CHI : The Power to Confuse

Chi Qi Ki
This is the article that was published last month in the UK magazine 'Martial Arts Illustrated'. I said I'd post here later for those outside GB, to read it.

  気 : The Power to Confuse.
By Andy Moorhouse

KI/QI/CHI - Is one of the most confusing and divisive subjects within the oriental martial arts. Even what we say is confusing. Most people refer to it by the Chinese CHI, or the more modern QI, rather than the Japanese KI , irrespective of where their art originates. This is in no way definitive , or meant to convince others one way or the other. This is a personal reflection of my views on KI/QI/CHI and how I got there. My view has changed repeatedly over the years, and no doubt will again. From ignorance, to ignoring, through to rejection. To surprised belief, then rational rejection. The developing a theory of understanding its circumstance’s, while remaining neutral. To the bewilderment of the basis of that theory falling apart, because a scientific fact has undermined my reasoning for not believing ! As I said CHI has the power to confuse. One of the major factors in the controversy surrounding CHI, is the fact that what CHI actually is, has had to changed repeatedly. Revised in response to science continually proving that that given definition of CHI does not exist or is incorrect. Despite this the concept retains its importance with many.  

NOTE.   気 : Chi / Qi are the anglicisations from Chinese. Ki is from Japanese. CHI is the most commonly used and understood expression, so for ease I'll stick with that in this article. They all relate to the same ideograph ( 気 ), which in martial arts terms can defined as 'intrinsic energy' , 'vital energy', 'inner power', 'spiritual energy', 'life force', 'power', 'breath', 'spirit', or any of a dozen different translations and explanations. It is a concept of central importance to the internal martial arts of China and is aligned with the YIN or soft aspect of the of the Yin/Yang process. For our purposes, Chi is best seen as the sum total of the action of the Yin/Yang process.

BACKGROUND. 気 Chi is not just import to understanding the internal Chinese martial arts and medicine, but to all of Chinese culture – it's that important ! Yin / Yang are two diametrical opposed forces (soft and hard) constantly acting against or with each other, flowing inward from their isolated extremes, to merge together. It is central to the ancient Chinese world view for thousands of years. A period that only ended at the start of the 20th century. It is the 'operating system' underlying this world view. In martial arts terms, it is this central, it is Chi that drives the muscles. Nothing more nothing less. The muscles move the limbs and the limbs strike at the opponent. Causing impact, damage and pain. This is for hard /external systems. For internal systems, the Chinese believed that they were striking with Chi itself. It is the Chi, that causes the impact, damage and pain. The striking limb is merely a conductor for Chi. It is that important. In fact it goes deeper, the ancient explanation of the flow of Yin and Yang, is this. It shines down from heaven as Yang – passing through all things and activating the Yang elements. It then reflects back up from the earth as Yin, again passing through all things and activating the Yin elements. It is the power of life itself ! The sum total of this Yin /Yang cycle, its circulation, and its effect is Chi. A key point, often misunderstood, is the need for both and the need for them to be kept in balance. To the ancient orientals, illness was caused by an imbalance of Yin / Yang within a persons Chi or its circulation. It is also associated with the Prana 'life energy' concept of Yoga. By the way, this is obliviously where the writers of 'Star wars' got their ideas on 'the force' from. But, science has continually proved that this and every other attempt to prove the validity of Chi, as a fact, as a genuine scientifically identifiable force, to be false. It hasn't stopped the Chinese from continually revising the concept of Chi. So the definition of Chi has constantly changed through the 20th century, in the light of this. For many Chi has been relegated to the position of a philosophical concept rather than a physical force.  

MY TALE

Ignorance. When I began in the martial arts, I had neither knowledge of or interest in CHI, having started in Shotokan Karate-Do, it wasn't something ever raised . Later , I came into contact with Chinese martial artists, who tried to educate me in the concept of CHI. Sadly, I was a teenager, to full of himself to listen or try to understand. I'm an avid reader on the Martial arts, I have a collection of martial arts magazines going back to this period (1970's), any discussions on Chi in them, at that time, never made any impression on me.  

