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PostPosted: Tue Apr 01, 2003 2:33 am
by DavidJ
Greeting Louis,

How do you define chi? What does the word translate to, etc, etc,

We've talked about jin and jing, but I don't recall this coming up before.

Of course I'd like Jerry's and Audi's take on this as well.

Thanks in advance.


David J

PostPosted: Tue Apr 01, 2003 4:05 am
by Louis Swaim
Hi David,

I think it comes up occasionally, as it did a couple of months back on the “Questions for Yangfamily. . .” section of the board. It’s really a huge question, or perhaps it's a very simple question. I have a lot of thoughts and opinions and observations on qi, but I don’t know how helpful they would be.

For now I’ll just ask this question: What do you think “metabolism” is? What does the word mean—what is its history? Is it a thing? Is it a substance? Can we see it? Is it something we do? What does it feel like?

Whoops. That was more than one question.

Take care,

PostPosted: Tue Apr 01, 2003 8:23 pm
by DavidJ
Greetings Louis,

I didn't find a dicussion of chi in the "Questions" forum.

Regarding your questions:

What Do I think metabolism is? Metabolism is a comprehensive set of processes that keep me alive and active.

What does the word mean? The sum of all the physical and chemical processes by which living organised substance is produced and maintained (anabolism) and also the transformation by which energy is made available for the uses of the organism (catabolism).

The word history? From Greek metabol, change, from metaballein, to change : meta-, meta- + ballein, to throw; its Indo-European root is gwel- from which we also get words like ballistic and ball.

Is it a thing? It is any of several processes, and collectively all of them.

Can we see it? depends on what you mean by "see." Got a really good 3-d motion electron microscope? From that all the way up to an organism's movement, which may be said to be the outcome of it's metabolic processes.

Is it something we do? Yes, if you think of things like your heart's beating as something you do.
Yes, if you consider eating and excreting as part of the processes.
Yes, if you consider your movement to be part of your metabolic processes.

What does it feel like? Well I've been a bit gassy lately. :^)

You certainly have a strange set of demands to be met before answering a question! :^)


David J

[This message has been edited by DavidJ (edited 04-01-2003).]

PostPosted: Wed Apr 02, 2003 12:39 am
by black cat
I am very new to Tai Chi so I am in no way an expert. However, I'll tell you the deffinition of Chi that I received from a friend of mine...she said, "We do not live on a stagnent planet...our planet lives and moves and has energy. That energy is what we call Chi and it is what makes our earth a living planet. As beings of this planet we can connect with the energy that our planet posesses and feed off of it if we know how." Now, I don't know how accurate this deffination is or if she's got her head up her.....but that's what she said and she's totally into Chi. She's constantly telling people that they are messing up her chi. "You can't put that there, you're messing up my Chi."......"You need to move that, it's messing up my chi." Sometimes she gets way carried away with it. One day I asked her how being thown out a second story window would effect her chi...LOL

[This message has been edited by black cat (edited 04-01-2003).]

PostPosted: Wed Apr 02, 2003 7:47 pm
by Louis Swaim
Greetings David,

Gee, I didn’t mean my questions to seem like demands, but more like an invitation. Was it a useful exercise? Your answers are spot-on.

I asked the questions about metabolism for a very specific reason. I feel that the concept of metabolism is analogous in many ways to the concept of qi, and therefore heuristic. As you’ve pointed out about metabolism, qi refers to PROCESSES identifiable as sustaining life. The meaning of the word metabolism is rather more specific than the general term qi, but just as metabolism is analytically broken down into constituent processes of anabolism and catabolism, qi is traditionally broken down into primary constituents of yin and yang, and in traditional Chinese medicine, there are further orders of complexity in specific qi-related terminology. So there are qi terms in Chinese medicine roughly analogous to the physical and chemical processes you’ve cited under the rubric of metabolism.

