If someone tells you that he can send chi into your body for healing if he “touches” you at a distance, he is, at his best, not as smart as an educated modern man should be and, at his worst, a crook.
The truth is touch, if properly done, can stimulate chi inside your body – and with one important condition: you have to participate in the process, and with skills that need to be learned and improved upon.
Today chi is common concept that is openly talked, discussed, practiced and argued. Some members of our scientific community still frown upon it, some members of our organized religions are skeptical about it (so much so I know some Christians who refuse to learn tai chi!), and folks like those in Quackwatch look down upon it as belong to “metaphysical healthcare". Despite such skepticism, chi kung practices are flourishing.
There is a popular myth that chi was a more prevalent concept in the past (old Dynasty China) where everyone practiced chi related discipline openly. It is far from the truth. Religions were controlled in Dynasty China (more so then today’s China that we still frown upon). Taoists and Buddhists, as professions, had to registered with the Government. Public rituals of these religions were more to do with asking for Divine blessings rather than group practice of chi kung. Famous Taoist neidan masters only had a few inner circle students and they practised in private. There were some families who had learned the art of chi healing from Taoist or Buddhist masters did professional healing and did so in private circles only. Local authority tolerated them if they proved to be effective and their practices were limited in scope. When they had a wider audience, some were persecuted and some ended up hopelessly rebelling against the authority (interested readers can refer to historical book on those healers like the White Lotus Buddhists).
Facing these difficulties, an ingenious way to practice chi-healing was created via the path of teaching light weight exercises called Dao Yin (導引) and internal martial art, tai chi being a prime example. Most were solo practices. A few methods used the tool of "touch".
In the area of "chi transmission through touch" (the subject matter of this post, the most significant methods in martial art survived to this day are tai chi pushing hands, and in Japan aikido throws. It is interesting to note that although both are chi disciplines, a student learning the art might not even know he is practicing a form of chi kung! Below I shall focus my analysis on this area with the understanding there are other areas that touch was being used.
The way to generate chi in tai chi pushing hands and aikido throws is through synchronized touching movements with a master. The master will lead a student. The student shall comply with complete trust on the master so that “chi will be able to flow between them”, a figurative way to say that the master has stimulated or activated the level of chi inside the body of his student in accordance with the progress of the student in the art he is practising.
The definitive yardstick is effective pushes (or an effective execution of eight tai chi methods/moves) in tai chi and effective aiki-throws in aikido. The common element in effective execution is the controlled touch between the master and the student. And the touch is the definitive element that makes everything possible. Without an effective touch, nothing is possible in tai chi pushing hands and aikido throws. Giving-in and compliance are the requirements. With giving-in and compliance, a student is trained for chi activation as well as for mental control and conditioning. That makes both tai chi pushing hands and aikido throws good mind-body exercises. In tai chi lingo it is called chi-listening or feeling (聼勁). In aikido lingo it is combining chi (aiki – 合氣).
In stationery chi kung forms (e.g zhan zhuang) and solo-movement chi kung forms (e.g. 24 styles tai chi nei gung or all styles of standard tai chi forms), the element of touch is also essential for good training. In tai chi and chi kung, everything happens inside the body of a student. A contact point from a learned master can both gauge and stimulate the internal chi of a (learned) student. This is essential to a good training routine and an essential learning experience for the aspiring student of chi kung. Without the testing of an appropriate touch, a novice student has no way to judge whether or not he is on the right path. That makes a good teacher an essential element in the learning of tai chi and chi kung.
Before I end this article, I would like to raise one more question: which is better, action oriented touch (pushing hands/throws) or intervention oriented touch (towards stationery/solo-movement)?
The answer depends on one’s training objective. For the training objective of the ability to transfer one’s learning to daily life (as in Zen or Taoist practices of enlightenment in walking/living/sitting/sleeping), the training of the intervention type will be more appropriate. The intervention approach is also the preferred method for healing, as it can be better tailored for all levels of initial fitness/health conditions of a student. Moreover if a student only uses pushing hands or throws to generate chi, he can only have training effects when trained with a partner/good teacher. For this reason, after he has learned his art, a student should be very grateful to his teacher who has led him all the way. On other hand, after he has learned his art, he might still don't know what chi is all about!
A major benefit that a solo practitioner can attain is that he can practise and improve his practice any time he likes – to the limiting case covering all our waking hours, which is essentially the requirement of Zen and Taoist meditation. The difficulty facing him is that not only he needs a good teacher, he also needs to be an intelligent student who is able to improve upon his training from the limited inputs that his teacher can give him through occasional touch-intervention and verbal instructions. In other words, in addition to a focused mind, an intelligent mind is also required for the solo practitioner!
PS: In Taiwan, there is now a style of tai chi called: Aiki-tai chi incorporating throws into the tai chi system using the concepts of aiki-throws. A book was published.