I don’t quite understand the popularity of this catch phrase “Sink the Qi” that I seem to hear all of the time nowadays. It’s something many teachers from the Internal arts and even from Wing Chun seem to use today. I call it catch phrase, because this is just what it is, a catch phrase, nothing more and nothing less. In partner demonstrations for applications and similar teachers can say things as “Now I sink the Qi”, “Just sink the Qi” etc. I won’t point fingers at anyone special, but I could mention at least between five to ten people who are well known in IMA circles that you yourself easily could find on YouTube using this catch phrase in demonstrations or people who frequently use it.
In one demonstration that I remember, one of them says “I sink the Qi” and what he does is actually that he leans his whole upper body against the other person to make him lose balance. Another person in another demo claims that he doesn’t use structure at all but only Qi. But if you look closely at him, you can see that he keeps his structure well collected, but he also stretches his back leg to move his whole body forward in order to topple his student. What is that if not using structure? In all of these demonstrations, you can hear these teachers say something and you can also see them do something, but also something else they do or sometimes just the opposite to what they say they don’t do. And also, most of the time what they do is easy to copy. Maybe you can not get the same effect if you try the same against someone else, you would need to understand other things as timing, understanding angle of pressure and leverage etc. Sometimes to get a certain type of response, you would need a certain type of collaboration from your partner as well.
My point is just that you should stop listening to what teachers say and instead watch closely how they do things. You should judge what they do through what they actually do, not by what they say. Remember that everything you see they do, is something that could be explained in simple terms of physics. You can always explain the things you see in terms of conserving kinetic energy, momentum, physical movement, balance & leverage etc. Sometimes there are also different levels of cooperation needed for something to work. Chinese teachers and students usually have a tendency to help their partner to succeed, even if they did something wrong, just so they don’t lose face. This can go as far as to become a kind of acting and sometimes even the teacher himself can become fooled to believe that he can do more things than he actually can and have more skill than he actually has. This kind of deception often works as a two-way stream.
I don’t condemn the use of the term “Qi”, I believe that it can have its place. Foremost on a personal level in the sense of working with awareness, to explain things you feel inside your own body but maybe is hard to explain, and for which there could be different reasons. But when the use of the term “Qi” becomes a catch-word and part of different catch phrases solely made up to impress or used in deceptive manners, you should try to be aware of this. When you study Tai Chi Chuan for a teacher, focus on the art itself, not on your teacher. Remember that a Tai Chi teacher is just a human being, not better or worse than you. Don’t feel guilty if or when you discover that your teacher speaks more than what he shows or speaks in riddles instead of explaining what he actually does. He or she has probably put in a whole lot more time and work than you have, and the work and time itself should certainly be respected. But that doesn’t mean that the intentions of the person is always the best. Some teachers love to put on a good show, others do everything they can do find ways to charge a students more money. This doesn’t mean that every teacher who does these sort of things are bad persons. Most of them I don’t judge too hard. Many of them works like business people, they need to market their stuff and a lot of what you see could be regarded as marketing strategies and puffing.
Just remember to be sceptical and accept that it’s really is bullshit your hear if your teacher says something that really is bullshit. There’s no need to put anyone on a piedestal. I myself have had a teacher who is greatly admired, and indeed he has great skills and is one of the best and most talented Tai chi practitioners I have ever met. His skill itself is worth admiration. But he also liked to put on a good show and seemed to enjoy being admired. After a couple of years I discovered that he also loved generalisations, that he could hardly ever open his mouth without saying something generalised, often something way too extreme. I also noticed that he would never explain how he did something in detail, but mostly would just say something general as “this takes a lot of time to achieve.” But how? Do what? When I took him down from that pedestal and accepted that he was nothing more than a normal person who had put in a whole lot of time and effort to gain skill, this was the very moment when I truly started to learn from him. First then I could receive what he had to offer.
And by the way, you are always supposed to keep your body “sunk” in the internal arts, relax your whole strength down to your legs. That is what you should always do when you practice your stances, your form, push hands and similar exercises. No extra sinking is necessary if you don’t sink in order to lower your own center of gravity below someone else’s center of gravity. So why these teachers feel an extra need of sinking I have no idea about, and especially when they always do something else than actually “sink”.
..But it sounds good…
So when someone says “sink the qi” or similar, pay close attention on what he or she actually does. Don’t let it become another reason to buy a new book, another set of exercises on DVD or to make a subscription to a Video Channel. Learn by doing. See what the teacher actually does, examine it carefully and practice in order to make what you see into a property of your own body.