The Chinese word chi often spelled qi, or ki in Japanese, gi in Korean and khi in Vietnamese is also close to the yogic notion of prana and is generally vaguely referred to as ‘internal energy’ in a magical kind of way and there are some very strange claims made as to its power.
The word chi translates directly as ‘air’, ‘breath’ or ‘gas’, the original calligraphy of 3 lines resembles breath coming from a persons mouth. The picture representing rice was added with the 3 lines of breath over the top so that it reads as ‘steam coming off the rice pot’, rice being the staff of life and the ‘life force’ rising from it as it cooks.
Many years ago I asked a top Kung Fu Master what he thought the word chi meant and he laughed and said ‘air’ – if you don’t breathe, you die! When I asked a top Japanese Karate Instructor, he explained that lightening was the ki of the sky, giving it life.
If something vaguely appears ‘magical’ or ‘spiritual’, there are many people out there wanting to trade on the on the needy and those wanting ‘special powers’ without having to do the work. Some want money and some just simply power or authority over others and chi becomes their vehicle because as energy it has a multi cultural history and acceptance. Even the Latin word spiritus and the Sanskrit word pranatranslate as ‘breath’.
After 40 years of study many with top Japanese and Chinese masters, I feel that the best English word to translate chi is ‘animation’. To make qigong or chi kung (chi work) function effectively you need the combination of an aware, focussed and sensitive mind, good posture and deep breathing. In gong fu or kung fu (work plus time, therefore your skill, in this case in Martial Arts) it is said that where your yi (intention) goes, your chi will follow. To make this happen you send your aware, focussed and sensitive mind intentionally through the body to animate it, the sense of animation is that of chi flow.
When your mind, body and breath are well animated and in harmony they are healthy and powerful. When you ‘animate’, you ‘emanate’ and can influence your surroundings and other people in both an overt and subliminal way. We all know a happy person that lights up a room when they enter it and a miserable person that lights it up when they leave! Boxers stare each other out at the beginning of a match and a fighter that ‘owns the space’ between him and his opponent is probably going to be the winner.
In all my years of training I’ve never met anyone able to affect me with a ‘no touch knock out’ technique or move or affect solid matter with their mind – and none of the top masters I’ve trained with have made any of those claims either. However I am well aware of the subliminal effects of a ‘well animated’ person making others feel better by being close to them and by touch. This is where healing arts like Kiatsu and Reiki can be effective by encouraging the healee’s body and mind to promote healing itself. This also how goodneigong (inner work) qigong (chi work) and Taijiquan (‘grand ultimate fist’ or way of achieving harmony through Martial Art training) is so successful as a synergistic strategy of harmonising yourself and then being able to deal with the world around you.
Hard work over time does reveal an arcane ‘magic’ that can only found by following the process, it reveals a strong vitality, an emotional stability, a strong focussed mind and an ability to subtly influence the world around you that otherwise wouldn’t be possible. Let’s look at the process….
Neigong (nei kung)
Niegong is the first essential step, it calms, connects, sensitises and subtly trains the mind and body core. Good posture ‘opens the gates’ for energy flow and allows correct deep breathing and internal connection so there is no unnatural ‘pull’ on the myofascia. Deep breathing brings more oxygen into the blood stream and therefore to the brain making the mind more alert. By focussing the mind on the breath, spine and the core, gently pumping and sensitising them and because the body is externally still, it allows the mind to focus on the internal connection and ‘animate’ the internal system.
Without this process, none of the rest of this training system will work. Looking at many Martial Artists, no matter how fast or powerfully they appear to move, without this connection, their power is still uncoordinated, unbalanced and clumsy.
Qigong (chi kung)
Good martial qigong takes the neigong skills and the body through its range of movements and animates the power lines, connecting each bodypart internally to the feet and powering movement from the ground up. The spine is bowed forward and backward and the core opened, closed, compressed and released during the movements.
The head is taken backwards and forwards, side to side and all the way around in a circle powered in four parts by the feet to prevent continuous rotation.
The shoulders are lifted and dropped whilst being circled forwards and backwards, the shoulder girdle is then used to lift the waist girdle and twist and drop for power. A ‘splashing’ movement is then employed to loosen the shoulder joint; they are then pressed down by the fists to compress and release the core down to the feet followed by a gentle pumping from the shoulders through the chest from the backwards and forwards positions.
The chest and back are opened and closed utilising the weight of the head, the opening and closing of the core and bowing the spine both ways connected to the feet. The spine is then opened and closed one vertebrae at a time.
The waist and torso are twisted against the feet and hips on both feet and then one foot with the other ‘empty’. They are then bent sideways and backwards, opening the psoas group of muscles.
The legs and feet are ‘softened and opened’ by bending the torso over, circling it and then bringing it forward and backwards whilst still bent over. The feet, ankles, knees and hips are rotated in one motion and then each joint independently with the leg raised off the floor.
Taiji (tai chi)
With the animated, calm, aware and focussed mind and internally connected body trained and animated in the power lines and movement, we are ready to take them into martial technique and movement. Taiji is the process of weaving a structurally aligned and internally connected body animated with a powerfully aware and focussed mind into continuous, interconnected spiralling movements, where energy can be discharged at any point and at any time without vulnerability where an opponent can take advantage.
This process is followed through with more advanced, specific training utilising push hands, application training and a variety of weapons.
With these trained skills a Taiji practitioner is also able to sense an opponents skills in these areas and will therefore be able to utilise his animated ‘hunters mindset’ to take best advantage and cause the least possible harm.
Chi is ‘animation’ and is therefore a quality to be added to all aspects of life and training, because it ‘brings you to life’ and your full potential, it can be described as and is written as ‘life force’. It can’t move gross matter but can influence living matter subliminally. It’s not magical in the way some people seem to think but certainly is when you witness the power it adds to your health, martial arts and everyday life.