Qi is an important concept of traditional Chinese culture, deeply present in medicine and martial arts. It is also known as 'Ki' in Japanese culture.
It represents a kind of metaphysical energy present in the universe that permeates and sustains living beings. He is seen as prana in Indian Vedic texts and as lüng in Tibetan Buddhism. In the West, there is a not a precise definition, it can be defined as a vital energy.
Traditional Chinese medicine says that Qi circulates through the body in channels called meridians and that diseases result from an imbalance or interruption of the flow of Qi in the meridians. Acupuncture seeks to insert needles into specific points on the skin and muscles to regulate this flow. Reiki and Shiatsu are techniques of Japanese origin which aim to balance and restore the stream of Qi in the meridians through the use of hands (There is no evidence that both are an effective medical treatment).
The internal martial arts also seek to regulate the circulation of Qi.
External martial arts Vs. Internal martial arts
For a little more understanding, let's first explain about the external martial arts and the internal martial arts.
The external styles train the external parts of the body (arms, legs, abdomen), aiming to strengthen muscles and to develop fast movements. The most popular martial arts in the West (Boxing, Wrestling, Karate-Do, Tae Kwon Do, Judo, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Kickboxing) are external by nature.
The internal styles are generally characterized by slow movements (although some have explosive movements) and seek to train the body's internal organs. They include meditative breathing exercises in order to generate and circulate the Qi in a controlled manner. The internal martial arts are essentially Chinese (Hsing I, Ba Gua, and Tai Chi), although Aikido (whose name includes the word 'Ki') can be considered an internal style. Some Chinese martial arts, such as White Crane and Liuhebafa, may be classified as combined external / internal martial arts.
The internal martial arts (and also Yoga) practice lower abdominal breathing by pushing the diaphragm up and down and do not use the chest muscles to expand and contrast muscles. During breathing, the air is exhaled through the nose, thus bringing the air deeper and expelling the Qi energy to the hara (said to be the gravity center and intersection of mind and body), located about three finger widths below the navel. The benefits of this style of breathing are larger space for the lungs to expand and a massage of the internal organs in the abdominal area.
Summarizing, the internal martial arts search to strengthen the body from within to strengthen it out, increasing its resistance and the power of punches and kicks.
There are examples in literature about the importance of inner aspect.
The master of Pa Kua, Kuo-Feng Chi'ih, said: "The fight requires movement, but first the internal requires calm; to defeat the opponent force is needed, but the internal requires smoothness; fighting demands speed but the internal requires slowness."
And according to monk Chueh Yuan, a master of Shaolin Boxing: "Without the Ch'i (Qi) there is no force. An inexperienced fighter throws his fist fiercely but his punch has really no power. A true fighter is usually not very spectacular, but his punch is as hard as a mountain."
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