As with the word metabolism, the word qi has a long and interesting history. Qi has many levels of meaning in different realms of philosophy, cosmology, medicine, military theory and martial arts, self-cultivation and meditative practices, even in poetry, calligraphy, and painting. Many have pointed out the most common etymology of qi as depicting vapor rising from rice that’s being cooked. This leads many to focus in on the “vapor,” but just as metabolism refers to process rather than to an identifiable substance, qi refers metaphorically to a process involving all of the constituents of heat, vessel, rice, water, vapor, and atmosphere. So perhaps it is more accurate to say that qi refers to the whole cast of metaphors in the image.

In recent history, qi has taken on some unfortunate associations as some sort of supernatural phenomenon, or as some sort of extra-normal “juice” that one can collect and manipulate through esoteric practices, but that escapes deductive scientific attempts to isolate and identify by normal means. That is a whole subject in itself, but I think it’s important to remain objective, and to not judge the entire concept of qi based upon the discredited beliefs and practices of charlatans. Interestingly, the word metabolism has some supernatural overtones in its history too. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word metabolism was used as recently as the 1880s to refer to transubstantiation, the miraculous event in the Eucharist ritual by which bread and wine are turned into the body and blood of Christ. This aspect of the word’s career does not prevent most people from using it to refer to a rational scientific concept that plays out in ordinary everyday life. In like manner, most people who are familiar with the concept of qi take it for granted, like daily bread.

Can we see qi? As you astutely point out, it depends on what we mean by “see.” To speak in terms of seeing an isolated substance or object would be missing the point. We can observe metabolism at work; we can see its constituent raw materials, processes, and products. But not even under an electron microscope will one ever see a “thing” identifiable as “metabolism.” Skeptics who dismiss the notion of qi because they cannot see it would not take a similar position about metabolism, would they?

Is qi something we can “do?” As with metabolism, I think for the most part qi processes could be called natural and involuntary. However, through diet, exercise, and various therapies, metabolism can be adjusted and optimized when it gets out of wack. The objective is usually similar in traditional qi regimens. From the taiji perspective, and I think this is true of the Yang tradition, manipulation of qi is not highly emphasized. Some passages in the taiji classics suggest that concentrating too explicitly on qi will in fact lead to some sort of stagnation, whereas if one concentrates on more tangible aspects of practice, qi will take care of itself. This is my interpretation, and I claim no authority on the correctness of this view. One of the more conspicuous references to qi in taijiquan theory is the advice to “sink the qi to the dantian.” Some folks say that qi here means “breath,” but I don’t think so. I think breathing is one of the constituents in the process, but more is involved. Based on my own practice history, “sink the qi to the dantian” is best understood as an experiential prescription. One can only know what it means through practice.

What does qi feel like? This may be the toughest question of all. Again, as with metabolism, one feels various aspects of the process involved. There is a whole array of sensations involved, and vary from moment to moment, and from person to person.

I hope this long post is not too full of hot air. I look forward to what others have to say on the subject.

