Martial arts

The Paces of Yu

The Paces of Yu, The Shaman’s Steps and Ame-no-Ukihashi

The Emperor Yu is credited with many miraculous deeds, which contributed to the development of China.  These include development of systems for flood control, establishing the Xia Dynasty as well as developing and influencing the spiritual practices of Taoism today.  What we are going to focus on the shamanic aspects of Emperor Yu in relationship to the practices in the Art of Ninzuwu, especially the Ame-no-Ukihashi Martial Form.

It is said that the Emperor Yu strained his body in establishing order in the world to the point that he lost the use of one leg and developed a limp on one side.  His walking and dancing became known as YuBu or the Paces of Yu.  The shamanic dances of central Asia are relative to the teachings of Emperor Yu and his steps.

Yubu, translated as Pace(s) of Yu or Step(s) of Yu, is the basic mystic dance step of religious Daoism. This ancient walking or dancing technique typically involves dragging one foot after another, and is explained in reference to the legendary Yu the Great, who became lame on one side of his body from exerting himself while establishing order in the world after the Great Flood. Daoist religions, especially during the Six Dynasties period (220-589), incorporated Yubu into rituals, such as the Bugang 步罡 “pace the Big Dipper“, in which a Daoist priest would symbolically walk the nine stars of the Beidou 北斗 “Big Dipper” in order to acquire that constellation’s supernatural energy.

In the Art of Ninzuwu, the Soul of Fire Prayer containing the 9 Vasuh letters is relative to the energies of the Big Dipper.  Taoists tune themselves to the energies of the Big Dipper through a series of shamanic stepping movements called Bugang.  In Ame-no-Ukihashi we begin our stepping exercise with the Soul of Fire Prayer to bring down the celestial energies of the Big Dipper and then go into a series of poses and steps that eventually adds up to the 45 Hiragana, plus the Soul of Fire making 46 steps.  As we have stated in previous articles, the origin of martial arts is found in the ritual dances of the shamans.  A Shaman, just like practitioners of the Art of Ninzuwu’s Ame-no-Ukihashi, as well as practitioners of Qi Gong and Tai Chi, are making certain poses and movements that mimic the movements found in nature for the purpose of circulating the chi through the body for astral lucidity.  The practice of YuBu is the practice of becoming an immortal, as the description of Emperor Yu himself is similar to the description of the Ninzuwu who are called the Tengu in Japan.  Master Shi described Emperor Yu as having the bird’s beak.

Formerly, (when) the Longmen (Mountains) were not yet opened up (for crossing), and the Lüliang (Mountains) were not yet tunneled through, the (Huang) river emerged from high in the Mengmen (Mountains). (It) greatly overflowed (until it) backed up, (until) there were no hills or mounds (left unsubmerged), (until even) tall hillocks were destroyed by it: (this was) called the flood. Yu thereupon dredged the Huang and Jiang rivers, and for ten years did not (even) glance at his home. (He worked so hard that his) hands had no nails and (his) lower legs had no hair. (He) contracted a partial-paralysis sickness, (such that when he) walked (one foot could) not step past the other, which people (thereafter) called the “Pace of Yu”. [君治, 禹於是疏河决江十年未闞其家手不爪脛不毛生偏枯之疾步不相過人曰禹步] Yu had a long neck and a (mouth like a) bird’s beak, and (his) face was likewise ugly, (but) the world followed him and considered him a worthy and enjoyed learning (from him).

Here is another writing on the practice of the Paces of Yu and their use in the Taoist tradition and their usefulness in attaining the state of a xian or immortality, transliterated as geniehood:

“When entering a famous mountain in search of the divine process leading to geniehood, choose one of the six kuei [六癸] days and hours, also known as Heaven-public Days, and you will be sure to become a genie.” Again, “On the way to the mountains or forests you must take some superior ch’ing-lung [青龍] grass in your left hand, break it and place half under feng-hsing [逢星]. Pass through the ming-t’ang [明堂] and enter yin-chung [陰中]. Walking with Yü’s Pace, pray three times as follows: ‘May Generals No-kao and T’ai-yin [諾皋大陰] open the way solely for me, their great-grandson, so-and-so by name. Let it not be opened for others. If anyone sees me, he is to be considered a bundle of grass; those that do not see me, non-men.’ Then break the grass that you are holding and place it on the ground. With the left hand take some earth and apply it to the first man in your group. Let the right hand take some grass with which to cover itself, and let the left hand extend forward. Walk with Yü’s Pace, and on attaining the Six-Kuei site, hold your breaths and stay where you are. Neither men nor ghosts will be able to see you.” As a general rule, the Six Chia [六甲] constitute the ch’ing-lung; the Six I [六乙], the feng-hsing; the Six Ping [六丙], the ming-t’ang; and the Six Ting [六丁], the yin-chung.

