One of the most misinterpretated concepts in chinese martial arts. This is because of generations now of English speakers working to learn the chinese arts without much understanding of the language or culture. I know I was originally taught by my Ging Wu Shifu Qi was ‘life energy’. A thing that can be felt, lead through the body, and create changes. Thing is to a western educated boy this made me simply believe more in magic. Not something that was particularly helpful for the first years of my martial arts training.
From our western educated perspective it is more helpful to position Qi as a verb instead of a noun. An action or process rather than a name for a particular ‘thing’. The action of a process taking place is Qi. The relationship between all factors causing a transformation of some sort. When friction sparks into fire, its qi. When you smell your mothers home cooking and feel safe, that’s Qi.
Thinking of qi as a process lets us remove thoughts of magical powers and concentrate on the various relationships inside and outside of our bodies.
內氣 Nei Qi or ‘Inside Relationships’ are the first stage of training to understand the concept. This is evidenced by older practitioners with excellent body mechanic relationships seeming to have unexplainable power. The long cascades of muscular contraction when well trained, seem unnaturally strong. This is what is meant by a player having ‘strong qi’. In another context strong qi means good health overall another strong component of martial arts practice.
Training for strong internal qi means training specific internal relationships to be correct. Consistently correcting oneself according to principles to engage the entire body. For example, when I was training with my brother Shug he would remind me of my ‘qi being too high’. This was parlance of ‘sink your chest to attain root’ from his teacher. If the relationships of the body center in the chest it makes one light on the feet. If those same relationships center in the hips and abdomen, dantian, heaviness and root begin to form.
What does this mean? Placing the mind in the hips or abdomen and making the contraction of muscle for movement begin there. The mind leads the qi as they say. This means that in order for the qi to follow the mind there must be understanding of the task being done. The mind needs to be placed at beginning of the chain of events. Then those events need to take place in the right order, the right process needs to take place.
‘sink your qi’ : Place your mind in your belly.
外氣 Wai Gong, Outside Qi. This is the study of relationships that take place outside your own body. For example using a martial method on an opponent or dispelling anger or frustration to avoid a conflict. Either way you are in charge of the relationships you are trying to put in order. A very skilled martial artist makes their opponent join them and their Wai Qi. This is how violence is either avoided or quickly stopped. If a person has strong qi enough within their body, (relationships), they can influence the organizational relationships in an opponents body. Uprooting or injuring them.
Taking charge of the relationships in our own body. Is looking directly at things we consistently take for granted. How evenly or deeply we breath for for example. Something most people never even put their minds to. Proper respiration changes many different bodily relationships for the better. A good example of ‘qi healing’. Good relationships mean health so train for them.
Some examples of qigong (qi work) training:
Slowing the respiration to 4 to 6 per minute during seated practice.
Standing and releasing the tension of the body. Allowing the skeletal system to take the brunt of the body weight.
Releasing tension in the body and dropping the body weight suddenly through a single hand. Part of iron palm, a relaxation through the opponent or brick. Not tension.
Changing movements from limb motions to ripples of movement through the body. Changing origin points of movement for example as is the case in Zuiquan where I teach pre heaven generated force. Fancy wording for the origin of the movement to begin in the feet and travel through the body towards the opponent from there.
The more esoteric qi methods usually involve Wai Qi. Affecting relationships outside our bodies. A good exoteric example of this would be circling an opponent to change where the conflict takes place. As master Sun Zi said ‘Keep the sun over your left shoulder’. An opponent manipulated in this way will be blinded by the sun and ready for ambush. By directly changing the opponents relationship to the sun you gain advantage.
Esoteric methods are where people mistake qi for magic. This is due to the nature of the exercises and in my experience, poor teachers teaching them. These are beyond the scope of this short essay to discuss at length. However, consider the example above of moving an opponent Into the sun. More esoteric uses of Wai Qi involve the emotions. An opponent, just as you can, feels fear and confidence depending on your relationship to those emotions yourself and what emotional state you are projecting to them. It is very different to fight in a kickboxing match for a trophy than it is to be suddenly grabbed in the street and have to protect yourself. These situations change your mindset. This is what you need to gain control of. The outer appearance makes no difference, nor does the background. Are you projecting fear and anger at your opponent? How does that affect them?
There are three main important points to this type of training and understanding.
1 real knowledge
2 real experience
3 real wisdom
1 real knowledge is having access to a teacher, a method, it’s details, and being able to discuss and ask questions. Before anything else happens you must understand a practice and it’s methods first.
2 real experience comes from doing the real practice. This is firsthand experiences and not something heard of or read about. Directly experienced due to the practice.
3 real wisdom can only come from first two. Real knowledge creates the real experience. Poor knowledge creates wrong experiences, illusions, and thus no real wisdom. A good teacher is not speculating about the methods they teach. They have instead realized all three of these stages and try to pass it on.
I feel 35 years of practice have taught me most of all. To return to the basics again and again. Not just the movements. But the relationships within them. The relationship I have to them. Likes and dislikes. Errors and successes. Constantly refining these relationships slowly change everything. It is apparent.
My advice is to look all the way to language and culture for understanding. Especially if until now martial arts had been mostly movements in your training. That’s where we all start!
I’m teaching online now at my patreon dot com /rjma website. All my materials will be available there to be shared. N