Take care,

PostPosted: Wed Apr 02, 2003 10:06 pm
by Wushuer
I have heard the whole gambut on this one. The answer I got when I first asked what chi (qi) is and how do I feel it was from a Wu family member who simply told me "Breathe" and stood looking at me politely.
I asked if that was all it was, he said, "Breathe, breathe deep, breathe better, breathe with your whole body and sink that breath here", then he poked me in the belly with one hand and my lower back with the other and kind of circled his hands around my waist.
When I told him I didn't understand he had me do horse stance third eye meditation for a long, long time while he watched me and made corrections to how I breathed and how I stood.
I stood like that for so long I thought my legs were going to fall off. Then, just when I thought I couldn't stand another moment and my legs were wobbling so badly I was sure I was crippled for life, he told me to stand up but keep breathing the same way.
There was a sensation that started in my feet, shot up through my legs into my middle where it seemed to swirl around in circles for a long time, then it slowly spread up my spine and seemed to go out the top of my head. It felt like the hair was standing up on my head and I felt very refreshed and full of energy until it all seeped out.
He was laughing the whole time this was going on and when I finally opened my eyes he smiled at me and walked away without another word.
I didn't really know what to make of it then, I don't really know what to make of it now. I do know I've done this often, and can now get a slightly less dramatic feeling without the horse stance while I do forms or standing meditation.
He later told me the trick was to keep it circulating, to "sink it to the tantien and keep it going, let it travle through your whole body with no interuptions" and many other things, too many to go into in one post.
I don't think I've managed to do this as well as I should, but I'm working on it.
Is this chi? I dunno. It's what I call chi, it's how I was trained to feel it and I do feel this really strange sensation that I can't explain in any other way when I do these things, which is as often as I can.
I have a less dramatic way to get there, if anyone's intersted in it.
How to explain it to YCF students is the problem? You see, it involves the Wu family second warm up and I don't know how to be analogous to it in anything I've learned in YCF style....
OK. Bow stance, lean forward into this bow stance like at the end of YCF Brush Knee. Let your arms hang loosely at your sides. Breathe internally, nice and deep and steady, in through your nose, to your tantien, through your whole body and then back out again. Swing your tantien back and forth, slowly at first, let your arms follow along naturally like ropes with weights on the end, dangling free. Build up speed until your arms are swinging as high as the top of your head and then keep going until your front thigh is burning. Do it a bit longer. A bit longer. Nope not done yet..
Now, slowly allow yourself to stop.
Slowly straighten up to Preperatory Position, keep breathing internally and deeply.
Feel that sensation creep up your leg, through your middle and up your spine to your headtop?
That's as close as you can get in a hurry to what I'm describing.
That, in a nutshell, is the Wu family second warm up (they have four basic warm ups), by the way.

The idea of correlating Chi and metabolism is downright brilliant. Haven't heard that before, but it does make perfect sense to me.
I think what I'm describing here is only one aspect of chi, probably the easiest one to "get" for a newbie like I was, and still am.
Any other ideas on how to "feel" chi?
Like I said, this is how I understand it. Right or wrong, I have no idea. I can only repeat what I have been taught by those who were supposed to know. This is how they taught me.

[This message has been edited by Wushuer (edited 04-02-2003).]

PostPosted: Wed Apr 02, 2003 10:30 pm
by tai1chi
Hi Yall,

I too, think Louis's answer is well-taken. The illustration of the steam rising from a rice bowl is a demonstration of Qi, but not a definition of its substance. Likewise, metabolism is an appropriate analogy for the processes that create and maintain us.

Wushuer brings up two interesting points in his last post. One is about "breathing." I agree with Louis that Qi, with its rich meaning, cannot be equated with the breath. Though one might argue the essentiality of oxygen in (most) metabolic processes, breathing is not the only necessary mechanism. I do agree with Wushuer, though. "Sinking the qi" has often been equated with "deeply breathing", but I think this is because of a fundamental paradox. At least, to me Image, one does not need to directly control one's Qi, and it may not be possible to "will" it to work. Not saying that it's beyond control, only that only certain aspects of it are under conscious control. We can not really sink our "Qi" to our dantiens, but it can certainly go there. Some suggest just saying "go there" --like "set it and forget it." I guess I would say that if the breath sinks 'toward' the dantien, the qi will too. Anyway, that's my take, fwiw.

Steve James

PostPosted: Fri Apr 04, 2003 9:50 pm
by Wushuer
The one thing that keeps coming to my mind since my last post is the saying:
Chi follows mind intent.

With that theory, if your mind is intent on breathing deeply, internal breathing as I have heard it called, and you are inent upon sinking your breath to the tantien while doing this, then the chi will follow your mind there. If you keep your mind there, then the chi will stay there.
At least, that's how I've allways thought of it.
I don't think that anyone ever said "Chi is breath" or "chi is oxygen", merely "breathe deeply and concentrate on sinking your breath to your tantien". As that effectively puts your mind in your tantien, and chi follows mind intent....
I don't know if I can agree that chi cannot be controlled though. Using the same phrase, if I control my mind intent, and chi follows that, then I control the chi at least indirectly.

My head hurts now from trying to figure this out. I need to go practice.

PostPosted: Fri Apr 04, 2003 10:51 pm
by tai1chi
Hi Wushuer,

well, I agree with your description: i.e., "mind" moves the breath which moves/moves with the Qi-- whether or not there is a rational point (tantien) where the Qi can be contained. But, I think the idea of using the Yi (not an easy term to define) even if it's only the imagination will cause (this) Qi to go where it is directed (or should wwe say in/directed?).

