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Qi Gong

November 14, 2011

“We have a saying in China” Grace said to me, as we walked across the playing field at the university last Wednesday morning, navigating the occasional stray football and jogging student as we made our way to a secluded area at the back of the running track.  “There can be no Kung Fu without Qi Gong.”

I felt a slight ball of nerves as we walked; Grace, who had coached our group to victory in preparation for the Tai Chi tournament last month (and is a national champion at Tai Chi), had agreed to teach me Kung Fu and today was the first time we were to meet.  I had no idea what to expect, or what was to be asked of me, and as Grace new I studied Japanese martial arts back in the UK I felt no small amount of pressure to live up to any expectations she had, whilst knowing full well that these expectations were unlikely to be met if she was to ask of me anything resembling any amount of flexibility or balance.  3rd Dan in Ninjutsu – yes; delicate, posed, coordinated or balanced – no.  Many are the times Jessica, my partner, has sighed in resigned bafflement at the contradiction of a martial artist who’s supposed to be able to wield a sword and fold a grown man into knots, but in reality can’t seem to stop himself tripping up on kerbs and walking in to doorways at any given opportunity.

So it was with some relief and no small measure of curiosity that I met Graces announcement that today I was going to begin learning Qi Gong – no flying kicks required.

I had heard of Qi Gong in the past, but only with hazy memories of Shaolin Monks thrusting spears in to each other with no apparent damage, or hitting each other over the head with sledgehammers to the ‘ooh’ and ‘aaah’ of a watching crowd.  A quick search on YouTube reveals a clip of a Chinese master boiling a cup of water just by holding it and staring at it really, really hard.  Such parlour tricks are not what I experienced this clear, sunny autumn morning in Mianyang.  The Qi Gong I witnessed was more profound, more elegant in its simplicity and its potential.

Grace first demonstrated the form she was going to teach me.  She moved slowly, carefully; shifting her limbs in rhythm with her breathing, gently rocking as she went through the motions.  The more I watched the more subtleties I began to pick up, and the more I picked up the more I realised were invisible to me.  One moment she was unfurling like a plant following the sun, the next coiling like a snake poised to strike.  Every muscle was under complete, conscious control; every movement was perfectly centred and balanced.

Then came my turn.  I was taken through four moves; each one looking simple, but containing untold layers of subtlety and complexion that were gradually shown to me – with, no doubt, many more that were not.  The most basic shift of an arm or rock of the body was taken apart and re-assembled until I was using the correct muscle groups, draw of breath or shift of weight.  Tense here, relax there; breath in here, out there; move; shift; stretch; flow.

After an hour I felt strangely invigorated, like my body had been pulled taught and everything was working, well, better.  The ancient explanation of this feeling is that Qi Gong improves the flow of ‘Qi’ through the body, through focussing on and strengthening key meridians (also used in acupuncture).  The modern explanation looks to biomechanical and scientific processes, of coordinating the body, building core strength, of improving circulation and flexibility.  For me the truth lies somewhere in between, but that’s for another blog at another time…

Qi Gong then is not Kung Fu, but it is its beginning and its end.  It is the rock on which we build our castle, the solid foundation that allows us to build ‘till we can touch the sky.  And I’ve only been shown four moves of one form so far.

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2 Comments
  1. Marc Moor permalink

    Fabulous imagery once again.

  2. garrymoore permalink

    hi to all hownottogethit-in-china.comers this is my first post and thought i would say hello to you all –
    thank yous speak soon
    garry m

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