Wu Qin Xi– 五禽戲
(Five Animal Internal Energy Frolics)
Wu Qin Xi (Five Animal Internal Energy Frolics) was created by the legendary medical doctor Hua Tuo (華佗) who lived during the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220 C. E.). Hua Tuo created the exercise by combining classical qigong, breathing techniques, various stretching techniques (熊經、鳥伸之術 ) and what he had observed of the characteristic activities of the tiger, deer, bear, monkey and bird, and applying all these techniques to what was known about the functioning of the human internal organs, the meridians and collateral channels and the flow of blood and qi. This is a physical activity that is distinctively Chinese in style.
The purpose of creating Wu Qin Xi was not only for strengthening the body but also for the treatment of illnesses. Because each of the five animals moves in a distinctive manner, each of the five “Frolics” (exercises) brings its own special benefits. Generally speaking, regular practice of the Tiger Frolic （虎勢）is conducive to the accumulation of lung qi (肺氣) and builds up a person’s energy. The Deer Frolic (鹿勢) strengthens the functioning of the spleen, stomach, liver and kidneys. The Bear Frolic (熊勢) reduces liver heat, increases the person’s stamina and improves sleep. The Monkey Frolic (猿勢) enhances the functioning of the brain, lifts the moods and improves the circulation. The Bird Frolic (鳥勢) improves the flow of qi in the meridians and collateral channels, transforms the tendons and ligaments, improves the circulation of blood and flexibility of the joints. Perseverance in the practice of these exercises is beneficial to a person’s health and helps ward off illnesses.
Although it takes much effort to attain expertise in the study of Wu Qin Xi, it is still easily accessible to the novice. There are five moves in each Frolic, making a total of twenty-five moves. The student can fashion his own practice schedule according to the needs of his own body. In most cases, the student should focus on one Frolic each time. Those who are physically weak may even focus on one or two moves in each Frolic each time. The individual can determine the amount of exercise and the level of difficulty according to his own needs. For example, a strong person can choose to practice the more demanding low stance exercises; the weaker individual can focus entirely on middle stance exercises, while the invalid can work on high stance exercises or a mild form of one Frolic. Each practice needs only be about twenty minutes in length. To learn the entire set of Five Frolics requires no more than twenty hours. This is an exercise that is suitable for different health conditions and different ages.
Wu Qin Xi is used mainly for calming the internal spirit in order to enhance the accumulation of qi (internal energy) and regulate its flow through the body’s meridians. Externally, it is used for strengthening the tendons, ligaments and bones and building a resource of power.
The movements and structures of Wu Qin Xi are informed by the Chinese theory of the Five Elements as practiced in medicine and the characteristics of the five animals. For this reason, each segment, or Frolic, has its own special features and unique moves. Adherence to these principles in training is important in order to achieve the best results.
Tiger Frolic: The tiger belongs to the element of Metal which governs the health of the lung, generates the kidney’s essential fluids and provides the basis for kidney qi which determines the health of the kidney. In Chinese medicine, the kidney promotes the growth of bones and is the source of the original qi (元氣)。It follows, therefore, that the kidney gives us power and strong bones. The tiger is the king of all beasts. It is ferocious, powerful, skilful at using its claws and extremely agile. When practicing Tiger Frolic, we should focus on the tiger’s valour and vigour with the purpose of strengthening our limbs and our bodies. The eyes must be spirited and focused; the look is a downward sweep – what in Chinese is described as “glaring like a tiger at its prey” （虎視眈眈）. The hands are shaped like claws; the arms are extended and withdrawn with force. The body twists and turns with vigour. The power for all movements should come from the hips.
Deer Frolic: The deer belongs to the element of water; it is masculine (yang) in nature and enjoys longevity. It is swift and agile; it uses its antlers when fighting. When practicing Deer Frolic, we should imitate the traits of the deer with the purpose of exercising the joints in our body. We stay calm in spirit and keep the body loose and relaxed in a natural and unforced manner. Deer Frolic is particularly used for training the lower limbs. In practice, the two hands should be formed into fists in imitation of antlers; the eyes should look straight ahead and follow the movement of the “antlers.” The aim is to practice the circular step, paying special attention to the coordination of the upper and lower limbs. In Deer Frolic, it is important to follow the natural movements. The exercise is especially good for the kidneys and the chest; it transforms the tendons and builds strength. It is of help to joint pains in the waist, legs and the lower limbs. Over time, this exercise helps the individual to stay young and agile.
Bear Frolic: The bear belongs to the element of wood; perseverance and invincibility are its traits. The bear combines external masculinity (yang) with internal femininity (yin). Whether it is on its feet or sitting down, it is constantly moving. It is so strong that it can overturn huge rocks and pull up trees by their roots. It fearlessness makes it a worthy opponent of the leopard and the tiger. When practicing Bear Frolic, it is important to imitate the bear’s courage, its use of upper body strength to move objects, its skill in climbing, and its persistence in the face of adversity so as to build up one’s strength. The key is to learn the swaying movement of the bear; and when pushing and climbing to learn to use one’s internal power. It is essential to develop the ability to focus on one’s inner calmness in movement and to achieve agility in weightiness, both of which are characteristics of the bear. Bear Frolic helps a person to acquire a strong physique and is especially good for the gall bladder and the digestive tract.
Monkey Frolic: The monkey belongs to the element of earth. It is particularly good at leaps, falls, hangs, extensions and retractions. It is nimble, keen to imitate, quick in its movements, good with using its upper limbs for getting food and, above all, an expert in avoiding attack from other animals. It uses feints and evasion. Studying Monkey Frolic is a way of developing agility and quickness of mind. It is important to imitate the behaviour of the monkey by being lively and relaxed. The two hands should be formed into claws, and the eyes should follow with quickness every move forward, backward, to the left and right. Monkey Frolic helps regulate the tendons, ligaments and blood vessels. It helps a person to become quick in his mind and calms his spirit. In practice, the frequent use of the hands and mind to direct the flow of qi and blood allows the coming together of movement and stillness. This is similar in effect to the use of classical massage and breathing exercises.
Bird Frolic: The bird belongs to the element of fire. Its body is light which enables it to stretch its wings and fly. Yet, when it is on the ground, it stands tall, firm and straight as the pine. Its sense of balance is excellent. In Bird Frolic, it is vital to feel the freedom of the soaring bird in the sky. The breathing is natural, measured and coordinated with the movements so that balance is achieved. The breathing enables the training of the internal qi. It needs to be paced and rhythmic. It is particularly helpful to the nervous system.