Anyway, whether or not the Qi actually descends to dantien, there are plenty of sound martial reasons for both breathing deeply and for "centering" oneself mentally and physically. I had been led to believe that, when one clenches one's fist or grinds one's teeth, one's qi "goes" to that place. (Obviously, not all of it). This tension is counterproductive to both attack and defense, and --if there's no threat at all-- is harmful to one's health. I.e., "stress." Qi exists (in the body) all the time. Utilizing it for specific purposes is something else. The specific ways of accomplishing this are something else again.

Hey, Wushuer, I wasn't accusing you of saying that Qi is oxygen.

STeve James

PostPosted: Fri Apr 04, 2003 11:20 pm
by Wushuer
Didn't think you had. I meant that I've never heard anyone tell me that chi is oxygen, not that I was accused of saying that. Sorry if I gave that impression.
I guess I'm a believer in chi (qi, you say tomatoe, I say tomato, let's call the whole thing lunch) as I have been involved with it for going on thirty years now. Even my old Tae Kwon Dao teacher used to talk about it when I was a teen. So to me, it's just one of those things I can't see, can't really touch, can't smell or taste, but I seem to believe in it anyway.
I don't try to contain my chi in my tantien, I just sink it there. Keeping it there would be almost impossible for me. I just try to gather as much of it there as I can and then let it flow through me as I move or just by itself.
It's one of those things I guess you either believe in, or you don't.
As you say, there are martial reasons for doing all these things without chi being involved, I just prefer mine with.

Think I'll go see if I can sink some right now, since I didn't get to practice like I wanted to earlier.

PostPosted: Sat Apr 12, 2003 9:33 pm
by Audi
Hi All,

David, let me more or less endorse the previous posts, but make a contribution along slightly different lines for those with even less access to Chinese than I have. Basically, I want to delve a little bit into some of the layers of meaning that Louis mentioned. Most of what I cite below I have unearthed looking through dictionaries.

While practitioners of Taijiquan usually talk about Qi as if it can only mean “vital energy,” this is by no means the only way it is used in Chinese. One can completely reject the basis of Chinese medicine and Taijiquan theory and still have lots of use for the word “Qi.”

A major meaning in Chinese is still “vapor,” “gas,” or “air.” One common word for the air in a room is “kong-qi,” which literally means something like the “Qi of open space.” The expression “da-qi” can mean to “inflate” something, like a tire. It can be interpreted as “knocking air (into something).” There are multiple terms referring to naturally or artificially occurring “gas” that use the word “Qi,” such as “du-qi” (“poison gas”), “mei-qi” (“coal or natural gas”), and “qi-qiu” (a “balloon” or “gas ball”).

From “air,” it is a short leap to the unseen things that appear to move or affect air. The ordinary word for weather is “tian-qi,” which could be interpreted either as the “air of heaven or of the sky” or as the “vital force of heaven or of the sky.” The modern word chosen to translate “electricity” (“dian-qi”) can be interpreted as the “vital force of lightning.”

In addition to the uses of “Qi” to mean “air,” it also has other extended meanings that refer to ordinary phenomena. It is used in expressions that can be interpreted as “being out of breath (Qi).” To pant is “huan qi,” or to make one’s qi “pant.” “To blow a puff of air” is “chui yi kou qi” (“blow one mouth Qi”). It is also used in some expressions in the meaning of “scent,” such as “xiang-qi”, or the “Qi of perfume.” Again, these concrete meanings can easily merge into things that are more ethereal. “Wok Qi” is the flavor food has when it comes straight from the cooking pot. It dissipates once the food sits around for a while. Perhaps, “losing the flavor of the wok” might be the way to translate this.

