Internal Arts Balance Exercise
Interesting Story out of Los Angeles - Missing Tai Chi Teacher

The Power of Belief in Chi

Dr. Tom Morris received his Ph.D. in both Philosophy and Religious Studies from Yale University. For more than 15 years, he was a Professor of Philosophy at Notre Dame.

In one of his books, he writes about the power of belief and tells the story of when he bought a gas grill. The delivery men from Sears wouldn't hook up the propane tank because of the dangers. So Tom hooked it up, holding his breath while he worked so he wouldn't breathe any fumes. After a minute he would walk away and breathe clean air, then go back to the grill. He accidentally took a few breaths while at the grill and could smell the propane. The fumes began making him light-headed and he began feeling sick, and even when he hooked the tank up, he could still smell the gas.

He called Sears to report the problem. They asked, "Where did you fill up the tank?" He hadn't filled up the tank, and didn't realize that Sears delivers a new grill with an empty propane tank.

Tom's family got a big kick out if this, and as a philosopher, it drove home the power of belief. He thought the gas was there, he could smell it and he felt ill. "The mind is a powerful thing," he writes. "And false beliefs can have a big impact on us."

And there you have the "science" of chi. Once you believe what black belts and chi "masters" tell you without questioning, you begin to feel it, and when you feel it, you believe it's real. It's a gigantic leap of faith, and quite a leap of logic.

Years ago, I offered $5,000 to any chi "master" who could make me even wobble without touching me. There had been articles in national magazines showing people like Richard Mooney performing this miracle with his chi. Inside Kung-Fu put my offer on the front page of the magazine in 2001.

No chi "masters" ever took me up on that offer. The reason--they understand that without a willing partner, their chi doesn't work.

People say, "But Ken, chi has been around for thousands of years. What do you know?" I reply, "Astrology and voodoo have been around for thousands of years. So has witchcraft. Some people believe each of them."

Chi is a great mental visualization tool. You can use it when doing chi kung to relax the mind and get your mind off of distractions. You can use it as a mental visualization tool to align proper body mechanics in martial arts. But as far as science goes, it has never held up to real scrutiny, and no chi master has ever been able to duplicate his feats under double-blind conditions. Even Richard Mooney, when his chi powers were put to the test by the Randi Foundation, offering him one million dollars if he could move someone with his chi, couldn't make anyone budge when his subjects (around 18 to 20 of them) who were placed near him one at a time didn't know what he was trying to do. It was a true double-blind experiment and chi failed the test miserably. But the magazines will print fantastic stories and books will do the same, and people will tell stories of the long-dead master who had amazing chi powers. And people will relate personal anecdotes about how a tai chi master or chi master touched them and it felt "like an electric shock" and knocked them back 10 or 20 feet.

It's a lot like an empty propane tank, if you believe the gas is there.

Chaucer wrote, "many have died from mere imagination."

And people will always believe if they choose to believe.


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Evan Yeung

Great post as usual, Ken...

I'm not going to completely discount the idea of 'chi' from the philosophy on trying to keep an open mind. A few people have some theories about bio-electric fields (like Yang Jwing Ming) that I need to do more reading about. Bioelectricity is a well known phenomenon in the natural world... it's how many species of sharks can zero in on buried prey (using organs called ampullae of lorenzini), and electric eels and torpedo rays have evolved into natural 'batteries' using bioelectricity.

Having said all that, I think the theories are interesting, but I remain particularly skeptical of 'chi' claims. It's one of the reasons that internal arts aren't taken seriously. Too many 'one with the universe' people out there with the fighting skills of a kumquat. Impressive claims require impressive proof... and I just haven't seen any solid proof at this point.

BTW... here's a link to a 'kiai master' who found out the hard way it doesn't work...

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