Friday, July 13, 2012

May the Force be with you...or the Science.

It’s been an interesting time lately at the dojo.  With the stress and work of a gruelling grading fading into the past, we’ve started delving into different areas.

We’re working on incorporating qi/chi, or energy work into our Jiu Jitsu.  My Sensei has spent years and years studying Qigong (also known as Chi Kung).  While he does lots of healing work, acupressure and acupuncture, he also incorporates chi into his martial arts, making them that much more effective.

We’ve been doing a bit of meditation and working on breathing and building up and using chi.  There are several references to gates, to dantians, to breathing, to channels, to fire, water etc.  These are all components of Chi Kung and traditional Chinese and energy arts.

First off, meditation and ‘mindful’ breathing which focuses on the lower dantian (or belly breathing for lay people like me), is a great thing to do.  It focuses the mind, blocks out lots of the ‘noise’ of life and generally makes you feel good. 

We’ve been focusing on building up chi during these exercises and then using that energy in our technique.

The result? 

My techniques have been far more effective, requiring far less effort (strength).  In fact, I’ve been getting surprised when my training partners start madly tapping before I’ve even really started to ‘sink’ it in.  I’ve had to start being very careful not to accidentally injure my partner when projecting energy into techniques.

There’s definitely something to this.

Is it magic?  The force?  Is there really a gas tank you can fill with the energy of the universe that can be unleashed on your foe? 

Or is there a scientific reason?  Can it be that the very act of focusing, of actively making the body work together as one, cause synapses to fire, long and slow twitch muscle fibres to work synergistically?  Can it be that a whole host of physical and physiological processes occur to achieve this economy of motion and effectiveness of technique application?

The answer?

I don’t care.

It doesn’t matter to me what causes it, as long as it works.

Now normally, I’m not the sort of fellow that just accepts things.  In fact, in martial arts and in life, I usually refuse to accept things without careful scrutiny or deliberation and thought.  In this case, however, it matters not.

There are a couple of reasons. 

#1.  I like to believe that there are some intangible things inherent to the study and journey of the martial arts.  I still believe there is some magic in the world, things that can't fully be clinically defined.  We are all made up of energy, after all. 

#2.  I’ve seen some proof.  I’ve had masters do things to me that I still can’t quite figure out, like sending my rather large frame flying half way across the room having barely moved a muscle.

Also, there have been numerous occasions and documented cases of feats of incredible strength or self healing.  Parents have lifted cars off trapped children.  And science has shown how some people can speed healing to areas of injury through energy work and focus. 

So, I guess I have scientific proof that magic exists.  Hmmm, kind of talked myself into a corner on that one… 

But that’s exactly my point.  Be it science, or be it chi energy, if it works, what does it matter?

If you need science to explain it to make sense to you and therefore you can apply it, learn about the science.

If you need chi to explain it to make sense to you and therefore you can apply it, learn about chi.

With chi work, some people envision it being a force, some think of it as electricity, some as a wave.  Whatever they need to do to access it is fine.  It’s finding a way to use something, and use it well, that matters.  If you envision a more scientific process occurring in your body, that’s just as good, as long as it works. 

Normally I need to know the inner workings of things, a more clinical understanding of the ‘why’ to make something my own.  It looks like even with this type of need, there are different methods, or paths, to understanding. 

Some people say magic is just something science has yet to understand or explain.  Some think science and magic are one in the same.

What do I say? 

My Jiu Jitsu is better.  That's what I know.  For now, that’s enough.


  1. You know Journeyman, I think you are right not to try and over-think this one. Sometimes its just best to go with the flow, after all that's what chi's about (no pun was intended!). Though a scientist at heart myself I am still fascinated by the more esoteric, unexplainable aspects of the mind, body, universe. I am, in fact, toying with the idea of exploring an internal martial art, perhaps tai chi, in order to experience the concept of chi, whatever it is. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this..

  2. I am a scientist (by disposition, not by trade). As such I will by default believe in the power of western medicine, physics, and my beloved various technological devices over mysticism.

    But my exposure to the scientific point of view has given me one insight that I think is relevant here: Science does a great job of explaining what the body already does, but not what the body CAN do.

    In the last 15 yrs or so science is finally giving the attention and respect to the power the mind has over the human body. Things like guided imagery, healing meditation, manipulating your T-cell count through concentrated focus or hypnosis, etc. All of these things were considered absolute "Woo" just a few decades ago.