Another ordinary meaning of “Qi” that I can cite is when it is used to refer to the “air,” “manner,” or “aura” people are said to display in certain situations (e.g., “guan-qi,” or “bureaucratic airs”). In English, we might say that someone has a noble “air” about him or her, without necessarily trying to refer to any phenomena outside of Western science. A meaning that is probably related to this one is when “Qi” is used to refer to “spirits” or “morale.” (E.g., “Yang2 qi4” literally means to “have the Qi raised” and can be translated as “to be in high spirits.” “Qi is used in this latter sense in the Yang Style Saber Formula.)

“Qi” can also refer to “anger,” presumably with associations similar to what “being steamed or steaming mad” has in English. Curiously, the Chinese word for “steam,” although pronounced identically to “Qi” and probably constituting the same spoken word, is written differently. The “rice” component in the character is replaced by an element that means “water.”

As Louis mentioned in his earlier post, it is not always easy to disentangle all these layers of meaning. An “abdomen filled with Qi” might simply refer to “a stomach bloated with gas,” but probably implies that the flow of vital energy has also gone awry. A “Qi-filled abdomen” can also refer to a practitioner that has filled him or herself with good Qi through long practice. Again, I think that even in this meaning, a physical manifestation would be expected.

We must also recall that the ancient Chinese had a different view of natural phenomena than we do and so would not have made the same linguistic distinctions we do. In other words, they may have seen the Qi in air, scents, breath, gas, etc. all as different aspects of the same basic thing. The adoption of modern scientific views would not necessarily change either this cultural outlook or the structure of the language. In a similar vein, I have knowledge of a culture that uses the word “medicine” indifferently to refer to “medications,” “pesticide,” “magical amulets,” and “poisons.” If one talks about “being in good spirits,” this does not mean that one necessarily believes in ghosts or the soul.

Let me close with an expression I recently ran across in my losing effort to improve my Chinese: “Cheng1 yao1 da3 qi4.” This phrase could be crudely interpreted as “Prop up the waist and hit the vapor.” If the meaning of this phrase strikes you as opaque, you have a good excuse. I have deliberately chosen technically correct, but poor translations for each of these words to further illustrate why nuance can be important to meaning and true understanding.

The phrase really translates loosely as “to bolster someone up.” I will explain it word my word, since each of the four words actually has relevance for Yang Style Taijiquan.

“Cheng1” means “to prop up or support.” It is the word Yang Zhenduo uses to refer to the “propping” action of the front leg against the thrusting or treading action (“deng”) of the back leg as one shifts the weight forward into a Bow Stance. In the phrase under discussion, this word is probably best translated as “support.”

“Yao1” is what we normally translate as “waist”; however, as I have posted previously, this word also applies to the region of the lower back. Here the image is of someone supporting another’s lower back to give postural strength.

The root meaning of “Da3” is to strike. It is the word used to refer to the “open hand strikes” used in Single Whip, Brush Knee, etc. (“tui1 da3” or “push(ing) strike”). This word, however, is very often bleached of meaning and is used in a tremendous number of expressions as a dummy verb to refer to almost any manual activity, from gather firewood to buying cooking oil. In the expression “da Taijiquan,” I think it means something like “do Taijiquan,” or what some translate as “play Taijiquan.” The reason why many translate this word as “play” is apparently because “da” would have this translation when it is used to describe what one does with basketballs, tennis rackets, playing cards, etc. In Chinese, one does not “play” basketball, but rather “strikes basketball.”

The word “qi” in the phrase under discussion could refer to “air.” In this case, the expression “da qi” would mean to “inflate,” as I mentioned above. The implication would that one is “re-inflating” someone who has become “deflated” in spirit. I believe this instance of “qi” could also refer to “vital energy,” in which case “da qi” could be interpreted as meaning “to give or restore vital energy.” The best interpretation, however, is probably to construe “qi” as referring to “spirits” or “morale,” with the other meanings providing background “color.” “Da qi” would then mean to “lift someone’s spirits.”

With these clarifications, I could now translate “cheng1 yao1 da3 qi4” in a different, but still literal fashion as something like “support [someone’s] back and strike some spirit” into him or her.