“As you proceed with the prescribed Yü’s Pace you will keep forming hexagram No. 63. Initial one foot forward, Initial two side by side, Prints not enough. Nine prints are the count, Successively up to snuff. One pace (or three prints) equals seven feet; total, twenty-one feet; and on looking back you will see nine prints.”

Method for walking Yu’s Pace. Stand straight. Advance the right foot while the left remains behind. Then advance in tum the left foot and the right foot, so that they are both side by side. This constitutes pace No. 1. Advance the right foot, then the left, then bring the right side by side with the left. This constitutes pace No. 2. Advance the left foot, then the right, then bring the left side by side with the right. This constitutes pace No. 3, with which a Yü’s Pace is completed. It should be known by all who are practicing the various recipes in our world; it is not enough to know only the recipes. (17, tr. Ware 1966:285-286)

The 9 steps mentioned should be noted as relative to the traditional 9 stars of the Big Dipper.  It is also interesting to note that Hexegram number 63 of the Yi Jing is composed of the Trigrams for Water and Fire. See our article Purification of Water and Fire: The Rites of Immortality

And so, the practice of Ame-no-Ukihashi draws parallels to the teachings of the legendary Great Emperor Yu and his steps that are mimicking natural forces in order to harness and direct the power of celestial energy for the sake of expelling disease from the body by removing chi blockages and promoting astral lucidity.  Here is a picture and excerpts from the article that led to this realization as we connected the dots between Emperor Yu’s Paces and the Ame-no-Ukihashi Martial Form.

Diagram of the steps used in the Paces of Yu. Note the spiral is symbol of the Soul of Fire in Ame-no-Ukihashi

To achieve a similar healing goal, the legendary Daoist emperor Yü the Great, of the early Xia dynasty (2,000 – 1,600 B.C.), ecstatically danced the movements of a bear to harmonize heaven and earth and to stop the floods and pestilence in his kingdom. His shamanic dance, known as “The Pace of Yü,” is still practiced by Daoists today.
The earliest Chinese doctors were shamans. The Chinese character for doctor, yi, depicts a feathered shaman doing an ecstatic dance and holding a quiver full of arrows. The arrows, presumably, represented spiritual power, or righteous Qi, to drive off evil influences; later this concept was extended to the use of acupuncture needles.1 The shamans were women as well as men. They would go into ecstatic trance, and would often journey to the spirit world or channel divinities to diagnose the cause of the problem; they would then pray and dance to treat the disease
The early Daoist shaman/healers saw, as did their Native American counterparts, that by connecting to the natural powers through dance and movement they could restore outer harmony and balance with the forces of nature. It was not long before they transferred this same reasoning to the microcosm of their own bodies. Therefore, of the earliest know Qigong healing forms, many were derived from the movements of animals. The Qi Gong Classic (Dao Yin Tu), discovered in the tomb of King Ma in 1973 and dating back to the second century B.C., illustrates in manuscripts written on silk over 45 Qigong postures with descriptions of the movements as well as the names of the diseases which they treat; over half of these postures are animal movements.


The Bear which the Emperor Yu mimicked symbolizes the energies of Ursa Major, the Big Dipper.  Here is a video of a Mongolian shaman performing his traditional dance.  Many of the poses he strikes are similar to those we do while performing Ame-no-Ukihashi.  YuBu, the Paces of Yu can also be taken as the words WuBu, or the Shaman’s Steps.  The channeling and directing of the chi is the basis of all martial arts, as it is known in Kung Fu, that one must practice and develop a foundation in Qi Gong before any progress can be made in the pugilistic arts

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