DRAGON AND TIGER CHI KUNG
By Susan Rabinowitz
Light, flexible and serpentine, like a dragon flying. Powerful, relaxed and quiet, like a tiger walking. These are the qualities cultivated by practitioners of Dragon and Tiger Chi Kung, an ancient system practiced by millions in China today for health, strength and vitality. Dragon and Tiger Chi Kung is a Taoist system that originated 1500 years ago in the Shaolin Temple. Many Taoist Chi Kung sets are still practiced there, and although Dragon and Tiger has a Buddhist name, it is nevertheless in the Taoist tradition. It is a Taoist meridian line system that was developed for health and meditation.
Dragon and Tiger was passed down from Shaolin in a direct line to Taoist Master Bruce Kumar Frantzis. Master Frantzis learned it from Zhang Jiahua, a doctor of Chinese medicine, who was vice president of the All China Chi Kung Association. Mrs. Zhang learned it from her uncle, a Buddhist monk, who passed it on to her as his last living relative. Master Frantzis taught it to me in 1994, and I have been practicing it ever since. I often teach it in my school, the Taoist Arts Center in New York City.
This easy to learn exercise brings many benefits. It can be used as a warm-up by martial artists, to speed recovery by the ill and injured and as a health maintenance system by everyone .I have been practicing and teaching Chi Kung and Tai Chi for more than 25 years. Since learning Dragon and Tiger, it has become one of my favorite exercises. Before a strenuous workout, I do it to increase speed and flexibility. Afterwards I do it to cool down and to center my chi.
A couple of years ago I had an appendectomy. Fewer than 24 hours later I began doing Dragon and Tiger in the hospital. When I was released after two-and-a-half days, I easily walked the six blocks to my home. Within two weeks I was teaching all my classes again, and except for the incision, I could almost forget I had had an operation. In China, Dragon and Tiger is used to treat cancer and other degenerative diseases and to reduce the effects of chemotherapy and radiation. Millions practice it to relieve tension, work better and improve their martial arts. Dragon and Tiger is based on the philosophy of balancing the body's energy, or chi. Chi flowing smoothly through the body is a basic part of health. Dragon and Tiger's twisting and spiraling movements echo the way chi moves through the body and cause the chi to move smoothly through the acupuncture meridians and deep energy channels.
The hand movements of Dragon and Tiger activate the chi field outside the body, causing the chi inside the body to move along the acupuncture meridian lines. Specific movements of the set's seven exercises balance the central, right and left energy channels and massage the internal organs while clearing and balancing their energy. Dragon and Tiger Chi Kung exercises every part of the body, and by increasing blood and chi circulation in the brain, enhances intellectual capacity. As a form of movement meditation, it also calms and clears the mind.
In general, exercises may be categorized as either Yang or Yin. Yang, or Fire Method, exercises must be done exactly as prescribed. Practitioners shape their bodies to fit the mold of the exercise. Yin, or Water Method, exercises adapt to the needs of practitioners just as water conforms to the shape of its container. Those who are healthy and fit can practice Dragon and Tiger using large movements. Those who are injured or convalescing from an illness can use smaller movements or even practice while sitting down. Everyone should do these exercises gently, moving only 70 percent toward the edge of their possibilities in terms of range of motion and expenditure of energy. Those who observe the 70 percent rule consistently will find that their range of possibility will expand. Their movements will enlarge and their strength will grow without the injuries that so often accompany the training regimen of martial artists and other athletes.
Dragon and Tiger is a set of seven exercises. Each has a particular physical and energetic focus. Done in sequence, the exercises have a cumulative effect, like the movements of a symphony, with the final exercise as the grand finale. All parts should be performed in a smooth continuous manner. The hands, which stimulate the flow of chi, should move slowly, and a connection should be felt between the hands and the body. Joints should never lock, as locking blocks the flow of chi. Dragon and Tiger is a forgiving exercise. Even when done imperfectly and within a limited range of movement, it brings great benefits. Those who are ill or injured will want to stay within 50 percent of their capacity, exerting no strain at all. Those who are in pain will want to practice so gently that their pain will not increase.
For those who are healthy, practicing the full sequence once a day will help to maintain health and prevent injury. Those who are ill or injured may want to practice the sequence several times a day for up to four or five hours, always observing the 50 percent rule. Whether it is for martial arts, health and fitness, recovery from illness, or calming the mind and spirit, Dragon and Tiger Chi Kung is well worth incorporating into one's daily routine. Over time, those who do will find themselves moving easily and sinuously, like the dragon, and feeling very alive and totally relaxed, like the tiger.
Susan often teaches Dragon and Tiger chi kung at the Taoist Arts Center. To find out about these classes and workshops please check out our Class Schedule
This text was excerpted from the article "Dragon and Tiger Chi Kung" by Susan Rabinowitz, with Alan Wagner that was originally published in Inside Kung-Fu Magazine - November 2002