Ignoring : By the early 1980's I had become a student of Goju Ryu Karate-Do, under Sensei Tony Christian. Goju Ryu, does of course mean 'hard and soft style' , in the same vane as Yin and Yang. Sensei Christian had already begun to revise what he had been taught, partly due to dissatisfaction with the rather rigid training and, in his view, impractical formality of classical Goju Ryu. It lacked the direct simplicity of kick boxing, which he was also involved in at that time. But, kick boxing suffered from a lacked the depth of content, compared of Karate-Do. He also had an issue with an aspect central to Goju Ryu, both philosophically and physically. He felt something was missing. So having identified problems, he set about trying to rectify them. I was a brown belt during this period, in my twenties and obsessed with the physical, with the Yang / GO aspect of the 'hard and soft style'. Any changes that Sensei Christian made that made me a stronger, faster, fitter, harder fighter, I embraced . The philosophical outlook of the martial arts also appealed to me, but Sensei was introducing a change that was, at that time beyond me, so I ignored it.   One of Sensei Christian's best friends in the martial arts, was the late Danny Conner, then chairman of the British Karate Association. Conner was one the first to introduce the Chinese internal martial arts, bring in many highly skilled martial artists to conduct courses etc. Through this Sensei Christian came into contact with the principles of Chi and many highly experienced internal martial artists . This provided an answer too the issue he had found within Goju Ryu. The definition of Goju Ryu is 'hard and soft style' , like Yin and Yang and the two central Kata of Goju Ryu : Sanchin Kata and Tensho Kata are always used to illustrate these two differing aspects of the art. Sanchin is always cited as a demonstration of the hard / Yang / Go(of Goju Ryu) aspect and Tensho is cited as a demonstration of the soft / Yin / Ju (of Goju Ryu) aspect. Yang, the hard, external, muscular, conventional mode of power development. Yin, the soft, internal, esoteric and non-conventional mode of power development, as used by the internal arts. Now Sensei Christian's issue within Goju Ryu is this, having been constantly been told the above about Sanchin and Tensho Kata , and when watching and training. Yes, Sanchin obviously showed the hard / Yang / Go aspects of power, no problem with that, but Tensho ? He had to question why when he was taught it and every demonstration etc of Tensho Kata, it was just an open hand version of Sanchin ? Surely if Tensho illustrated the soft aspect, it should feel different to Sanchin, carry different lessons to Sanchin ? This was one of the reasons why Sensei Christian became involved with the internal martial arts. He had come to the conclusion that at some point in the past, Tensho Kata carried a different lesson to Sanchin Kata and had been performed with soft, internal energy. So acting on this and using the experience into the internal arts, afforded by Danny Conner, he revised Tensho Kata and the practises coming from it.

 Rejection. This revision of Tensho Kata by Sensei Christian, forced me to try to understand Chi and the concept of Yin and Yang. I talked with Sensei Christian, went through the back issues of my magazine collection, I bought books and borrowed books from the library, to do research on the subject. I worked at it, trying to generate the feeling that marked this relaxed energy (Yin), but couldn't let go of physical, muscular power (Yang). An interesting point came out of this, when I talked to Sensei Christian. It is the attractiveness of the hard and physical (Yang / Go ) power, that he believes, caused a change. His view is that Tensho Kata, in its original Chinese form (Rokushu) and in the first half of the twentieth century within Goju Ryu, is that it was performed as a internal exercise. Using soft, relaxed, Yin / Ju energy. At some point following the end of WW2, or the death of Chojun Miyagi (1888 to 1953), the attractiveness of hard over came soft. Goju Ryu's initial training methods focused on Sanchin Kata and hard psychical training and conditioning, to create hard / Yang / Go power development. The attractiveness of this mode of training lead to an excessive focus on 'hard'. The following, differing, mode of training , to create soft / Yin / Ju power development, is neglected and fades away. So, in Sensei Christian's view, this changed the feeling and power of Goju Ryu from a combined system, using both external and internal energy, both the aspects of Chi. Changing the feeling and energy from, Go and Ju: hard and soft, to Go and Go : hard and hard (in Goju terms). This is not what is meant by the name, Goju Ryu ? This had been the issue that he had had, with orthodox Goju Ryu Karate-Do. It is fair to say that Sensei Christian is a believer in Chi, not just a philosophical concept, but as an active physically energy. Sensei Christian had put a great deal of thought, study and practise into the revisions that he carried out. He had come to the conclusion that Sanchin Kata created Chi and Tensho Kata showed how to use Chi. Like wise I put a great deal of thought, study and practise into understanding , not a problem with the other revisions, but I struggled with Chi. I continued , but something always came up. Rational, western scientific thought and experiment proved Chi did not exist ! Having a rational, western mind meant that Chi did not exist as an active physical energy. I struggle and partly grasped the philosophical concept and it helped me to become more relaxed and my techniques to flow and become smooth. But , my rational western and rather cynical mind, rejects Chi. Just one thing, an issue I could not resolve rationally. Whenever Sensei stuck me with the soft striking of Chi , it was a special kind of pain.  

