Daoist Taiji Stick and Ruler Neigong
The Taiji Stick and Ruler Neigong is a classical method of mind-body cultivation. As the name suggests, this Neigong (i.e., Qigong) set uses a pair of wooden implements in practice – the Taiji Ruler (taiji chi 太極尺) and the Taiji Stick (taiji bang 太極棒). Although the name of the set uses the same name as Taijiquan (Tai Chi Ch’uan 太極拳) the martial art, the Taiji Stick and Ruler Neigong developed independently of Taijiquan. Other names for this set of exercises include the Guiding Qi Needle (dao qi zhen 導氣針), Stilling Mind Needle (ding xin zhen 定心針), and Heaven Earth Precious Ruler (qian kun bao chi 乾坤寶尺).
Origins – The Sleeping Immortal
Taiji Stick and Ruler Neigong is attributed to the Daoist Immortal Chen Tuan (陳摶). Also known as Chen Xiyi (陳希夷) and Chen Dan (陳丹), he was born in Zhenyuan, Henan Province in the last half of 9th century – the same birth location as Lao Zi (Lao Tzu). Between 900 and 930 Chen wandered around various mountains seeking instruction from Daoists and other recluses, a common practice of his day. He also stayed awhile on Wu Dang Mountain where he learned Daoist meditation and Daoyin techniques. Other tradition says that Chen was taught directly by Ma Yi Dao Zhe, the ‘Hemp Cloud Daoist’, and Lü Dongbin, the grand patron of Daoist alchemy. In 937 Chen was documented to be in Sichuan, and in the early 940s restored Yun Tai Guan monastery on Mount Hua in Shaanxi. Chen eventually died in 989 at age of 118.
As a result of his deep Daoist studies and personal cultivation, Chen developed great insights into the nature of the universe and the Yijing (I Ching, Book of Changes). Chen was said to have developed the famous Taiji symbol and was renowned for his accomplishments in mediation and Inner Alchemy. He developed the Taiji Stick and Ruler Neigong, as well as a set of Daoyin exercises that harmonize the body with the 24 seasonal nodes of the Chinese calendar. He was also a master of Sleeping Yoga, hence his nickname the 'Sleeping Immortal'.
The word Neigong means “inner practice” (內功). While Qigong is a modern term that refers to a wide range of breathing and movement exercises, Neigong is an earlier term that describes practices that build internal Qi, sometimes associated with either Inner Alchemy or Internal Martial Arts (to read more about the basic theory and history of Qigong click here). The Taiji Stick and Ruler Neigong uses these two implements, one representing Yin and the other Yang, to help the practitioner develop internal power.
There are several sets of exercises that comprise the total repertoire of Stick and Ruler. The student starts with exercises comprised of breathing patterns, physical movement and visualizations, that strengthen and build sensation of Qi in the Dan Tian (丹田), the area of Qi cultivation in the lower abdomen. Over time the student then uses the Neigong to circulate Qi through the channels of the arms and legs, and some of the Extraordinary Vessels such as the Du, Ren and Dai. Then, later exercises develop a connection between the practitioner and Pre-Heaven Qi. Overall the Stick and Ruler Neigong is a complete system of health cultivation.
Taiji Stick and Ruler Neigong is especially useful to professional acupuncturists and practitioners of Asian traditional medicine. Since this Neigong set uses implements to circulate the Qi internally, practitioners will better understand how needles can move and regulate Qi in a patient’s body. This understanding comes from personal experience with internal Qi manipulation rather than just theory.
Modern Transmission and Lineage
From the beginnings of the Qigong Fever, the craze initially started in the 1950s that made Qigong a household word in China, countless self-trained masters developed new approaches to Qigong. While certainly many modern Qigong masters had great insight and effective systems, the majority of self-proclaimed 'masters' were of low quality and had no traditional lineage to attest to the effectiveness of their system. Taiji Stick and Ruler is different in that it has a classical lineage. The first time it was taught publicly was in the 1950s.
Chen Tuan was a personal friend of Zhao Kuangyin (趙匡胤; 927-976), the founding emperor of the Song Dynasty (960-1279). Chen taught Zhao the method of Taiji Stick and Ruler Neigong, and it was subsequently passed down as a secret method of health preservation in the imperial household. Eventually the method was spread from Daoist to Daoist over almost 6 centuries before it was taught to the outside world.
In the early 19th century Taiji Stick and Ruler was transmitted to a wandering Daoist hermit by the name of Huo Chengguang. In 1820 when traveling and teaching in Shanxi Province, Huo met a young man by the name of Peng Tingjun. Peng had already practiced martial arts for several years, but when he learned of Huo he decided to seek instruction from him. Over several years of ongoing instruction Huo took Peng as a formal lineage disciple and transmitted the methods of Taiji Stick and Ruler.
The next proponent of Taiji Stick and Ruler was the great Qigong master Hu Yaozhen (1897-1973). Hu met Peng in the early 20th century and studied his various methods if Daoist cultivation, becoming his personal lineage disciple. Hu, in his right had practiced other martial arts and cultivation methods, and was a classically trained doctor of Chinese traditional medicine and acupuncture. In the 1950s Hu was one of the people responsible for the spread of Qigong throughout China, including the popularization of the word ‘Qigong’ itself. Hu’s method of acupuncture was known as Daoist Wuji Acupuncture (無極針灸), and utilized one’s own Qi while applying needles. It is probably that the practice of Taiji Stick and Ruler allowed Hu to develop this skill.
One of Hu’s most talented lineage disciples was Feng Zhiqiang (1928-2012). Feng was also a disciple of the great Chen Family Taiji master Chen Fake, and it was Hu Yaozhen that introduced Feng to Mater Chen. Feng continued the teaching of Taiji Stick and Ruler Neigong as part of his Hunyuan Chen Style Taijiquan curriculum. One of Feng’s top disciples (and his son in law) is Wang Feng Ming who continues to teach this special method of Neigong today. Dr. Henry McCann, after having practiced several martial arts and Qigong methods for over 30 years, met Wang Feng Ming in 2011 from who he learned Taiji Stick and Ruler Neigong as well as other methods of Qigong and internal martial arts. In 2014 Dr. McCann became one of Wang’s direct lineage disciples.