A Twelve Step Program for Developing “CHI”

(The Inner “Secret” of Martial Arts)



What makes Martial Arts tick? What is the real force behind a powerful punch, a well-executed kick, or a beautiful flowing kata?  How can a student train night after night, year after year and still enjoy the training routine?


I have seen amazing feats of strength; agility and stamina performed by expert martial artists and have often wondered where this power came from. In the martial arts this phenomenon is called “KI”, or, the Chinese version “CHI”.


Many believe that it is a powerful force that is mystical in nature, energy whose source is located in the lower abdomen of your body. Many try to harness this “CHI” through deep abdominal breathing, meditation, or by training privately with a master who will someday divulge his most deepest secrets to them “CHI” is the story of a 130 pound mother picking up one end of a car that has fallen on her son. (We’ve all heard that one). It allows one to be able to walk over a bed of red-hot coals in one’s bare feet and not get burned. It is watching someone break tons of ice with a single blow of their hand. Or could “CHI” be something that exists even in a deeper and darker place?  Many masters believe that it takes long years of training and development to actually begin to accomplish “CHI”. Many claim to have it, but few can demonstrate it.


Since I believe that for everything that happens in life there is an answer (even though at times it seems impossible to locate that answer).  I prefer to look at “CHI”, or inner strength, from a scientific point of view. As stated before, the center of the muscular activity of a martial artist is in the midsection of your body, the lower abdomen. This is your power center. Newton’s third law of motion states “that for each and every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” When the action is in the form of a kick or punch, the reaction goes in the opposite direction in the abdominal muscles. In the case of a strike, the non-striking hand is drawn back with as much force as the striking hand itself, there by reinforcing the reactive force of the abdominal muscles. The student within his/her own body provides this reaction. (The complete idiot’s guide to karate, Hassell and Otis.)  


Since the largest muscles in your body are located in or near the center of your body and provides the external power needed for performance, by exercising and eating correctly, you can keep those big muscles in and around your gut toned and firm.

Those masters who posses large stomachs and who claims to have “Chi” are only fooling themselves. Instead of “Chi”, they have heart-destroying fat. (See MPKA Blue Book/ Health and Exercise). Let’s break down “Chi” into its component parts and see if we can somewhat unravel this mystery.

            We will do this in twelve steps.

1.                  The first rule of building “Chi”, or inner strength, is to build outer strength. A weak body cannot continuously call up inner reserves if the outside body has not built up these reserves in the first place. There is just nothing in existence to call up. By working muscles to exhaustion, then letting them rest, will allow these same muscles to perform at a stronger and quicker pace the next time that they are asked to perform that same task again. It is a continual process. The key word here is “continual”, day after day, year after year. Muscles are obviously inside your body, as are your vital organs. When you exercise, you are working out the entire body, inside and outside. The more often you perform a difficult strength task, the more inner strength you create.

Familiarity builds endurance, speed and power. What may seem like “Chi” to others in this instance is just plain old confidence in one’s ability to perform over and above what is expected in a given situation. (Look in the MPKA Blue Book, page 124-126, to understand how physical external “Chi” works when performing breaking routines.)


2.                  “Chi” also comes from a balanced use of mind and body. Your mind (brain) controls your body, for good or bad, for strength or weakness, for health or sickness. By constantly sharpening your mind you build quick mental reflexes. An alert and trained mind can activate the body to react to an outside stimulus in split seconds, sometimes to the amazement of others. The faster that you can perform a certain task, the easier it is to call up those inner reserves to bolster lightning quick reflexes, reflexes that the average person does not have, or have never used. Just as you must exercise the body to gain outer strength and endurance, so must you exercise the mind to gain mental strength and automatic action and reaction. The person who reads, does cross word puzzles, learns intricate katas and practices them often, engages in math and science projects, or who take up an exciting hobby that involves thinking and problem solving, is developing a well-honed and sharp mind. 


3.                  An indomitable spirit can certainly contribute to the development of “Chi”. With a leap of faith and the initiative to succeed at all cost, you can produce a spirit on fire. You believe in yourself and your abilities. Your spirit becomes alive (read the “c-zone” in Riding the Wind, pages 86-88.) Faith created, faith demonstrated, and faith reinforced can never be destroyed. Your face has a healthy glow to it; your mind and body are filled with excitement. You don’t anticipate your next move, you just do it, with flow, and ease, and confidence. (MPKA Red Book page 112.)


