Chi the Divine Essence of Life.

The study of Chi has been integral to the study of the martial arts, medicine and philosophy since ancient times. What is Chi ? It is that divine essence which gives life to all living things. In India the yogic teachings call it Prana and in Japan it is Ki. It is such an important part of any study of the Asian arts that it would be virtually impossible to learn Tai Chi, Aikido, Judo, Chi Kung, Acupuncture, Shiatsu etc...proficiently without a solid understanding of the life force and its nature. The exact meaning of Chi when translated into English is elusive but the closest we get is energy.

Balanced Chi

The whole universe is Chi and the nature of life rests on the presence of this vital essence. Chi is the 'stuff of the universal movement' and without it we have death. It is not able to be seen but we can somehow measure it by its actions. For example when a person in Chinese medicine is diagnosed as being angry the doctor will say the person has stagnant chi or if they are very weak they have deficient chi. When we meet a Tai Chi Sifu (holder of the universal truth) we often recognise the level of his or her chi by the glow of their complexion. The face and skin radiate an peaceful aura. The power of Aikido Sensei (teacher) can be measured by the power in their projection of their partner, their agility and the atmosphere in the dojo. A great teacher creates great calm wherever he or she is and effects others with this presence of peace.

The flow of Chi

In Chinese medicine, shiatsu and acupressure the Chi is charted and drawn to flow in channels of energy throughout the internal organs and limbs. When there is health there is a steady flow of Chi circulating within the human organism feeding from one organ to another, up and down the body. This endless flow of chi is similar to the ebb and flow of the seasons from summer thru to spring and our body is believed to be like a miniature universe with its water, (over 70% of the body) fire,(body heat) air, ( breath) When a person falls ill then the Chi in an organ is low or excessive and the job of the healer is to balance the flow of Chi. For example when we have a fever we have excessive yang Chi in the body (although this is a simplistic example) The doctor would prescribe rest and give some cooling yin type herbs that would calm the spirit and the organ which is over-active.

Chi as graceful movement

If we look at movement we can see a balance of chi in the flow and smoothness of the Tai Chi player. The mind is restful so the spirit is calm, then the chi in the body will flow through the muscles and sinews fluidly and easily. If a person is not balanced in their movement then the chi is not centred in the centre of the body called the Hara in Japanese.

In Shiatsu pressure point massage the healer visualises the chi in their centre as a preparation meditation before a session of Ki healing. In Aikido the free flowing postures work on opening up our hara of body centre to a more vigorous chi. When we breath easily the mind is calm and body motion is harmonious. The dynamic flow of an Aikido sensei with their circulating and graceful motion is a reflection of years and years of chi refinement and centring of the chi in the hara (Below the navel.)

Breath of the universe

In Yoga various breathing exercises are used to harness the prana or chi in the body. These pranayama exercises circulate the prana to various locations, help unlock stored energy which needs releasing and calms the mind as the practitioner concentrates on the breath. In China and India some people are given breath exercises and herbs to cure various diseases including ulcers, asthma, chronic insomnia, high blood pressure...

Chi is able to be transmitted by sound and this is called Kiai in Japanese. It is used in martial arts to defeat an opponent without even touching the body by a master. In India sacred mantra are believed to be able to unlock blocked chi in the body/mind and draw in chi from the universe to increase health and peace of mind. These mantras are chantedin temples all over India and Asia daily and are becoming a regular part of many western followers of the Buddhist path and various Hindu groups. In Chi Kung practice certain sounds are used to cleanse the organs as one breathes and moves the body. The sound for the water organ is WOO like a groaning noise. In the parks in Hong Kong and China you often hear the students making these sounds as they practice early in the morning.

Chi is certainly an interesting phenomena and the Chinese say the study of Chi is the study of life... for as long as you live.

Gerard Menzel 
Wild Lotus Meditation Martial Arts


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