There’s a tendency in the world of Chinese internal martial arts that I really don’t like. That is the use of different jargongs and catch words, phrases that sound good, that teachers use to look more impressive, to look better than they really are. But they bear very little practical use for the student. “Sink the qi” and “use yi/intent,” might be the most used and mis-used of these catch phrases. How do you sink the qi? By sinking the qi?…??? When you look at many of these teachers, well, if you could look at them very closely, you would most likely see that there are things that they do that don’t match what they say. But sadly, practitioners are most often more interested in what teachers say than about what they actually do. All of this talk, and partly nonsense, about Qi, Yi and Jin does nothing more than creating obstacles for the students so they focus and keep on focusing on exactly the wrong things compared to what they should focus on. Too much Qi and mysticism might prevent students from advancing for many years. It might take a long time before students by themselves can “snap out of it”, before they can see things clearly, with their eyes not clouded by Qi.
What Qi to not spend too much thinking about?
I want to explain a little bit about Qi. First, just let me say that I am not the greatest “believer” in Qi or in what it can accomplish. But on the same time, I am absolutely no strict denier. I know all about Qi, what it means in philosophy and what it means in Chinese medicine. From my very first years, now 30 years ago, I have studied different types of qi circulation exercises and meditation. I know what Qi is and what it is not. I know that I can feel certain things when I practice, and I can certainly build up quite a good heat in a short amount of time when I start moving with my Tai Chi. But I also know that it’s useless to speak about “feelings” and that it’s useless to speak about Qi. But when we try to explain it, there’s no need trying to keep up the mystic flare. Qi is actually something very simple, and on one basic level very easy to comprehend.
Some time ago I read the best short explanation I’ve ever read about “Qi”. Very simple, not many words at all:
“Qi is the perfect function of an indent in human body.”
This was said by a person who professionally practice Traditional Chinese Medicine. Again: “Qi is the perfect function of an indent in human body.” So what does this mean? It means that when things function as properly as possible in the body, there is qi. If there is an unbalance in the body, then the qi might be weak or stagnant. “Qi” helps us in different ways to describe different states of the body. We could speak about the “Qi” of breath, or “Qi” of a punch when the body parts needed to breath or punch collaborate in the most optimum manner. For breath, the Qi of breath would the perfect collaboration of all parts of the body needed to breath.
But then again, don’t we all breath? Well, yeah. But maybe we mostly don’t bring with us a deep abdominal breath in daily life. We could certainly make different parts in us to collaborate better to breath better. Tai Chi teach us to move the body relaxed in different ways and how to continue to breath deeply while doing complicated body coordinated movements. When we do everything right, we have Qi. We don’t have qi because we “want” Qi or because we imagine Qi. Strong “intent” doesn’t help very much either if you don’t “do” things correctly.
Yi, oh my Yi. How intent yourself into confusion.
And here is another mistake, a mistake about “yi” or intent. It is said that Yi leads the Qi. But it’s also said that you should never focus directly on qi, because then it becomes stagnant, you prevent it to flow. Many teachers teach that you should have your “intent” before your movements and before your qi to lead it. But this is also, at least partly, a mistake. You can compare with someone who draws a drawing. It doesn’t matter if you draw very fine lines, like making hairs or shadowing. Or if you outline someone’s portrait. When you need to control those lines, you can not let your mind wandering all over the place and you can not focus on something in front of your hand. You must be focused on where your hand and the pen are in the moment. You must focus on what is happening right when you draw and on the line where you are. The strength of your focus depict very much how good you are at drawing.
In Tai Chi, the same matters. When you lead away someone’s arm, you need to feel what is happening right now, be inside of that very moment, and not imagining things about what has not happen yet. When you practice form, you must focus on exactly where you are, what you do and feel the movements where they are and when they happen. “Leading with Yi” might fool you to do mistakes, to not be in the moment. Some students who listen to talk about “strong intent” will tense up both mind and breath when they try to focus. There are other uses of “yi”, but only a few of them will help the practitioner to actually “do” something.