4.                  The banishment of fear when performing or facing a certain task will contribute to the creation of a strong “Chi”. I am not afraid, I can do this thing, and I can do it better than anyone else. With fear and stomach butterfly’s gone, energy rises, strength increases, and power surges to every muscle, bone and sinew of your body. You move forward, afraid of nothing. Your only concern is the moment at hand; everything else is completely blanked out. You are not concerned about your surroundings or about the people around you. Everything falls into place and fits perfectly together as in a jigsaw puzzle. Now, to accomplish this you must learn to control the “Flight or Fight” syndrome. Simply stated, when fear or danger comes upon you, you may choose to run, you may freeze and do nothing, or you may opt to fight back and stand your ground. In most cases, a well trained, well adjusted, mature martial artists will stand his/her ground, assess the fear, and make the correct decisions needed to handle or to diffuse the situation. Remember this point, someone with strong “Chi” will not fear sounds in the night, foggy evenings, monsters, or ogres, whoopees or wheepees, as investigation will always turn up a simple solution. Yes, it is always wise to be cautious, alert and on guard but, it is shameful and self destructive to be full of fear. Train your body, train your mind, train your spirit, be strong and be prepared. There is no fear, there are only bad situations and bad people that have to be dealt with. (Riding the Wind Pages 119-120 and pages 207-209.)


5.                  A strong, realistic, vivid imagination can contribute to a stronger “Chi”. Here are two good examples of this.


A.    Let’s discuss the simple reverse punch, as performed traditionally. You are in a side 45-degree horse stance, knees bent, left hand out in front of your body in a guard position, right hand is on your right hip. Your eyes are focused on your opponent’s chest, which allows you to view him from head to foot. You are breathing easy as you observe your opponent inhaling and exhaling air. As you notice him filling his lungs with air you prepare to strike (a balloon filled with air will burst when struck by a sharp object, one that has no air will not.) Quickly you twist your hips, move to a forward bow and arrow stance as your right hand lashes out towards the target area, while your left guard hand recoils with a snap to your left hip. Your target area is his nose, so you are aiming for the back of his head (as in board breaking, you are punching through the target, and not to the target.) You imagine a burst of energy arising from your gut, and like little direction arrows, this energy goes up through your chest, travels down your arm and exits out your striking fist, which slams into the attacker’s nose, exerting a loud kiai, as your arm locks in an extended position, fist clenches and tightens, while at the same moment in time your legs and fist lock in a forward position. Your attacker goes flying backwards across the room. The more vivid your imagination, the more energy that you will produce, thus the more “Chi” that you generate. So much for the theory that the reverse punch is a simple process. Again, nothing mystical, science prevails.

B.     You prepare to pounce on a vicious attacker with all you have, however, he is very large and you are much smaller. How can you overcome the difference in size? Again, your imagination comes into play. You imagine a leopard up in a tree branch, frozen in time. His eyes narrow as he stares at his intended victim. His mouth curls back as he bares his sharp teeth. The black leopard crouches lower. Suddenly, he leaps with a loud roar (kiai), Bares his claws and hits his foe with all four feet. The sudden lunge and the thrust power knocks the much larger animal to the ground as he goes for the swift kill. After a short flurry of action there is utter silence. The prey has been vanquished. To succeed against your larger opponent you must imagine the leopard, no, you must become the leopard. You move quickly, strike at his vital areas with also a flurry of action, finish him off and end the action in a matter of seconds. You, the leopard have succeeded. Your “Chi” has shown its strength. (See Riding the Wind Page 77.)


6.                  “Chi” can be built by adding excitement to your routines. Have you ever performed a top winning kata and felt chills or sensations running throughout your entire body? There was something special about that day. To repeat this moment take pen and paper and list everything that contributed to that winning effort. Put down all the details, no matter how trivial they may seem now, memorize your list. Did you practice extra hard for this event? Was the level of competition excellent, thus motivating you to try harder? How did you feel physically and emotionally on that day? Again, memorize your list. Now every time you practice your kata, kumite, or take your next belt rank test, call to mind your list and determine to duplicate this winning event again.     


7.                  To gain strong” Chi” you must become an expert at what you do. The rule of thumb is Practice, Practice, and Practice. “Chi” is automatic, non-thinking, reflective action, muscle memory, timeless, powerful, and is part of your very soul. To do anything well you have to do it over and over until it becomes a part of your nature. The more you punch with form and power, the stronger your punching “Chi” becomes. You can also build kicking “Chi”, kata “Chi”, kumite “Chi”, or overall martial arts “Chi”. This is where the time element comes into play and helps explain why a master with many long years of practice shows a dynamic, powerful “Chi”, while those with much less years in the arts are still building theirs. (see Riding the Wind Pages 156 to 159.)


8.                  Using visualization can enhance “Chi”. Once you learn a technique, kata, etc, sit relaxed and go through each move in your mind in slow motion. Notice every detail, every hand and foot movement. Do this day after day for thirty days. Then visualize yourself in the winner’s circle receiving your award (belt rank, trophy, certificate, etc.) By visualizing often, you will move your skill and talents from the conscience mind (where you have to think), to the sub-conscience mind (where you just react). You want this information to flow freely throughout your body, thus you are creating deep-seated “Chi”. (See Riding the Wind, Pages 177-179.)


