Sunday, 5 March 2017

Qi- myths and reality

My first exposure to Qi-Gong came from an article in the Taekwondo Times in 1994. In the article a teacher by the name of James Lacey gave readers some standing meditation postures. As with all martial arts practices the thing was not about the postures or the photos- it lay in the breathing.

I started practicing while being 16 at the time. I had hopes of being able to shoot a fireball from my palms like the Hadouken or Kamehameha one day... That never happened of course.

It took me many years to understand the place of Qi in the martial arts of today.

In this post I will share some of my experiences and then give some guidelines of how qi manifests itself so that you can tell when someone in a video is bluffing or not.

The first thing I experienced was a tingly, needles and pins sensation in my hands. The literature said that I would feel warmth, but that was not the first thing I felt. In fact- I only feel a very mild warmth when my hands are close to each other while channeling qi during meditation or qigong exercise.

Back when I was in my teens I had no idea of how to channel qi into my attacks and never pursued it. What I did manage to do on my own, however, was during a black belt grading when I was 18. When I had to spar with another canditate I did the whole thing where I kept my stomach muscles tightened to protect the odd blow that might find its way there. My shoulders was relaxed and keeping my arms relaxed- I let the sensation of them filling up with qi grow intense enough to make my hands float in the air in front of me. They were relaxed and light. During the sparring bout I found myself able to block quite well. Attacking, tough, had nothing special.

Although qi is mostly associated with Taijiquan, my first guidance on how to put qi into an attack came from Shaolin Kungfu. With exercises like One Finger Shooting Zen I learnt how to focus qi into my fingertips to make it strike harder. The hands are usually the easiest weapons from which to channel qi in attacks. In Taiji and Shaolin forms Qi is channeled through the feet in stomping movements. I have successfully transferred this type of channeling into front, side and back kicks at mid-riff level.

The first serious accounts of qi being projected into people and objects without physical contact came from a book by a certain Kostas Danaos in which he described his teacher, John Chang's extraordinary abilities. He never mentioned the no-touch knock-out, but pyrokinesis was part of the story.

Using the theories of "Song Sal Lee Ki" (making the fingers alive with ki) from Hapkido and the "Iron Shirt" technique from Chinese martial arts I have used the sensation of hardening parts of my body with qi to withstand blows and being grabbed in bear hugs and wrist grabs.

Because it was said that qi is in fact sexual energy that gets converted into semen during sex I once did an experiment (don't ask how or when) by keeping my chi focussed in my hara/ tan tien during sex. Three hours later I have come to the conclusion that I have found the ultimate cure for premature ejaculation. True story. You can chalk that up as a very good reason to take up qigong.

These stories of qi healing and no-touch knock-outs had led me to do another experiment. In Taiji the palm of the hand is kept in a slight concave shape when doing palm strikes or thrusts. It is said that qi gathers in that hollow part of the palm. So- after concentrating on putting as much qi into the palm of my left hand I held the tip of my right hand's index finger about 2 centimetres away from it. My finger ended up feeling tingly and started throbbing.

I gave the experiment a try in a Taiji class that I taught at the time by projecting qi onto my student's extended fingertips. The results were awesome.

The white spots on the palm of my hand in the photos above is an occurrence during these experiments.

The first other person whose qi I have ever felt was that of our local Tang Soo Do instructor Xander Davis. The sudden heaviness in my limbs and feeling that I was going to faint at any time is something that I will never forget. Xander never warned me about what he was doing and all this happened while he was quietly having his beer in the restaurant where I worked at the time!

From that time on I have been very aware of not only the energy within me, but also that of my environment.

Now lets look at the popular abilities that are said to come with Qigong training:

1. Healing- Although it can't cure cancer Qigong and meditation helps a lot with recovery from a sickbed. It does not replace medicine, though. Changing a person's qi flow can also relieve headaches. I have not tried it yet, but I think that an asthma sufferer can actually be cured of his condition if he knows how to control his qi.

