We all know that Santa Claus does not exist. Nevertheless, Santa Claus is a useful social construct, especially in our relationships with children. And the term "Santa Claus," despite his nonexistence, is defined with enough precision to make it possible for us to talk about him and feel confident that everyone involved means roughly the same thing by "Santa Claus." The term "chi" isn't like that; it's so vaguely defined that talking about it in any effective or efficient way is extremely difficult. The purpose of this topic is to try to do something about that.
The topic is the definition of "chi" (also "qi" or "ki"). We need to find out whether we _can_ define it adequately. If we can, we'll then be able to move on to discussion of chi; if we can't , we will have learned something and can move with a clear conscience to a different topic. _Until the term has been defined, whether chi exists or not is not an appropriate item for discussion_.
[One preliminary note: The term is more properly "ch'i," with a glottal stop between the "h" and the "i"; "chi" actually means "ultimate," and that has caused some definitional confusion in the martial arts literature. But since the usual practice is to write the term as "chi," let's just follow that practice.]
I've collected a sampler of definitions from martial arts literature. [If you're not interested in others' definitions, just skip this paragraph.] I don't want to use the space here for references, but I have them if you want them; just e-mail me with the numbers of the definitions that interest you and I'll send you the information.. Here's the sampler: Chi is; (1) that which gives life.... that which differentiates a corpse from a live human being; (2) protective spirit; (3) invisible life force or energy; (4) an energy or inner strength that can be directed from the 'one point' through visualization to places outside the body; (5) internal energy; (6) ultimate energy; (7) energy... vitality; (8) the underpinning for everything in existence; (9) energy (10) vital energy or spirit.... .spirit, breath, life force.... the life force that all living beings have; (11) that which animates life; (12) matter on the verge of becoming energy, or energy at the point of materializing; (13) invisible nutritive energy.... a unique energetic substance that flows from the environment into the body... an energy of both nutritive and cellular-organizational characteristics which supersedes the energetic contributions of ingested food and air... a manifestation of the life-force which animates and energizes living systems.
That sampler of definitions is the best possible explanation of why discussions of chi degenerate into shouting matches and pontification. It's a definitional swamp into which almost anything can be thrown; it's a mess.
If we were together in a seminar, I wouldn't be willing to propose a new definition myself; we would work together to construct one. But I don't see a way to do that in this medium; perhaps as time goes by a method will occur to me, but at the moment I'm stumped. I am therefore -- so that we can at last get started -- going to propose a rough draft definition for you to consider, discuss, and revise. I'm sure it is flawed; I know this term only from qigong, the only physical martial art that I practice (and practice badly); I don't speak the languages from which the term is taken. But let's use it as a "straw definition" to get the discussion going.
My rough draft definition:
"Chi is a form of internal energy that human beings can learn to bring under deliberate voluntary control."
Terms within the definition:
"Internal" -- within our bodies and minds (or within our bodyminds)
"Energy" -- the capacity to do work (that is, to lift something, carry something, hold something back, break something, and so on)
Comment on the definition:
We have a well-established precedent for bringing internal processes under deliberate voluntary control; it's called "biofeedback."
There. Please consider the definition and tell me what you perceive to be wrong with it. What's missing? What's distorted or badly stated? What needs changing? Should the definition be rejected entirely, and something else put in its place -- and if so, what do you propose? I'll be back Saturday to read your responses, comments, criticisms, thoughts....whatever you'd like to post.
Thank you for your attention, and for your courtesy.
PS: I'll be back Saturday to read your responses, comments, criticisms. If you have time to spare (and access to the literature) there's an article you might want to look at, in the Spring 1998 issue of _Qi: The Journal of Traditional Eastern Health & Fitness_. It's titled "Why are most published works on qigong so poor?" and written by Kenneth S. Cohen.