Acceptance. The philosophical concept helped, even though rational thought rejected it, it had a positive effect, and this puzzled me. As I relaxed I felt more of myself, my internal processes. Breathe, muscle action etc. Breathing is obvious, Goju Ryu derives its name from a line in a poem. “ The way of breathing is both hard and soft.” But, for me it was the action, the inter-change, of the muscles that caused a revelation. Feeling the inter-change of tension and relaxation as my limbs perform each technique. The muscles of the upper arm, the biceps and triceps, are the easiest ones to use as an example. The agonist muscle is the term for contacting muscle, that provides the power and the antagonist muscle is the term for the relaxing muscle. The biceps contacts, tenses (agonist), this folds the arm (flexion), but this action is only possible as the triceps relaxes and extends (antagonist), allowing the action. To extend the arm the biceps must relax – becoming the antagonist, and the triceps contracts – becoming the agonist. These actions need to be coordinated and balanced or the action of the limbs will be poor. Extension and flexion of the muscles create all actions and motions, and thus techniques. Look at the parallels between this and Yin / Yang. The inter-change between the two aspects of the whole : agonist and antagonist : Yin and Yang. The need for this to be coordinated and in balance. A revelation that matches Yin and Yang. The feeling that Chi is inside me, a physical force. Yes this is subjective, but the feeling is real, so are the effect. Remember, when I , or anyone else was struck by Sensei Christian, it hurt in a different way to any thing else. Over the years I'd been hit by just about everything, the pain of these 'soft', Tensho derived strikes, sent pain straight through you and out of the other side, like nothing I'd experienced before. All this is subjective but it brought about an acceptance of Chi, I believed.  

Rational Theory. There was a problem, I couldn't strike with the same result as Sensei. I tried and tried, very rarely could I ever produce the same results. This confused me and lead me to doubt. This was re-enforced by the research, no matter what the various explanations of Chi I looked at, science disproved it. So rationally I should reject the concept and yet there was that special kind of pain when struck. This was confusing to me and I struggled to understand this contradiction. Perhaps it is the subjective nature of the subject and the ancient view point, like the expression 'sun raise'. All ancient civilisations thought the sun went around the earth, why ? We stand still, on the earth, and the sun comes over the horizon and moves across the sky. So obviously the sun is the only thing moving, so the sun is going around the earth, a subjective view. Of course science tells us this is incorrect, the earth goes around the sun, but it took science centuries to work that out. So, what would sun raise look like, if the sun did go around the earth ? The answer, it looks just the same ! The mechanism is different, but the result is the same. Perhaps the theory of Chi may be incorrect, but the effect of the training still produces the effects that were termed Chi. Perhaps, following the example of sun raise, the mechanism is different , but the result is the same or in same way the mechanism that is 'Chi' , is awaiting scientific discovery ? Anyway , into the 1990's and a Dan grade, I continued training and studying Tensho, and had been able to reproduce the soft striking of Sensei Christian on demand. But, what was the basis of this soft striking ? I didn't know ! Through out this period not only was I working with Sensei Christian, but attending courses with many practitioners of Chinese martial arts. All of whom explained the concept of Chi and the internal arts to me, and this time I listened. The problem was, everything I was being told was contradicted by science : confusing ! By the late 1990's I had come up with a personal theory to over come this confusion. I'd found, in my opinion, a scientific mechanism for Chi, that would account for the subjective nature of feelings surrounding Chi and achieve the similar results. This also helped eliminate the confusion I felt. The theory was to apply 'The Placebo effect' to the subject. This effect is a physiological one, that then brings about a physical one, coming from medical research. It was found that a percentage of those told they had been given medicine to make them better, yet had not. Reacted as if they had been truly given the medicine ! And this is not imaginary, but a measurable physical effect. This illustrates the power of the mind. So, back to Chi , because it is believed that there will be an effect , there is. I applied this to soft striking and Chi to account for the feelings and the effect, I felt and saw. The effect of this was that I could accept the results of training to strike 'softly', why ignoring the non-scientific mechanism of Chi. Now I was neutral in the debate over Chi, when talking to those who believed in it or opposed it, instead of joining in the opposition. This lasted until around 2005, when for the only time, I was teaching on a regular basis. This was at the late Barry Strettles Martial Arts Centre in Preston. This was situated next to the university. I was stunned by how many university students , with no prior martial arts experience , came in asking about or wanting to talk about Chi ! This happened so regularly, they gave me the impression that they were looking at Chi as the genuine embodiment of 'the force' from 'Star Wars'. They wanted 'The Force' ! I couldn't really understand why university students were interested in this archaic and discredited mechanism. Based on these conversations, my conclusion was that the students were interested in Chi, as a way avoiding the hard work of training required to develop the skills and power that Chi appears to bring. They viewed Chi as an intellectual way to create physical skill and strength, a way of avoiding physical effort ! This had a negative effect on my view of Chi, as I could not understand why highly educated university students were attracted to the archaic concept of Chi and so were averse to physical effort.  

