The concept of internal energy – Qi, Chi, Ki – in Oriental martial arts and medical practices has for many centuries been taken literally. It was originally postulated that all living things have this energy not only inside them, but also surrounding them in their environment. We were said to drink, eat and breathe Qi. Nobody questioned this paradigm for thousands of years, most probably because they didn’t want to rock the boat.
Besides, imagine how you could impress your family and friends doing parlor tricks like this (misspellings and bad rap music notwithstanding) –
Ancient Oriental cultures had a deep, Confucian-derived respect and reverence for authority, so much so that is was the equivalent of committing a cardinal sin to question any Man of Position. This was just one of the ways in which Qi survived as a living, breathing entity. Another way was that there were no ways to DIS-prove its existence: they didn’t have the understanding of the human body we now have, they didn’t have the diagnostic equipment or the necessary procedures to test these energy theories. Their basis of fact was really just equal parts myth and “Because-I-Say-So”.
So it’s little wonder that until comparatively recently – the last 50 years or so – Qi has been given a free pass as just another miracle of the mysterious East.
Recent research has pointed out several possible hypotheses for Qi, none of which rely upon a mysterious invisible substance coursing through our bodies. Connections have been made with the nervous system, with the bio-chemical reactions within the body and with a fuller understanding of the mind/body connection.
This leaves traditional internal arts practitioners in a quandary: do they continue to utilize the old model, or update to the 2.0 version?
Certainly accepting the newer paradigm would eliminate many arguments in the martial world over purported Qi “miracles”, such as the numerous “Death Touch” practitioners that infest YouTube, the teachers that are able to knock their students across the room without touching them and the ever-popular debates over “flowing Qi” in both the medical and martial fields.
How I See It
Here’s how I see it: Qi is simply a label for a certain level of body control, body health and a coordination of the physical body and the mental facilities. When one “flows their Qi” they are demonstrating a mastery of body mechanics, such that any strike will be performed at its highest efficiency. It’s a matter of having a firm base (“root”), a good transfer of weight and a hip/waist snap manifesting in a strong, accurate blow. It includes high levels of both mental and physical relaxation techniques so necessary to effective movement.
It is also, as commonly practiced, a social event, a gathering of like-minded souls. As in religious ceremonies the power of shared intent, of surrounding yourself with fellow believers, can be a very powerful and energizing experience. This accounts for the popularity of early-morning Qigong sessions in many areas of the world.
It’s a kinesiology thing, a knowledge and ability of how to move well. Ask a dancer or a gymnast about kinesthetics – they should be able to tell you volumes about fine-tuning the body and mind to enable them to work together as a single unit. It isn’t a mystical substance unknown to modern science – it’s a way of channeling your intent, of laser-sighting your focus to accomplish things a non-trained person is incapable of.
And isn’t that what traditional martial arts is really all about – blending the mind and body into a single, awesome vehicle?