Martial Arts

Do You Believe in Chi?

Special thanks goes out to Lizzie for inspiring this post.  In the comments section of my last entry, George Alexander Interview Part 2, Lizzie asked a very simple question:  Do you believe in Chi?

Interesting.  Both the question and the wording.

Most people have heard of Chi, even if they have only the faintest familiarity with the martial arts.  Shows like Kung Fu, combined with slews of low budget martial arts movies, have made Chi a household concept.  Supposedly, Chi is that magical power that causes Shaolin monks to levitate and smash concrete with their bare hands.

Kung Fu with David Carradine

Kung Fu with David Carradine

Of course, the question wasn’t “what is Chi?”, but “do you believe in Chi?”  And I would like to answer that directly – I don’t think Chi is something that needs to be ‘believed in.’  Chi being “mystical” is a bit of a western manifestation of something they was initially misunderstood.  This mysticism has persisted because it translates well into movies is perpetuated by charlatans who know they can make a quick buck.

Chi (or ki) is mostly just an eastern explanation of the natural energy we all have.  A more modern term is biokinetics.  Your ability to apply force on an object or to move your body is all powered by Chi.  Further, Chi can be focused.  When you contract your muscles and well up your energy for a sharp punch, you’ve essentially focused your Chi.

We all know energy exists.  If you watch a fire, you see heat and light energy being emitted from the chemical reaction taking place.  When we eat a good meal, we feel revitalized because the body is replenished with the natural chemicals it needs to create the energy that fuels our body.  It’s not mystical…it’s just life!

Therefore, you can say I do believe in Chi…in the traditional sense.

This leads us to the bigger question, the Chi elephant in the room – do I believe in the miraculous abilities espoused by “Chi Masters.”

No.  For the most part.  95% of Chi manipulation I have encountered involves gaijin pretending like they are David Carradine.  It occurs often.  There is nothing mystical about striking someone in the temple and watching them get knocked out.  There is also nothing mystical about striking two vital points that cause an electrical disruption to the brain.  There is ALSO nothing mystical about temporarily cutting off bloodflow to the brain.

These are just effective techniques.  You can use a light ‘Chi’ touch because a compliant partner in a calm state is very receptive to disruptions in his/her body.  In other words, kyusho isn’t mystical.  It just takes tons and tons of practice.

Chi That I Don’t Buy Into

As I mentioned earlier, some people use the myth of Chi for their own personal gain.  Somewhere along the line, “the no touch knockout” started to make an appearance.  This baffles me.  In all the old texts I have read (think bubishi), there is never a mention of the no touch knockout.  If this is such an astounding technique, wouldn’t the Okinawans have at least hinted at it in their most important martial text?

Maybe it was too secret…who knows.  But none of the senior instructors I have ever trained with have claimed to know this technique, nor have they ever seen it done by the Okinawan masters of the previous generation.  Nor are there any tales handed down through the generations of Okinawans about this technique being used.  Yet…here it is:

I’m not here to make any judgments about the character of this instructor or the students; I’m merely suggesting that this technique works on the students for reason other than the myth of Chi.

Consider this: hypnosis is a voluntary state of mind.  People willingly interact with a hypnotist in order to cure small ailments or unveil buried parts of their psyche.  The mind is a powerful tool, and when combined with will, can be affected dramatically.

If you were told over and over again that you’re feeling Chi energy from your instructor, and all your peers are telling you you feel it, and you really want to feel it…guess what…you’re going to feel it.

Why is this dangerous?  Because it turns into this:

This was just a sporting event.  Those Chi students could be in for a lot worse in real life.

Chi That I Won’t Discount Right Away

I’m a skeptic, it’s true.  But that certainly doesn’t mean I’m closed minded.  We are far from unlocking all the little mysteries that make up the human mind.  The first kind of Chi that I do not discount is physical conditioning plus trained willpower.

Shaolin Monks do, in fact, break cement slabs.  They lay on beds of nails and endure spear thrusts without any puncture wounds.  These feats are truly impressive, but they come from years of rigorous physical training and learning how to control the energy in the body.  Think of it this way: if you are just standing around and someone sucker punches you in the gut, you are bound to go down in a heap.  But if you tense all your abdominal strength and focus your entire being into absorbing that blow…you’ll be ok (assuming you’ve done adequate physical training).  These kinds of dynamic feats are impressive and serve to show the adaptability of the human body.

The other kind of Chi I don’t readily discount is healing.  Acupuncture, Qigong, Tai Chi, and others all claim to have healing properties.  These arts use the Chinese meridian theory of Chi flow in the body.  Much like Kyusho can be used to disrupt electrical/blood flow, so can healing be used to promote it.

These healing arts get very complex, utilizing different times of day, meridians, vital points, and more.  How much is myth and superstition vs how much promotes health I couldn’t possibly say.  All I’m saying is that this is Chi that seems feasible to me.

I’d like to leave you with something that blurs the lines.  At first when you watch this, you’ll be inclined to disbelieve.  I know I was.  But by the end I was left scratching my chin.  How much of this is Chi fluff…how much is real?  I’ll let you decide.


Special thanks to everyone for reading and commenting.  Feel free to ask questions the way Lizzie did!