A Perspective on Chi

More than 50 years have gone by since I began studying martial arts. In those Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris dark ages, all of us who practice Kung Fu knew of this thing, “Chi” (vital energy). Few of us suspected it would ever become so widely known outside the training halls.

Of course, “known” and “understood” are two different things. We live in a predominantly western culture, a scientific culture. But how many of us have a good basic grasp of science?

And Chi is even more slippery.

Of course, hard-headed, skeptical people want to know where Chi is, in much the same way advertisers ask, “what’s in your wallet?” On the other hand, some people with less intellectual rigor except Chi as easily as children accept the Easter Bunny.

Unfortunately, both attitudes are too simplistic. There’s an old saying in physics, “You never understand these concepts, you just get used to them.” And much the same could apply to Chi.

Let’s give the explanation game a shot, shall we?

Let’s talk about something everyone knows and studied in art class—when there was money for art classes—namely, Perspective. You all know what perspective is: it is the illusion when you’re looking at a painting of a long line of buildings which diminish until they disappear into the vanishing point buried in the canvas. That’s how you know what that some buildings are further away than others, right? The question is, does perspective exist?

At first, I think even our hard-headed friends would say so. But if we think about it, the question gets a little fuzzy. Buildings do look a lot like those in pictures, if we happen to stand in the middle of the street and look down. And there are other ways to demonstrate distance: for centuries the Chinese, admittedly some of the finest artists in the world, have shown distancing without the tool of perspective. But perspective does exist, and in two places: in the picture frame and in our minds. You see, perspective is a way of processing information, and ways of thinking about information are real, though perhaps not as real as the credit cards in your wallet.

And the funny thing is, if you truly want to be skeptical, there are all sorts of other things in our supposedly cash-and-carry culture that are no more real than perspective. Want a for instance? Ready? The endocrine system. That’s right, along with the reproductive system. Or the circulatory system. More and more scientific research says that there is no separation in these “systems” at all, but a third-rate philosopher could have told you that. They are simply designations, like national borders and other imaginary concepts. That doesn’t mean they are useless, by any means, but we forget reality in our efforts to be pragmatic. And that is a mistake.

So Chi is about as real, in one sense, as the American border, or the national debt, or inertia. When you’re lucky enough to feel it, you will instantly know that it’s not some crude crackle of electric certainty coursing through your veins. It’s a complex of feelings and sudden understandings—like so many intangibles—we are willing to spend our lives pursuing, such as love.

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One Response to “A Perspective on Chi”

  1. Rich Mooney says:

    Yes, perspectives do exist. I have been involved in qigong since the age of ten, when I first got into martial arts. At first it was the Eight Pieces of Brocade Exercises, then Yi Jin Jing training, Then Small and Large Orbit training. Later on I got into the Taiji Ruler System, which was instrumental in my ongoing rehab from a traumatic brain injury, and physical injuries that were sustained while on active duty with the U.S. Army. Then I got into the practice of Zhan Zhuang. I have been working on Neigong exercises for over 7 years now. It is all about mind control. I have sent pictures of how my body has changed to to my friends here at Plum for a few years, and there has been a palpable, visual and incontrovertible evidence that my physique has undergone a radical transformation. All from sitting in my armchair and doing the neigong exercises. I will begin my 62 year in June. I do not look like any other 61 year old that I know. The proof of the pudding, is as they say, is in the eating. I wish I could post some pictures that show the on going transformation that has resulted from the neigong practices. Your perspective might change. These changes are not ephemeral as the national debt, the border of the USA with Mexico or Canada, or our National Waters VS International Waters. They are quite tangible, and unequivocal. Thank you.