Qi Calligraphy
by Ichin Shen
Calligrapher: Helen Shen


One interesting application of martial arts happens in an unlikely place. Have you ever wondered why those famous Chinese calligraphers in the old days referring doing Chinese calligraphy is like doing Kung-Fu? Alas, there's a reason. To drive Qi through a brush and spread the ink in a desired manner is an interesting challenge.

The tip of the brush is made of animal hairs, which are soaked with ink. In a sweeping motion, Chinese calligraphy is to spread the ink and to make characters. It is easier said than done, however, due to the various stickiness of the ink and different strokes of the character, to do a well balanced character requires a force delivered to the tip of the brush to be dynamically balanced to match the strokes. The force generated by muscles is too coarse to serve the purpose. If too much force is used, the strokes will look heavy and sticky. If too little force is used, the strokes will look light and lack of character. In either case, the character will be unbalanced. To do a well balanced character, one must utilize Qi.

The common consensus about that Qi possesses some kind of magical power that can be acquired only by practicing some kind of physical routines or virtue is quite misleading. Qi happens in every one of us, if we only know how to use it. Qi is an idea originated in ancient Chinese legends (which can be found in Yellow Emperor classics, also known as Nei-Ching or Su-Wen). Ancient Chinese people also sport a theory that the universe begins with Yin and Yang.

Naturally, Yin and Yang follow the properties of Yin and Yang. According to ancient Chinese,Qi is the energy that moves the universe. The primal energy is called Yuan-Qi. As the universe being formed, Yuan-Qi splits into two inseparable entities called Yin-Yang [two] Qi. Yin Qi "sinks" to form the "Ground," and Yang Qi "floats" to form the "Sky." As Yin-Yang [two] Qi move according to the realm of Yin and Yang, the Sky and the Ground interact (such as vaporized moisture-the Sky Qi-floats to the sky and condensed moisture-the Ground Qi-rains down to the Ground), and the interaction breeds the "World." Inherently, there is Yin-Yang [two] Qi, also known nowadays as Yin and Yang, in everything. For Yin and Yang are naturally paradoxical, also enhances physical performance.Qi cannot be logically explained. One has to feel it to know it.

In modern terms, the Yin of Qi is pressure, and the Yang of Qi force. As force is the effect of pressure, and pressure is the substance of force, pressure and force cannot exist alone. Without force, pressure has no effect, and without pressure, force ceases to exist. The maximum effect of Qi can be achieved by harmonizing pressure and force to match the effect desired. There are assorted esoteric practices so-called Qi-Gong to achieve that, however, if one starts to believe that there's magical substance produced through the practice, one is sadly mistaken. Supernatural ability does not have to be supernatural, as the true nature remains to be seen.

Our bodies are composed of mostly water, thus a closed hydraulic system. A closed hydraulic system follows the rules of the hydraulic principle, that is, when one part of the system is experiencing a change of pressure, the whole system will be experiencing the same effect at the same time (a good example is the hydraulic braking system in an automobile). As biochemical energy is not in the Qi culture, we concentrate the explanation only on the aspect of physical mechanics of Qi.

There are only two ways to generate pressure within our bodies' hydraulic system; one is breathing, the other is the mass. The common knowledge about force is to use the mass (body and limbs), such as various punching and kicking and other fighting techniques, which basically are techniques of moving the mass to generate pressure to generate force. However, the expert of Qi practitioners use breathing to generate extra pressure to enhance the techniques even more, thus achieve a super ability. That is Qi-Gong.

In that extent, the most important thing in practicing Qi-Gong is to synchronize the breathing and the body movements. A technique called "Yin-Ru-Yang-Chu" developed based on the Yin and Yang property serves that purpose well.

Yin implies inhale, Ru means inward, Yang implies exhale, and Chu means outward; put it together, Yin-Ru-Yang-Chu describes a body rhythm that is moving the mass (body and limbs) inward as we inhale and outward as we exhale to generate the maximum effect of the breathing and the mass.


At the beginning, beginner students may do a lot of body movements and still achieve little results. However, as the techniques improve, and the ability grows, less and less movements are needed to achieve the same results. The less the movements are, the less energy is needed to traverse the movements, thus more energy is available for the performance.Qi-Gong breathing.

Ultimately, as Qi transcends the body and merges with mind, "Yi-Yi (thought)-Shi-Li," where mind "thinks" and the body "moves" spontaneously, a technique of ultimate Qi-Gong is reached. In the hands of a master, Qi can be changed to a solid block of mass, or to a lighter-than-air void at the "blinking" of the mind, Qi is magical.

As those masters transcend the internal Qi through the calligraphy, the strokes of the brush reflect exactly the internal Qi. At times, the strokes move like thunder striking across the sky, or flow softly like a running stream, or just sit like mountains. As the balanced character manifests the abundant of harmonious Qi, Chinese calligraphy is a real one-of-kind Qi-Gong. 

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