Qi power?

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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?

Breath is breath

A lot of people interpret qi to mean 'energy'. Usually in The Tai Chi Classics it just means breath. Nothing fancy. Nothing magical.

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 breath 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. Breathing is commonplace, ordinary, normal.
It is the process of taking air into the lungs and exhaling it again. Yes, you cannot see air, but that doesn't make it magical.


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 breath.
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'.

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. Qi is breath. Tao refers to the principles of nature and how they operate.

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)

Talk is cheap

A lot of tai chi people talk an awful about qi when they could better spend their efforts researching Taoism, The Tai Chi Classics, The Art of War and The Book of Five Rings.
Doing some serious, long-term study is much harder than filling in the blanks with the word "qi".


Taoism is deeply rooted in science. It addresses the natural world, human psychology and the contradictions evident in human relationships.
Putting the Taoist insights into tangible practice is hard enough without dreaming about qi power.

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.

Martial arts are dangerous

The British Medical Association Guide To Sports Injuries states:

Combat sports such as boxing, judo, karate or kung fu make tough demands on the body; training is intense, and participation requires all-round fitness. Regardless of the fitness of the participants, however, the aggressive blows traded between opponents means that these sports always carry a serious risk of injury.

Worth reading

Myths & magic
Qi myths
The Tao/Dao

Page created 18 April 2006
Last updated 15 March 2018