As for “qi chen dan tian” or “sink(ing) the Qi to the Dantian,” this is about the only overt “manipulation” of Qi that the Yangs talk about. I think that because of the influence of other styles of Taijiquan or of Qi Gong, some Yang Stylists become enamored of esoteric or sophisticated practices to “feel” or manipulate Qi. For Yang Style, I think this unnecessary, because we all have felt Qi to the extent necessary.

When we slip and first feel our loss of balance, we feel our “heart” rise to our throat and our center of gravity rise. We have trouble breathing as our “breath” or “Qi” seems to feel caught or squeezed in our chest and throat. Our mind focuses on this point and leaves us feeling “tippy” or “top heavy” as we fear or sense an imminent fall. This, as I understand it, is what is meant by the expression “allowing the Qi to rise or to float.” “Sinking the Qi” is merely the opposite of this feeling. We feel for the stable connections that run through our bodies from our upper body to the earth, regardless of the arrangement of our limbs. We can attempt to do this even in the middle of losing our balance.

As we lose our balance, we have three ways to react. We can ignore the reality of the situation and continue to pour energy into a configuration that is changing catastrophically. This is usually the worst thing to do. Nonetheless, it is usually the originally source of our problem. The earlier we identify that we are pouring energy into a bad situation and that our movements are not based on a correct view of reality, the more options we have to change.

The second response is to panic as we perceive that reality is not to our liking. We go rigid. We allow our arms to flail around in a vain attempt to restore an equilibrium that is no longer obtainable in that manner. Time appears to freeze in an unfavorable configuration.

The third response is to try to sharpen our feel for the situation as it is, to change what can be changed, and to let go of the rest. You do not grope for traction that cannot be recovered, but feel instead for the actual state of one’s connection with the ground and what power can still be threaded through the body. If you can still separate full from empty to even a small degree, you are not irretrievable stuck. Even limited traction can provide enough leverage to improve the position of our bodies. Even when no traction is available, the mass of our bodies can still be useful as a source of root to accomplish some movement. This is what a cat does to right itself in mid-air.

Some styles of Taijiquan and some other martial arts do teach strong manipulation of “Qi.” Such practices may be beneficial with the proper teaching and training, but I do not believe they are integral to traditional Yang Style for two reasons.

The Yangs often state that their style is richly detailed, but nonetheless essentially simple. In seminars, they have often distinguished aspects of their practice from other those of other arts on the grounds that Yang Style keeps things simple and straightforward. Complicated breathing patterns or visualizations are thus contrary to the flavor of the form they cultivate.

Another reason why focusing on Qi is discouraged is because the idea in Yang Style is to allow Qi to flow naturally, not to control it arbitrarily. Just as one does not train to control the rate of one’s pulse, one does not train to control one’s Qi flow. The body knows what to do by itself. You merely need to train to get out of its way. As long as you use your mind correctly, the Qi will take care of itself.

Take care,

PostPosted: Mon Apr 14, 2003 6:02 pm
by Wushuer
that is very consistent with how the Wu's taught me. Some of them found it ammusing that students were spending so much time worrying about chi. They seemed to feel that it was a naturaly occuring thing that need not be worried about.
In fact, the above post was the most I ever got out of any Wu family member or disciple in all the years I trained at one of their academies.
For the most part, they just told us to breathe intenrally and naturally and to keep our mind intent in our tantien, from their the chi would follow. Often students were told they were thinking about this too much, that it wasn't important enough to spend that much time worrying about as that in itself was detrimental to the flow of chi!

PostPosted: Sun Apr 27, 2003 10:58 pm
by Audi
Hi all,

One additional idea I had about this thread is that even the phrase “Sink the Qi” may have more layers of meaning than might be readily apparent. Most seem to interpret this in terms either of pushing “energy” downward in the abdomen or of sensing some kind of “energy glow” in the area of the Dantian. I have no particular objection to this, but there is also a purely physical way of interpreting this injunction.

If one thinks of Qi only in the sense of “air,” sinking Qi to the Dantian pretty much equates with “breathing deeply,” as others have stated. If one truly breathes deeply, this involves a distinct use of the diaphragm muscles and a feel for how they move that is not that easy to maintain while doing such things as lifting the legs and using the muscles in the hips and lower back. If one succeeds in doing this, however, the constant motion of the diaphragm promotes a live and elastic connectedness in the middle body that I think is very conducive to good Taijiquan.

