May 2011

Walking on Hot Coals: Forget the Chi

Chi or Ki is a term relating to some supposed metaphysical force that, if we want to attain the highest levels of efficacy, as a martial artist we should cultivate.

We are told by the proponents of the classical martial arts, particularly the so-called internal arts, that it is the basis of their incredible powers; powers that, after 37 years of martial arts experience, I am yet to witness.

I have seen many stunts that supposedly require Chi or Ki but have not witnessed one that cannot be explained with science or performed with adequate physical training and the belief that it can be done.

The use of Chi power to break tiles and bricks are merely acts that a trained martial artist, who has learned the correct body biomechanics and has toughened his/ body so that the strikes can be delivered correctly, can perform.

Pushing cars with poles or spears pressed to the throat, having blocks broken on them with sledge hammers while lying on a bed of nails and a favorite not only of martial artists but also of the self help gurus, walking on a bed of hot coals are all acts readily explained by science.

Whenever, I come upon these claims of mystical forces I am reminded of a quote from the late Carl Sagan, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”.  The force of Chi or KI is another example of how some things get accepted as fact by people who fail to question what they are being told and just accept what is being said by their guru. The existence of Chi or Ki as a mystical force drawn from the universe fits in the same class as Astrology, Clairvoyance and the current big “Law of Attraction” scam, to name a few.

I had for some time been trying to locate a place that could do what I consider the ultimate in dispelling the Chi myth, walk on hot coals without any regard to any form of meditative or mystical preparation and to have others, like me, do the same.

I could travel overseas and pay some “guru” several thousand dollars to do it but it was still tied in with all the mystical rubbish.

After inquiring locally to the skeptics’ society I found some local people who had performed the fire-walk several times and were prepared to set the fire pit up for me and in November  of last year I organized the event for the end of year barbeque of my martial arts school.

The pit was prepared and the wood, good quality Blue Gum, was obtained and burned down. The people who prepared the coals for us said that this was a very good wood for these events and burns to produce very hot coals.

At last another of my major life goals was to be attained; to walk on a bed of hot coals.

It wasn’t just about another myth of supposed mystical phenomena, I had a second more meaningful reason for my doing it and that was to face the fear. This is no easy act for any creature particularly a human who has felt fire and knows that it is not something to be played around with, and to step foot on glowing embers from which you could still feel the intense heat rising, was an incredible act of courage and trust in science.

Stepping out onto that bed was the most amazing and uplifting experience I have ever done. I went first after the man who had prepared it for us went to demonstrate how to walk it. I was joined by many of my friends and fellow students including several young children, one only 5 years old.

Many of us went several times to reinforce the feelings and the action of doing it. Some of us got a few small blisters from getting used to the correct pace and also from doing it so many times but nothing severe. There was no mystical, metaphysical Chi force at work here it was just a physical phenomena.

Your mastery of any pursuit whether it be martial arts, gymnastics or playing Chess is a consequence of the amount of quality training spent developing the skills of a discipline, together with a mind that is focused on the event that you are involved in; what we westerners call “being in the zone”.

If you want to attain true mastery of your martial arts then train hard and consistently and you will reach your goal.

“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”

“You can't convince a believer of anything; for their belief is not based on evidence, it's based on a deep seated need to believe”

Dr. Carl Sagan (American Astronomer, Writer and Scientist, 1934-1996).