Okay. There is a lot of talk about qi (or chi), and building your reserve of this mystical life-bringing energy in your abdomen that you visualize as radiant amber light flowing through your fingers that you manifest along your meridians that will destroy your opponents with a single touch. Then there are the Kool-aid drinking morons who take this literally, and think that just thinking about it in various shades of mystical pajamas can accomplish something. It’s a thought exercise to help you understand the following:
Let’s start with something that most fit people can understand, the deadlift. This morbid sounding exercise, is one of the purest expressions of the raw power available to humans in order to move a huge proportion of weight. For example, I weigh about 215 lbs. On a good day, with good form I can deadlift just over 300 lbs. The weight itself moves almost straight up, so to most people it feels like a linear motion. But look closer. All of the joints in the human body hinge, or rotate. So what you have is a bunch of sections of circles creating a linear movement. But, it’s even more complex than that. If you look at the musculature of the human body, how often are the origin and insertion of a muscle right on top of one another? The answer is almost never. We are made up of an interconnected system of overlapping tissues that criss-cross their way up from the soles of our feet to the top of our head. So, somehow we learned how to take what initially looks like a monstrous, chaotic mess of individual force vectors and turn it into miracles of motion like walking, or touching your fingertip to your nose.
Back to the deadlift. How do you move a 300 lb. mass? By organizing your body and creating 301 lbs. of force (give or take). Now, what if you were able to recruit all of those same muscles in in spiraling pathways like the ones Chinese medicine calls meridians? Then you could take that 301 lbs of instantaneous force and apply it not just vertically, but on a transverse circular path. Now if you add the ability of the arms to create similar spiral movements both towards and away from the body, you get 301 lbs. of instantaneous force available to you in an infinite number of circular paths to push, pull, lift, strike, kick, etc. (e.g. Bruce Lee’s famous one inch punch).
This is only the first half of the equation.
Take a look at a gyroscope. That crazy thing they put pilots in to test their ability to vomit. It’s not the speed, or the rotation itself that gets them. Think of the teacup ride. The big circle that is the floor is rotating, and if you’re like most of us, it’s not really all that interesting. It’s not until a zealous eight year old starts cranking the wheel and spinning your teacup that you start to feel a little weird. It’s the combination of two rotational vectors that make your brain really start to have to work to keep you oriented. When you get your fill of it, you tell Timmy to knock it off and you go back down to one rotation and you feel much, much better. The thing about the gyroscope is that it can apply three simultaneous rotational vectors at the same time. For most people, this induces instantaneous nervous system overload, thus the vomiting, and passing out. The brain can’t compensate in three lines at once. With a lot of training, the aspiring pilot learns to re-orient to one rotation, taking it out of the brain’s workload and learning to counter the other two.
Back to our body. If you think about every joint in your body that you’ve recruited into your complex arcs of movement, you’ve got five big hinging joints (elbows, knees and spine) and four big rotating joints (shoulders and hips) as well as a whole slew of tiny ones along the way. So, with a little attention to detail, you can create a movement path with joints traveling in a dizzying array of vectors that will instantly overwhelm the proprioception of anyone caught in it’s way. It’s not a matter of how much energy you put into it. You fall victim to it because it’s too complex to fix instantaneously and you lose your balance for an instant. You can learn to accomplish this feat with no more contact than a square inch of skin, and no more pressure than it takes to create friction.
So, lets summarize. With a lot of practice (two years plus on average) you can create a massive reserve of potential energy to accomplish something that you can do with the touch of a finger. In terms of martial application, this means that you can neutralize any incoming force almost effortlessly, and return a devastating attack that anyone who hasn’t put in the sweat equity will have no hope of stopping. It sounds like Hong Kong cinema bullshit, but having been on the wrong end of it, I can tell you that it’s every bit the effective model, and you don’t even have to wear pajamas to do it.