Chi Ki and Prana

Chi (also qi) is the Chinese character for "breath." The Japanese and Koreans use this character, too, but pronounce it ki. In traditional belief, chi is much more than just breath: it's an invisible force that pervades all living things. Disciplined individuals can - with proper knowledge and practice - control and manipulate it. Someone with balanced, strong chi will live long and be capable of great acts. One's chi can become unbalanced, however. Those with unbalanced chi must rebalance it or suffer ill health (in game terms, adjusting chi is a form of Esoteric Medicine, p. B192).

Proponents of traditional Chinese martial arts often claim that masters can project their chi to control students' actions, move objects . . . even kill. Such masters can also direct their chi internally to perform superhuman feats: mighty leaps, impossible lifts, running up walls, shattering objects, and so forth. In modern China, though, the concept of chi runs contrary to the state's atheistic Communist philosophy. Chi is seen as nothing more than the vitality of a body in perfect health; it's a matter of fitness, not mystical forces.

Historical Japanese styles make fewer claims about supernatural powers but still regard ki as something to cultivate and project. Ki development and the power of breathing meditation became popular in Japanese swordsmanship during the 18th century. A Japanese warrior with strong ki should have great skill and high Will - not use superhuman powers to attack foes at a distance. Modern Japanese anime hews more closely to the Chinese approach, however.

The Indian term for chi is prana.

Prana - like chi or ki - is an invisible, subtle, yet all-pervasive force that provides life to the body. It causes respiration, keeps the heart beating, allows speech, digests food, and equalizes bodily functions. It's possible to regulate prana through breathing, using a skill called pranayama. Some believe that this allows superhuman feats of endurance, strength, and willpower.

The concept of "breath as life" and the importance of deep breathing aren't exclusively Asian. For instance, the great Greek physician Galen held that something could only be considered exercise if it increased respiration, and that respiration was important to health and to success in physical activities. Martial Arts refers to any such view of life force and the powers that derive from it as "chi," regardless of its cultural origin.

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