Where Is the Chi???
by Marion Kleinschmidt
Have you been repelling monkeys and carrying tigers for years wondering what on earth it is that puts the "chi" in tai chi? Well, I have. But something happened to me in the dance studio at Toa Payoh Swimming complex on a Monday night which changed that completely. It has made my life both more exciting and much more relaxed.
But let me start at the beginning, which was confusion: As a budding student of tai chi I wondered how I could catch that magical substance of "chi" or "qi". I remember watching videos of great old masters propelling their opponents to the other end of the room. Why couldn't I do that? What was it that they did - harness an enlightened substance and fire it out? And what is this substance made of? Electromagnetic signals? Some obscure wavelength of the trained mind? Or is chi just another word for your "life force" - something that we all have and that, if cultivated, can keep you young and make you powerful? Or is it something that is created only by believing in it? Like a moral conscience is created by learning about right and wrong and from your mistakes?
In my experience, it is all of these things at the same time. This single word "chi" unites a whole range of phenomena that are not quantifiable, yet are shared by all practitioners. While chi itself is invisible and immeasurable, we can clearly see its effect on posture, on the effectiveness of push-hands, on peace of mind. Most importantly, you know it when you feel it!
What happened on that rainy Monday in Toa Payoh was a simple class experiment that you might be familiar with yourself. Even if you are, join me again. Hold out your hands in front of your body in a vertical position, palms facing each other, and relax them completely. Then strain every single muscle in your hands to the maximum, so that the fingers radiate stiffly out from your palms in a star-formation. Slowly change from one extreme to the other three times in a row. How does that feel? After the third instance of straining, relax your hand muscles to find the exact mid-way point between strained and relaxed. Your fingers will point slightly towards each other, as if you were holding an invisible ball. Your awareness now resides on the inner side of each hand, so that if an insect were to fly between them, you would sense its wing beats on your skin. There is a juicy thickness between your palms.
What you sense now - between your hands, inside your hands - that is chi. Simple as. Can you feel it? I bet you do. And that was all it took for me to finally understand that the chi was already with me. It does not wait for me at the end of ten years of practice. It is always ready for me to "tune in".
Your hands are now ready to touch, grab or defend, to react in a split-second to any stimulus. Or to reside deliciously in waiting.
Is that all?
Yes and no. While to me, this experience defines the essence of chi, its uses are truly infinite. You could close your eyes and send chi in the shape of a small ball of light up and down your spine and into all your extremities, releasing tension and making your body parts the gift of awareness. You could work on a specific posture within the 37-step-form and explore how active chi in your well-positioned back leg will receive the impact of your opponent's blow and re-direct it to unbalance them. Or you could do breathwork in a lush forest and draw pure chi deeply into your body, thereby healing and enriching it. Maybe then, chi could simply be called the connecting point between body and mind, you might ask. Is it the moment when we fully focus our intention while releasing all superfluous tension? When we come into our optimal state of being?
Yes, and more.
And for this reason, no matter how inexperienced we are, we will profit from every single minute spent practicing with awakened chi. And while my own minutes of practice can be few and far between travel and other challenges, when I feel lost inside the form, I simply tense my hands, release the clenching in my shoulders and find that perfect juice again.
I hope you will, too.