What is Qi?

When we talk about Qi (Chi) in martial arts, what do we mean?

Chinese as a language can have meanings on different levels. The basic definition of Chi is ‘air’, but in terms of martial arts we’re talking about vital energy that’s intrinsic to the breath. If you put the word “Qi” into a Chinese/English translation you get all sorts of definitions, for different Chinese characters. So, to clarify the character we’re talking about is (in traditional Chinese)


It’s a bit like a picture of a pot of rice over a fire with steam rising upwards. In simplified Chinese it looks like:


Unfortunately, “vital energy that’s intrinsic to the breath” still doesn’t help much in terms of understanding what is meant by Qi when we talk about it in martial arts. The most practical way to understand what Qi is, is to take a look at Jin. You can think of Jin is the physical manifestation of Qi. When you manipulate your qi using your mind to do something, you manifest a direction of force in the body – and when the force can be expressed in a direction, without impeding it by tensing your muscles, so that it runs all the way from the feet to the hands, then that is Jin. So, if somebody pushes on your hand, you should be able to create a line of force from your foot to your hand (using your mind) that maintains your position, so that they are effectively pushing into the ground, not your hand. If you push on somebody’s outstretched arm and they feel really strong, like a rock, yet they’re not tensing their muscles then you could say they have “strong qi”.

In the following video Mike Sigman takes you though what Jin is, which should hopefully increase your understanding of what Qi is.

You can see that he’s talking about setting up pathways in the body – if you refer back to my previous post about basic silk reeling movement you can see how the two tie-in together.




One thought on “What is Qi?

  1. Pingback: Tai Chi: Stuck between a rock and a hard place | The Tai Chi Notebook

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