There is a fascinating post about qi and TCM here – really great article, but of course as always with any Internet discussion of qi there is some of the silly “debate” in the comments that basically goes something like: qi exists. no it does not. yes, look at studies x, y, and z. well maybe that’s all fine and good for health and qi-huggers but it’s useless for martial abilities. Maybe, maybe not, look at master so and so. And on and on. There is never any resolution.
It’s a “religious” issue, so it struck me that when trying to rationally examine “qi” as an issue of “faith” it’d be helpful to take an argument like Pascal’s Wager (it is a better “bet” to believe that God exists than not to believe, because the expected value of believing is always greater than the expected value of not believing). That is, if you “believe” in qi and therefore include some qigong in your training, even if you are only interested in martial abilities, you potentially have much to gain – at best an even higher level of abilities than with the more “practical” training methods alone, and at worst, improved health so that you can continue to enjoy your “harder” or more martial training. The expected value is good either way – better than not doing it.
Unfortunately we seem to get distracted by a straw man’s argument that some idiot actually believes doing qigong and no martial training will somehow give them martial abilities. For some reason then people overreact to the opposite (no qi or at least no talk of qi) extreme. I don’t actually personally know anyone who’d make that qi claim – the people I know more interested in the qigong aspects are genuinely more interested in health than fighting training, especially if they have passed middle age and are looking at enjoying their remaining years in good health. That’s all fine and good. On the more martial side of things, I respect the teachers who transmit excellent internal martial arts without ever talking about qi. However, my personal art and training isn’t too affected by the straw man argument or useless debates. I’m going to include as much of the “whole” of internal arts as I can and some of the “external” as well. I enjoy and get benefits from all of it. I have experienced (mostly on the receiving end) the effectiveness of both external approaches and what most people would call “internal”, possibly based at least in part on “qi” and qigong and so on. I don’t need the qi equivalent of a Pascal’s Wager, and I don’t need to not bother talking about qi. It’s all good. Still, there’s no need to be offended by others’ naivete. We’ve all been naive or stupid about this or that. I can certainly admit it. We weren’t born knowing all this stuff.
However there is probably good reason for people who make a partial or whole living by teaching taijiquan and want to pass on the whole “real” art to be bothered by “brand dilution” and negative perceptions of the style, and they may then choose not to talk about qi as part of their “marketing message” to attract a certain segment of the market of students. Still others (like the ever increasing amount of yoga and “t’ai chi” teachers who really may not know much about these things) cater to the mainstream health-seeking segment (much larger). These are all due to market demand. There is the actual “art” and there is supply and demand and the defacto (whether or not they explictly think of them in these terms) marketing strategies. The former “suppliers” stand to gain from a more educated segment of buyers. The latter can benefit from any of the misconceptions and dilutions. Then there are those “suppliers” who are more traditional and may not articulate any of this stuff except through the traditional methods and vocabulary which would be fine and good, except for most people, it led to the confusion and therefore the useless debates and questions. I think “the market” is sorting it all out on its own, without much need for the debates or this kind of blog post… But all of that’s yet another post.