"Without breath, there can be no
life." Most who hear the words dismiss them
as trite, comical, a simple statement of the
obvious. However, when spoken by a Master, the
meaning is profoundly more complex.
We become transfixed when discussing
"Ki" or "Chi". Those who have it, or who know it,
are expected to perform supra natural feats. Those
who don't, should watch. We've all seen
demonstrations of breaking, unbendable arms, bending
re-bar or swords with one's neck, crushing blocks set on
bodies lying on beds of nails, etc. But is that
"Chi", or simply a good performance? When David
Copperfield does the impossible, does he use
"Chi"? Is what you see what is really happening?
It's always interesting to visit the
Chinese language and gain insight into what is
being communicated with a word. "Chi", the word
you associate with "Ki", is the same character for
breath (as in normal breathing). In Chinese to
breathe is to "he chi", to drink or consume breath or
air. A car is a "chi che" or steam cart. Note how
the meaning is changed slightly by the context of
usage. A train would be a "huo chi che" or fire
steam cart, and so forth. Generally the word shows
up everywhere, like a thread connecting the concept of
breath, with the application of energy. Something
which utilizes "Chi" is enlivened by it, without "Chi"
all that remains is the inanimate object, waiting for
external impulse. With "Chi", the entity becomes
self actualizing, alive, capable of performance.
I learned a long time ago that
when sitting in a bar and someone enters
betting $1000.00 they can pull a talking rabbit
out of their hat, it would be foolish to take the
bet. That is, unless you want to see a talking
rabbit get pulled out a hat. Once, during a
business trip to New Orleans, I visited the French
Quarter and was confronted by some street youth who
offered a $2.00 bet they could tell me where I got my
shoes at. Though I knew better, I was interested in
how it would play out, so I agreed. They told
me "Where you got your shoes at" was "on your
A word of advice, don't look to "Chi"
if you want to levitate, become invisible, jump through
space and time, astral project, visit alien worlds, stop
bullets, arrows, etc., etc., etc. Unfortunately,
there are some who will try to convince you to do just
that, just before they try to sign you up for their
Remember that "Chi," if anything, is
ordinary, and universal, just like the Chinese
character. Masters of martial arts quickly
lose tolerance for students who are no sooner through
the door than they demand to learn the secrets of
"Chi." Yes, we all want to hit the lottery, and we
all crave the emperor's jewels. But to ask for or
expect it on day one is insufferably arrogant.
Acquiring understanding of "Chi" means mastering the
ordinary. Translating, mastering the ordinary is
something 99% of incoming martial artists will never
accomplish. However, those who seriously try, have
a player’s chance, but it will take years. Go
check out your average martial artist with 25 or more
years experience. You'll be amazed at what he or
she can do, and how the ordinary, through them, has
become something mysterious and magical.
By now, you're probably getting the idea
that "Chi" is not something easily defined.
True! But in the alternative, allow me to share
some of the characteristics common to persons I've
known to have developed their "Chi" to high level:
1. They are aware. Read that to
mean aware, as in wide awake. Ever come across a
situation where, afterwards, you ask yourself why you
never saw it coming? If you were aware and
awake, you would have! Persons with high "Chi"
have a radar for danger or intrigue. They know
when the fight has started, often before the attacker
does. Their lives are characterized by a sense of
balance and harmony, as though trouble and ill will
avoid them entirely. Of course, nothing avoids
them in fact. They are always navigating in
"Chi," flowing between the life’s trees and rocks.
2. They can project incredible
power, upon command. This might be in the form
of certain types of breaking, or in the ability to
move attackers about at will. I once met a 69
year old lady (Mrs. Fujiko Gardner, Master of Ai
Ki Do) who could physically resolve any attack, and
then return to her affairs unaffected. The
diminutive Mrs. Gardner could take you down with
finesse or with "Chi", whatever your
preference. You might find her a waif one
moment, the next, she is a mountain. Or suddenly
she seizes you in her vice like grip, and you're down,
confused, unable to continue the attack (your
confusion would also be an intended consequence of her
Master Isidro Archibeque is a long
time legend in the Pacific Northwest, not only for his
staggering record of breaking accomplishments, but
also for his ability to transform from a freely moving
martial artist into an outer worldly opponent. One who
can't be physically moved, or penetrated. If he
chooses, your punches and kicks suddenly bounce from
his body, your arm bars and joint locks can no longer
be applied, or have no effect. There are
countless stories and anecdotes regarding his
abilities. There was, for example, the nurse who
broke several needles trying to draw blood for a
physical exam (Sifu doesn't like needles!).
