The Chi Challenge

Some people on rec.martial-arts recently posted Chris Guardian‘s “The Chi Challenge” video on youtube.

The “Chi Challenge” is this. Chris will pay anyone who can use their chi, without touching someone, to hurt them. The amounts are as follows:

1. US$1,000 to anyone who can hurt him with Chi, without touching him.
2. US$2,500 to anyone who can perform a no touch knockout using Chi.

Chris Guardian and I are much alike – we both believe that this is impossible. Even Wang Xiang-Zhai (xingyi master and founder of modern yiquan) is known to have said “The Emission of Qi is Preposterous”.

So when I saw Chris Guardian’s “Chi Challenge” video, I gave a sigh of dissapointment. I wasn’t disappointed with Chris Guardian (I admire his spirit and it’s a nice video). I was disappointed at being reminded of the massive amount of misinformation out there, which can be a formidable barrier to real understanding. How would you explain Chi to someone who insists that it’s only use is to knock people out from a distance? Of course, if you think that’s what Chi is, then Chi isn’t real!

Some people become very agitated when you insist that Chi is real. Rob Redmond wrote an excellent article titled “I do not believe in Ki“, and it’s sister article, “Kime: The Myth of Focus“. Both are fascinating and I wholeheartedly agree with what he says, even though I personally “believe” in Ki in ways which Rob does not. What really struck me about Rob’s article though is that he has logical reasons for his beliefs which are founded upon direct experience. Rob is different. Even he has a term for people who argue blindly from a platform of misinformation: Waterboys.

I don’t think Chris Guardian is a waterboy. No, what he has to say is interesting. I just hope that people don’t watch his video and come away thinking Chi is all about no touch knockouts, because nothing could be further from the truth.

The question to me is why some people believe these kinds of lies about Chi. If the people who do martial arts like Yi Quan or Taiji don’t believe in “Chi Bolts”, then why do people who have no real experience with chi-based martial arts? Simple. There is a LOT of misinformation out there about Chi! This is why I’ve put together a Chi FAQ.

It’s my hope that this document will cut through a lot of the preconceptions people have about Chi and allow them to understand it in a normal way. Of course, as with any FAQ, you are more than welcome to make submissions which can be included in future versions.

I am just the FAQ’s maintainer. I am not the only one who has made submissions. I’ve asked and received contributions from Al Gauthier and Chris Rickard of the Korean Martial Arts Research Association, among others. The point is, this is not a personal platform to force others to accept my beliefs – I am interested in creating a truly useful and informative document “for the people”.

In the end, no one can tell you what to believe. You can only know the truth yourself. Is Chi Real? What is Chi? Maybe there isn’t any answer after all?

Training Diary

I’ll be honest with you. For a while there, I almost stopped practicing. Yes, it’s true. There are a few reasons why. One reason I suppose is that I moved, and as a consequence I lost frequent contact with Laoshi. But I am not going to make too many excuses. I woke up one morning and realized I only sometimes do the form, my Silk Reeling has dropped down to 50 or 60 reps a day, and I almost never do standing anymore. I used to practice nearly four hours a day in the morning. My old health problems returned. How did I fall so far?

It can be difficult to motivate yourself to train when you are alone with no teacher. Kelly Laoshi would explain, that the true test if you would be any good is if you could practice by yourself. Learning in a school.. from a teacher.. he called it mothering. “If you don’t practice by yourself, you’re just wasting my time,” he would say. This transmission included other things he would say, and it had a deep impact on me. Hu Laoshi and Wu Laoshi were just the same. For us Taiji players, it is like rowing on a stream. If you stop rowing, you drift back to the beginning. This is a terrible fate for anyone.