9.                   Step number nine is going to take us deeper into “Chi”, which some may consider this to be on the mystical edge, but what I still consider as science. Tuning into vibrations. The vibrations that interest us are the thought waves that are put into action from outside sources. We call this telepathy (communication from one mind to another without the use of speech, writing, or gestures.) Two minds which are perfectly attuned and in harmony with each other send and receive thoughts that are picked up by both persons. Any good husband and wife team can attest to this fact. So called snap judgments and hunches, which prompts a person to form an opinion and to decide upon a course of action, are usually the result of stray thought waves that have registered in the mind. It is always best to do research when making a decision, but sometimes things happen so fast that we may have to rely on our mental instincts. A savvy person soon finds successes in these decisions because he/she senses enough positive vibrations to react positively in that moment of time. This takes practice. Begin with minor problems, experiment and discover how many times you made a positive or negative decision built upon your instincts. In time, you will become very experienced, with the majority of your solutions being on the positive side. (see Riding the Wind Pages 68 to 71.)


10.              A calm, serene person who eliminates stress and worry in his/her life can develop “CHI”. Peace, or stress works on the body, mind and spirit, which can either clog your life with utter chaos, or which can open your existence to see and view things and situations with a deep and positive meaning. Stress is a downer that can make you become negative, irritable, bitter or fearful. This is certainly no atmosphere for “Chi” to dwell in. On the other hand, one at peace with himself and the world around him allows the channels to open up, thus permitting the qualities that produce “Chi” to emanate and pulsate throughout your entire body. As stated before, many believe that “Chi” is developed down in your gut, and it certainly cannot come into existence in a gaseous, acidic, knot tightened gut. There is simply no way that someone who is full of stress and worry can produce “Chi.” (see Riding the Wind, pages 94 to 105.)


11.              Successful people develop “Chi’, whether it be in the business world, athletics, medicine, teaching, etc. As students study to become knowledgeable in their career fields, they are not only amassing information to help them succeed, they are also developing skills and instincts that comes only from experience and wisdom. On the spot business decisions are made that leads to landing a large contract, an athlete who does something unusual and who scores the winning touchdown, a skilled surgeon who has to make a surgical adjustment while operating to save a life, or a teacher who motivates a student to raise her school grades, thus creating a whole new and bright outlook for that student. “Chi” can be seen in many people working in various occupations, which we call inner strength, skill, talent, wisdom, experience, etc. The point being made here is for the martial artist to not only develop Chi” in the martial arts, but to also develop “Chi” in all aspects of his/her life. “Chi” is “Chi” and it should always shine in whatever you are doing and where ever you may be. (See Riding the Wind pages 152 to 155.)



12.              In this last step we must ask, is it possible that some people are born with “Chi” and develop it as they grow and mature? There are those who can play a musical instrument at a very early age in life and who cannot read a note of music. Where do the skills of a young artist come from who has never taken an art lesson. Is this the mystical “Chi” that we hear and read about? Can we classify “Chi” with words like talent, skills, ability, or is it something very special, only given to selected people at birth? No matter the answer, this group is small in number, while the rest of us have to work hard to develop “Chi”. We may not all be child prodigies, but with time and effort, we can become very talented in our chosen martial art field. What’s most important is that, as teachers, we can help our students to develop “Chi”, something that they may never do on their own. The rule is : when you have something good, give it to others so that they can have something good also, and that is the most powerful “Chi” that you can have.



               “Chi” can be developed by,

1.      Building outer strength.

2.      A balance between mind and body.

3.      An indomitable spirit.

4.      Banishing fear.

5.      Developing a strong imagination.

6.      Be an expert.

7.      Adding excitement.

8.      Using visualization.

9.      Tuning into vibrations.

10.  Being a person of peace.

11.  Becoming a success.

12.  Using what you are born with.


The ultimate formula for strong “Chi” is to combine all these forces together that spearheads right to the task at hand. You have the power of several men, your hearing is acute, your eyesight is sharp, your breathing is relaxed, and your strength and stamina has no bounds. You break more cinder blocks than you ever did before, you perform the perfect kata (the crowd goes wild), you lift weights far past your imagination, and you run faster and jump higher. Again, what is this mystical “Chi”?  It is all these scientific combinations merging together to form super inner strength, or is it something unknowable? The perception is up to you.


As a footnote, I believe that in years past it was easier to develop “Chi” than it is today because everything that a person received was done so by hard work and lean times. Today, much is given to our young folks on a silver platter. The word “given” means just that, no work, no struggle, no tested by fire.


As a side note, I have taken courses in the mystical, magic, astrology and the dark arts. I could have presented “Chi” in this manner and given the reader many experiments to try. After much study, I am convinced that this is not the way to go, for this is the way of evil, and only harm and bad would come out of it. As for super “Chi”, I have not yet found the person who actually witnessed a shaolin priest picking up a 500lb urn and moving it to the side by using only his forearms. There are many legends and myths in the martial arts that cannot be proven. As for MPKA, and myself we will go with what is realistic, and with what works.


Meanwhile, may the force be with you.




Send mail to Webmaster with questions or comments about this web site.
Copyright © 2006 - 2007 Maryland Professional Karate Association, Inc.
This page was last updated on 07/05/07    

See who's visiting this page.