What is Chi?
Most people, whether or not they are practitioners of Chinese medicine or students of Chinese martial arts, have heard of chi (Also spelled qi and known as ki in Japanese arts.) Suffice it to say that chi is the name of the life force energy that is said to reside in everyone. The claims regarding the power of chi can vary from the modest to the fantastic.
My own experience with chi was in my first Kung Fu class when the instructor talked about the flow of energy and how it was something we could utilize for power. My mind raced. My thoughts went all the way back to 1977 and my pudgy, impressionable 9-year-old self, as I thought of the force in Star Wars. “My god it's real!” My teacher, no doubt, reading my expression informed me that I wouldn’t be able to replicate the incredibly dramatic feats of the Jedi or the Sith…or could I?
The expression of art, be it visual arts, music, writing, or acting, seems to have similar ideas about tapping into a mystical life force and unleashing a powerful version of the artist's creative thought. The modern dance innovator, Isadora Duncan provides a compelling example.
In Duncan’s autobiography, My Life, she describes her method of accessing the energy: “For hours I would stand quite still, my two hands folded between my breasts, covering the solar plexus.” (Duncan 59, 60) Duncan goes on to further delineate her process and differentiate it from the technique of ballet, “I…sought the source of spiritual expression to flow into the channels of the body, filling it with vibrating light – the centrifugal force reflecting the spirit’s vision.” (Duncan 60) Finally, she began to refine her system. “After many months, when I learned to concentrate all my force to this one Centre, I found that thereafter when I listened to music the rays and vibrations of the music streamed to this one fount of light within me – there they reflected themselves in Spiritual Vision, not the brain’s mirror, but the soul’s, and from this vision I could express them in dance.” (Duncan 60)
It certainly seems like Duncan was describing something akin to chi. Energy in the body is directed by a creative intention, but also unifying and flowing with this force, and it creates a unique result. Hmm, can it be channeled into a punch? (See part 2)
Duncan, Isadora. My Life. New York, Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2013. Originally published 1927.