Hu Laoshi always used to tell us… In fact sometimes he got angry at us, and for a full twenty minutes he would lecture us at the beginning of class. “If you try to learn Taijiquan it will teach you what kind of of person you are. If you do not practice hard, it is only a form of exercise like sports. If you want the real taiji gongfu, you must do this, and this, and this… 1000 times a day” (or 5 times an hour, or 3 hours a day, etc. depending on the particular 基本功 (ji1 ben3 gong1) he was talking about). I remember in his Xingyi class, he told us that if we wanted to be good at Xingyi, the first step was to practice the five fists 1,000 times per day. Nobody in the class ever did this. And the next class he would talk to us about it for twenty minutes. I can still remember the day when I decided enough was enough, and resolutely began practicing silk reeling 1,000 times a day, 500 times on each side. It gave real meaning to the old sayings “He who drinks the waters of Chen Village, his legs will shake” and “grind out the strength”. After a while, Laoshi seemed to notice something different about my form, and asked me to demonstrate in front of the class. At the time this was very embarrasing for me. He did not tell the class why my form was different, but I knew why he had asked me to perform. This was a teaching without words and had a different message for me than the other students. It was a great encouragement, which I can never forget. It was the same transmission of spirit which deeply affected me as Kelly Laoshi once did. But how much practice is enough? On this there’s a somewhat interesting topic on the ChenWired forums. But no hard answers.

So, what saved me from my laziness of the past few months? A training diary! The answer came to me one day while I was watching the CSI Season 2 Finale, “The Hunger Artist”. The previous day I had read Wujimon’s Blog Two Weeks of No Taiji. While watching the show I had a sudden inspiration – make a training diary! Get a day planner and write down some easily obtainable goals. 5 minutes of Zhan Zhuang! Twenty reps of Silk Reeling! Two forms! Whatever floats your boat. Start small and go from there. Those are the goals. Then beside that write down what you actually accomplished that day.

I’ll be trying to write down my goals from now on. Weeks in advance. So that I can see in a couple months I’ll be right back up at a couple hours a day practice time. I won’t be satisfied until I’m at least back to my old habits. Because in the end, I am very sorry that I did not practice, even if it was for only a short while.

McDojo Article on Wujimon

I just caught wind of an old post on Wujiimon about the McDojo phenomenon. Although the post didn’t mention Taijiquan or belt systems for Taiji, the commentators invariably thought that was the topic under discussion (interesting, no?)

Some interesting points were raised. Wujimon himself clarified,

I really don’t see how belts would apply to taiji, though some schools have them. I agree with you. […] taiji is an evolving art and things will change as it passes from hands to hands. I know the yang family (via Yang Zhenduo) has a standardized grading system. I’m not sure how it works tho.

Although there is some honest concern about (let’s be honest – we changed the subject :)) Belts in Taiji, there is also a lot of prejudice and misunderstanding. As Wujimon observed, the Yang family now has a grading system. It’s easy to confirm that the Chens are talking about levels of development as well. I suspect that this whole situation arose because there is no leader (i.e. no centralized authority) of Taijiquan. Even Chen Zheng-Lei is quoted in Tai Chi Magazine (March 2007?) as saying Taijiquan has no official Zhang Men Ren (read Chen Zheng-Lei’s full article online at ChenWired – registration required). It has been said that Taijiquan now belongs to the world. This does not mean anyone can teach whatever they want and call it Tai Chi, it means that you need to find a good teacher and learn from him the teaching method of his transmission.

With this we finally hit the nail on the head. What is really under fire is The Whole Legitimacy Thing:

At a minimum, it’s inaccurate and just plain wrong to identify oneself as studying or having studied a koryû art, unless the ryûha headmaster would agree that this is in fact what you’ve been doing. (-from http://www.koryu.com/library/kfriday1.html)

Who owns Taijiquan? There is such a vast amount of difference between different lineages, even within the same style – that it has become nearly impossible to reunite Tai Chi under a common roof, or belt system for that matter. Even within major styles there have now arisen so many variants that the styles are being renamed after the specific geographic area or school which practices them.

Obviously this is all of particular interest to me, since I’m working on a taiji belt system of my own. The purpose I had for my belt system is the exact opposite of the common concerns. Instead of looking for a way to market and hook students, which would get away from focusing on refining the form, my belt system has a core goal of ensuring that the form is refined and to ensure progress by carefully monitoring it. Your mileage may vary.

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