April 2003 KUNGFU QIGONG MAGAZINE
Fire Dragon Qigong
111 year Old Grandmaster Lu Zijian’s Dragon Gate
By Chen Zhiming, Stephen Jackowicz and Symon Stanley
In the West, though we continue to learn more about the internal martial arts and qi cultivation practices of China, the average student is familiar with only taiji quan, xingyi quan, and bagua zhang. But other more esoteric internal styles do exist, among them the lineages associated with the Fire Dragon. In this article we will examine the background of the Fire Dragon methods, their lineages and teachers.
Of Daoist Immortals
Fire Dragon practice owes its origin to two legendary figures, Han Zhongli and Lu Dongbin. Cultivating their qi and morality to the point of perfection, they became two of the eight immortals of Daoism. In religious Daoist practice, the immortals are prayed to for intercession much like saints in the Western religions. However, the road to becoming an immortal in Daoism is based as much on cultivating one’s qi as on moral behavior. Lu Dongbin originally planned to be a Confucian bureaucrat. But after a chance meeting with Han Zhongli, who was to become his teacher, he saw in a dream the impermanence of the life he was striving for. Realizing the fleeting nature of fame, fortune and power, he asked Han Zhongli to teach him and dedicated himself to cultivating the Dao. Eventually he achieved the title of Fire Dragon Master. All Fire Dragon practices attribute their origin to Lu Dongbin and his master Han Zhongli, and devout Daoists believe that Master Lu could fly in the form of a dragon.
In the West we often do not fully appreciate the Chinese concept of lineage. It cuts deeper than the mere teacher/student relationship and centers on trust and honor, as the teacher entrusts the student with the perpetuation of the traditional methods. The student must prove his earnestness in committing to a permanent relationship with the teacher. This usually means a symbolic adoption into the teacher1s family. Taking a lineage is a major responsibility not to be treated lightly. Like family you can never leave or dissolve the connections once formed. For a lineage student to lose contact with his teacher would be like the black sheep of the family who doesn’t keep in touch with relatives.
In Daoist circles of internal cultivation, the taking of a lineage includes transmission of qi from the teacher to the student. This transmission, essential to the perpetuation of the line, is like the planting of a seed, growing over time within the student, guiding him to develop in accord with the tradition.
The Dragon Gate lineage of Daoism (Longmen Pai), as founded by Lu Dongbin, included a series of specific practices as well as a unique qi. This lineage was influential in the later development of monastic Daoism. However, the Dragon Gate lineage prided itself not on monasticism but on existing within society and serving the Dao through good works among everyday people. A major part of the Dragon Gate method is the cultivation of Fire Dragon Qi to purify the body physically, mentally, and spiritually.
The lineages have perpetuated themselves despite political and social upheaval. One of the most skilled of Fire Dragon teachers of the modern period is Lu Zijian. Lu Zijian was born in 1893 to a family of traditional Chinese healers. At age seven, he studied with the 15th generation Chief Priest of Wudang Longmen Pai, Grandmaster Hsu Bansam. At age twenty, he went to Emei Mountain to study with another 15th generation Longmen Pai Grandmaster, Li Benqing. He became a one-star general and combat trainer under Chiang Kaishek, eventually becoming Chiang’s personal bodyguard. Grandmaster Li survived many duels, several, to the death.
Most notable was a fight against samurai fighters hired by a Japanese shipping cartel and a boxing match against an American challenger named Johnson. In 1949j he was captured by the Communists and sent to a Laogai (hard labor correctional camp) in distant Xiangjiang province. He still bears numerous scars on his abdomen and neck from wounds that would have killed an ordinary man. In 1982 he was given the Golden Lion Award, the highest recognition of a master by the government at that time. In 2002, Grandmaster Lu recognized Zhang yuanming as his lineage successor, 17th generation in the Dragon Gate line. Now at age 111 (note that Chinese traditionally count their age as 1 the day they are born) Grandmaster Lu still practices empty-hand forms, weapons forms and traditional Chinese painting every day.
Fire Dragon Qi Gong and its basic internal principles
Though this practice is difficult to teach in an article, the five organizing principles of the Fire Dragon can be understood and more generally applied. It is said within the martial arts that fire dragon power burns your opponent up and causes internal damage with strikes. When you reach the ultimate stage, the power of your internal qi can protect you from cold weather, strengthen your body and increase your longevity.
Wind and Fire
Wind and Fire represent the energies of yin and yang. As you breathe in through the nose, the sound it makes is like wind. Listening to this sound through the ears sends qi to your kidneys. As the wind enters your body it fuels the fire that starts in your lower dantien (approx three inches below your navel) As the fire rises and gets hotter; you begin to feel your body move as if there is a fire growing inside. Your body takes on the movement of flames. As you exhale, you exhale fire in the manner of a dragon. This is representational of the expansion of energy occurring during practice.
As you continue to do this breathing, the fire expands and your body movements grow to the point that your ears and eyebrows are moving as if they are on fire. This exercise nourishes the Xin and Shen aspects of the body, or the form and the spirit. It harmonizes the two as spirit becomes form and form returns to spirit.
