Student Questions

What is Chi?


Oh man, when I was asked this, I drew a blank.  Chi is not alien to me at all, and in fact, the understanding of chi is almost quintessential to martial arts.  It is a concept that is a constant companion in the martial arts lifestyle, and even after a lot of study and lectures from better martial artists, it is a touch concept.

Chi is, essentially, energy.  In Chinese, the word “chi” can be applied to anything.  Forest energy, fire energy, horse energy.  The best translation I could advise in English, is a combination of energy and force.  Everything has Chi, even us, and learning how it words and how to apply it can make the difference between a sore hand and a broken brick.

Firstly, Chi is NOT:

  1.  Lighting things on fire.
  2. Psi, or telekinesis of any kind.
  3. Launching “chi-balls” like in anime shows.
  4. One-touch knockouts, shields, or deflecting attacks with sacred energy.
  5. It does not revive people, you can not throw it.
  6. It will not save you from being killed.


I understand Chi as this:  It is a combination of biofeedback (body awareness), and correct technique.  This does not mean that, without proper training, people can’t do inexplicable things.  It has been thoroughly documented that people can raise/lower body temperature, skin conductivity, pupil dilation, perspiration, and many other feats.

When I break something, my students may notice that I do a few “warm-up” movements.  Slow practice strikes where I focus on the task.  What I’m doing is, to be cliche, harnessing my chi.  Each practice movement, I focus on my arm being stronger than the brick, more rigid, solid.  I focus on the weakness of the board.  I focus on the technique, how it will feel.  I am playing the entire break in my head.

It all sounds mystical, but what is actually happening to my body when I focus?  Where is the Chi?  The Chi would be in how my body reacts to the imagery in my head, to the breath control.  My muscles are tightening, blood flow is increasing to the areas I’ll be using, my mind releases endorphins to protect me from pain, and adrenaline to improve oxygen delivery.  My Chi is my body’s biological energy, all of its forces, working together to achieve a task.

Keep in mind, I’m not focusing on all of these individually.  I’m not going through a physiological shopping list and checking the things I want.  I just know my body reacts to a challenge like everyone else.  We tense, our heart increases…  I just want those things and those muscles to be ready.

Think about the implications of this!  We learn to use our mind to trick our body into changing…using our thoughts.

What if I didn’t use “Chi” in this way?  Without my body’s energy, I wouldn’t be prepared.  My muscles would be too relaxed to break the object.  I would feel more pain, because my mind hadn’t prepared me for it.  The motion would be hollow, ineffective.

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