Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Wu Ji (Wu Chi) (Part 1)

This blog posting has been extensively updated. See here for the updated version.


A foundation of traditional Chinese thought is a belief in a single, cosmic universe full of energy called qi or chi. In the beginning, the universe was an endless void known as Wu Ji. From this void arose activity expressed as yin and yang. Yin and yang are sometimes thought of as aspects of female and male, but this is incorrect. It’s the other way around. Yin and yang are the all, representing the opposites that exist throughout the universe. All opposites are aspects of yin and yang. Light and dark, day and night, earth and sky, water and fire, and female and male are typical aspects. Yin and yang are represented by the double fish symbol.

In traditional qi gong and tai chi practice, the wu ji posture is used as a resting position before beginning exercise and sometimes placed between other movements. It symbolically represents the “great emptiness” of the original universal void. To stand in wu ji, begin with your feet about shoulder width apart. Your weight should be evenly distributed on the three balance points of your foot, the ball of the foot, the point at the base of the little toe, and at the heel.

Relax your entire body. Be sure that your knees are loose. Do not lock any joints. Visualize a string connecting the top of your head with the heavens, lifting you and stretching your spine. Let your mind travel throughout your body. Bring your breath to any point of tension or pain and imagine your breath entering and leaving your body at that point, carrying away the tension and pain. Continue with deep breaths for several minutes.

The tai chi classics say that wu chi gives birth to tai chi, where emptiness transforms into activity. We practice tai chi to develop our ability to understand and use the energy of the universe. A key component of tai chi practice is focus. The shorter forms develop our understanding of the movements and develop our understanding of qi. The longer forms develop our focus by requiring us to concentrate for several minutes at a time in order to do the form correctly. The longer concentration develops our ability to use the universal qi.

A comparable concept exists in yoga practice. In Hatha yoga, the asana called tadasana is very similar. We stand like a mountain, still and aloof, apart from the activity around us.

NOTE: The word “chi” of “wu chi” and “tai chi” should really be translated as ji. It is a word that means ultimate or best. However, “tai chi” has entered the English language and I will use that form of the word. This word is not the same as “chi” (usually spelled “qi”), which approximately translates as “the energy of the universe.” I make no promises that I have been consistent in my usage.

© 2010 Eric Borreson