The answers to the question What is Qi power and has it been proven to exist scientifically? mostly address the superstitious, popular notion of qi you might find in a Tarantino movie. But the word qi (or, in Wade-Giles, chi) has been used by application-oriented martial arts classics, and in particular is used in two of the criteria of Dai Longbang's defintion of the internal harmonies (Longbang 1750):

  • The intention harmonizes with the chi.
  • The chi harmonizes with the movement.

People who agree with Mike Sigman that this characterises the relationship between the intent and movement that is the hallmark of internal martial arts understand these verses as asserting a concrete, operational criteria that a martial art can satisfy or fail to satisfy.

Sigman has tried to give biomechanical explanations, e.g., he tries to explain qi (Sigman 2013) as our sense of something a bit akin to the potential energy you might find in a spring that can be used to draw in and push out from the ground.

But what reason do we have for supposing that this is (exactly) what Longbang meant? An oral/training tradition, or are there more explicit sources?

(Longbang 1750) - Source with citation in my answer at What's the difference between Internal and External martial arts?

(Sigman 2013) - http://mikesigman.blogspot.de/2013/02/qi-structureconnection-gravity-qi-is.html


To try to get a sense of what I mean by operational meaning of qi, and pushing my grasp of the Chinese terminology to the limit: in taijiquan, we talk of applications are driven by jin skills, which use body strength and create qi. In Yang-style taiji, push hands train the 4 basic jins (peng/lu/ji/an) and the forms train 4 further jins. All applications use these jin skills in application and Yang-style taiji is internal because all of its techniques use these jins which are all internal jins. Chen-style taiji is close to Yang style, but Chen people tend to talk about training jin in relation to silk reeling, which is about training peng jin: Sigman talks here of peng jin being the core jin: when you've trained this jin, the other jins are much easier to train. And part of training these jins, involves 'listening' to the chi we get from using this jin strength.

To see in one dialog both this applied use of qi together with the more metaphysical use and traditional medical uses of the term (TCM), look at this interview with Feng Zhiquang from 2000, who is a high-standing Chen-style practitioner: when he says "So practice qi instead of li [muscular force], and practice yi instead of qi. If you practice li, it will break. If you practice only qi, you will be stiff. It will flow if you practice intention [yi]" he is talking taiji training in the terms from Longbang's verses. When he says "Human beings need the balance of yin and yang to keep healthy. If yin and yang are not balanced in the human body, there will be a disorder of qi and xue(3) [blood], manifested by the disease of limbs and organs" he's not talking about six harmonies, he's talking TCM.

  • This is just a guess: Might it be an attempt to explain a mystical force as a manifestation of physical properties?... Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 9:07
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    I find it interesting that the six harmonies are entirely translated from the original Chinese...except for this word. What word was used for heart? Intention? Movement? I suspect that putting the question of qi in context with the other words in this text would help tremendously in slashing through metaphor and translation issues. Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 9:47
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    @DaveLiepmann - From the link, heart is xin, mind is yi. The formula "xin-yi, yi-qi, qi-li" ( a mnemonic for the three internal harmonies) I think is pretty widespread and I heard it before I'd heard of the neijia list. Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 11:17
  • @Sardathrion - There's no doubt the usage of qi in Chinese texts encompasses mystical usages, e.g. the daoist creation myth, but also that it is used descriptively, if unscientifically. Sigman obviously has a more empirical perspective than Longbang, the C18th gentleman-merchant, but neither are mystics. Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 11:27
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    You've stated a lot of things in this question, but it isn't clear to me what the question is. Does the title of the question still even fit what you're trying to ask? Try writing some sentences that end in a question mark. Commented Nov 7, 2014 at 19:53

2 Answers 2


The confusion here stems from the fact that the traditional Chinese way of thinking does not make as clear a distinction between the spirit and the physical body. "Chi" is a combination of concentration and body mechanics. In Western terms, it can be described as performing a movement in the correct way, without unnecessary movements, and applying proper posture and technique. E.g. Proper stance, weight distribution, snap, breathing and power are all aspects of what constitutes a good technique. Add all these together, and suddenly people start calling it Chi (or Qi if you're a giant martial arts nerd like some of us).

It could also be said that "having your head in the game" or "being in the groove" are different (western) ways of saying you're mastering Chi.

I happen to be a devout Christian, so I do believe in a spiritual realm, etc. But I don't believe that the spirit can influence the body in such concrete terms as being able to shoot invisible death rays from your hands or allowing you to break something that is scientifically impossible to break.

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    People like Sigman interpret Longbang in a way that excludes external martial arts from following the six harmonies. So they mean something more specific than "performing movement in the correct way", which is common to any traditional martial art. In particular, the "chi harmonizes with the movement" is understood to mean something like all the movements are driven by one of the core jings of the internal martial arts. The way you talk about chi is not related to the way the word is specifically used in the six harmonies mnemonic, which is what I was after with the new question. Commented Nov 7, 2014 at 8:39
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    This is obviously at least partly a problem with my question. I'm not asking about what chi means in general, or what an internal martial art is, but more along the lines of: what is it that makes modern practitioners of the martial arts sure that they are applying the same concept found in the classics? Commented Nov 7, 2014 at 8:42
  • I've put some further comments on my question: I can hope that I haven't made things even less clear... Commented Nov 7, 2014 at 18:16

When he says qi, he means qi. Lately, I am quite confused by the number of people who assume past masters have written great and useful texts about martial arts but simultaneously been so foolish as to be unable to tell the difference between using cosmic energy to move and produce force and using their muscles. It seems to me that, in order to be consistent, one must admit that they are obviously confused and their writings can't be trusted or they knew what they were talking about and used words like qi, jin, and li for a reason.

Intention harmonizes with the qi means one should synchronize his qi with his intention so that his qi responds immediately to changes in his intention.

Qi harmonizes with the movement means that you use the qi to move your physical body.

In conjunction with the previous statement, it means using your mind to move your qi to move your body. This is a tremendously beneficial skill which some have described as the greatest achievement in taijiquan.

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    +1 for pointing out that one can be right about one thing and utterly wrong about another. -1 for unprovable mythical chi/qi being something real. Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 15:21
  • @Sardathrion Hello again! Nice to hear from you! Your comment made me laugh. If you would are interested, here is an excellent paper from the Journal of Scientific Exploration titled "Certain Physical Manifestation and Effects of External Qi of Yan Xin Life Science Technology" regarding the qi transmitted by the great qigong master Dr. Yan Xin. If you are uninterested or find this paper unsuitable, that is fine as well.
    – sirdank
    Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 15:27
  • Thank you, that "paper" made me laugh. It's awesome in all respects! ^_~ Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 16:12
  • @Sardathrion I now suspect I have offended you by laughing. I am sorry, I didn't mean to. Regarding your comment, I am not sure what you want. I have presented coherent, sensible, and scientific (albeit from the chinese scientific paradigm) explanations of seemingly "mystical" phenomena and also linked to a study performed using the western scientific paradigm yet you still seem unsatisfied. You don't have to agree with me but I would appreciate the respect I presume you afford to people with whom you do agree.
    – sirdank
    Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 16:30
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    That "paper" is the handwaviest piece of writing I have ever read. Commented Jan 4, 2015 at 21:03

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