There are many different ways to practice Ba Duan Jin. These many variances also show themselves in the naming of the single postures. Some styles describe the movements in a simple, functional way while others tend to be more poetical. To give an example, the naming of the 8th routine varies between “Raising and Lowering the Heels to Cure Diseases”, “lifting the heels and shaking the body to cure 100 ailments”, or more energetically (and boldly): “bounce to shake out the 10.000 diseases”. This is not so much due to translation and its errors, but rather a hint at the different traditions and lines of transmission, in which the 8 treasures are practiced.
Ba Duan Jin opens up a whole spectrum of possibilities. Though the 8 Brocades are mainly practiced as health exercises, there are also versions primarily used for martial conditioning.
Depending on the primary purpose of the routine in question, you will notice differences in stands (position of the feet, weight distribution, high vs. low stands), variations in the movements (concerning e.g. the vigor of changes and the speed) and variations in focus (concerning e.g. visualization and the content thereof and the use of intention, eyes and mind).
While the external movements of different sets of 8 Brocades may show strong similarities, the internal workings may differ greatly, due to distinctions in focus/intention (mind set) and preferred breathing techniques. For example, there are two main approaches towards how to lead the Qi, one mentally „active“ method, which uses the mind to lead the qi, and one meditative, „passive“ method, which focuses on solely on the body movement to induce the flow of the Qi.
If one wants to start practicing the 8 Brocades, it does not matter so much, which version of the 8 Brocades one chooses, but it is important to focus on one approach in the beginning. Not attempting to mix different approaches helps laying a solid foundation for further practice.
Recommended reading on 8 Brocades