Connecting the three Dantien
In the body there are three centers of power known as the three dantien. The upper or shang dantien is located between the eyes at the acupuncture point yintang. The second or zhong dantien is located at the center of the sternum at the heart level, ren 17 or zhongmen. The third, or xia dantien, is located about three inches below the navel at ren 6 or qihai. By using the breath through the nose, you will fll these dantien with qi and open the channel between them. Using the mantra “hunn” you will direct qi to the xia dantien. The mantra “ahhh” sends qi to the zhong dantien. Lastly, the mantra “mmmm” sends qi to the shang dantien. As you breathe in the wind, the fire rises to all of the dantien and fills them, connecting them for full expression of qi. Allow your body to move as if there are fireballs spinning ablaze in each of the dantien.
One and two make three
When you have reached the harmony of form and spirit and the three dantien are connected and full, you are ready to use this full expression. You have transformed into a fire dragon in its full beauty and power. Begin to do each posture, and allow each posture to express the fire-wind connection and the movement of qi in the three dantien.
For example, in the posture “Needle pierces the bottom of the sea” imagine your raised hand has tongues of fire emanating from it into the heavens as your lower hand extends a fiery needle that pierces the ‘bottom of the seal turning the sea water into steam on contact. All the while your hair and eyebrows are aflame and extending to the heavens while your fire qi pierces the earth through your legs. This is the third principle of unifying the wind/fire breathing and the qi in the three dantien to fully express the fire dragon through specific postures and movements.
In the posture “immortal looking into a mirror” imagine you are an immortal, the most beautiful and radiant being, shining and ablaze with qi and fire. As you transform, you feel the fire moving from your dantien outward to create the movement of the dragon swooping down into the water to evaporate all around, blasting steam in all directions.
As you can see, imagery is very important to Daoist internal Kungfu. It is not just the imagery, but the creation of the qi of the imagery through your body, that is important so that the dragon can be felt and seen by the onlooker.
Internal alchemy of water and fire
In traditional Chinese medicine, the kidney yang heats the kidney yin giving rise to steam that rises to nourish and moisten the heart. The kidney element is water and the heart element is fire. If the kidney water is weak and cannot nourish the heart, pathologies such as insomnia, dream-disturbed sleep, and night sweats will occur and the fire of the heart will rage out of control. The Daoist practice of internal alchemy utilizes this model. It strengthens core qi by affecting the kidneys and, as the heart houses the mind, it strengthens the mind through nourishing the heart.
As you practice the first three methods, you will notice the production of sweet tasting saliva. Collect the saliva in your mouth and swallow. Imagine this is a waterfall moistening and nourishing your body all the way to the lower dantien. As you breathe in the wind generating fire, imagine the fire turning the water to steam and the steam rising through your channels to your upper dantien nourishing your whole body. Allow your body to simultaneously express the raging fire within and the rising steam that is healing and strengthening as it rises upwards. Continue this through your practice.
Withdrawals and deposits
At the completion of your practice, you have taken an amount of qi from the universe, it is now time to return it. This is best done by lying on your back with your arms spread out. While doing so, feel your whole body relax and use the mantra ”aaaahh” to create wen yang, or gentle nourishment, to the universe. Imagine that you don’t exist and there is no longer a separation between you and the universe. Allow your body to completely relax. At completion, rub your palms together, and then rub the sides of your nose with your ring fingers. Cover your face with your palms and again repeat the mantra “aaaahh” to dose the practice.
During the first two steps, it is useful to wrap your fireball located in the lower dantien with your hands. Hold your hands as if you are holding a ball level with your abdomen. Wrap and rotate this ball by changing the hands from up and down and side to side. This will help you imagine the spinning fireball in the dantien. This is the source of qi and the beginning of all internal Kungfu movements.
As you can see (in picture A, not shown in online version), some of the people are standing with their backs upright and some have an angular posture with their heads, hips and foot in one line. Both are correct. The angle forward stance (picture B, not shown in online version) is much stronger in building qi. This posturing steams the marrow in your bones. If you hold this posture, you will begin to shake and feel distention pain in your body. This is the universal qi purifying and burning off toxins stored in your body. Not all people should practice like this. It is important to have a qualified teacher and not over exert yourself and cause injury. Standing upright is just as beneficial to the health and is safer practice. Students with less experience should always choose higher and more upright postures until they are stronger, and until their bodies are used to this type of practice.
The benefits of the harmonization of yin and yang in the body increase greatly when practiced with a partner. Face your partner and practice together. As you exhale fire imagine your fire burning and consuming your partner. Open your eyes and make eye contact and let the qi from the eyes consume your partner.
Be careful when practicing in extremely hot weather. Be sure to stay hydrated and practice within your limits. The best times of day to practice are the hours between five and seven and eleven to one, both AM and PM. This type of practice like all internal arts has a hearth benefit. This particular qigong aids in strengthening the heart and kidney, as well as harmonizing their function, and produces better mood and mental health. Indirectly, the kidneys support the spleen, resulting in improved digestion, muscle tone and development as well as quelling worries.
In the quest of internal Kungfu, the Fire Dragon concepts and practices can enhance other methods as well as being an avenue of self-development on their own. Hopefully this article has provided illumination on one approach and can allow you to better understand your own practice.
Chen Zhiming is a professor of Huazhong University of Science and Technology. Stephen Jackowicz has a master’s degree in Acupuncture and is a Ph.D. candidate at Boston University in Classical Chinese Medical Literature. He is a nineteenth generation inheritor of the Dragon Gate lineage the auspices of Master Zhang Yuanming. Symon Stanley, LAc. is a licensed acupuncturist in Austin, Texas. He holds black belts in qi gong, taiji quan, bagua zhang, xingyi chuan and aikido. He teaches Taoist internal arts at Tom Gohring’s school of Tai Chi in Austin.