The question was “what exercises do you use for Qi circulation?”.
I sighed and sipped my coffee and scrolled away thinking to myself – “Self, this war you are fighting, this wave of ignorance cannot be won.” Then I stopped and scrolled back and read it again. “what exercises do you use for Qi circulation?”.
“Ignorance is the issue,” I thought. “Even if everything you ever write is buried under piles of black belts talking about Qi on the internet, it might actually help someone to read them.” I sighed again and tried to calm down my liver and opened my Microsoft word.
The wrong question is the problem most times. Too often do people assume they already know the foundational material to ask what they perceive as higher-level questions. The question at hand is already making the assumption that they the asker and the reader already know what Qi is, they understand it and know exercises to ‘circulate’ it. I find that the issue almost always is about the foundations of the question being asked by most martial artists, asking the wrong questions gets you useless information. Assuming your understanding is higher than it is acts as a huge trap that can consume a person’s entire training and life. So, while I understand the question and its purpose (I think), I want to use it as fodder to tear it down a bit for anyone who may read my ramblings.
What is Qi?
I’ve written many times about this, so I will not go into a diatribe here. Qi is a word that means ‘relationship’. All types of relationships are all types of Qi. The steam pushing the lid off the pot as seen in the character itself is a power that is a result of the relationships between the fire, the pot, the water, the heat, and so on. So, to simply translate it as ‘life energy’ and move on from there is a foundational error that will colour the thinking of the practitioner from that point forward. It is like saying something is ‘Yang’… in relationship to what? Always ask ‘what qi am I looking at here?’ before any kind of work can be done.
Exercises for ‘circulating’ the qi. What do you mean by circulating the qi? Qi circulates, I can prove it simply by stating that if you are ALIVE it is circulating. Relationships are in motion in your body, Yin/Yang interchange all the time or your DEAD. I am reminded of a story about Master Jou Tsung-Hwa being asked about the micro-cosmic orbit practice. He replied, “You’re alive, don’t worry about it.” I like that thinking – If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. But I digress, I know I am nitpicking.
“The mind leads the Qi is the warning label on the bottle, not the instructions.”
– TCM Professor Kevin Wallbridge, Qigong Master.
There so many, literally thousands of qigong exercises all for different purposes. From the general health movements style qigongs to very specific medical qigongs, qigong for martial arts, qigong to interact and study reality, qigong to deeply inquire within the self and so on. My gongfu brothers’ words above ring true for every single one of them. If you don’t know what they are for, stop eating the pills!
General health qigongs are very simple, take little training to learn, and are excellent for daily practice. Things everyone has heard of like the Eight Brocades Qigong, for example, are great stretches that move blood and lubricate the joints. You don’t need to know much about them to have a good effect and not putting too much mind into the movements is best for most people. Do you need to know that the eight brocade layers are referring to the eight extraordinary meridians? No. Touch your toes, lengthen your neck its good for you.
Trouble comes when people start working on complex visualization qigongs, moving the qi around and having no foundations to stand on. This is like learning a high-level application from martial arts training before you have any idea of what punching and kicking are in the first place. You wonder why people think the complex applications are “not real” or “don’t work”? It’s simple, they do not have the foundation of skills to make them work in the first place and learning them too early did nothing but confuse them. If you don’t realize that, say, every movement of the leg is a kick, every kick is a method to cut the opponents legs and root off, and destroying the base of an opponent makes their mind chase something you created, then chances are you really have no chance of doing those complex applications you saw on YouTube. A LOT of teachers fall into this category, more than you think.
Now look at learning qigong that is from an ancient Taoist lineage taught only to monks. Think your foundations are on par with a monk from Wudang who lived in the temples ten years before learning a particular exercise? Go back to the start. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.
This is of course not to say that there are not people out there who have the goods and actually understand them. But don’t let your ego get the better of you and try to go too far too fast. Work the foundations first. Find the questions you want to ask and tear them apart to make sure you understand their root. I am not convinced that a lot of the “Masters” out there today have done this or will do it. Victims of their own positions they have created. Don’t let it happen to you. But don’t take my word for it, I’m just a ruffian anyway. A ruffian who keeps looking back at the beginning to make sure there is not something I have missed….
Sometimes you just gotta keep drinking your coffee and move on though.