by Master Doug Cook
Taekwondo Times "Traditions" Column March, 2015
The practice of traditional taekwondo requires the student to become proficient in a multitude of blocks, kicks, strikes and sweeps. However, in order to amplify these techniques far beyond the limitations of the physical body, one must introduce an element not easily definable in common terms. This element is referred to as Ki in Korean and Chi or Qi in Chinese. Grandmaster Richard Chun, a true pioneer and practitioner of traditional taekwondo states that, “Ki is the cosmic ocean in which everything exists.” Ki development is an essential component of martial arts training that is often overlooked in all likelihood due to the metaphysical issues it raises. Nevertheless, teaching traditional taekwondo
without offering the practitioner exercises in Ki development is tantamount to
sitting someone behind the steering wheel of a car, but telling them nothing of
the fuel that powers its engine. Ki is the elixir that amplifies technique and
triggers great strength; it is the force that shields the body from harm while
maintaining health and a sense of well being when in balance.
|Master Cook teaching Ki development exercises|
For centuries, since the publication of the Nei Jing Su Wen, or the Classic on Internal Medicine, by the Yellow Emperor, Huang Di (2697-2597 B.C.), Asian culture and traditional Chinese medicine in particular has recognized the existence of a force within the human body essential to the maintenance of life.
Today, the relevance of Ki is appreciated by millions of people who practice the discipline of taijiquan, benefit from the flowing postures unique to qigong, and find relief from pain through the treatment of acupuncture. Each of these therapeutic arts in their own way relies on some form of Ki manipulation. Besides the martial arts, use of Ki is common to other disciplines unique to Asian culture: calligraphy, the tea ceremony, and the arrangement of flowers, call on some form of ki management in order to advance their practice. Still, the structure of this vital life force remains a mystery in no small part due to its evanescent nature. Studies have been conducted in an attempt to confirm the reality of Ki but at present, even though energy fields surrounding the body have been measured, no concrete clinical evidence is available to support its existence.
Physically, Ki can be thought of as a bioelectric current. Subsequently, the martial artist can use this energy to short circuit another’s malevolent energy causing it to betray him in the process. One basis for this assumption is that everything in nature is composed of matter vibrating at different energy levels; molecules are composed of atoms bound together by electrons orbiting a minute nucleus, all with negative and positive charges. If the practitioner can cause his adversary’s kinetic energy to flicker, even for a moment through the use of Ki manipulation, then he has gained the upper hand even before a blow has been dealt. Again, while this effect, defined as combat Ki, is unsubstantiated by science, it stands as the cornerstone of many classical martial disciplines such as hapkido and aikido that rely on yielding to an opponent’s negative intentions.
To understand Ki and its movement through the body, it is helpful to visualize systems in nature that we are familiar with. In doing so, both the human circulatory system and an ordinary electrical circuit come to mind. Both require a physical pathway for transportation. Arteries, veins and capillaries carry blood. Copper wire transports electricity. What, then, conveys Ki? Ki is thought to travel through a series of channels or meridians that span the body. The two grand meridians, located on the front and back of the torso, feed a complimentary series of channels. These pathways known as the twelve regular meridians are associated with specific organs of the body as follows: lung, large intestine, stomach, spleen, heart, small intestine, bladder, kidney, pericardium, triple warmer, gall bladder, and liver. An additional eight, grouped in pairs, are known as the extraordinary meridians and perform a separate function.
Nevertheless, all of these meridians are invisible to the eye resulting in great skepticism concerning their existence. However, it is these very meridians and their related pressure points that the acupuncturist stimulates for therapeutic purposes and the martial artist activates to amplify technique. By removing blockages in the meridial system, which can cause illness and in extreme cases, death, the practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine has the power to cure a variety of diseases. Conversely, the taekwondoist, by striking one or more of the many acupoints that dot the body, can incapacitate an attacker. Metaphorically speaking, these pressure points are similar to stations along a railway. Yet, rather then bearing the name of a town or village, they are designated by a number and the anatomical organ with which they are associated. The meridians mirror the tracks while Ki itself would be the engine traveling along the rails. This analogy, while simplistic at best, crudely describes the method of how Ki is distributed throughout the body.
Located two inches below the navel, the Ki center (tanjun in Korean, or dantien in Chinese), represents the reservoir from which Ki radiates. In Chinese, dan is defined as crystal or the essence of energy, while tien is translated as the area for the essence of energy. It is here that Ki is stored after entering the body. According to Reed, the tanjun is best described as the “one-point, a tiny star, or vortex sucking in immense amounts of energy from the universe.”
There are many theories regarding the tanjun, the foremost being that it is the physical, cellular center of the human anatomy from which the body develops outward from conception. It is also considered ones natural center of gravity around which the extremities move. This concept becomes all the more evident when we view the contrasting outlooks between Eastern and Western culture in regards to the hub of human intent. In Western society, we often say that we “think from the heart”; heart ache, heart break, and heart-felt thanks are all conceptual indicators of this principle. Conversely, in Eastern thought, intention is said to emanate from the hara in Japanese, or, as we now know in Korean, the tanjun. This fundamental difference in belief reflects the conviction that the vital life force is distributed from the body’s center and, thus, can be stored, channeled, manipulated, and amplified to promote health and intensify technique in the case of the martial artist. Hence, it can be said that Ki not only projects, but protects.
Yet, before one can knowingly utilize Ki to their advantage, they must first acknowledge and trust in its existence. This requires a leap of faith for many Westerners. Ki is benevolent in nature and, therefore refuses to be abused. Through it, the martial artist can dominate, but not terrorize. If the practitioner of qigong, acupuncture, or the martial arts attempts to
manipulate Ki for selfish or malevolent purposes other than
cultural tradition, therapeutic value, or self-defense, it is sure to fail them
every time. Called upon properly, however, with respect, dignity, and benign
intent, it will focus intention, heal, nurture a sense of well being, and
amplify traditional taekwondo technique far beyond the limitations of the
|Master Doug Cook|
Master Doug Cook, 6th dan black belt, is head instructor of the Chosun Taekwondo Academy located in Warwick, New York, a senior student of Grandmaster Richard Chun, and author of four best-selling books focusing on taekwondo. He has been a TaeKwonDo Times columnist over fifteen years. Master Cook can be reached for seminars, training tours to Korea, workshops or questions at www.chosuntkd.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.