Saturday, August 16, 2014

Chi powers and the super-martial artist

Is there anything to "chi"? Also known as "qui", "ki", or translated variously as "breath" or "inner strength", conventional wisdom says that the feelings experienced during rigorous martial arts exercise are no more than a body producing endorphines. So do super-powered martial artists have something different? And have supers revealed the existence of a real thing called "chi"?

The short version is: anyone claiming that "chi energy" is real is trying to sell you something.

That said, there are some significant, and scary, things that supers can do with the martial arts. Let's review just a few that I've heard credible stories about.
  • The touch of death. Supposedly martial artists can "stick" to an opponent, reading their body's signals through close contact. It's a medical fact that there's a moment during the human heart beat when a brief, sharp impact will stop it. The fatality rate is estimated to be about 65%, but those are cases where the victim was in a position to receive help. I'm told that some super martial artists have keen enough senses and good enough responses to pick up on this moment and take advantage of it.
  • Walking on water or rice paper. Several supers have a metabolism which is partially or wholly supplemented by electromagnetic energy. They're able to use this to run on water, stick to surfaces the way a gecko does (via the Van der Waals force), and even leap great distances (through a combination of repulsive forces against a surface and a super-charged contraction of the leg muscles).
  • Pressure points. Like the touch of death above, the ability to "non-violently" disable a dozen men with a few light touches sounds awesome, until you remember what electrical discharges do to muscles. Now go re-read the part about supers powered by EM. Several of the TCC classifications turn you into a walking taser if you do it right.
Let's talk about a couple of supers best known for their martial arts expertise. Both of them are exceptions from the stereotype.

Diver. She's more of a ninja type than a martial artist. Her control over light and darkness are mostly used for stealth applications, but remember, she does that through manipulation of the electromagnetic force. She can probably pull off anything on this list, and several other tricks. Her "laser sword" and "laser kunai" probably make punching and kicking irrelevant in terms of doing damage, but she's the whole package.

Tao. He's more of a speedster than an EM controller, and so can't do several of the things here. He can run on water, but that's because he can shift his weight before the surface tension collapses. He has been known to do a sort of nerve strike attack, and I'm not personally sure why it works. As usual, post if you got something good.

None of the other supers I'm aware of have demonstrated some new unknown form of "chi" energy. Mundane martial artists have yet to do the same, though obviously they can do amazing things compared to untrained mundanes - the way we can kick their asses in turn.

So yeah, the long version is that while people might use the term "chi", it's not really describing an independent sort of energy. We talk about the "runner's high" in the same terms, and chi is really just a combination of that - a release of energy in the body, combined with the body's fighting potential being fully realized.

None of this should remove any of the wonder or grandeur from the idea of chi. Martial artists embody a single-minded dedication that I sometimes envy. The ability to hone their entire self - body and mind - into a living weapon, then charge it with some overriding purpose such as the pursuit of glory, the protection of others, or the perfection of their art, is an amazing thing. It makes me frankly proud to be human, and even if a guy like this is fighting me, I'll show him some respect. To me, "chi" is far more significant when it's seen as the marker of success in the practice of the martial arts. To call it some sort of external energy is like saying midichlorians produce the Force. Let it be its own thing. Let it be the reward for hard work and dedication. And do you know what "hard work" translates to in Chinese? Kung fu.