1. What is Qi
Qi is a special concept in traditional Chinese culture. In the West, we know it plays important roles in traditional
martial art and medicine; but its importance goes far beyond that. Qi is a fundamental concept that permeates
virtually all aspects of Chinese culture. It is used just as naturally and frequently in talking about mundane
everyday things as in discussing high-level philosophy. For this reason, it is extremely difficult for someone who
was not brought up in this environment to obtain a deep understanding of the concept. Here are just a few
examples of its complex usages:
Qi can be used to talk about something intangible, such as spirit or feelings. When you visit the Great Wall for the
first time, and you see the way it sits on top of the narrow ridges of great mountains like a giant coiling dragon,
inside you a feeling of awe arises automatically. In Chinese, we say that is the result of the Great Wall’s qi shi - a
sense of imposing momentum. If you see a lively painting of a tiger that really captured its fierce energy, we say the
tiger in the painting has shen qi – its living spirit. Qi is something that is normally only associated with living things.
Here, neither object is animate, but they both possessed some intangible quality that never less influences the
minds of their audience in very real ways.
Qi can also be used to talk about tangible things. The best example of this is qi in human body. Here it is
something that can be felt, controlled, and used to change the body. When we talk about qi in traditional medicine,
qigong, and martial arts, most of the time we are using that word to refer to this tangible reality. In Chinese
medicine, qi is used to explain the relationships between various parts of the body. In qigong, the focus is on how
to use qi to promote good health. And in martial arts, qi is used to connect the energies of the body.
In ancient times, the Chinese people developed many useful technologies and practices. However, due to lack of
research, today some of them have yet to be clarified and explained using modern scientific principles. Meaning, we
accumulated a very deep body of knowledge through thousands of years of physical observation and
experimentation. And people were able to solve a variety of everyday problems very well with those knowledge.
However, most of that knowledge were not summarize into central organizing principles in a scientifically rigorous
manner. As a result, like a black box, we know all the inputs, and we know all the outputs, but the nature and
workings of the mechanism inside we can only guess at.
This is how people who grew up in China understanding qi. We see enough example of it used in everyday life, and
eventually we arrive at an intuitive understanding. The problem arises when we try to explain it to someone brought
up outside this culture. The traditional theories, hypotheses really, on how this black box worked are not rigorous
enough to be accepted by today’s high standards for scientific inquiry.
According to the traditional martial arts explanation, qi is something like air. It moves along the blood vessels and
carries energy. This is not so far from what we know today, that when we breathe in, we get oxygen, which is then
carried to the brain, as well as every other part of the body by blood. So in traditional explanation, qi is related to
circulatory and nervous system, and it is an expression of energy.
Today modern science offers no clear definition(s) for qi because there has not been sufficient serious research
into this area. Perhaps the major difficulty is that we simply lack the proper technology to observe qi. Before the
invention of microscope, people understood the importance of cleanliness, but it was not after that invention that
people could really see the actual agents that caused the diseases.
Meanwhile, even though we cannot see it, or clearly understand its exact mechanisms, we know qi is very real - we
can actually feel it. We have from experience methods known to work very well in: 1) enhancing it, 2) manipulating
it, 3) using it to strengthen the body, 4) use it to guide our movement in producing and controlling force/energy.
In the case of traditional martial art, concepts of qi’s tangible and the intangible aspects are often mixed together in
discussions. In this article, we will focus on how to apply the tangible qi in Taiji Quan applications.
2. Qi and Jin
According to the traditional opinion, qi and energy have very close relationships. Qi carries energy or controls
energy. In Taiji Quan practice, with sufficient amount of correct training, raw strength can be transformed into
special type of forces useful in fighting. This type of forces is called jin, or trained force. This training also brings
with it special awareness of feelings of qi. The feeling for qi and jin are mixed together. When qi is stronger, jin is
also bigger. When qi can be controlled and moved well, jin can also be more nimble and flexible.
Qi feelings can be lead and controlled by the mind. Therefore, one of the most important training in Taiji Quan
pracitce is the three internal integrations, which are: shen leads yi (intention or mind), yi leads qi, and qi leads jin.
Here qi is the connection between the intangible mind and the physical force.
Our untrained reaction to an incoming force is to use a greater force to resist it directly. With Taiji Quan training,
we seek to change the way both our body and our mind react to outside force. Once that process is complete,
mind and body are integrated as one. Now, when an outside force comes, as soon as the mind perceives the
threat, it reacts according to the way it was trained. Since qi and jin are now completely integrated with the mind,
any changes in the mind automatically leads to the appropriate actions in the body. This is the way forces should
be used according to the Taiji Quan principle. This is what is meant by “use mind instead of force.”
