In this post, or rather article if you look at the length of it, I will describe the differences and relationships between Qi and Jin, one concept that describes an inner steam and another concept that describes an art specific expression of power. 

In the last post I wrote about the concept of Qi I said that I am not the greatest believer in what this energy can actually do. I don’t really like to speak about qi and I seldom use this term when I teach about Tai Chi. I feel that it’s unnecessary and that it tend to rather complicate things than explain. And still, I tend to write more blog posts about this subject than about anything else. Ironic, isn’t it? For a person who don’t know me very well I must look like one of the greatest promotors of Qi.

But still, even if I don’t like using this word or concept very much, I do accept that it’s a term that is used a whole lot and that it’s necessary to explain things around this concept, about the history and culture so that it can be better comprehended for what it is. One of my Tai Chi teachers, the one that had the most knowledge about Chinese culture and history, he didn’t use this word very much and thought that Qi is a philosophical concept. But this still doesn’t mean that he rejected Qi or even diminished it. I remember one time when a student was showing a qigong posture she was taught from another teacher and spoke about how qi circulated through it. He adjusted her posture slightly and said “now you have qi circulation”.

So even if we should have a bit distance to this concept and try to not over-use it, Qi is certainly still a useful concepts if it’s used right and in the right concept. We use the term Qi in Tai Chi for something we can feel on the inside. When we do certain things right, we can stimulate heat in our bodies, stimulate, keep and circulate, a process that the Chinese used the picture of steam to describe.

An internal process that produces steam

So what we do when we practice Tai Chi is that we follow a certain way to do things practically. We relax our minds by getting rid of our intellectual thought process and making our heart calm and strive for a state of emptiness. We relax our bodies in such a way that the body keeps its own structure erect, we open the joints and keep a relaxed, natural posture. We breath slow and deep and sink the strength down to the feet.

When we do all of this correct we can feel a certain heat. Then when we move, we move with the body as a whole, the movements come rooted from the feet, centered in the Dantian. The limbs move in unison and are directly coordinated from the Dantian and all of the movements follow the breath naturally. We move evenly, carefully, to maintain this heat or steam as we move. When we move, we try to listen to our body’s own wants, how it wants to move, and help it to move rather than forcing the movements.

A common thing people say in the internal martial arts is that “where the Yi go, Qi follows”. If you focus on something, the Qi goes there. But there’s also a saying that you should never focus directly on qi, if you do then it gets stuck. So we should never “think qi” or try to feel the steam. We can not make this feeling stronger by wanting the heat to get stronger. We just need to maintain the basic prerequisites, the conditions that we use to stimulate and keep this heat. The more we practice, the faster we can get into this body-mind state and the better we can feel it.

So the Qi is on the inside, it’s something that happens because we do things right. The problem when we do things more practical, when we practice push hands or even fight, is that we must maintain very much the same conditions as we do when we practice solo exercises and make the Qi flowing. Easier said than done, right? We certainly don’t move slowly when we fight. But we should use a calm, empty mind and be very relaxed. We should sink internally and keep the feeling of being sunk. Maybe we don’t go as deep into ourselves and our meditative state when we try to use Tai Chi for real, but the basic conditions should still be there. We learn these conditions by practicing them to the extreme when we practice solo and controlled push hands exercises. Even if we don’t go as deep and use these conditions in the same extreme manner, we must still maintain them when we do things practically. Only then can our bodies express real Tai Chi Jin.

Use Jin, not Li not Qi

In Tai Chi  people sometimes say “don’t use Li, use Jin”. (Not to be confused with “use Yi instead of Li“) With the word Li we mean the brute, unrefined strength that anyone can use. In the martial arts we want to develop Jin, which is something refined, a skilled use of strength. Every martial art, or at least family of martial arts, have their own refined skills of expressing strength. The practitioners of different arts express strength differently by their own way to use their bodies. The Chinese character jin =  has the part of strength in it, the character for Li =, but also has the characters for river and work, giving the picture of an underground river, meaning something that flows through something. Or as how Jonathan Bluestein expresses it: “A power that passes through.” How accurate isn’t this about Tai Chi?!

In Tai Chi the term Jin means something Tai Chi specific. Jin is a direct expression of the internal body state. It’s really a power that passes through the body, from the inside to the outside. In Tai Chi, Jin is an external, direct expression of the internal body state. If the internal prerequisites are there, then qi is on the inside and Jin will be expressed on the outside.

Sadly, instead of “use Jin”, many teachers say “don’t use strength, use qi.” This was also something that one of my (least favourite) teachers used to say. But both qi and jin are expressions of the same internal body state (About these basic requisites I also like to use the word “integrity“). My first teacher understood this relationship better from a practical point of view. When he taught two man exercises, as redirecting force methods and applications and similar, he would always nag about the basic state in Tai Chi. He would constantly say things as “don’t tense up”, “relax better”, “sink better”, “sink the breath”, “move from the feet”, etc. But he would never say anything like “use qi.” Instead he would direct you practically to do the internal conditions right, to do things correct in a practical sense. He understood that if you do certain things right, the Jin would automatically be expressed. So expressing Tai Chi Jin is not about what you think or what you believe in, it all still boils down to what you practically do. Even how you think about these matters is only important to the extent that your way of thinking makes you do things correctly.

“Trying to use qi” is not one of these conditions. Let qi stay as the internal expression of the same conditions that make you express jin. Every single time I hear someone in demonstration say things like “now I sink my qi” or “you must sink the qi”, or even something like “I direct my qi into my opponent”, I get annoyed. Why? First, I’ll just point to the fact The Tai Chi classics doesn’t say anything about using qi. The Tai Chi classics doesn’t say “fa qi” or release qi, instead it says “fa jin”,  release jin. In the Tai Chi classics the term Qi is still mentioned. There’s a passage where it says that “the qi sinks”. But this doesn’t say anything about that you should actively sink the qi. With Chinese characters it is written: 氣沉丹田 or “Qi sinks to the Dantian”, The subject here is the character “Qi” and not “I”. There is no “I” here in this sentence as in “I sink the Qi.” It is the Qi that does the sinking. Lately I have become more or less allergic to all kinds of talk about qi because I believe that “sink the qi” is exactly the opposite to what Tai Chi practitioners need to hear. This is exactly the opposite to what you need understand about this concept. I try to give some of the people doing these demonstrations a benefit of a doubt, that the sometimes very well known and mostly respected people, in fact just confuse Qi and Jin. But I often have a feeling that they say things just for the show, to look better than they really are, and that they in fact have no interest to really teach what they show.

Create the internal conditions instead of getting stuck on words

Anyway, Qi or Jin, they are just words, one word that describes what happens on the inside when you establish certain conditions and one word to describe the external expression of the same conditions. As I said in another post, you don’t need to worry about Qi. You don’t need to even think in these terms. All you ever need to do is to practice the basic prerequisites in Tai Chi, and continue to deepen them by merely maintaining them as you continue to practice. When I look at many Tai Chi practitioners, in real life and in videos on the tubes, I see mostly only external movements, often disconnected where the hands lead the body instead of center. Much applications practice seems strictly technical and very much disconnected from the basic body methods of the art. Why are they concerned about basics when they practice a form and leave everything behind when they practice applications? So how you build your foundation in Tai Chi is the most important part of the development in this art, from beginning to the end. And obviously so if you want to become good in this art. If you look for a teacher, make sure that you have a teacher that has a good sense for the basic internal conditions and can teach the foundations in a most practical and detailed manner. If a teacher speak too much or too little about Qi is not important, the only is how well he or she can guide you practically.