Qi

I started a few months ago training Taijiquan, a Chinese martial art, most known in the Western World by its non-martial derivative Taichi. As with other martial arts, the learning process doesn’t involve just ways for hitting your opponent or defending yourself from an attack (I wouldn’t really be interested in it if it only offered that, given that the last time I had a fight I was a teenager, many years ago), but some other things. And one of them is the theory of Qi, which is the Chinese term for energy, which is supposed to be flowing on your body and, via an intensive training, can be driven to whatever part of your body by your mind. The idea is to, for instance, direct the flow of Qi to your hands right when you hit your opponent, multiplying the strength of the punch, or, also, to get more strength on some part of your body when you receive a kick/punch to not get injured, or, even more interesting, to heal some injuries. All this sounded to me quite strange, being a science person, until recently, when I read Dr Yang, Jwing Ming’s book that explains it very well, in a scientific way. So, to not keep this post too long, and given my still limited knowledge on this, I’ll try to summarize:

Human body’s Qi can be what we call biolectricity, which is just electricity flowing around the body. It is very easy to experiment it, just rub your hands and after a few seconds doing it, pass your hands over your head, without touching the hair: you will see your hair being attracted by the electricity in your hands. And this biolectricity flows all over the body because the body is plenty of tissues that conduct it. And, interestingly, there are organs that are made of non-conductive tissue which store the electricity (a battery!). So, with Taijiquan (and Qigong) techniques, you are supposed to control the flow of this electricity through your body, sending it to the batteries for storage or to other parts of the body for reactivation of tissues and other things, all done with the mind and breathing. That is why Taichi (the non-martial derivative well known in the Western World) has such popularity, given it helps a lot in keeping your body healthy. Does it still sound strange? Maybe, the last part of driving it with your mind is still beyond my knowledge, so can’t say it’s true, but at least the rest of the theory about the electricity circulation not only sounds convincing, but it is indeed scientifically confirmed AFAIK.

This theory makes a lot of sense in Taijiquan, where brute force is not used against your opponent (only in very rare occasions), the idea being to just use the force from your oponent and, via accompanying movements, reduce it completely, making your opponent fell down or just hit the air. And when in trouble, you just use your Qi :-)

For a nice demo of what Taijiquan looks like, see this video. And for some Qi force stuff see this.

16 Responses to “Qi”

  1. José Antonio S.A. says:

    Beatiful art :), I love (in spanish ) Chi Kung. I think is not electricity is like energy, flowing around your body :)

    Funciona terapéuticamente sobre todo para problemas psicofisiológicos, emocionales.

    Feel the force!

  2. Huw Lynes says:

    There is no scientific evidence for the existence of Qi whatsoever. The fact that you can build up a charge of static electricity on your hands is not surprising and is quite readily explained by the current models of physics. This isn’t to say that Taichi isn’t good for you but it’s healthful properties have nothing to do with a purported bioelectrical flow.

    Just to hammer the point home:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gEDaCIDvj6I

    I trained as a biologist which is why this winds me up.

    Cheers Huw

  3. Xan says:

    Yes, sorry to break it for you, but if you fell for this you need to practice a bit more your “science person” side. Just because they use something known to exist as electricity to explain their stuff does not imply that it’s real or scientific in any way.

  4. jpv says:

    Please return your “science person” credentials to the nearest scientific institute ASAP.

  5. rodrigo says:

    Don’t have any “science person” credentials to return, sorry :-)

  6. Rudd-O says:

    This Qi thing is *garbage*. There is no such thing as bioelectricity, and you’d have to be very deluded to consider it as fact. Anyone is, of course, invited to make an experiment that shows Qi to be true. A real, double-blind, experiment. Not anecdotal garbage.

    Don’t fall for this garbage.

  7. tes says:

    There is no difference between Tai Ji and Tai Ji Quan. The movie you posted is the simplified form, which is the form most people know/practice. Maybe you are confused with Qi Qong?