3. Four Word Secrete Formula
In talking about how to apply qi in Taiji Quan, the most famous classic is Wu Yuxiang’s “Si Zi Mi Jue” - “Four Word
Secrete Formula” or “Si Zi Bu Chuan Mi Jue” - “Four Word, Do Not Transmit, Secret Formula.” It describes the four
processes of applying qi in fighting or pushing hands.
The controversy was settled when Li Yiyu’s own copy was finally made public in 1964. This article was included in
Li’s own copy, and the subtitle read “Uncle Yuxiang’s Taiji Quan Four Word, Do Not Transmit, Secret Formula”.
From this we know this article was written by Wu Yuxiang, but kept secrete by Li Yiyu. Except for his brother, Li
did not pass it down to anyone else, not even Hao He, his best disciple. From this we can get an idea of how
conservative the martial art culture was in the past, and the kinds of difficulties people encountered in learning
true high-level skills.
Below is a translation and explanation of the original article.
Yin Cheng Gong Fa Association North American Headquarters
Copyright © 2000 YCGF_NAH. All rights reserved.
Fu - covering1: move qi throughout your body; use it to cover your opponent’s force so that he cannot move.
1 The Chinese word used here - fu, the general meaning is covering. The nuance lies in the relationship
between what is doing the covering and the one being covered. In fu, it is a comparatively larger object covering
a much smaller one, and this kind covering is not hard or direct. The larger object covers the smaller one lightly.
When a baby is sleeping, you cover him with a big sheet but do not want to wake him up. So you need move the
sheet over baby’s body and then slowly and lightly put it down to cover his whole body, this is fu.
In Taiji Quan push hands or fighting, you always need to imagine your qi is stronger and bigger than your
opponent’s, that you can at any time cover him easily and he cannot escape from it. So in practice you should
always project a bigger shen – spirit or attention to lead the mind, and a bigger circle in your mind to guide your
qi around the opponent.
The key point for this skill is never fight on the contact point between you and your opponent. Always think to
make bigger circle to cover the contact point lightly. That way, no matter how he changes, he is still under your
cover. No matter where his force is going, your qi always cover it. He cannot really move or change. You should
feel you are much bigger than your opponent, and that you can cover him easily and lightly so he is totally under
your control. For example, when you use pu mian zhang to strike an opponent’s face, imagine your hand
covering his entire head or even greater area, like his whole body. This way you can easily control his waist and
the rest of the body. In this case all of his resistance, all of his force, will bounce back into him. He will not be
able to do anything, because no matter what he does, he will only cause trouble for himself.
Fu is a high level skill. Doing it well requires very sharp sensitivity. That means from touching you not only know
what your opponent is doing, but also know what he is going to do. This skill usually can be done with very small
physical movement, sometimes so small they are invisible to the eye.
|Four Word Secrete Formula
(Si Zi Mi Jue)
Fig. Fu-1: Start push hands, and try to sense when the
opponent want to release his force.
Fig. Fu-2: Relax and turn the right hand to
maintain softness at the contact points
Fig. Fu-3: If the opponent’s force keeps coming toward
you, instead of resisting against it directly, use your mind
to lead you qi in making a big circle to cover him. If you
can do this well, the opponent will lose his balance and
Fig. Fu-4: If the opponent uses more force,
you should maintain softness and lightness,
making a bigger circle to cover him. His own
force will push himself away from you.
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Wu Yuxiang (1812 - 1880) learned Taiji Quan from Yang
Luchan and Chen Qingping. He came from long line of
scholars, which enabled him to produce several of our greatest
Taiji Quan classics.
Li Yiyu was Wu’s nephew and who learned Taiji Quan from
him. So Wu’s writings were passed to Li. Li had very good
skills and also wrote several Taiji Quan articles. Later Li put
together all classics that he received from Wu - Wang Zongyue’s original articles
on Taiji Quan principle and Wu’s writings, and combined with his own to create a
Taiji Quan manual. He continuously modified and edited his writing throughout his
lifetime. He made four copies of the manuscript: one for his brother Li Qixuan,
one for his nephew Ma Shutong, one for his best disciple Hao He, and one for
Amongst Li Yiyu’s hand-written copies to others, the complete version of this
article only appeared in his brother Li Qixuan’s copy. The copy given to Ma
Yinshu contained only the first sentence of this article. It was missing all together
from Hao He’s copy. These copies were kept secrete in each family for many
years. Hao’s copy was made public first, and soon became the most popular
When Li Qixuan’s copy was later published in 1935, this article contained the
subtitle “Four Word Secrete Formula” and listed with other Wu Yuxiang’s articles.
Because this article was not included in Hao’copy, some people thought it was not
written by Wu Yuxiang, that it might be written by Li Qixuan or some other student
of Li Yiyu after Li Yiyu finalized his manual.