There has been a lot of confusion over the years about what Chi or Qi is exactly. Unfortunately a lot of the ideas out there are simply nonsense. Many believe that it's some kind of magical power that can give you superhuman abilities. There are many videos and films that would seem to support this idea. I have seen videos of people levitating, people stiffening dollar bills and breaking rice bowls with them, and other similar nonsense. These are no more real than a skilled magician or illusionist.
So what exactly is Chi? In Chinese medicine, Chi is simply referred to as energy or universal energy. For example you have Sun Chi or a term you may be more familiar with, Solar Energy. And you have Chi in the body. When you break it down, it's basically "Nothing Plus Fire". If the energy is too strong or weak, it can create a condition where there is not enough or too much fire. So there is another character, the one commonly associated with Chi, which more accurately describes it. It's also the accompanying photo with this post. It literally translates to "Rice Plus Air". That may sound a little strange when you hear it that way. But how about "Glucose Plus Oxygen"? And if you know a thing or two about how the body works, you know that glucose and oxygen react together to produce carbon dioxide and water (aerobic respiration). Doesn't sound so mysterious any more, does it?
BUT, what is it that people are referring to when they commonly think of Chi? I mean we know that martial arts practitioners are capable of producing tremendous power in our strikes and movements. We are also able to root our bodies and allow people to push on us without moving backward. How is it done? As we've already established, there is no magic involved here. It's a matter of proper body structure, body connection/coordination, and breathing. And it must be done with a "relaxed energy" in order for it to work properly. Make no mistake, it's a difficult skill to acquire. It took me years to truly understand how to generate this and I'm still and always will be working on it. But it's a physical skill and no more magical or mystical than a Major League Baseball player who can pitch a ball at 90 plus miles per hour. Think about it. What's he doing when that happens? He coils up or compresses and then in one coordinated movement, he uses his entire body to throw the ball. Like a chain, it starts from the ground, goes up through his legs, his hips, his core, his upper torso, his shoulders, his arms, and finally his hand and is coordinated with the landing of his foot along with his breathing. No matter what you may have heard, that is "Chi" even if they don't think of it in those terms.
How about people who can toughen up their bodies to withstand sticks being broken on them or being punched in the stomach? This is referred to sometimes as "Iron Body" training. It's also commonly known as body conditioning. I practice this myself and once again, it can all be explained scientifically. I began my conditioning by tapping my body with a wooden dowel. There was some bruising at first. But gradually over time, I adapted to it and I was able to use harder blows as well as more of them. I also practiced punching and striking a bag filled with mung beans. Eventually I started using trees for my body and I started filling the bags with sand and later, rocks. And of course, I continue to do body conditioning drills with my Sifu (martial arts teacher) where we use each other for resistance. Obviously, over time this toughened me up to the point where I can get pounded on my arms, chest, and back, without bruising. As far as taking punches to the stomach, that's a matter of breathing techniques. You use a method known as "Reverse Breathing" where you exhale forcefully while you push your stomach outward. That way, you're creating internal pressure to counter the incoming punch. It's tough training, but again, nothing mystical about it!
So I hope this helps clear up some of the myths and nonsense regarding Chi. It's definitely a useful skill to learn with numerous health benefits. But just remember that it's a physical, earthly skill. Let's leave the flying and levitating for the movies!
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