In a different vein, the late Judo
Master Jerry Dalien frequently demonstrated his
ability to extend "Chi" out and away from his body,
causing a person standing in its path to drop
backwards. He points his fingers, the balance
3. They sometimes possess
a "soft" or "embracing energy", which when
meeting with the incoming attack, completely dissolves
the threat and allows for it to be redirected.
Picture Tai Chi, and its pushing hands drill, then
transpose that into everything you do. While
living in California, I was casually acquainted with a
very old Tai Chi Master who was once attacked by
some street thugs in Monterey. A witness
across the street was preparing to rush and
assist when he saw the body of one attacker sailing
over the hood of a car, and the body of a second
bouncing off an adjoining wall. The intended
victim had done nothing but change the position of his
body adjusting for their incoming energy, embraced it,
then returned it.
4. Their balance is
impeccable. Though appearing quite ordinary,
scrutiny of their balance and posture will reveal
volumes on how mind, body and spirit should be
aligned. It doesn't matter if they use a cane,
or lie in a sick bed. You can still see it (if
you look very close). Consequently, their
leverage is superior in every situation. Come at
them as they sit, and sailing you go. Attack
while they are lying down, and suddenly they loom
above you like an animal about to feast.
5. They move with nature.
This is not easily explained, or appreciated, since so
many of us work out in health clubs or the like.
Historically, martial artists intentionally exposed
themselves to the environment, and its changing
conditions. My teacher was adamant about
"steeling" the body. We worked in snow drifts,
ocean waves, during rain squalls, in the wind, on
desert sands, the more challenging, the better.
In time, wind seemed to move within our blood
vessels, imbuing our spirits with the same unseen
driving energy, and again, in time, we could summon
this energy when needed, and command it at will.
6. When caught off guard, they
survive. I remember the story of one Master who
was struck in the head with a baseball bat. The
bat literally broke in two. The master turned to
face the attacker, and the shocked assailant
ran. There was no injury, no mark, no loss, no
7. They control the
confrontation. Master Russ Kauffroath of Sam Pai
Kenpo epitomizes this characteristic. Have you
ever played cups and ball, where you had to pick the
cup with the ball under it. Not only can you not
pick the right cup, but before long, there are balls
showing up everywhere, just not where you are saying
they should. Finally, you point to a cup, lift
it, and an orange drops out. Technically, this
is the least mysterious of the characteristics,
because it's associated with awareness, but then
again, it could be a trick. When a master of
"Chi" does it, there is no trick, and its happening
all the time. If you don't believe me, go spar
with Master Russ. Staring across at him
(remember the story of Matsumura?) you already begin
to feel hollowness in your stomach. There is the
sense he knows what you are about to do. Even
worse, that he's making you do what you are about to
do. Very disconcerting indeed!
8. They are committed.
When they say something, consider it a promise.
You might recall Miyagi's words from the movie (Karate
Kid) to the effect that Karate is either "Yes or No,
never in between." Inherent in any understanding
of "Chi" or its application, is commitment. You
are either going to do it, or you are not. You
choose. If you elect to go for it, have no
doubts. If you elect not to, have no
regrets. Every Master understands this.
"Chi" Masters, to the person, are as serious as heart
attacks, even when they appear to be joking.
That's because they are no longer hampered by
barriers. It's as though we spend a lifetime
learning the limitations of our abilities.
