Qi, Health, and Martial Arts

By Grandmaster Shou-Yu Liang, Dr. Jwing-Ming Yang, and Master Wen-Ching Wu

Let us first define Qi. The original meaning of the Chinese word Qi was "universal energy." Every type of energy in this universe is called Qi. When the term was later applied to the human body, it meant the energy which the body maintains or circulates. In the last twenty years, a clearer theoretical definition of the Qi circulating in the human body has arisen: bioelectric energy. According to this model, all other types of bodily energy, such as heat or light, result from the transformation of this bioelectric energy.

In Chinese cosmology, Qi is the original energy source which keeps the entire universe alive. It is the same in the human body, where Qi keeps the cells alive and keeps the physical body functioning. Your body is like a mechanical electric fan which needs electricity to make it turn. If the electric circulation is insufficient, the fan will not work properly. Similarly, if the Qi supply in your body is insufficient or stagnant, you will become sick or even die.

In Chinese Qigong and medicine, Qi is classified as Yin because it can only be felt, while the physical body is classified as Yang because it can be seen. Yin is the root and source of the life which animates the Yang body (physical body), and manifests power or strength externally. When the Qi is strong, the physical body can function properly and be healthy, and it can manifest a lot of power or strength.

In order to have a healthy and strong body, you must learn both how to keep the Qi circulating smoothly in your body, and how to build up an abundant store of Qi. In order to reach these two goals, you need to understand the Qi circulatory and storage systems of your body.

In your body, there are twelve Qi primary channels which function like rivers and distribute Qi throughout your body. There are also eight "Extraordinary Qi vessels," which function like reservoirs, storing and regulating this Qi. One end of each channel is connected to one of the twelve internal organs. while the other end is connected to either a finger or toe. These twelve Qi channels lead Qi to the twelve organs to nourish them and keep them functioning properly. The twelve channels also lead any excess Qi in the internal organs to the limbs, and finally release it outside of your body. This is one of the primary methods of releasing excess Qi from the body's organs. Whenever the Qi level circulating in the channels is abnormal due to stagnation or sickness, one or several organs will not receive the proper amount of Qi nourishment, and will tend to malfunction.

Qi, Health, and Martial Arts - Laogong and Yongquan Pressure Points
Qi, Health, and Martial Arts - Laogong and Yongquan Pressure Points

The eight vessels include four in the body and four in the legs. These vessels store Qi, and are able to regulate the Qi flow in the twelve Qi channels. In addition, there are five major gates through which the Qi in the body communicates with the Qi in the surrounding environment, and further helps to regulate the body. The main gate is the head. There are four secondary gates: a Laogong cavity in the center of each palm (Figure 1-1), and a Yongquan cavity on the bottom of each foot (Figure 1-2). Also, the tips of the fingers and toes are considered lesser gates, and help with the regulation of Qi. Finally, there are thousands of pores over the whole of your body that are considered small gates which constantly regulate the body's Qi, and therefore adjust the body's Yin and Yang.

In order to be healthy and slow down the aging process, you must learn to keep the Qi circulating smoothly in the twelve channels, and you must learn how to fill up the Qi reservoirs so that they can efficiently regulate the Qi flow. You must also understand how your body's Qi communicates with the Qi around you, so that you can adapt to natural conditions.

If you understand Qi circulation theory for the human body, then you will be able to understand how Qi relates to the martial arts. Remember that the human body is not merely a machine like the aforementioned electrical fan. It is alive, and able to improve itself. When your Qi grows stronger, your physical body will also grow stronger. If you build your Qi up to a stronger level, your organs and physical body will receive more nourishment and their condition will improve, and you will become stronger.

To make this clearer, remember that many parts of your body, such as the limbs, are governed by your conscious mind. The governing process is very simple. Your mind generates an idea, and this thought leads Qi to the appropriate muscles, energizing them to perform the desired action. The key to martial Qigong training is learning to lead your Qi more efficiently, so that you can manifest more power. This theory holds that people normally only use their muscles at no more than 40% to 50% of their maximum capacity. This is simply because you don't need any more for your daily activities. The result is that your mind has never been trained to lead the Qi as efficiently as possible.

The Chinese martial artist learns to concentrate his mind through meditation or other training so that Qi can be led efficiently. This significantly increases power and improves the effectiveness of all techniques. The martial artist also learns through meditation to use Qi to raise the spirit and elevate morality. Through correct training, the mind can reach a very calm and peaceful state. The real Dao of Chinese martial arts aims for both spirit and skills. Correct training seeks perfection in both technique and spirit, not the conquest of others.