Qi, focus and injuries

In advance of World Tai Chi and Qigong Day (April 24th this year, and, no, Hallmark did not create this as a holiday to sell cards), I pose this question: what are you doing with the pinkie finger on your non-throwing hand when you are bowling?

A long-ago bowling teammate of mine used to ask that question of opposing players. For most, it drew their focus to a part of their anatomy that has absolutely nothing to do with the skill they were trying to execute. The good ones maintained their concentration; since there were very few good ones, most gutter balled their shot.

When and where you put your focus, especially during injuries, is the subject of this post. No answers are presented, just observations, so I would certainly appreciate any feedback. A recurrence of old knee problems and how they’ve affected my activities has led me to re-examine this.

Most everyone remembers the scene in The Karate Kid where Mr. Miyagi places his hands on Daniel-san, healing his injury and allowing him to return to the ring. It makes for good theater, where the Master concentrates his power/chi into another to heal them. But, because of a recurrence of a knee problem, I’m wondering where the person who is injured should put their own focus.

A good part of martial arts is focus with intent, a concept that is mostly unknown to people in their everyday lives. We rarely focus our minds on a particular part of our body unless an external force causes us to, like a bee sting , a scratch or an injury.

If you have an itch, and you think about it, it taunts you and pulls you in to scratch it, i.e., if you focus on it, it becomes more intense. Of course, discipline can hold you back. But if you focus your attention on something else, the itch becomes less of a draw.

Injuries strike me the same way, but that concept is at the same time opposite and congruent to concepts I’ve learned in martial arts. While learning Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan, as students advanced we were trained to narrow our punching focus as our skill improved, narrowing it down from the arm to the hand, to the knuckles and ultimately to the striking surface of the first two knuckles. The idea was obviously that if your focus is exact, your power and accuracy will be more in line (you will actually send energy when, where and in the quantity that your mind intends).

In Qigong meditation, you focus on leading the qi. The overall goal is to have your qi circulation optimized for better health. In Small Circulation practice, the student is asked to focus on leading the qi around the body, with the goal of this practice being turning conscious practice into unconscious habit (i.e., better qi circulation). Dr. Yang, Jwing-ming’s excellent series of books on Qigong Meditation discusses this in detail (and I highly recommend this books as the best I’ve read in getting rid of the mystic mumbo-jumbo that sometimes comes along with these descriptions and gets down to actionable facts). But he only has a small section in the book on Small Circulation concerning injuries (from section 8-9, page 337):

There are a few ancient documents which record how you can use Small Circulation Meditation for effective self-healing. The theory is very simple. Since your mind can feel and focus on the affected area, it can lead the Qi there to improve circulation of Qi and blood. This is no different from physical massage, which also improves the circulation of Qi and blood.

Like any skill, this takes practice and experience. And focused concentration. Dr. Yang’s YMAA has done some studies utilizing Qigong meditation and tai chi for cancer and other patients. YMAA articles can be found here.

But, playing devil’s advocate on myself (those voices in my head again), is this better than concentrating on ignoring the injury?

I’m a part-time runner, not as long distance as my brother and other marathoners that I know. But I’ve gotten into “the zone” late in distance running,  where you are absolutely out of energy but you are focused on the goal so that the nagging pains do not draw your focus away. This has happened late in Rugby games, after 70 minutes of pounding and you focus on pushing for that one last try.

In these cases, you are not “being in the moment” but personally I find myself running longer and easier when not focusing on pain or injury. Undoubtedly, this is not good long term for the injury, but it does beg the question of focus: do you focus on the injury/pain or focus away from it? It would seem one should focus on it for healing (leading the Qi away or toward the pain/injury??) , focus away from it for performance or to carry out an activity in spite of the pain or injury .

I look forward to comments and insights.

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4 Responses

  1. Wayne Boozer says:

    I recently heard someone say that there is no external art without internal qualities and no internal art without external qualities. I think you touched upon that here. As far as “focus and pain” go, I personally have a tendency to focus on healing the ailment rather than focus away from it. I find that enables me to properly direct where the energy is going.

    Great article!

    Wayne Boozer

  2. admin says:

    Master Boozer, thanks for your comment. I agree with you, focus on the healing, very similar to focusing energy on the attack, just with a different purpose. I still find it interesting that, esp. during longer term activities that focus away from ailments can extend performance.

    I’ve added your excellent blog to my list.

  3. Interesting post as I have minor knee injuries which stops me from doing stance work. From experience here is where I concentrate my chi when training;
    – if its just muscle soreness through repetitive movements my concentration is at my tan tien. Not where the tiredness is occurring e’g punching drills – focus on tan tien not on tired arms
    – if its in the joints, e.g. knees – then my concentration is there – if I feel pain I stop what I am doing – when I have tried to push through the knee pain barrier I usually cause further injury which results in time away from training to recover

    I prefer the cliche – ‘no brain no gain’ rather than ‘no pain no gain’ when it comes to MY knees :)

  4. Darrel says:

    Focus! One of the most important element in learning martial arts. Thought it has come to my mind that martial arts is tough many times, it has also come to my mind that martial arts could be something that someone will look up to. Thanks to that, now I have learn many things because of it. I have learned that when you keep your focus, you will soon achieve what you want.

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