The Scientist, The Master and The Deviant: Three Perspectives on Qigong

Excerpted from Breathing Spaces: Qigong, Psychiatry, and Healing in China by Nancy N. Chen

Qigong in the Scientific Community

Breathing Spaces: Qigong, Psychiatry, and Healing in China

Qigong began to be actively debated within the [Chinese] scientific community during the 1980s, when scientists, especially physicians, sought to legitimate the phenomenon of qi. While popular publications focused on practice or gave life histories of particular masters, the discussions of qigong among scientists addressed questions of how to measure the force field of qi energy. Qi as a material phenomenon had to be quantified. This interest paralleled attention to the phenomenon of teyigongneng, or special psychic abilities.

…The doors of scientific research opened when Qian Xuesen, the prominent founder of China’s space research, declared that teyigongneng merited serious study. In his account of this movement, Paul Dong, a US-based qigong master, described how young children in China were tested for their abilities to “hear” characters being written and to perform psychokinesis (the power to move objects with their minds); there were reports of pills disappearing from bottles only to materialize outside their containers.

Scientific experiments also commenced during this period, as many researchers believed that special abilities could be enhanced with qigong. Over a dozen scientific journals and publications, among them, Zhiran Zazhi (Nature magazine) and Dongfang Qigong (Eastern qigong), began to discuss human potential and somatic science. Continue reading The Scientist, The Master and The Deviant: Three Perspectives on Qigong

The Comforts of Mindless Consistency

Recounted by psychologist Robert Cialdini:

One night at an introductory lecture given by the Transcendental Meditation (TM) program, I witnessed a nice illustration of how people will hide inside the walls of consistency to protect themselves from the troublesome consequences of thought.

The Science of Meditation

The lecture itself was presided over by two earnest young men and was designed to recruit new members into the program. The program claimed it could teach a unique brand of meditation that would allow us to achieve all manner of desirable things, ranging from simple inner peace to the more spectacular abilities—to fly and pass through walls—at the program’s advanced (and more expensive) stages.

I had decided to attend the meeting to observe the kind of compliance tactics used in recruitment lectures of this sort, and had brought along an interested friend, a university professor whose areas of specialization were statistics and symbolic logic. As the meeting progressed and the lecturers explained the theory behind TM, I noticed my logician friend become increasingly restless.

Looking more and more pained and shifting about constantly in his seat, he was finally unable to resist. When the leaders called for questions at the completion of the lecture, he raised his hand and gently but surely demolished the presentation we had just heard. In less than two minutes, he pointed out precisely where and why the lecturers’ complex argument was contradictory, illogical, and unsupportable. Continue reading The Comforts of Mindless Consistency

His Wing Chun Couldn’t Win A Real Fight

This is a true story. I have changed the participants’ names to protect their privacy.

Brandon had good reason to trust his self-defense abilities; his father had trained him in the no-nonsense Chinese martial art of Wing Chun Kuen. Brandon’s father was an expert in the style, a full-contact champion who studied directly under disciples of the late grandmaster Yip Man.

Last month, Brandon’s Wing Chun was put to the ultimate test. A heated argument with two neighborhood residents escalated into a full-blown fistfight, and Brandon was forced to defend himself from their savage attack. Continue reading His Wing Chun Couldn’t Win A Real Fight

Raving Lunatics of the Twenty-First Century

Based Upon a True Story
Imagine yourself walking through a busy outdoor mall, surrounded by hundreds of shoppers and tourists. Casually perusing the fresh produce and handicrafts, you are suddenly confronted with a disturbing spectacle.


(Photo Credit: Gina Fish)

An unkempt, fifty-something man stands alone in the middle of the boardwalk, carrying on a loud and emotional conversation with nobody in particular. Interspersing pointless vignettes on politics, culture and yesterday’s supper with violent and unpredictable gestures, he manages to draw the attention of a small crowd. They watch and listen from a safe distance. Continue reading Raving Lunatics of the Twenty-First Century

A Classic Taoist Tale of Swordplay

Duke Wen of Zhao was so fond of dueling that he kept three thousand swordplayers at his residence. Day and night, they competed against another to entertain the duke. Though more than a hundred were killed every year, the duke’s fondness for swordplay never faded. Three years went by and as the state of Zhao declined, other states plotted to attack it.

Li, the crown prince, was greatly worried. He consulted his officials, promising, “Whoever can persuade the duke to give up swordplay will be rewarded with one thousand pieces of gold.” The officials all agreed, “Only Zhuangzi can accomplish the mission.” Continue reading A Classic Taoist Tale of Swordplay

The Legend of Bagua Chang

Separating martial fact from fiction is a perilous task.  If you are too credulous, you may be tricked into joining a fraudulent kung fu cult.  On the other hand, if you are too skeptical, you will cut yourself off from real high-level skills.  “Common sense” is an unreliable guide, because it is grounded in your own limited experience, and odds are you’ve never met a legitimate master.

For this and other reasons, I do not use my website to mock other martial arts and artists.  Sometimes, though, I hear a story so fantastical that I just cannot resist the urge to share it.  Continue reading The Legend of Bagua Chang

Farting to Enlightenment

Su Dongpo occupied a government post on the northern shore of the Yangtze River. Across the river at Jinshan Temple lived the Chan master Foyin.

Calligraphy by Su Dongpo

One day, Su Dongpo, feeling proud of his accomplishments in meditative practice, wrote a poem and dispatched it to Foyin for approval:

I bow my head to the heaven within heaven
Whose light illuminates the universe
The eight winds cannot move me
Sitting still upon the golden purple lotus

When Foyin received the poem, he read it, wrote a single word in reply, and sent it back. Continue reading Farting to Enlightenment

Master Zhuang to Martial Artists: Be Like a Wooden Cock

Ji Shengzi was training a fighting cock for King Xuan of Zhou.

Cock (by Andrzej Barabasz)

After ten days of training passed, King Xuan asked, “Is the cock ready for a fight?”  Ji Shengzi said, “Not yet.  He is still haughty and conceited.”

Another ten days went by.  King Xuan asked again, and Ji said “Not yet.  He is still glaring and domineering.”

After another ten days went by, King Xuan asked once more.  Ji Shengzi replied, “He is about ready for the fight.  When other cocks crow, he is not affected.  He looks like a cock made of wood.  Other cocks dare not challenge him, they will simply run away.”

From the Taoist classic book Zhuangzi.