  8. rodrigo says:

    There is indeeda big difference between Taijiquan and what lots of people learn as Taiji: it is the martial aspect. Most people learn and most teachers teachTaiji without even knowing it is a martial art, thus losing lots of things (hard to fully understand a posture if you don’t know what it is used for). The video is indeed the Beijing 24 simplified form, which is derived from the 108 long form, and even though most people learn it as Taiji (that is, without the martial aspect), every movement has a martial application. and that’s what it was created for. Popularity has made that, even in China, the martial aspect is being lost, so people now think as Taiji as a form of meditation in movement, while it is much more than just that.

    That’s the difference, they are the same, but the teaching/learning process is either complete (including the very important martial aspect) or just a subset (popular Taiji used for health reasons).

    As for confusing it with Qigong, no, Taiji(quan) is indeed a form of Qigong.

  9. Richard says:

    Oh no, the Empiriquisition are after you! Recant lest Science combusts you at the stake!

    I think Qi might be a good metaphor for how you mentally focus your body, so I wish people didn’t try to unnecessarily ground it on mystical pseudoscience.

  10. Sam says:

    Qi is better thought of as will or focus. Letting your focus travel and examine each part of the body you always find little bits of tension (eg cramped neck, tight hamstring, etc) that were too small to capture attention like what one normally thinks of as a cramp. Just by finding the small aches the body seems to relax them and eventually many little distractions are dealt with. When weight lifting I let my will rest in the joint and muscle group being worked and the body automatically finds good form. Working against the joint or shocking the muscle with jerky motions can be thought of as just not paying attention to what is good for your body. When you see someone heading angrily at another to harangue them and you step out of their way, you just got moved by their Qi!

  11. tes says:

    Then you are referring to the concept in Taoism, but there certainly is no “non-martial derivative Taichi”. I agree that there are a lot of people that don’t know what they are teaching, but there is no difference in naming between the two (over here at least).

  12. Rodrigo Moya says:

    tes, right, no difference in naming, I was just talking about the difference between the people that learn/teach the complete art, including the martial aspect, and the people who just learn/teach a subset of that, and I used 2 names to make the difference, given that, when you look for the martial aspect, people usually refer to it as Taijiquan, while when you look for the “other” laerning/teaching process, people usually call it just Taiji.

  13. Aaron says:

    Today’s armchair “scientists” who look to disprove qi, are an irritating and painful group to listen to. But then again so are the sideshow mentality people who claim to have qi superpowers. So it is good to see I am not the only one who seems to have a “middle road” view on the topic. Since the relationship between energy and matter has been studied for over 60+ years, and the somewhat common knowledge that eating food gives energy at a cellular level once digested via the ATP cycle, its actually not necessarily a superpower, but natural biomechanics. Its not like everyone who does TaiJiQuan or QiGong goes around using “mind bullets”, or shooting eye lasers, most don’t even claim they can. So I guess I don’t really understand all the disbelief out there. I’ve practiced TaiJiQuan and Baguazhang for a while now, I’ve never claimed to be superhuman. I have however found that synchronizing breathing with movement and mental clarity, certainly has it’s advantages. I enjoyed reading your post. Its good to see there are others out there who don’t see qi as “fake Chinese magic”.

    Keep training, TaiJiQuan is a good art to learn for a lot of reasons.
    Much Respect.

  14. rodrigo says:

    Aaron, nice to read your comment, it seems you understood my position better than other people. I don’t claim the superpower stuff is true, was just sharing what I’m starting to learn, so nice you’re on the same “middle road” :-)

    and yeah, will keep training taijiquan, and, when possible, I’d like to do some xingyiquan, but what about baguazhang, what do you like about it?

  15. Aaron says:

    One of the reasons I like baguazhang is its erratic and flowing circular movements. In baguazhang, you can attack, defend, or evade in any direction at any time, at any point of a circle, even when it comes to multiple attackers. The combination of the internal aspects, with active constant movement and non-linear combat make it effective for self defense and meditation, but also a generally fun art to practice. Xingyiquan is a great art to learn as well, quite powerful and quick when its used right. . Sometimes, baguazhang and xingyiquan are taught at the same time, as they do compliment each other pretty well. I’ve studied a variety of different martial arts (mostly shaolinquan, baguazhang and taijiquan) and they really all have something good to offer as long as there is an open mind. I can tell that you certainly are ahead of most in that category, so whatever you decide to learn, I am sure you will learn much.

    Peace to you.