically, the inguinal creases are found below the navel and between the abdomen and thigh on either side of the pubic bone. In terms of qi flow this area is very important as all the Yin meridians beginning in each toe ultimately must travel through the Kua. Unfortunately for most Americans (due to largely sedentary lifestyles), the Kua is very prone to stagnation. Because qi flows in a continuous circuit, stagnation of qi in the Kua prevents good qi flow through the whole body. If one’s Kua is closed, qi flow is severely compromised and the legs will tend to be tight and not move optimally. As Ba Gua Zhang relies heavily upon fast footwork, fighting with tight legs will seriously compromise one’s speed and martial ability. The kicks in the Warm-Ups, in particular, help to open the Kua and ensure good qi flow in both the upper and lower halves of the body.
Lastly, on the level of Shen or consciousness, the Warm-Ups sharpen and prepare the practitioner’s mind for the rest of his workout. One of the three aspects of our school’s motto is “Sincerity.” Being sincere in one’s practice means that one’s xin or mind is fully present in each moment of cultivation. As Taoist philosopher Chuang-Tzu put it, one must clear away any mental “underbrush” from the arena of mind and become fully present to the moment. When we step into the school or workout area, it is this sincerity which enables us to drop all other concerns and become present and focused. Relationship or financial concerns, stress, and memories from the day all must be dropped; the practitioner’s sincerity and devotion to cultivation make this possible.
The Warm-Ups are essential and should be done diligently before working out. The practitioner must consider each level of San Bao as it pertains to the exercise being done. One should also periodically ask, “Am I relaxed and in a state of Wuji?”, “Are my mind and intention in the correct place?” and “Is my breathing relaxed and coordinated with my movement?” With time and perseverance, the practitioner will come to cherish these exercises for their ability to resolve stagnation, flow chi smoothly through the entire body, and engender a tranquil and focused mind.