The Baduajin ("Eight Precious Brocades") is a traditional set of eight qigong exercises which are usually performed while standing though I have seen traditional seated versions as well. The exercises in this set strengthen and stretch the muscles and ligaments while, according to Chinese Traditional Medical Theory, stimulating the distribution of internal energy throughout the body. Manuscripts excavated in Chinese tombs in the last few decades have proved beyond doubt that the tradition for therapeutic movement/exercise goes back well into antiquity.
Even today, there are hard style versions from the Shaolin tradition that are quite demanding as well as relatively easy sets from the Taoist perspective and also those developed in more recent decades, that are suitable for the old, the infirm or those looking for meditation rather than physical activity. The Eight Brocades usually taught by taiji instructors these days can be viewed as relatively easy warm-up or cool-down exercises for more demanding practise. However, the better versions are hardly as simple as they may first seem to beginners and can help serious students identify the principles common to both qigong for health as well as the internal martial arts practices.
For a taiji practitioner, practising Baduajin is not just a question of moving slowly and stretching the arms while standing or sitting. Even on a prosaic level, understanding the ideas of "working smart" and "balanced effort", to use more Western terms, are necessary in preparing the body for internal martial arts training where connectivity, co-ordination and being grounded are as important as how strong your arms are or how high you can kick.
As with learning anything; it is always preferable to have personal instruction and supervision; but for those who can’t afford or can find a local instructor. it is possible to do get good results through various options to learn a set like Baduajin.
If I may offer a few practical suggestions from the perspective of someone who has learned and taught several versions of the Baduajin since 1985:
While on the subject of gentle exercise, I don’t agree with those who say that you should avoid strength building as doing so goes against the spirit “of being soft”. As far as I am concerned the real issue is how you use your muscles, not on purposefully trying to avoid using ANY force. Especially for older students, the building of muscle is as important as staying loose and limber. Studies have shown that muscle building exercise is an excellent way of minimizing the effects of growing infirm as one ages.
In the end, as with any experienced instructor, I can only offer my own opinion; based on a variety of experiences and cultural beliefs both old and new. Oh, and since I am not Chinese, here’s a somewhat relevant quote from the Havamal from an aging practitioner with a Western European heritage [and a sense of humor]:
Never laugh at the old when they offer counsel,
Often their words are wise:
From shriveled skin, from scraggy things…
Clear words often come.
Copyright Michael A. Babin ©2018
43+ Years of Experience Training in the Chinese martial arts; 33+ years experience teaching taijiquan and 24+ years experience teaching baguazhang