Discourse on Yi and Qi
translated from Chinese by Mary Ng
In the body, Yi and Qi are formless and colorless, and cannot be observed. Qi has very important status in the physical body. Qi fills the body and pushes and nurtures the blood. Qi is formed from the repeated enveloping and warming of the Mingmen fire and seminal fluid. The Taoists call this the combination of fire and water or the inner dan (pill). It is situated in the dantien and is greatly treasured by them. Lay people think that blood is the most valuable but do not know Qi is actually more valuable than blood (for between qi and blood, if qi is master, then blood is subordinate; if qi is protective, then blood is nourishing.) The life of man dependent on nourishment and protection. If there is nourishment but no protection, it is useless; if there is protection but no nourishment, there is no balance. In other words, protection is more important than nourishment. Without adequate blood, one can still live for a while; but without adequate qi, there is danger immediately. Therefore, to nurture the qi is quite important. The uniqueness of taijiquan is that it focuses on nurturing qi, beside nurturing the body. There is a saying: exercising the muscle, bone and skin externally, exercising the qi internally. Therefore, whether in posturing, or in pushing hands, those who practice taijiquan will feel that their breathing remains natural, their face color does not change, and their inner qi is spread throughout their body; thus they feel even more comfortable than before their exercise. This shows practicing taijiquan does effectively nurture the qi, without hurry or effort. When qi is full, blood is adequate; when blood is adequate, the body is strong; when the body is strong, the will is firm; when the will is firm, the soul is full of power; when the soul is full of power, life can be lengthened and one can begin training in Taoism.
As for Yi (intention), this is said to refer to the heart. The heart is the Yi; but actually, there is a slight difference between the two. The heart is the master of the Yi. Yi is subordinate to the heart. The heart moves, then Yi rises; when Yi born, Qi follows. In other words, there is a circulating relationship among the three – heart, Yi and Qi. When the heart is confused, the Yi will be unfocused, and the Qi will be floating; on the other hand, when the Qi sinks, then Yi will be firm, and the heart will be still. Thus the three are mutually applied, tied together and cannot be separated.
When Qi follows Yi, the blood is pushed and the spirit is moved and only then can it be used. This is the theory of Yi and Qi and the methodology of the art of Quan (martial arts). Theory without methodology is incomprehensive; methodology without theory is equal to neglecting what is fundamental and attending to what is trivial. Thus, Yi, Qi and the art of Quan are related. Among beginners in taiji, the usage of Yi and Qi is difficult to comprehend, but that is not to say there is no way to enter in. That is, that when practicing the 13 steps or when posturing, you should direct your mind “to imagine”. For example, when pressing with both hands, imagine that the enemy is on front. At this moment, though you cannot exert qi from your palms, yet imagine that qi is rising from your dantien to stick to your spine and back; then from the back, it goes in the arm and wrist and palm to be released on the enemy’s body. This kind of imagination may be unreal to beginners but after long practice, it should become more natural.
Qi within the body circulates in two ways. It is applied in the four limbs where Yi reaches. Qi follows Yi, so no matter where Yi (intention) goes, Qi can be applied there. The opening-closing forms in taijiquan, its expanding movements, its breathing in and out, its advance and retreat are all for training the qi throughout the body. So that from the feel of the body, muscle and from its touch the spirit is made alert. Therefore the Explication of the 13 steps says: “The physical body’s Yi is focused on the spirit, not on the Qi. If on Qi, then it is not lively; having Qi but without strength. But without Qi, then all is pure force.” Neglecting this, Qi will have no application. Those who do not know this will find themsolves slow, or irritable, or angry. When these kinds of drag, floating or exploding Qi occur, both feet will be unsteady, their center of gravity will not be stable and so they will have no strength.
The Qi of taiji refers to the dantien. This is clear, calm and in equilibrium. As such, it can move everywhere with no occasion for blockage. Therefore it is very different from dragging or exploding Qi. This is frequently discussed in the Explication of the 13 steps. For example, “Move the Qi with the heart. Make sure it sinks in and can be absorbed in the bone. Move the body with Qi. Make sure it follows smoothly, facilitating its obedience to the heart.” It also says: “Change of Yi and Qi must be lively, then there is pleasure in its circulation.” Also: “Circulate the Qi as the 9 winding pearl. Its journey is fortuitous.” And: “Nuture it directly without danger” And : “The heart is commander and Qi is the flag” And : “When the abdomen is relaxed the Qi will sink into the bones” And : “When pulling back and forth, the Qi sticks to the back” The Song of 13 Steps also says: “with Qi throughout the body, no little drag” And : “When the abdomen is relaxed and clean, Qi will rise up” And : “Yi is the king while bone and flesh are ministers” Or : “When Yi and Qi are balanced, the bone and flesh will sink” All these speak of the importance of Qi which is also dependent on whether the learner is able to distinguish between what is clear or dragging or exploding. Clear being beneficial while dragging or exploding Qi is to be avoided. As for the relationship between Yi and Qi, it’s akin to that of the driver and the starter. Once cannot do without the other.