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

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').

They muddy the water, to make it seem deep.

(Friedrich Nietzsche)


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.

Beginners often have the mistaken idea that their qi alone is going to be enough to defeat an opponent without needing to master the skills of hitting, kicking, throwing and joint-locks.

(Bruce Frantzis)

Invisible forces

Einstein was fascinated by invisible forces: gravity, magnetism, radio waves, X-Rays, wind etc. They cannot be seen, but the effects are evident and scientifically reproducible.


Is qi an invisible force?
The problem with the subject of qi is that is an awful lot of hokey stuff out there, and very little science.


There is an age-old tradition of acupuncture in China. This involves working with qi within the body. Tai chi students often get confused and start applying acupuncture ideas to their training.
It seldom produces concrete results.

Emotional energy

In a concert, a church, a group of enthusiasts, a sporting event or a movie premiere there is often a tangible emotion that can be felt but not seen.
Similarly, when a place has a bad 'vibe'... what is causing it?  People.

Shen (spirit)

In the Wu treatise, the tai chi student is told to focus upon intention and shen, not upon qi.
Shen is about loss of self, ego, self-consciousness, vanity, pride. It is not macho, fearful, angry, frustrated, aggressive or competitive.
A student must be at one with the moment/immersed. Emotional energy is channelled into the Art and this is part of what we call 'shen'.

Since the Taoist concepts are rooted in the most distant past with the most ancient beliefs of the Chinese, it is difficult for the Western mind to understand them. Therefore, before you can investigate the internal martial arts, you must first back to the very origins of thought in ancient China.

(Howard Reid)

Wasting energy

People can feel energised or drained relative to rest, diet, situation or activity.
Bad poise/posture putting the body under duress, failure to rest, relax, stop, time management/commitments, personal life, work - can all make you feel drained.
So can tension, stiffness, compressed cavities, closed joints, collapsed muscles, pushing (physically & mentally), hands too close to the body or too far away, thinking, over-stretching, exaggeration, over-commitment, disconnected movement and exertion. They are all physically taxing; wasting energy.

Saving energy

Tai chi addresses energy wastage by advocating rest, relaxation, good body use. It is no more magical than switching off the light to save on your electricity bill.

Confusing qi & Tao

It is common for tai chi exponents to get confused between qi and Tao. In practice, they are totally different concerns.

You cannot defeat your opponent using qi

Qi alone is not going to defeat anyone. If it could, why bother to learn the system? Why not just hit people with your qi?

Confusing qi & biomechanics

Often so-called feats of qi power are purely biomechanical 'tricks'. Alignment, ergonomics, balance, positioning, sensitivity, yielding, whole-body strength/movement/power...
Not magic, nor qi. There is no reason to instantly conclude that qi is responsible.

Throughout the body, the intention relies on the shen, not on the qi.
If it relied on the qi, it would become stagnant.

If there is qi, there is no external strength.

If there is no qi, there is tension.

u Yu-hsiang)

Let your qi take care of itself

It is easy to chat about qi 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".

Worth reading

Myths & magic
Qigong practice

Page created 3 March 1994
Last updated 31 July 1997