Thursday, October 18, 2012

Demystifying Qi Seminar Video

How ever you translate Qi, you probably got it wrong. And if you practice any of the internal martial arts or qigong practices and talk about Qi flow or Qi circulation as if it were some "thing", well, you probably got this wrong too.

In my on-going quest, I stumbled upon an excellent site headed up by Dr. Andrew Nugent-Head of the Association for Traditional Studies.

I encourage you to see his Demystifying Qi Seminar, Part 01: First Lecture (Update: This lecture was free when this article was written in 2012 and has since become part of a paid Continuing Education course. As I remember, the entire video was over an hour long and well worth the viewing!)

Here are a few of what I think are the key points:

In Chinese language, a character may have more than one meaning. To focus this lack of specificity, these characters are often paired with another character to clarify a concept. This is the case with Qi.
"There is no single thing called Qi. The word is representational, not definitive."

"There is no meaning to Qi. There's just a whole lot of flavors or colors. You take it and add it to something to create an idea or concept that fits that specific situation."
He begins the seminar with a brief history of the word "Qi" and follows this with presenting nine primary definitions for Qi. He then reads through a list of 163 definitions where Qi is the first part of a compound character set and and then reads a list of 235 definitions where Qi is the second part of a compound character set for a total of 407 definitions that use the character Qi. This largely consumes the first 37 minutes of this lecture.

While you might think that listening to a reading of definitions is boring, if you only know Qi as "energy", "life force", "pneuma", "breath of God" or whatever, then you are in for a real surprise and listening to this list is absolutely essential! I found my understanding of Qi shifting and changing as he read through the list.

In my opinion, by our (American) translating a non-definitive, non-elemental word-concept like Qi into definitive, elemental terms like "energy" or "life force" or whatever, this flawed "translation" process has resulted in some real silliness in the internal martial arts. How did we wind up here?

After this simple linguistics demonstration, Dr. Nugent-Head then gives a historical context for our American encounter with the word "Qi" by providing a brief contemporary history of Chinese in America and American interaction with and perceptions of Chinese.

I really enjoy this video because he's encapsulated and expanded on points I was exploring in my earlier posts Chinese Martial Arts Without the Qi and Internal Gong Fu Paradigms as well as corroborating much of the reading I've been doing on this very topic.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for posting that! I have blogged about this myself quoting this post. Good job - this post made my day :-)