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Cultivating Chi - What Does It Mean?

Focus on the Right Things

A couple of weeks ago we talked about a bagua book that contained some interesting historical stories about the founding of bagua and some of the early masters. One comment to the post warned me about some of the things they were saying in the book, and when I got into the instructional part of it, I found some good information and, as usual, information that can lead people down the wrong path.

One bit of information involved circle-walking, and the fact that chi shoots our your toes and goes underneath the ground in front of you.

What bothers me about these books, and this type of martial arts writing, is that it appears the authors actually believe this. Rather than saying that this is a mental visualization, or a concept that can help you visualize some of the "rooting" that you need in your circle-walking, it is presented as fact.

Our American education system falls far short in one particular skill (and don't even get me started on math and science): that skill is the ability to apply critical thinking skills to what you read, see, and hear. Most of these writers and authors that you read in the books and magazines only parrot what their teachers and masters have told them.

Most rational people know that if you do any type of walking, circle or otherwise, invisible, magical energy is not shooting out of your toes and going underneath the ground.

Proper circle-walking, like any other internal arts skill, involves many hours, days, months, and years of practice, and it involves sinking your weight (you can call it sinking your chi if you want), maintaining a centered stance, keeping the hips underneath you as you walk, opening and closing the kua as you move, maintaining the ground and peng, and continuing to work on these things as you practice moving and changing direction faster and faster over time.

The one thing proper circle-walking has NOTHING to do with is energy shooting out your toes and going under the ground in front of you.

The Internal Strength DVD goes into some of this stuff in a realistic way. During the next month or so, I'm changing my website into an instructional site for members only, and there will be many new video, audio and written lessons on the internal arts of Hsing-I, Tai Chi, and Bagua. Video sessions will be constantly added, questions from members will be answered through videos, and we'll all improve our skills together without the silly stuff that causes so many internal arts students to focus their attention on the wrong things.


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Evan Yeung

When you start the online instruction program, if you could please include a link on how to post videos to YouTube, or however you're going to review videoed material? I have reasonable computer skills, but I've never had to edit recorded video to post...


dan gill

I have looked through your blog and you seem to focus much attention on your attention and dislike for the word chi and how some famous and very educated past martial art masters, some historical, refer to the chinese idea of what chi is. Yet you use the term chi and peng often in what you write. Wouldn't it be better to just create your own word for what you want to describe your teaching instead of taking on centuries of use how the chinese view energy? And why do you think that these past masters were ignorant of the people of today? Has the world advanced so much that we are superior to past teachers in martial art skill or of wizdom? Is there less killing today than in the past? Or is the Earth more valued today than in the past? I don't understand your fixed mindset on what past masters felt about a purely chinese term for energy which has many meanings. That's not to say there are not so-called fake chi masters, but to attack every aspect of how the chinese view chi woulkd have to include their traditional medical practices too. Do you feel chinese medicine is fake too?
respectfully, Dan Gill


Hi Dan,
I don't attack every aspect of how the Chinese view chi. That's why I do use the word, but I tell my students that chi is a concept -- an abstract way of visualizing correct body mechanics -- not a scientifically valid or real thing.

The world is no better off or worse off than it ever was. That is the type of argument that chi supporters use that has nothing to do with the issue at hand, which is this:

Martial artists who totally buy into this notion that energy is shooting out of your body are not using their critical thinking skills, because no matter how old the concept is, how many ancient people believed it, it has never been proven to exist. So to focus your mental energy on that while you practice the internal arts is focusing on the wrong stuff.

That was the essence of my post and the essence of my argument in a nutshell.

And in truth, traditional Chinese medicine doesn't stand up to double-blind scrutiny very well either.

But heck -- witchcraft is thousands of years old. Some intelligent people have believed in it. Astrology is thousands of years old. Some people in the world still worship a Monkey God. Some of them are pretty intelligent, too. The folks who created acupuncture also baked turtle shells, cracked them, and used them to predict the future. If you believe in chi, why not believe in that, too?

People will believe just about anything. I'm just trying to get real. And I've met a lot of internal artists who have focused on chi cultivation who can't move correctly or use martial applications. Chi is the wrong thing to focus on.

Sean C. Ledig

Testify Brother Ken!

We need less sorcery and more science when discussing internal arts.

I use the word, "chi" in practice as well. To me, it's not only a good visualization, but it's sort of a catch-all word that can describe a lot of physical and psychological states and conditions.

I think it was Albert Einstein who said "Any sufficiently developed technology is indistinguishable from magic."

My problem is that, as a practicing Christian, I'm constantly having to reassure Christian brothers and sisters that I'm not engaged in any "dark arts" by practicing tai chi or chi gong.


Sean, I try to be good. I really do. :) I try not to dwell on this stuff, but then I read things or see things or meet people and realize there are far too many people ruining the internal arts. They brainwash students into thinking about bogus science instead of martial arts. This blog is intended to be a real world look at the internal arts. If folks want to believe the fantasy, there are plenty of teachers out there who will peddle that nonsense and take their money.

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