Before we define Qigong (Chi Kung), let us first define "qi". In its simplest definition, qi is the culmination of life giving energies that separates life and death. This is not to be confused with any religious doctrines. There are all sorts of energies in our daily lives… electrical, magnetic, solar, nuclear and so on. We are going to present the definition of "energy" as illustrated in Chinese philosophy.
In Western science, we have a well defined knowledge of anatomy, physiology, chemistry and the like, but almost no understanding of what makes it "tick". The ancient Chinese also understood the internal workings of the body and regularly performed autopsies. However, they were more concerned with the "life force" of the body. They wanted to understand what gave the heart its power or what kept the fluids of the body bound together and separate from each other.
Everything in our universe has qi. Therefore, we are affected by everything and we, in turn, affect everything. Qi seeks a natural balance. This balance is illustrated by the Law of Complimentary Opposites or Yin (negative, dark, cold, female, soft, front) and Yang (positive, light, hot, male, hard, back), and states that all things do not stand alone but in a peaceful counter-existence. When an imbalance occurs, instead of getting rid of the problem, it is more important to understand cause and effect and control it. Within the body, if an imbalance occurs, the body is susceptible to sickness. The idea behind acupuncture is to re-balance the body's energies through the laws and sciences of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). There are other ways to keep qi in balance. Still and all, it is more effective for a practitioner to actively maintain or control this balance through the daily practice of qigong.
Qigong literally translates as "energy work" and is the practice of learning to control the movement of qi within the body. Where in Western exercises the emphasis is put on physical movements, qigong relies largely on the mind. There are literally hundreds of physical postures or sequences that can be utilized. Specific postures or sequences can enhance a particular energy's performance. If there is an energy blockage or stagnation, physical movements can assist in opening up such blockages.
Nevertheless, regardless of the physical postures, the mind's role is the same in all. It is not the physical movement that makes qigong but the understanding of qi and its relation to the person as a whole. By moving the qi through the body, its pathways remain open and the qi is able to fortify the entire body improving health and the quality of life.
Taiji and other "internal arts", as they are taught today, are viewed mostly as physical movements with an emphasis on softness, body alignment and relaxation. These movements have something to do with qigong, but qigong has everything to do with the movements. It is this part of internal training that largely lacks in most arts. Whether the study of qigong is for health maintenance or martial applications, understanding its principles is the key.
In Karate, for example, Kata movements are enhanced through qigong practice. Kata were designed specifically for self-protection. By practicing the movements and utilizing the mind, the practitioner can directionalize the qi to fortify the technique or manipulate the other person's qi causing an imbalance and a weakness in their defense. For example, in comparison, a "strike" without qi may require 25 lbs. PSI (pressure per square inch) to be successful, while the same strike with qi may only need 5-10% of that to accomplish the same task. This enables the practitioner to rely less on mass and strength allowing a seemingly "weaker" person to down a bigger, more powerful opponent with devastating effects.
Not all martial arts are conducive to proper qi utilization. One of the improper distinctions of martial arts is to identify them in one of two sets of categories; 1.) linear vs. circular, and 2.) external vs. internal. Lets briefly look at these to show this misrepresentation.
Linear vs. Circular - Most karate-based arts such as Shotokan, Shito-Ryu, Goju-Ryu, Taekwondo, Tangsoodo and others are generally categorized as linear in movement while most Chinese arts are categorized as circular. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
The body is incapable of linear movement. Body movement is composed of bends and arcs. Karate techniques may travel in a linear direction but must be executed through circular motions. Think of the rocker arm on a locomotive. While turning the wheels in a circular fashion, the train drives directionally straight forward or back. The same holds true for the mechanical movements of the body.
This is important in a life-protection situation. The entire idea in defending yourself is to come out of the situation with as little harm to yourself in the quickest manner possible. Understanding how the body moves is a big key to ensuring your safety. Improper movement on your part can put yourself in danger just as easily as it can your opponent.
External vs. Internal - Training the muscles and related tissue would be considered external by nature. Internal is considered by many in the martial arts world as the "soft" side. Again, this is an extreme misinterpretation. Many martial arts rely heavily on strenuous, fast, hard actions without any regard to proper skeletal alignment while others are guilty of the reverse.
Physical strength comes not only from muscular facilitation but more importantly from proper mechanical alignment and timing of combined body movements required to execute a technique. At the same time proper conditioning and health of the internal organs has a direct affect of a person's over-all abilities. Other "internal" principles such as proper breathing, proper breath control/release, mental intent and lack of emotional design add to "external" strengths.
The ultimate goal of many Asian arts, martial or healing, is the cultivation and manifestation of qi. This process begins with the physical body. Strengthening the bones, muscles, connective tissues and internal organs through properly executed exercises (both weight resistance and cardio-vascular), diet, rest and diaphragmatic breathing creates a suitable processing plant.
For muscle to grow, there must first be nerve growth to allow for communication and support with the spine and ultimately the brain. Without qi, which gives "life" and binds yet separates the chemicals contained within the different fluids of the body, there would be no nerve growth.
Once the body has been trained and tempered, mental intent becomes the plant supervisor. Whether practicing moving (kata/quan) or stationary meditation, the mind is the key to moving the chi. Feeling or "sensing" the qi requires time and patience and one's ability to "see" beyond the physical trappings of the body.
In the western world, we tend to focus on the external or physical body. Big biceps, solid chest and of course, the "8 pack" are what most of us strive for. However, these have limited abilities if they lack supporting internal power. A brand new Mercedes Benz looks nice but doesn't go too far without the proper fuel and a properly trained driver.
In qigong the idea is to focus of seeing or sensing the millions of channels or meridians that supply the body with qi. We start with the main meridians associated with the organs and then slowly extend to branch meridians, the extraordinary vessels... even single pressure points.
Ultimately, by training body parts separate from one another, the mind separate from the body, and the qi separate from the body, it all becomes one complete system without any distinction between internal and external.