The conscious movement of the diaphragm near its full range of motion promotes a feeling for the looseness in the hip and lumbar muscles as the soft tissues tug on each other and alternately stretch and relax with one’s breathing. This action focuses the mind on how the muscles and tendons in the middle body link the legs to the upper body.

Even this physical sense of what “Sinking Qi” may mean can then be connected to something that can be thought of as really part of a process, like metabolism as mentioned above, rather than merely a “thing” to be manipulated or a thing that works particular martial or health wonders by itself. On top of this, one can also add the effect that deep breathing has on one’s state of mind in the midst of complex movement and how this in turn reflects back on the state of one’s body.

Take care,

PostPosted: Wed Apr 30, 2003 10:56 pm
by Louis Swaim
Greetings Audi,

Yes, I agree very much with your thoughts on this.

I think the notion of sinking the qi to the dantian does have a good deal to do with the action (or reaction?) of the diaphragm, and as you have suggested, there is a whole array of processes involved. There are certain preconditions for sinking the qi that enable a postural “setup” so that one can feel a tangible expanding through the lower abdomen. Not only does the ventral abdomen (belly) expand outward, but there is dorsal expansion as well, which one can feel as pressure in the pelvis and the lumbar spine (the “mingmen” area in the lower back relaxes outward). This results from the diaphragm drawing downward, which displaces all of the tissues in the lower abdomen, while creating a vacuum in the thorax. This downward expansion also stimulates the psoas muscles—the deep muscles that make the important connection—through the pelvis—of the thighs and the lower spine. (Yoga practitioners talk about the importance of “releasing” the psoas; the ability to do so being key to relaxed alignment in upright posture.) Taiji practitioners talk similarly of the connection between the “kua” (inner thigh) and the “yao” (‘waist’ or lumbar spine), and the necessity of “fangsong” (setting loose) the frame to optimize this connection.

In the classics, the postural preconditions include the notions of “xuling dingjin” (a tenuous or intangible lifting at the crown of the head), and “hanxiong babei” (containing the chest and drawing up the back). Many people, when told to take a deep breath, respond by lifting up or throwing out their chest, attempting to fill their lungs by means of the intercostal muscles in the ribcage. This is actually a very inefficient way to fill the lungs. So the classical prescription to “contain the chest” specifically addresses this tendency, and enables breathing by means of lowering the diaphragm. This is not a forceful pushing or pulling downward of the diaphragm—it doesn’t have to be. There is, as you say, conscious movement of the diaphragm, but a good deal of the work is done by a combination of gravity and atmospheric pressure.

Here, I think, is where another classical prescription comes into play: “qi yi gudang.” I like to translate this as something like, “the qi is roused and made vibrant.” The compound gudang has this connotation of rousing or stimulating, but I find the imagery of the individual characters useful for getting a richer understanding. Gu means essentially a drum. In early Chinese warfare, large drums were used to: a) drum up the courage or morale (qi) of the troops, and, b) to signal the troops to deploy specific trained formations. I can remember as a small child going to a parade, and the feeling in the pit of my stomach when a marching band went by with the huge bass drum pounding. My lower abdomen seemed to involuntarily respond and resonate with the drum, and I could feel the vibration expand from my lower abdomen throughout my whole body. I think the classical taiji injunction, qi yi gudang, calls upon this kind of experience—there is a sort of “rise and shine” entailment that is quite different from mere relaxation, and is both physical and psychological. The “dang4” part of the gudang compound is rooted in the imagery of a large pan or bowl filled with liquid (tang: ‘soup’), and has entailments having to do with the sloshing, swinging, swaying, or wavelike motion of the liquid in response to some movement of the pan. If you put a bowl of water on a table, then pound on the table, there will be ripples or oscillations on the surface of the water. So the “dang” part of the term implies a sort of sympathetic response. I like to think of gudang in terms of another term often found in early Chinese cosmological contexts. The term is “ganying,” and it carries a meaning of “resonance.” Some early texts, including the Zhuangzi, use an example of two lutes that are in tune with one another. If one strikes the open string of the one lute, the same string on the second lute will begin to vibrate with the same note. I once went to a small nightclub to see a special duet performance of jazz musicians Chico Freeman and Mal Waldron. The performance commenced with Chico Freeman walking up close to Waldon’s grand piano, and pointing the bell of his soprano saxophone down into the piano’s innards. He blew a series of sustained notes, and when he stopped, the piano was softly playing a beautiful chord by itself. (But I digress.) The breakdown of ganying is equivalent to the notion in modern English: stimulus/response. So my sense of gudang is that of setting up the necessary alignment and configuration of the body so that it will respond to the various stimuli of gravity, atmospheric pressure, and so forth. You’re sort of “not-doing” a number of things in order to allow basically involuntary processes to come into play.

