An Introduction to Lian Gong Shi Ba Fa (練功十八法)

Lian Gong Shi Ba Fa or Lian Gong 18 Form (練功十八法) is a comprehensive system of Chinese health exercises.  It is a set of stretching, breathing, and self-massaging exercises designed to prevent and relieve stress and acute pains around the neck, shoulders, back, hips, legs, joints, and connective tissues.  Even though it is relatively new (became popularized only about 40 years ago), it is based on many old Chinese stretching, breathing, and warm-up exercises dating back more than 1,000 years, including the well-known Eight Silk Brocade (八段錦).  Since its introduction about 40 years ago, it has spread rapidly from China to other countries (especially to Japan and Brazil), and millions of people are now practicing it.  It is fairly easy to learn and practice.  The time it takes to do the exercise depends on the number of repetitions, but can be as little as 15 minutes.

Lian Gong Shi Ba Fa was developed by Dr. Zhuang Yuan Ming (1919- ), who is a traditional Chinese medical doctor and a top student of the famous Kung Fu master, Wang Zhiping.  For many hundreds of years, it was well known that many Chinese martial arts exercises were good for health and could relieve pain and remedy other ailments.  Dr. Zhuang observed and experienced this for many years. However, there was no systematic clinical trials to assess their medical effectiveness under controlled conditions. Using his experience as a Chinese medical doctor and a practitioner of Chinese martial arts for more than 25 years, Dr. Zhuang started conducting a series of clinical trials beginning in 1974 in a prominent Shanghai hospital on patients with a variety of stress-related conditions to determine the effectiveness of these exercises and whether and how their effectiveness could be improved with appropriate modifications  In this series of clinical trials, he kept an open mind and detailed records of what worked and what didn’t, and introduced a variety of modifications to the traditional exercises.  Started by himself, but within a couple of years, Dr. Zhuang was joined by many other physicians and other medical centers and hospitals in this project.

By 1983, Dr. Zhuang and his collaborators have done enough clinical trials to conclude that Lian Gong Shi Ba Fa is an effective set of exercises that can help to prevent and relieve stress and acute pains around the neck, shoulders, back, hips, legs, joints, and connective tissues.  Depending on the type of ailments, sometimes these exercises can be combined with other treatments such as acu-point massage and Chinese herbs to increase its effectiveness.

What is the basis of Lian Gong Shi Ba Fa? We know that massage therapy can help to relieve various stresses and pains. We also know that often these stresses and pains would return some time after the massage therapy, and the massage therapy would need to be repeated again and again.  Dr. Zhuang realized that perhaps one could develop movement-based massage, where the various bodily movements of the patients are essentially self-massaging themselves. By doing such exercises on a regular basis, the patient is essentially practicing self massaging, and does not need to be treated by massage specialists again and again.  Therefore, Lian Gong Shi Ba Fa can be thought of as self massage movements, or “massage in motion.”

More information about Lian Gong Shi Ba Fa can be found in the following websites:

Relatively speaking, Lian Gong Shi Ba Fa is  easier to learn than most of the Taiji forms.  With Taiji, if you want to do it well, it is critical to have an instructor to teach you.  With Lian Gong Shi Ba Fa, one could learn it without an instructor, although it is definitely better and easier to learn it with an instructor.  One could just use the above third and sixth items to learn all 18 forms.  After one has learned the forms, if one just needs a reminder of a particular form, then it may be faster to look at the shorter video of Item #4 instead of the longer video of Item #3.  If one knows Chinese, one could also use Item #5, instead of Item #6.  However, Item #5 does not discuss breathing techniques as in Item #6.  The instructions of the form movements in Items #5 or #6 should be used in conjunction with one of the above videos; otherwise, the instructions are not easy to understand and follow.  However, once you have learned the forms, then these instructions could serve as a handy reference to refresh your memory.

Lian Gong Shi Ba Fa started out with a single set of 18 exercises. Because of its success and popular adoption, two additional sets of Lian Gong Shi Ba Fa have been formulated. The original set focuses on neck, shoulders, back, hips, and legs. The second set focuses on joints and internal organs. The third set focuses on respiratory ailments, such as asthma. This article discusses only the original set.  Lian Gong Shi Ba Fa is also an excellent set of warm-up exercises that could be used at the beginning of any Taiji or martial arts class.


[1] This description of the forms has a couple of slight changes from the videos in Items #3 and #4, because I believe these slight changes better facilitate the breathing.

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