09 Nov

The Meaning of Qi

“Qi” (氣) is a Chinese word that loosely translates to “breath” or “energy,” but it is difficult to define in English, as the Chinese consider qi to be “neither matter nor energy, but both.” Many Asian cultures believe qi to be the intrinsic substance of all things in the universe, “the medium between and within all material substances,” or “the moving or animating force of the universe.” It is a central principle in traditional Chinese medicine and martial arts. It is a living concept; everything has qi, including you. When qi is present, you are alive; when your qi is depleted or unbalanced, you are sick; when your qi expires, you die.

From a martial arts perspective, qi can also be defined as “biomechanical efficiency”: maximum effect with minimum effort. “Proper body alignment focuses on three fundamental elements: first, using the body as a complete and integrated unit with the waist as center; second, correct interplay between relaxation and contraction of muscles; and third, alignment of the skeleton to transfer or receive force.”

Though different words may be used to describe the phenomenon of qi, it is not exclusively a Chinese concept. It is often used to describe subjective feelings that people experience while doing something physical; how often have you heard someone say something like, “I was on top of my game,” “I was in the groove,” or “the words flowed,” “the group clicked,” or “I found a rhythm?” These are phrases we use in the West to describe connecting with our qi mentally, emotionally, and physically, which is an essential part of your Kung Fu training.

Sometimes, when in a new place or when meeting new people, we may feel uncomfortable, not ourselves, or uncentered. Being centered (i.e., being one with your qi) is essential to feel at ease and content. This is why people feel bad when they lie, cheat, steal, or behave in other dishonorable ways: they are uncentered; they are separated from themselves and their environments. Many martial arts instructors will refuse to teach these kinds of people.

If you can learn to connect with your qi and stay centered, you will find much peace, contentment, and honor throughout your life.

Kennedy, B., & Guo, E. (2005). Chinese Martial Arts Training Manuals: A Historical Survey. Berkeley, CA: Blue Snake Books.

Liang, S., & Wu, W. (1997). Qigong Empowerment: A Guide to Medical, Taoist, Buddhist, and Wushu Energy Cultivation. East Providence, RI: Way of the Dragon Publishing.