“Internal” in a modern context? (AKA “no Qi, just me”)

8 Aug

Do you know how airplanes fly? I certainly didn’t, until my friend who is literally an aerospace engineer visited me in Washington DC and in the Smithsonian explained to me how they work. It didn’t just amaze me, it gathered a large crowd who stopped and stood for his entire explanation!

Imagine that you were able to take an airplane back to Medieval Europe. Would most people understand the physics of it even if you explained it to them? Or, would they think it is some sort of “magic”?

Most of the things we think of in Chinese martial arts as “internal”, obviously people developed these movements (they did NOT descend from Heaven on stone tablets!). They “felt” things while doing them. They experience changes, actually “improvements”, as a result. But did they understand the anatomy and the physiology involved? The answer should obviously be NO! As a result, they explained them in a language they created to try and explain them; Qi, Shen, Dan Tian, or Chakra, Prana, etc etc….

Even access to modern science has not changed the way most people approach this stuff; people still think you develop “chi” (“qi”) from standing practice and that the “power” in strikes, etc comes from that “chi” or “qi”. The reality of course is that standing practice teaches you body awareness. Body awareness is essential to properly using your body. The proper use of the body generates power. As Luo Dexiu stated to us at a seminar, the power isn’t developed by standing, the power is already there! You “find” the power by standing practice, not develop it.

Today, many of us (myself included!) may not have the scientific, anatomical or medical knowledge and training to identify the processes at work in our practices. In that sense, we are similar to our ancestors who could describe movement and say they felt “something”. However, as modern human beings we should be different in that we can understand there really is no “chi”, no “prana”, no “chakra”, no “dan tian”, no “magic”. We should certainly be more intelligent and advanced than the ignorant, superstitious “boxer bandits” who thought martial arts could be a form of magic that could make you invulnerable to bullets!

Of course, for some people denouncing “chi” is heresy. To some it makes us “haters”. Some think it means we completely discard the practice. NO. Not at all. The practice indeed persisted because it produced benefits, improvements, etc. I’d suggest we would be better served to look at it from a modern, scientific perspective. But at the very least, we shouldn’t be passing on superstition as fact.


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