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Chi kung is supposed to be at the core of our style, but we don't cover it very much in class, for various genuine reasons.

From what I gather, it is largely just controlled, deep breathing, from the belly, combined with gentle flowing exercise with the movements and breathing coordinated, but as there are entire books about chi kung, and even schools dedicated to it, I wonder if there is a lot more to it than I realise.

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No, qigong is not just deep breathing.

There are MANY different qigong exercises, so it's impossible to say what the goal of your particular exercise is. Here is a sampling of non-breathing qigong elements:

Why move slow

When performing the same basic motion slowly versus quickly, there are different muscles involved and different balance considerations. This is very clear, for example, with a front push kick. When kicking slowly, you have to hold the leg up for several seconds, which is quite different from snapping the kick out.

Joints, not muscles

Much of qigong is about exercising joints, rather than muscles. One goal of qigong is to make the body limber and relaxed. Tight joints are described as having stagnant or stuck qi, and you improve qi circulation by making them more limber. Working joints through range of motion elongates connective tissue and helps prevent issues like frozen shoulder. Look at elderly people who don't exercise their joints for what happens if you don't do this over time.

There are probably qigong exercises for every joint in the body. This includes joints you probably do not normally think of exercising: the back vertebrae, your toes, your finger knuckles, your wrists, and your ankles.

Martial application

One martial viewpoint is that this training emphasizing moving slow and exercising joints teaches you to use your body more fully than you would otherwise, and this increases the amount of power you can generate. Another theory is that flexible joints allow your body to transmit power more effectively.

The mind

Meditation is a form of qigong. The brain consumes an enormous amount of energy in the scientific sense relative to its mass. One early goal of meditation is to simply quiet the mind, which reduces its energy consumption and leaves more energy for other purposes.

Stationary exercises

Standing qigong helps to train the body both to have better alignment (posture) as well as to hold this alignment using less tension. In one sense, this is basically an exercise to do nothing; success is being able to put your body in a position and leave it there without having to do anything to support it. As you improve, more difficult postures are used and time is increased. This sounds easy, but I assure you it is not. Try standing in one place for 15 minutes without moving or shifting your weight. You will probably have knots in your legs or back, which indicates you can improve both your alignment and relaxation (you are doing nothing, which should be relaxing and restful).

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EDIT: A Definition of Qi Gong / Chi Kung

Qi means "breath" or "energy". Gong means "skill". Hence, Qigong is the "skill or working with one's breath or one's energy". The idea is to move Qi throughout the body. There are many methods.

  • Hard vs Soft
  • Moving vs Standing
  • Internal* vs External

Hard, Soft, Moving and Standing Qigongs are all External methods. Internal Qigong uses meditation or visualization to move the Qi throughout the body. This can be very confusing because Qigong as a whole might be referred to as Neijia, meaning "Internal Arts", as opposed to Weijia, meaning "External Arts".

PRE-EDIT

Your question might be taken to mean "does Qi Gong / Chi Kung really develop Qi Powers?" As with anything involving this bugbear of a word, we have to ask "what do you mean by Qi?"

A few points:

Qi / Chi is not an observable phenomenon. We can detect the presence of electricity, air, and other, otherwise invisible phenomena. We cannot detect the presence of Qi, because Qi does not have a consistent definition. When Qi is given a specific definition, e.g. "bio-electricity", we can answer definitively, "yes, of course bio-electricity exists", but at that point we can use the term bio-electricity, as it is more precise and does not carry mystical baggage with it.

Qi is a pre-scientific medical theory. Acupuncture isn't real and only works via the placebo effect. So-called Qi meridians often align with nerve clusters. Nerve clusters are real. Qi meridians aren't. Qi is a lot like the four humours from ancient, western medical theory. Qi might be useful as a metaphor, but I wouldn't ask anyone to treat my diseases using Qi as a basis.

Qi is a placeholder word, meaning energy. Like the word "energy" it doesn't have a precise definition. What do you mean by energy? Electricity? Light? Feeling good? The character for Qi is an ideogram combining the character for rice, with the character for steam. The idea behind the character might be taken to mean "the steam coming off a pot of boiling rice". Thus, the idea of Qi is directly related to the energy derived from eating good food. Want Qi? Eat Rice. Simple.

If you ever see someone use "Qi Powers", ask yourself who the people they are using them on are. Chances are, they are their students, or other persons who are for whatever reason highly suggestible. Each time someone who claims Qi Powers has attempted to use them on a person who is not suggestible, their "powers" have failed. I refer you to the sad case of George Dillman.

Focusing your Qi does work. By using visualization, you can make your body perform better. There are (at least) two observable benefits from visualizing Qi: relaxing the muscles and reducing tension as you perform athletic activity, and making your body mechanics work together more efficiently. Yes, your mind can trick your body into working better.

You are talking about "Soft" Qi Gong. Don't forget "Hard" Qi Gong. It's a different animal than what you're talking about. Generally speaking, "Hard" Qi Gong is for breaking stuff with your body. It involves a lot of conditioning of the various surfaces of your body, e.g. "Iron Shirt", "Iron Head", "Iron Crotch". The only thing it has in common with "Soft" Qi Gong is Focus and Visualization.

You are talking about "Moving" Qi Gong. Don't forget "Standing" Qi Gong. It is often used in the same regimens as "Moving" Qi Gong. It involves holding static postures until the muscles "Give Up". The purpose is to force the body to cease holding tension and to force the body's posture to align in a more efficient, natural way.

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  • Thanks. Good post, but I wasn't really asking what is qi or how to develop its power. I was more curious about specifically what is qigong. – user6847 Mar 22 '16 at 17:21
  • So you were literally looking for a definition of qigong? Your question includes the line "but as there are entire books about chi kung, and even schools dedicated to it, I wonder if there is a lot more to it than I realise." I was trying to answer what more there was to it than you realized. – The Wudang Kid Mar 22 '16 at 17:26
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Yes, divorced from mystical nonsense qigong/chi kung is just a series of breathing exercises.

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It's also about good balance and soft stances. If you breath high into the chest your center of mass moves slightly up because you lift your shoulders. If you breath low your center of mass moves slightly down as the diaphragm moves down.

The soft knees emphasized in Qigong also help to move the center of mass down and make it easier to move to dodge.

If you have a low center of mass it's harder to do a take-down on you (Judo style for example) and you are better grounded for punches.

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Yes & no.

It is far more not just "deep breathing" it helps with focus & core power it is often paired with other forms or marital arts to help with basic teachings like balance form and concentration.

"Qigong practices can be classified as martial, medical, or spiritual. All styles have three things in common: they all involve a posture, (whether moving or stationary), breathing techniques, and mental focus."

It is very relaxing afterwards :-)

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