Lifting the Sky

Lifting the Sky in Eighteen Lohan Hands


I have been unable to find a clear description of the Eighteen Lohan Hands. Even the descriptions of the Classic of Sinew Metamorphosis which I have found are markedly different from each other. Any help at all would be greatly appreciated.

Again, thank you for your hard work in preserving these treasured arts and sharing your knowledge with those of us around the world who would otherwise have little access to authentic instruction.

-- Mark, Canada


The Eighteen Lohan Hands and the Sinew Metamorphosis constitute the foundation of Shaolin Kungfu and Shaolin Chi Kung. They were first taught by the great Bodhidharma to help the Shaolin monks in their Zen, or meditation. Shaolin Kungfu, Chi Kung and Zen are the three treasures of the Shaolin tradition.

However, because of their long history, different versions of the two arts exist today. It is difficult to say which versions were the original.

Interestingly, and perhaps surprising to many Westerners, Shaolin masters in general have paid little significance to this question of originality. This is because, I believe, of the emphasis on practical benefits rather than theoretical knowledge in the Shaolin teaching. In other words so long as what they practise brings the results that the two arts are purported to bring, they are not interested whether they are the original, or even whether they are really Lohan Hands and Sinew Metamorphosis.

Similarly Shaolin masters have generally stayed out of scholars' debate on whether the exercises now called Eighteen Lohan Hands and Sinew Metamorphosis were actually invented by Bodhidharma.

I did not learn the complete set of the Eighteen Lohan Hands from my master. He taught me only a few of the 18 patterns, like "Lifting the Sky", "Pushing Mountains" and "Separating Water", but throughout my Shaolin training with him he paid much importance to "Lifting the Sky". (With hindsight I can now understand why, and am grateful to him.)

Then he told me: "The Eighteen Lohan Hands were taught by our first patriarch Bodhidharma to make the monks strong and healthy. You are now strong and healthy. Don't waste time over the other patterns; get on with other work."

But I had strong sentiments over the Eighteen Lohan Hands. They were the first patterns taught by our first patriarch in our Shaolin tradition, I thought.

Years later, as a young idealist and lacking my master's practical wisdom, I dreamt and meditated on the Eighteen Lohan Hands, and tried to search whatever classics I could find and ask whoever masters I could meet, to work out what the original eighteen patterns were. As you have noted, the records, written from the classics or oral from the masters, were little.

But finally, when I was already a master myself, I managed to gather 18 patterns together and call them the Eighteen Lohan Hands. I placed the 8 patterns of the Eight Pieces of Brocade from Taoist Chi Kung, which I had earlier learnt and found useful, at the start of my Lohan Hands sequence, and was aware that perhaps later someone might sneer at me for "stealing" from the Taoist to put into a Buddhist art. When occasionally someone showed me that his Lohan Hands were different from mine, or when I saw a different version in a classic, I could only smile, for I knew that mine was my own creation and not Bodhidharma's invention.

Imagine my surprise when one day I came across an old classic purporting to show the original Eighteen Lohan Hands taught by Bodhidharma, and they were similar in form and sequence to the ones I composed! I had no answer for the coincidence (or was it a coincidence?). I could only flatter myself to fancy that perhaps in some of my deep meditations I had touched the Universal Mind and had drawn the original Lohan Hands from the universal reservoir, or more poetically Bodhidharma himself or some Bodhisattvas had taken pity on me and inspired me with the original.

When I first started teaching chi kung publicly, I taught the Eighteen Lohan Hands at the first level. But gradually, emulating some of my master's practical wisdom, I found that my students would get more benefits if I taught only some selected patterns but in greater depth.

Listed below are the names of the Eighteen Lohan Hands taught at my Shaolin Wahnam School.

  1. Lifting the Sky.
  2. Shooting Arrows.
  3. Plucking Stars.
  4. Turning Head.
  5. Thrusting Fists.
  6. Merry-go-Round.
  7. Carrying the Moon.
  8. Nourishing Kidneys.
  9. Three Levels to Ground.
  10. Dancing Crane.
  11. Carrying Mountains.
  12. Drawing Knife.
  13. Presenting Claws.
  14. Pushing Mountains.
  15. Separating Water.
  16. Big Windmill.
  17. Bending Knees.
  18. Rotating Knees.

Reproduced from Question 9 January 1998 in Selection of Question-Answer Series


Special Issues of Question-Answer Series

Courses and Classes