Suddenly, we find a path where the possibility arises
for us to move beyond those barriers. However,
we've spent our lifetimes training (Actually training
by not training, not training being equivalent to
training to do nothing) to accept the barriers
and to integrate them completely into our
performance. For many, this lifetime of
conditioning is an insurmountable barrier. On
its other side lies "Chi." The hammer which
brings down the wall is "commitment." In our own
style (Gun Fu), we are reminded of this in the name
itself. The word "Gun" in Gun Fu tells us our
knowledge is like a gun. It must be respected,
treated with the greatest care, and because of the
commitment behind it, never used unless there is no
Now, with all of the above in mind,
where does one start on this path in pursuit of "Chi"?
The universal answer is breath,
learning to breathe so that "Chi" can flow unimpeded.
I'm going to take this opportunity to
share a few breathing exercises with you. First, I
need to caution. If you undertake these, or any
other breathing exercises, be mindful of unusual
sensations. If you feel faint, stop! The
same if you see black or red or white, stop!
Working on breathing exercises can sometimes leave you
feeling like you've been blowing up quantities of
balloons. You can become faint, especially at
first, when your abilities and capacities are
These are the Tan Jun breathing
exercises of Hap Ki Do. There are several layers
of exercises, first the basic, then the
intermediate. We have found that all of the basic
exercises are incorporated into the intermediate set, so
we prefer to teach the intermediate set from the
start. That way, you don't have to learn a basic
set, then replace them later with a new set.
These breathing exercises are
ancient. Go to the library and check out some
texts on Chinese History, especially as it pertains to
Bodhiharma. You may stumble upon some drawings
portraying his teaching of technique to disciples.
Some of those drawings will be representations of these
very same exercises. Needless to say, if it was
good enough for Bodhiharma, it's good enough for us.
In all of the exercises which follow,
keep the following guidelines in mind:
1. Breathe in through the nose,
and move the incoming breath into your abdomen.
It should feel like you are placing it into your
stomach, and your abdominal wall should bulge, and
become firm. An advanced student might describe
the sensation as feeling like there was a basketball
in the stomach. Don't overfill with air, usually
75% of capacity is enough.
2. Grab the ground with you
feet. For some, this requires they twist their
feet and toes inward. As you do this, there
should be moderate tension in your legs, extending to
3. The "live hand" figures
prominently in virtually all of the exercises.
This hand configuration can be visualized as your hand
being spread wide open, with slight tension on your
fingers. In other words, if someone grabbed your
fingers, they would be springy. Put your hands
in front of your body, then imagine they are holding a
basketball. Now, emergoze the hands. That's the
4. In all but exercise #4, you
begin the exercise with a controlled exhalation of
breath, maintaining the elements described
above. This usually starts with the utterance of
a strong "utz", which then trails off into an
"sssssss...." sound as the breath releases. When
your air is almost completely discharged, you
transition from the "sssssss...." sound to a
"saaaaah..." as your whole body relaxes.
5. Each of the exercises should
be repeated three times, with the exception of #4,
which is executed as two sets of 60 repetitions.
You can do more repetitions if you like, but three is
6. Never do more than the
described number of repetitions in a single
session. You'll progress better by doing a
single session every day, or by doing the exercises as
part of your warm-up before working out.
Ok, keeping these guidelines in mind,
let's move on with our study.
I have recorded a video detailing the
exercises. I include it here for your view, and to
use as a reference. Before trying anything, listen
carefully to the pattern of breathing. Make sure
you understand the breathing sequence before trying the
exercise. The clip is set up with the
recommended number of repetitions.
Tan Jun Breathing
Tan Jun Breathing
If you practice these
diligently, within several months you will notice
changes in your awareness. You will be more alert
in unfamiliar situations, and will sense when danger
lurks. When being struck or impacted, you will
sense the energy moving through you, rather than
into you. When setting a stance, you will feel
more grounded, when evading, more light.
There will be more, but as for that, I
will trust your sense of discovery.
Addendum of January 10, 2018:
Responding to questions regarding the
relationship of “mind” and “consciousness” to the
movement of energy, we have added this supplemental
video detailing one of our own techniques for
anchoring the full power potential of your movement to
your mind and willful control. Also, I am
including a demonstration of the “Shadow Form,” which
demonstrates how to incorporate all of the referenced
concepts into systematic flow.