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Actually, I can’t really understand why Tai Chi teachers insist to use such a nonsensical word as Qi (Ch’i). But it gives the art a mystical glare and that’s great I guess. If you keep your students from understanding too much, they will come back and ask for more. The average student believes that if he or she pays you to teach then he or she should not need to think. The average student wants too be served with knowledge and wants the teacher to do all of the thinking. This means that Qi is a great concept. As a teacher, you can use it to keep your students from understanding too much so they learn slower, stay with you longer and pay you more money. An economical word in a double sense…

If you have some kind of decency as a teacher though. you should try to de-mystify the art. This also means to acknowledge Qi for what it actual is; a very old, fuzzy, cultural phenomena. Qi is an ancient character with so many different ideas and explanations so it’s almost impossible to give a short answer on what it is. And by the way, Chinese is a contextual language. A word only get it’s meaning through it’s specific context, which also means that a word or a character can mean many different things. This also means that you should not confuse the modern medical concept of Qi with old philosophy. If you mix together these with everyday use as “weather” – tianqi or “angry” – tai qi le, you will have a very hard time to explain what you actually mean. And please don’t mix religious and superstitious ideas into it, it’s very easily done. Actually, this is exactly what the Chinese martial arts do all of the time. But the confusion is what western teachers stand for. I bet that a Chinese who never heard about Jesus would have a hard time to understand the cultural meaning and what the person mean to our culture as well, just with a few short explanations. Qi is not necessarily a religious concept, but it’s just as specific to it’s own cultural heritage.

So what’s the fuzz about Qi anyway? For a Chinese there’s not much fuzz at all. They understand the cultural fuzziness and how complicated its history is. As a Western dude or chic though, it’s better to stay away from it. Use western terms and concepts, use western words to understand what you are practicing. You don’t even need your brain to comprehend “Qi”. With diligent practice your body will understand. So just keep on practicing, learn the art through the body and keep away from all intellectual folly and vanity. And please, don’t pay extra money to a teacher who likes to show off with fanzy words more than actually teach. That’s just stupid.

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