Qi (2)

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Invisible forces

Einstein was fascinated by invisible forces: gravity, magnetism, radio waves, X-Rays, wind etc. They cannot be seen, but the effects are evident and scientifically reproducible.
Is qi an invisible force?
The problem with the subject of qi is that is an awful lot of hokey stuff out there, and very little science.


There is an age-old tradition of acupuncture in China. This involves working with qi within the body. Tai chi students often get confused and start applying acupuncture ideas to their training.
It seldom produces concrete results.

Emotional energy

In a concert, a church, a group of enthusiasts, a sporting event or a movie premiere there is often a tangible emotion that can be felt but not seen.
Similarly, when a place has a bad 'vibe'... what is causing it? People.

Shen (spirit)

In the Wu treatise, the tai chi student is told to focus upon intention and shen, not upon qi.
Shen is about loss of self, ego, self-consciousness, vanity, pride. It is not macho, fearful, angry, frustrated, aggressive or competitive.
A student must be at one with the moment/immersed. Emotional energy is channelled into the art and this is part of what we call 'shen'.

Since the Taoist concepts are rooted in the most distant past with the most ancient beliefs of the Chinese, it is difficult for the Western mind to understand them. Therefore, before you can investigate the internal martial arts, you must first back to the very origins of thought in ancient China.

(Howard Reid)

Wasting energy

People can feel energised or drained relative to rest, diet, situation or activity.
Bad poise/posture putting the body under duress, failure to rest, relax, stop, time management/commitments, personal life, work - can all make you feel drained.
So can tension, stiffness, compressed cavities, closed joints, collapsed muscles, pushing (physically & mentally), hands too close to the body or too far away, thinking, over-stretching, exaggeration, over-commitment, disconnected movement and exertion. They are all physically taxing; wasting energy.

Saving energy

Tai chi addresses energy wastage by advocating rest, relaxation, good body use. It is no more magical than switching off the light to save on your electricity bill.

Confusing qi & Tao

It is common for tai chi exponents to get confused between qi and Tao. In practice, they are totally different concerns.

You cannot defeat your opponent using qi

Qi alone is not going to defeat anyone. If it could, why bother to learn the system? Why not just hit people with your qi?

Beginners often have the mistaken idea that their qi alone is going to be enough to defeat an opponent without needing to master the skills of hitting, kicking, throwing and joint-locks.

(Bruce Frantzis)

Confusing qi & biomechanics

Often so-called feats of qi power are purely biomechanical 'tricks'. Alignment, ergonomics, balance, positioning, sensitivity, yielding, whole-body strength/movement/power...
Not magic, nor qi. There is no reason to instantly conclude that qi is responsible.


We don't ever chat about qi in our classes. We teach biomechanics. Consider: if you have a stiff neck, bad back or dodgy knees...
Do you want to chat about mystical energy or would you rather address how you are using your body and potentially fix the problem?

Page created 3 March 1994
Last updated 31 July 1997