What is Qi?
Qi (also called “Chi”) is a slippery concept. It is not well-defined. I’ve seen it defined as intrinsic energy, or as the energy that animates the body, or some mystical invisible force that a master can shoot out of his hands, eyes and ass. It is true that with continued Tai Chi practice there will be an increase in the feeling of heat and a sense of something flowing within the body, but whether this can be attributed to an increase in blood flow, movement of the lymph due to the pumping motion of the Tai Chi movements, or simply a greater sensitivity to both, or an accumulation of some invisible energy, is unclear.
If we believe without questioning the literature, then we would believe that this invisible energy can be increased through various practices (Qigong, the Taiji form, meditation) and stored in the bones and the body’s centre point (dantien). We would also believe in the scenario that this energy could be the force that could be used to move us rather than the push/pull antagonism of the muscles. We would further believe that this invisible energy can be projected into another’s body in order to harm or to heal, either through physical contact or not.
Now, I’ve had some experiences that could be considered mystical, and I’m open to the possibility that all of what I’ve mentioned is possible (however improbable), but there are readily available benefits from Tai Chi practice that are more easily explained by modern science. There are the health benefits which can be derived from the release of tension in the body and the resulting diminishment of psychological stress from one’s practice.
The Martial Aspect of Taiji
Also, inherent within the form are martial techniques that can be elucidated with some reasoning and analysis. These martial techniques include strikes, parries, uproots, and takedowns. Much of the martial power in a Tai Chi movement comes, if we are speaking strictly from a visibly physical cause (chi power being something perhaps possible, but years in the development), from the shifting of weight from one foot to the other and the rotation (torque) of the hips, and the use of the whole body to back up a strike or technique.
Though if you are in a hurry to gain marital proficiency, a more modern combat art like Krav Maga, or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, or Judo, or Muay Thai, or Kickboxing might be a better introduction into the world of martial arts.
Nonetheless, Tai Chi can still give you a modicum of ability to defend yourself and a greater awareness of the subtle signs of impending danger in order to avoid it completely or end it before it has begun.