    And that fact gives me hope that someday we can, without controversy over methods or data interpretation, prove that there is some kind of particle or essence in the human body that can be manipulated or channeled to suit or needs.

    Who knows? Maybe we're already doing it and calling it something else....


  3. Sorry about the tardy reply folks.


    Good point. Just like with technique, sometimes if you break it down too much, or over think it, you can lose the value of the whole. I definitely know there’s more out there than we can fully explain. Esoteric is a good word. I once watched a high level Chi Kung practitioner have a student put a spear to his throat (metal tip – sharp). He then walked forward until the wooden shaft bent and broke.

    The internal arts are really interesting but the road of learning is slow. Then again, there’s nothing like seeing a Tai Chi practitioner in their eighties or nineties who is more supple and flexible than I am. A valuable life-long pursuit, no doubt. I’m just lucky I can learn some of it alongside my Jiu Jitsu.


    You are correct about science shifting to realize and start to explain, or at least grudgingly accept that there’s something to this whole mind/body connection and the power of mind over body.

    You make an interesting observation of how science explains the ‘what’s’ and ‘how’s’ of what occurs in the body, but not the potential of what it could do.

    In this area, it’s curious that science has not delved into the power of the mind over body a bit more. After all, it’s not like energy work is a new discipline.

    I agree that we are making progress and I hope that trend continues. Holistic medicine and natural healers are becoming much sought after, so maybe people are catching on.

    We are making progress, though. I too, have hope that as time goes on, we can make strides in understanding, or at least accepting, the mind/body connection.

    We are all made up of some form of energy. All you have to do is see someone pass away to know some energy or essence has left, leaving behind only an empty shell. If we can learn to channel that energy to improve ourselves or help others, I suspect we’ll all be better off.

    And hey, if we all accept it, maybe science can explain it. Then everybody can be happy. Very yin and yang...

    Thanks to both of you for your comments.

  4. I agree with Sue and think it is better to not try to over-analyze these things. I like the analogy of the fighter pilot, he's not thinking about targeting electronics and complex aerodynamic algorithms, he's concentrating on winning the dogfight using his weaponry to the best of his ability, and I imagine it is a very seat of the pants kind of thing, kind of like when we spar and fight.
    What I don't like is your reference to science showing speedy self healing. If you have studies, please cite them, but I doubt you do, because of one major difficulty: How do you control to show the healing is faster? The closest you could do would be identical twins, injured in the exact same way, then controlled with respect to diet rest, etc. And then..that's only one example. You'd need another 40-50 cases done the same way to show a statistical significance.

    This is always my problem with these discussions, people want to believe it works a certain way so they accept the most spurious hazy evidence as matter of fact. Note that this doesn't mean it's not true, only that there is no evidence that its true.
    I really like Brett's idea, but I wont say particle or whatnot, I tend to think of it as willpower or self control or inner directed concentration and the imagery of a particle or force helps that to occur.

    As to the spear trick, you were hoodwinked in exactly the same way as when a magician does something miraculous. These chi inner strength demonstrations almost all have easy to learn tricks to do them, and I feel that lessens the field as a whole. If that's all it takes, why bother?

  5. William,

    Great example about a fighter pilot.

    To clarify, I said that science has shown that people can speed healing, as in, at an increased rate. I'm not suggesting cuts closing or broken bones mending over night. What I am saying is that there are numerous studies and examples of assisting healing through energy work. Hands on healers treating terminal patients, lowering blood pressure through meditation, increased blood flow to an injured area etc. There are also references to faith healing, beating cancer through laughter therapy etc.

    Yes, some is anecdotal, but too many accounts exist to ignore the possibility, especially when no one is selling something.

    I do agree that it is very challenging to objectively measure rates of healing, or any study for that matter, without overseeing every single activity of exact copies, twins in your example. There are too many variables to conclusively prove anything outright. Interestingly, this is the same argument the tobacco companies used to say that there was no proof that smoking causes lung and heart disease. I think we agree that it does though.

    On a smaller scale, what about the placebo effect? Someone thinks they are taking painkillers when in truth they are not. And yet their headache goes away. Hmmm. Power of the mind? Chi?

    My post isn't meant to be entered in any scientific journal, but to discuss the possibility of what's out there and the power of the mind and spirit.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.