Qi
 
     

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What is qi?

Qi is a problematic topic... In The Tai Chi Classics it usually refers to breath. Unfortunately, people disagree upon the meaning. Some people see it as being about breath, others energy.
Maybe the confusion resides with the fact that deep breathing makes the body feel energised... A precise definition of qi is difficult (akin to 'Tao').


Q
i

Qi is pronounced 'chee'. The Wade-Giles spelling is 'chi'. The Pinyin spelling is qi.


Tai chi?


The 'chi' in tai chi is not qi. The name 'tai chi' refers to the yin/yang diagram. It has nothing to do with breath or qi energy.


They muddy the water, to make it seem deep.

(Friedrich Nietzsche)
 

History

Historically, the word qi was often applied as an explanation in lieu of a more scientific understanding. This has led to qigong and tai chi teachers applying the word liberally.


No belief is required

There is little scientific evidence to explain exactly what happens to the body as a result of doing qigong and tai chi - apart from the obvious physiological benefits.
However, many case studies (involving large groups of people) have recorded a significant improvement in health.


A convenient catch-all

Some tai chi people use the word 'qi' a lot. It is a catch-all employed to explain pretty much everything they don't really understand. Virtually anything can be attributed to qi.
This makes genuine knowledge, skill and real understanding less important to such exponents since qi explains everything. But does it?



Science vs folklore/mysticism

The difficulty with the whole subject of 'qi energy' is that it is very controversial.
Does qi energy exist? Can you scientifically/medically prove it? Is it possible to improve qi energy flow? What precisely were the ancient Chinese referring to?
Qi energy is akin to a belief system. Rather than rely on genuine scientific facts, people immediately resort to superstition and speculation.
This is incredibly lazy. It is far more honest to simply say that when it comes to qi energy you don't know for sure.


Qi fantasies


Chinese movies have long depicted qi as being an energy force projected through the hands, like lightning. This is obviously fantasy.
Unfortunately, some tai chi instructors have pretty outlandish ideas concerning qi, qigong and tai chi. If they use words like "etheric", "aura", "visualising golden light"... be wary.


Auras, mystical forces & qi?

One student was desperate to see an aura. She was a really nice lady but had adopted the 'spiritual shopper' approach to alternative health.
She was always attending courses on sound healing, hypnotherapy, crystals, dream therapy, transcendental meditation, yoga and shamanism.
Her desire to see an aura was akin to people who look at a potato and see the baby Jesus.
 

Why is she so keen to see an aura? Isn't the human body miraculous enough? She should read a GCSE Biology text book and marvel at how the nervous system or the eyes work.

(Mathew Sebastian)


The real world


Dreamers like to chat about qi, auras and so forth. When it comes to the actual work we do in class, they become flaky and struggle quite badly.
15 minutes of standing qigong is torture for them and prolonged physical training is met with alarm.


Tai chi is rooted in the real

Please do not come to our classes wanting to talk about auras, glowing lights, astral projections, spirits, superstition, magic, myth, fantasy and folklore.
Zen, Tao and tai chi is rooted in the real. Your tai chi needs to have meaning, substance. Perhaps your life needs these very same things too?


Learning about qi

We would like to emphasise the fact that our classes never feature any discussions about qi.
Our students focus upon tangible physical methods designed to improve alignment, awareness, relaxation and skilful body use. People learn real, reproducible skills and gain substantial benefits.


Qi is some sort of 'fairy dust'...

Some tai chi instructors talk about qi all the time. Qi is made to sound like 'fairy dust' - it can magically cure all ailments and impart amazing powers. This is clearly not true.
 

What does qi have to do with fighting? Absolutely nothing. If you want to talk about qi in the martial arts, I'd say that it doesn't have anything to do with the martial arts. They're talking about intention mostly, and they're calling it qi because it sounds more mysterious.

(Tim Cartmell)


Talking about qi

In our experience, people who spend a lot of time talking about qi seldom have anything else to offer. They struggle when asked to produce more concrete proof of ability.
No syllabus. No methodology. No depth of skill.


Let qi take care of itself

It is easy to chat about life energy when no proof is expected. This hardly demonstrates a high degree of knowledge or skill. Taoism calls such behaviour "eating the flower and not the fruit".
Our classes avoid speculation, supposition and opinion. Students are required to exercise, improve awareness and understand human biomechanics.


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Page created 3 March 1994
Last updated 31 July 1997