So I guess I’m trying to illustrate that in my experience, the qi referred to in “sink the qi to the dantian” or in “the qi should be roused and made vibrant” is something different than breath or breathing per se, unless we radically alter the ordinary notion of breathing to something like, say, “environmental breathing.”

Take care,

[This message has been edited by Louis Swaim (edited 05-01-2003).]

PostPosted: Wed May 28, 2003 4:53 am
by Audi
Hi Louis:

Thanks for all the detail. I think I now understand better what the words “gu dang” are getting at. I think that heretofore I had only seen the simplified character for “dang” and missed the connection with soup. In searching for the Chinese character, I rediscovered your translation commentaries at the back of Mastering Yang Style Taijiquan and saw the character with the dish.

I also think I now understand more the basis for the phrases “sticking Qi to the spine” and “issue Qi from the spine.” From experience, I had been thinking of these only in terms of “movement energy” (“Jin”), but I now can see a connection between “sinking Qi to the Dantian,” the movement of all the soft tissues around the lumbar spine and hips, and the extension of the legs.

On another recent thread, there was a discussion about how Yang Zhenji describes the difference between hip movement and “waist” movement in Single Whip. This recalls for me an issue that I used to find quite confusing when I began to practice Taijiquan more intensively. I could not be sure what was meant by one part of the body moving with another part or moving them together “as a unit.”

At one point, I thought this meant fusing the movement together, almost like making the body move as a wooden block. I saw one famous teacher in my area who stressed not moving the hands or arms much and wondered whether this was “it.” At another point, I thought the secret was having one part almost fling or flick another part into motion. This seemed what was implied by making the body “relaxed” and flexible. I now see the external aspect of this as being neither of these two qualities, but sometimes being closer to one or the other in appearance, depending on the purpose of the movement.

When you talk about “resonance” and “sympathetic vibrations,” this helps me relate these ideas together. “Stringing the joints together” or “threading the parts of the body together” (“guan4 chuan4”) did not, for me, clearly relate to “Sinking Qi to the Dantian.” As I have said before, I tend toward the view that the 10,000 details of Taijiquan or even the 10 essentials all reveal different aspects of the same one or two core principles. Seeing connections between them helps me to deepen understanding of each of the individual aspects.

By the way, since the origin of this thread was a call for definitions, let me add a little more on the theme of whether “qi” means “breath.” I am getting this by browsing through my dictionaries and am directing my comments primarily to those who know no Chinese.

Although “qi” is often used with phrases involved with breathing, it probably retains more the meaning of “air” than “breath” per se in this context. Chinese has expressions for the process of “breathing” that do not include the word “qi,” such as “hu1 xi1.” One’s last “breath” is also expressed by another word, pronounced “xi1.” (This is a different character and a different “word” from the “xi” in “hu1 xi1.”) What your lungs are seen as being filled with, however, is arguably “qi” (“yi4 kou3 qi4”) (“a mouthful of air”).

I go into some detail here just to make clear that the concept of “qi” does not necessarily require belief in the unique efficacy of certain breathing patterns in moving “power” through the body. From this viewpoint, Qi Gong does not have to be a prerequisite for the effectiveness of Taijiquan any more than stretching does.

Take care,