What to actually do and what to don’t
So what should you do? When you practice solo or with a partner, you need to have a very practical and realistic approach of what you are doing. Fooling and imagining yourself or someone else that you do things that you don’t do doesn’t help yourself and it doesn’t help your partner or student.
So that was what to not do. So again, what to actually do? Well, to really circulate Qi as we mean to circulate Qi in neigong and in the Internal Martial Arts, as achieving full circulation through out the body, you need to first nurture the three Dantians and open the three gates. What does this mean? It means that without a calm, focused mind, without deep breath and without a heart without worries and anxiety, there is no real circulation. Forming those three aspects means a “perfect function of an indent in human body.” Then you will have Qi. You don’t need to think about Qi, just calm your mind and heart, relax internally and externally while you are still or moving and there will be Qi. Further, to circulate the Qi throughout the whole body, you need to open the three gates, and briefly speaking, you need to open the joints as well as understand to become soft and movable in both the lower and upper back. Focusing on all of these aspects of mind, breath, heart and body while practicing, and keeping on practicing these aspects while help you to develop what you could feel as circulation. It will help you to build up heat while you are practicing and to make the feeling of circulation more intense. And you will never even once have to “think about qi”. Don’t.
The art of Immovability – without thinking about Qi or Yi
But as a more practical example, let’s speak about “stability” or “immovability” as absorbing a pressure, absorbing mass in movement as from a push. So you want to just stand there and feel immovable and that’s pretty impressive enough. Don’t you think so? When someone come at you, trying to push you away with his whole mass, you don’t need to do many things at all. It’s very simple. You don’t need a big, broad posture, instead just stand there with your legs slightly apart to have some kind of base to work with. Then you need to relax, sink or drop your strength so you don’t have any unnecessary tension in the trunk and become top heavy. But you don’t need to really “sink” until you meet a pressure against you. When you feel your opponent’s hands on your chest, you need to continue to stand straight. You can not lean backwards, you cannot lean against him. Just keep perfectly straight. When you feel the incoming push, what you need to do is to just sink a little bit straight down. But you need to do this in exactly the same speed as the push. Not faster and not slower. You need to ride with the incoming movement, and right here you need ride it by doing a straight vertical movement. This movement can become very small, but will still help you to absorb the push and will lead the pressure straight down. If you do it right, the effect will be that your opponent will actually help you to stabilize your own mass. It’s all very, very simple though it needs some practice to get right. It looks terribly simple as well. And you don’t need to think about qi, yi or jin. Just do the small things I have described. Some other things like trying to feel your Dantian might help you to stabilize your own structure.
But then what about qi? Where does it come into this equation? If you are very relaxed and do the things right, you could come to feel certain things similar to when you are practicing form, you might feel some kind of circulation. But this does not happen because you think or want it to be there. It’s there because everything match properly and you are there in the movement with your awareness to feel this. Again: “Qi is the perfect function of an indent in human body.” Here, it’s the perfect function of the different parts combined that you need to perform this certain act. So there is your qi, when your body is balanced, relaxed, open, when you breath deeply and there’s nothing to stop or make obstacles for the circulation. And again, it doesn’t come about because you “think” it. It’s nothing you can use because you “want” to use it. It’s just there because you do certain very basic things correctly. If you want to become immovable, just relax, don’t lean and ride (straight down) with the incoming force. That’s all, there’s nothing else to it. And again, yes, it’s just a simple as that. We don’t need to bring up Qi and we don’t need to make Jin a part of the equation. Cut away all thinking about Qi, Yi and Jin. All of those things won’t help you to understand to what actually “do”. And this means that these words can never help you to accomplish the “best intend” of different parts. Like building a machine, you need to deal with the different parts and know how to put them together. Understanding how the steam or electricity moves through an engine won’t help you to actually build one. So instead, learn what you need to practically do and always try to learn what you need to do in order to accomplish something in a most practical, physical and simple manner. Simple words and common daily expressions will do. As with everything you do, focus on what to really do. Then do it correctly, keep on practicing and everything else will automatically fall in its correct place.