THE SURPRIZE. As I have repeatedly stated in this article, science does not believe in Chi and continually proves the alternative theories for how it operates to be wrong. Chi provides the theory for Acupunctures operating system. Some scientists believe that it operates via the 'placebo effect'. Others say the pins stimulate the nervous system, but this is disputed by other scientists, who say it is impossible for a pin stuck into some extremity, to effect an internal organ. Especially as there is no direct connection within the nervous system that relates to the Chi meridians and the organs they influence. Despite all the arguments over how it works , the scientific fact remains, it works. As I've said, I'd adopted the 'placebo effect' as my theoretical mechanism for Chi. In the context of acupuncture , the placebo effect works like this. The patient is told “This will make you better”, so it does ! So, earlier this year (2012) I was watching a documentary following the work of Vets. At one point a Vet decides to deal with an ill animal by using acupuncture. It wasn't a revelatory moment, it took time, but slowly, over the following days and weeks, this event played on my mind. The knowledge that the ancient Chinese had been using acupuncture on horses, cattle etc, and the fact, scientifically – it is shown to work - had an undermining effect on my placebo effect Chi theory. The fact acupuncture is used and is effective with animals, removes the psychological component. It removes the whole : ' The patient is told “This will make you better ”, so it does ! ', process - the placebo effect : you just can't tell animals this. My theory falls apart. So this begs the question, just what is the mechanism that we describe as Chi ? The fact remains it works, in the context of acupuncture, but science cannot explain the mechanism of how, other than the placebo effect. The fact remains that when struck with these soft strikes, they went through you and hurt your back. And this is not an artificial awed hero worship of Sensei Christian, false way. Visitors to the Dojo, away on courses, anyone on the receiving end in a of these soft strike knew about it ! These strike have a demonstrable effect and I can do these soft strikes, that hurt in a different way. Is it all purely subjective ? All I can say to end is perhaps the mechanism that is Chi, is still awaiting scientific discovery. I'm confused.  

NOTES - PLACEBO EFFECT : this effect is a physiological one, that then brings about a physical one, coming from medical research. It was found that a percentage of those told they had been given medicine to make them better, yet had not. Reacted as if they had been truly given the medicine ! And this is not imaginary, but a measurable physical effect. This illustrates the power of the mind. So, back to Chi , because it is believed that there will be an effect , there is.  

AGONIST & ANTAGONIST MUSCLES : The muscles of the upper arm, the biceps and triceps, are the easiest ones to use as an example. The agonist muscle is the term for contacting muscle, that provides the power and the antagonist muscle is the term for the relaxing muscle. The biceps contacts, tenses (agonist), this folds the arm (flexion), but this action is only possible as triceps relaxes and extends (antagonist), allowing the action. To extend the arm the biceps must relax – becoming the antagonist, and the triceps contracts – becoming the agonist. These actions need to be coordinated and balanced or the action of the limbs will be poor. Extension and flexion of the muscles create all actions and motions, and thus techniques.      

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Comments

Shikonboss's picture

Andy - if it helps: You're looking for chi as one thing when it's the product of a number of things. Sanchin performed correctly free's the spine and core and opens and connects the 5 bows of the body (spine, arms and legs) the core is softened and connected and the training helps you to also open, close, compress, stretch and release it working the 5 bows in unison. The spiralling action in the feet engages all the myofascia of the body to perform as one muscle or 'bodysuit' as app posed to separate units. Couple this with breath training and making the mind more aware, focused and sensitive and you can understand how the resolution of the battle of 3 (mind body and breath) takes place. Tensho takes this a stage further by training the 5 animal hands used for all MA strategies by connecting the hands to the feet and utilising the deep core muscles of the body to manipulate the balance and joints of the opponent. Hope this helps mate!
Stephen Finch's picture

Andy, I live and work in Beijing China and study Xing Yi Quan and Qi Gong with Master Ma Shi Qi. Regarding Qi it is integral to the Art I study, we are taught to first stand in the correct posture, breathe correctly, relax and move in the right way. After this is done, and everyone will take different time to understand and be able to do this. This process is on going and in time you feel Qi develop in your hands, upper and lower back, feet, spine and bones in general, ribs, torso including the Dan Tian(Hara). This is not something that everyone will believe or accept. However it is not just about believing but in the doing and feeling of what it is like to give and receive Qi. I have found that I have more energy , healthier, and can take more punishment than when I didn't train with Master Ma Shi Qi.