Masters of Chinese internal arts have been known to have incredible strength and speed while outward appearances would suggest them to be as strong as your average librarian. Even in old age they can move with certain fluidity and litheness while their strikes impact with devastating force. The mystical explanation for the process is centered on the Chinese paradigm known as ‘Chi’. Chi, or life energy, is one of the major concepts of Chinese thought. According to traditional Chinese thought, the existence of any invisible force, a flash of lightning, the movement of a river or the swinging of an arm is Chi in action. Chi is also said to flow through the body via meridians or energy pathways. The smooth flow of Chi is said to be essential for the internal organs and the muscles to stay in prime condition. A master of internal arts is said to quickly ‘lead his Chi’ to his arm when making a strike.

The closest approximation western science has for Chi is the nerve network between the body’s brain, muscles and internal organs. Science has known for some time that our muscles work as teams. For example, when our biceps contracts, our triceps stretches to accommodate it and vice versa. The contracting muscle is known as the agonist and the stretching muscle is the antagonist. If the triceps are contracting quickly as in a straight punch, if the biceps don’t stretch quickly and smoothly, they act as a very effective brake to slow the arm down. Add to that even a slightly tightened lower back that’s supposed to lengthen with the punch and the power of the strike will be a only a shadow of what it could be. Anyone that’s had a spasmed lower back can attest to the pain and weakness when trying to do simple tasks such as picking up a shoe off the floor. In that example, the abdominal muscles would be the agonists and the lumbar muscles the antagonists, acting as a punishing brake to the owner.

Children move like cats, with poise and softness. They fall down like sacks of potatoes, crumpling to the ground with little injury, unlike most adults that fall like redwood trees. When our brains are young they form neural patterns for which muscles should contract and which ones should relax for common movements. Learning to ride a bike can be tough, but once you have it down, you can go for years without riding and the pattern will still be in your brain, ready to be put to use at a moment’s notice. As we grow up we start ‘adding to’ our neural patterns by tensing unnecessary muscles and contorting our postures. If we ‘re-train’ our brain’s neural patterns to start functioning like they should, we will experience a monumental increase in strength, speed and vitality. By moving very slowly and focusing on the sensations of the movements, our brain will learn again how to move the muscles quickly and powerfully. Like the quiet strength of a baby’s grip or a cat’s lighting fast strike, movement comes from the brain.

Any exercise that teaches the brain how the body should move properly can be used, whether it is Chinese Chi Kung, Tai Chi, Feldenkrais (Awareness Through Movement) or your own exercises using the aforementioned principles. Each session can be anywhere from one to twenty minutes or more in length. It will benefit every area of your life even after one session of practice. Please email me at for more details. A Rational Explanation for the Strengthening Effects of Chinese Chi Kung