Enter The Four Dragons of Dao Yin – a set of Baguazhang related, moving, stretching exercises which focus on clearing the meridians and awakening the spine during the process of developing “internal skill”/Nei Gong – and our guide is the West Country based writer, martial artist and nu-generation Daoist, Damo Mitchell.
Damo Mitchell has practiced martial arts since childhood and has recently emerged as a leading light and author amongst a new generation of teachers who have trained extensively in China and are more than adept at explaining classical concepts while evolving a clear methodology for teaching traditional forms.
The Four Dragons is the third volume in a trilogy of books, written by Damo Mitchell and published by Singing Dragon, that deal with Daoist Nei Gong – a set of internal practices or “energy work” which are more often referred to a Qi Gong. However, this book is specifically focused on Dao Yin, a set of exercises aimed at improving a person’s psychological and physical health,and developing martial skills. The origin of Dao Yin goes back a couple of thousand years. They were originally developed Daoists practitioners to purge stagnant energy which had invaded the body from outside.
The roots of this book lies in a visit Damo Mitchell made to Shandong. While there he encountered Dragon Dao Yin through an early morning circle walking Baguazhang group who practiced it as muscle softening, spine strengthening, health exercise as well as through an elderly crew of mostly female Medical Dragon Dao Yin practitioners. Since then it has become a key element within the syllabus of his Lotus Nei Gong school.
I like the fact that you don’t have to read his other books to get into The Four Dragons. He more than adequately elucidates the historical, philosophical and medical context in which Nei Gong theory and practice have evolved and then clearly explains the important distinction between Qi Gong and Dao Yin.
From thereon in he deals with the The Four Dragons – Awakening, Swimming, Soaring and Drunken – “a set of short sequences designed to work with the subtle energies of the spine and lead pathogenic energies out of the body.” At the core of these four sequences is the spine and how to wake it up. He also deals with stagnation and chi flow, opening the joints and the energy gates as well breathing patterns and Yi (intention).
There is a compelling clarity to this work overall – whether through the text or the illustrations – and I believe The Four Dragons are a set of free flowing exercises well worth adding to your exercise routines (running, yoga, taiji… whatever!) and working on. Basically, by taking on the Four Dragons you are engaging with a process and embarking on a journey.
There’s a lot to take on board in this book and if you decide to dip in and enjoy the movements of The Four Dragons you may want to go deeper and check out Damo’s 3 DVD set or attend one of his workshops. Alternatively, depending on where you live, you may need to seek out another Nei Gong teacher.
Finally, here’s one Damo Mitchell’s top students Roni Edlund doing the Drunken Dragon… I can identify with that!
For more info on Damo Mitchell & other Singing Dragon Publications: