Qi follows Yi

Qi follows Yi – Energy follows intent.

Qi follows Yi. Energy follows intent.

We try to awaken, strengthen and guide our energy through Tai Chi practice. In order to be successful with that, it is not enough to ‘go through the motions’. We need to be intentional, deliberate and present when practicing Tai Chi.

Doing the form without intent is a waste of time. Not focusing on the moment misses the main point of what we want to achieve with Tai Chi. Go get a beer and watch a movie instead.

Energy follows intent. Qi follows Yi.

That is one of the big principles of Tai Chi that all styles agree on. It is hard to explain, but something you develop an awareness for when you work with a teacher. Learning from heart to heart.

Make it a point to always put your mind into what you’re doing. Just as in meditation, you will be distracted more than once. You will notice your mind wandering. Gently catch it, bring it back in and focus on what you’re doing and why.

While this seems like an esoteric concept, there are actually a few simple exercises that can give you a glimpse into ‘qi follows yi’. I learned them from an Aikido teacher many years ago when he explained the importance of energy flow to me. Both exercises require a partner.

Pick up the keys from the floor

Ask your partner to hold your wrist with one or two hands, depending how the balance of strength is between you. Try to pull your arm out of his grip. Chances are it’s hard and in most cases won’t work without dirty tricks.

Now imagine there is a set of keys on the floor, right where your fingers point to. Don’t think about the grip, just pick up the keys. The first few times you will fail at this because your mind will still be focused on ‘breaking the grip’. However, as soon as you relax and put your mind (your intent) into picking up the keys and nothing else, you will find that it is very easy to slip out of the grip. Your Qi followed your Yi.

Many things happen here. For one, you will not signal to your partner that your movement is about to start by activating muscles too early in anticipation of wanting to break free. You will also eliminate any unnecessary movements, like jerking, since all you are focused on is getting down to the keys. Lastly, you will be relaxed and it will be as hard to get a hold on you as it would be to grab a wet wiggly fish.

Put real keys on the floor if you have a hard time to let go mentally. You can also try to pick up the key a few times without having anyone hold you, and then repeat the same movement, ignoring that someone now squeezes your wrist.

Water flows through your arm like a garden hose

A similar exercise is to put your hand stretched out on your partner’s shoulder, with the palms of your hands facing up. Ask your partner to put both his hands on your elbow joint and try to bend it down. It will be very hard to prevent your arm from being bent, even if you exert all your muscle power.

Now again try to forget your partner and what he is doing. Rather close your eyes and think of your arm as a water hose. Imagine the strong stream of water rushing through your arm and shooting out into infinity. Don’t think of your partner, let him do his thing and just imagine the water rushing out your fingertips. Chances are he will not be able to bend your arms and you will not feel that you have to exert a lot of muscle power.

Call it mind tricks if you want. Or placebo effect. Either way, it works!

Qi follows Yi.

Slow is Smooth, Smooth is Fast

Tai Chi is an ancient martial art and all movements are rooted in original fighting application. Many schools still teach Tai Chi as a fighting system, using energy and strong rooting to imbalance an opponent, much like the japanese Aikido.

Our main purpose in Tai Chi is health improvement

Personally I put more focus on the health aspects of Tai Chi. I studied Karate for a long time and am pretty sure I would go back to those techniques if I ever needed to defend myself. I studied Tai Chi over the same duration so it’s not about new versus old habits. Plus if you want to be able to defend yourself effectively with a short learning ramp you should buy pepper spray anyways.

Most people who come to our classes follow the same goals (I know, it’s selection bias). They want to learn Tai Chi for health, for balance, as an antidote for stressful jobs and to improve their mindfulness. They know the movements originate in martial arts and we often show potential applications to more fully explain the movement.

However, one wonders if Tai Chi would actually create the right reflexes that are needed to defend oneself if ever needed. Especially if a student focuses on the form, precision in movement, flow and the typical slow, deliberate execution. We practice Yang style, so we don’t have the explosive techniques in-between that the Chen style teaches.

Muscle memory – polish, polish, polish

I think Tai Chi, even when practicing the form, builds up those reflexes over time. You won’t become a hand to hand combat strategist or skilled offensive attacker, but your muscles will learn self-defense movements and those will turn into muscle memory and eventually reflexes.

Don’t focus on the application, your body will react through reflexes anyway. Focus on the proper execution of a movement and the other pieces will fall into place.

“Wax on, wax off.”
Mr. Myagi in Karate Kid

Of course it will take years but then again, that’s not why we are doing Tai Chi to begin with and we hope to never use those skills anyway. If you are looking for a quick solution, buy pepper spray.

Slow is smooth, smooth is fast

In my personal opinion, I also don’t think one must try to execute movements fast. One should try to execute them correctly, with minimal waste through unnecessary movements, keeping all muscles relaxed and as smoothly as possible, flowing from one movement into the other without interruption.

As you build up energy flow and smooth out blockers, you will build up speed and force. Water breaks the rock. Remember the old saying:

Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.

If your movement is fluid it will be fast when it needs to.

Have Fun and Enjoy the Ride

Don’t take it (and yourself) too serious

We talked a lot about principles and how we learn in Tai Chi, martial arts and beyond. Now here’s my most important lesson: Whatever you do, have fun and enjoy what you’re doing! Don’t take yourself and the art that you’re practicing too serious.

TaiChi Peking Form December 2007 520

This is not your work. You choose to come every single time you go to class or practice on your own. You invest a lot of time and energy. You might as well enjoy it and have fun.

Take it easy, there is no one who judges you – unless you let them. This is not your work. There is no goal that you need to achieve, there is no deadline. Relax, let go, open your mind for what presents itself and enjoy the ride!

Laugh about yourself as often as you can. And if you have a teacher who is deadly serious and cannot laugh about (or admit) his own mistakes – run as fast as you can.

“This is not your work. You might as well smile and enjoy what you’re doing!”
Alfons’ regular reminder in class

Send a silent smile to yourself

When you practice Tai Chi, don’t just go through the motions of the form. Use Tai Chi to generate and direct positive energy to yourself and the people training with you.

Hakutsuru 1541

Smile and then send that smile to yourself and to the different parts of your body that you are working with. Send a smile to your lungs as you inhale and be mindful of the air streaming into your lungs. Send a smile to your heart and your inner organs. Send a smile to your skin as you brush over it. Be mindful in what you do and then engage your mind for healing.

Always be gentle and nice to yourself. In Tai Chi we don’t forcefully push our limits. We discover our boundaries and then gently tap against them. Over time they will widen and become limitless. We don’t need to break our body on the way.

Gently stretch. Ask your mind and your awareness to follow what your body is doing. Send a smile to your heart, your lungs and your inner organs and thank them from the work they are doing for you!

“Send a silent smile to your heart!”
Marlene Fuchs

Open your Lao Ghong and Yong Quan Points

Open your Lao Gong and Yong Quan points – Open and close your hands deliberately. Control and observe the energy flow. Don’t trap the energy when you want to push.

Lao gong point

We often talk in class about “opening your hands to collect energy” and “cupping the hands to push energy down into our bodies”.

What we are really doing is stimulating our Lao Gong (勞宮) points in the middle of the palm of our hands. As we spread out and open up our fingers, we’re opening the gate through the Lao Gong points.

Think of your arms as a water hose

Think of it as a water hose. You cup your hands a little, bringing the fingers together to keep the energy in, like pinching a water hose. Then when you let go of the pinch, when you spread out your fingers to open the Lao Gong points, you open up to let the water (energy) flow.

Become a big energy pump

Now extend that picture and think of your Yong Quan (涌泉) points, in the middle of your feet, as another end of the water hose. Think about pulling water (energy) in through your Lao Gong and Yong Quan points as you inhale, and pushing it out through those four points as you exhale.

Turn yourself into a big energy pump for the universe, connecting Heaven and Earth through yourself (Human).

Transmit your energy

When you push in a movement, think about how you are pushing out energy through your Lao Gong points as you exhale and move your Qi Bai point forward. At the same time push out and connect to the ground through your Yong Quan points.

For example, when you do the double hand pull and push sequence, imagine how you are pulling in water through Lao Gong and Yong Quan when you pull back and inhale. Then reverse and visualize pushing out a sparkling stream of water through those four points as you exhale and push your whole body forward.

“In Tai Chi we don’t keep energy selfishly. We just borrow it for a moment and then give it back to the universe.
We connect heaven and earth through ourselves (human).”
Hilmar Fuchs