2. Stress management- Qi is your vital energy. Where it goes determines how you feel and think and ultimately what you do. Shaolin as well as Wudang martial arts teach "sinking the qi" as the cornerstones to their techniques. One of the benefits of this technique is that it keeps one calm when under pressure.

3. Bigger tolerance for pain- Seizing hold of your qi flow is also seizing control over your responses to external stimuli like pain.

4. No- touch knockouts: The use of such techniques have not been documented in history as far as I know and from what I have seen and experienced I can say that unless your opponent is a cripple out of his wheelchair nobody is going to keep still for this technique to work in combat. In fact- I don't even regard it as a fighting technique, but rather a demonstration of how far a person can project his qi.

5. Resilience- I don't know of any fighters who do not want to be able to take blows without getting injured. The Iron Shirt technique is not mastered in a day. At the level I am there are still a lot of people out there whose attacks I do not wish to just passively receive. After a year or so of dedicated practice you will note a difference, though.

6. Powerful punches and strikes. Whether some unseen energy really gets channeled when I punch or not- the sensation of that happening makes a huge difference.

7. Quicker attacks: This is a bit difficult to learn, but one of the signs of mastery that no one can deny. An untrained novice not in control of his qi has a lot of telegraphing movements when he attacks. This is especially true when someone like that gets angry and wants to hit you really hard. You can see the shoulders moving etc.

A trained master can shoot destructive power through a quick movement that is felt rather than seen.

8. Pyrokinesis. Forget it. The best you can hope for is really warm hands. I have seen a documentary about killer hornets in Japan. Entomologists are keeping the population of these deadly insects in check with special killer bees imported from South America. These bees have the ability to collectively raise their body temperatures above that in which the hornet can survive, literally cooking the hornet to death. Now- not even that temperature is enough to make anything burst out in flames. In any event- I always wonder why the people giving these demonstrations don't have any burn marks on their hands. According to theory this ability requires a lot of Yang Qi acquired over many years. Something like this is not the kind of thing to which most people want to devote their time to find out whether it works. I am one of those people.

9. Telekinesis.  Projected qi is said to bend metal objects such as spoons and make ripples on still water. Now- I believe that qi can be projected to affect the environment around us, but the amount of energy needed to make such huge manifestations is much more than what we can exert during qigong practice. Reiki practitioners and Neigong adepts can use their own qi to affect the qi flow of others, though. That I have experienced.

10. Cannonating opponents. Hell yes! Part of the trick is getting your opponent's qi raised so that he can be uprooted and then you just need to give a quick push. :D

11. Ouija boards and automatic writing: These two practices have nothing to do with martial arts. I have noted that both practices rely on movement of the body guided by what is regarded as an external influence. The sensation is very much like the flow of qi during qigong exercises, though. The "messages", though, are likely from the subconscious mind of the user...

12. Divining rods. Water and metal are said to be Yin elements. Now I don't know whether you have heard the story of two L shaped metal rods that cross when the user finds an underground source of water. Funny thing- Hold a couple of those divining rods if you can make them (wire from a coat hanger will do fine) and send your qi into your hands as you hold them, That is one experiment I have done often.

Whether we believe in qi or not it has shaped Asian martial arts technique. One just needs to look at the difference between a boxing punch and a traditional karate punch to see what I mean. Besides the external look of techniques it also played a large part in determining the state of mind in which these techniques are to be applied.

The reason why I make a point of defending teachings about qi is that I want to see schools that teach proper technique through these teachings preserved. To a large extent the modern martial arts trends here in the West are putting us at risk of seeing a large number of punch-drunk palookas going around calling themselves martial artists. There is no art in charging into a fight with brute force.

Well- that was the post as promised! I hope we all have a great week ahead of us.

1 comment:

  1. Absolutely brilliant thank you - it must have taken you ages to pull it all together so systematically and comprehensively into one article but definitely worth it to have all this information in one, clear, accessible place. Thank you!