Ki 気 literally means "energy," which is commonly defined as the ability to do work. In a martial arts context, we're referring specifically to the generation of force. Energy is created in the human body by a flow of electricity. At rest, the average human body produces around 100 watts of power. Electricity is required for the nervous system to send signals throughout the body and to the brain, making it possible for us to move, think and feel. Almost all of the cells in our body can use charged elements (such as sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium), called ions, to generate electricity, and therefore energy.
All martial arts, and in fact all human movement, use this energy to generate power in their techniques. The amount of power you can generate is dependent on your overall use and understanding of biomechanics and proper structure. But this isn't an article on the most efficient way to punch or kick. Let's get deeper in our study of the arts, and specifically look at the taboo internal arts.
Most people's definition of internal martial arts comes from a rudimentary understanding of Taijiquan and Qigong. To them, the "internal" classification refers to the healing properties of these practices, and that's certainly part of it. The flow of energy through the body helps improve the circulatory and respiratory systems, which in turn promote overall health. But can you use ki combatively? Yes! There are two distinct applications of ki in the internal martial arts: disruption and connection.
For those who are skeptical about pressure point knockouts, let me point out that it's not as mystical as people make it appear (and most on YouTube are just charlatans). In boxing and MMA, knockouts are often achieved by a well-placed strike to the side of the jaw. Sitting on the lower jaw is a point called Stomach 6 (stomach meridian, point #6). Hit at the correct angle with enough force, and you cause unconsciousness. The same is true of the carotid plexus (a network of intersecting sympathetic nerves which run parallel to the carotid artery into the head).
The second, more complicated, use of ki is in connection. The human body conducts electricity, so when two people make contact, the electricity is flowing freely between them. With extensive training, one can use this electrical current to interpret vital information about their opponent. Through the slightest touch, you become sensitive to their structure and immediately can feel where their weight is sitting, where their points of balance are and in what direction is their energy traveling. Then, through the manipulation of the skeletal structure or soft, connective tissue, one can alter the physical shape of the opponent's body and place them in a compromising position, from which they can be thrown or locked. Essentially, it is a use of the body's anatomical structure against itself by using the information gained through the sensitivity of touch.
The flip side of kiai is aiki (often referred to as "internal power"). These are not two separate concepts, but rather two halves of a whole. Aiki is a set of principles and biomechanical processes that allow you to use the body in its most efficient state. When the practitioner first learns about aiki, it is often through wrist-grab connection drills that teach them both how to become sensitive to the kinetic energy of the attacker and the weak points in their structure. These drills also allow you to isolate and focus on various muscle groups and movements which allow for significant power without extensive movement. This is the true meaning of the adage, "maximum effect with minimum effort." The use of breath, as in kiai, is also crucial to the generation of internal power.
So, is ki something mystical? No. As Westerners, we simply have a mystical view of anything coming out of the Orient. This, coupled with the metaphoric teachings of most instructors, had led to a gross misunderstanding and condemnation of a very real, measurable principle of the human body. Energy is something that flows in all of us, and the study of ki is merely the study of that energy. Unfortunately, the martial arts have become a very superficial, extracurricular physical activity, and therefore deep study of the human anatomy and physiology is often overlooked. However, it is in these studies that we begin to reach true depth in the martial arts. The study of martial arts is the study of oneself, both spiritually and physically. There is an intellectual component to the arts. Not everything involves hitting a bag. We must seek the highest levels and the farthest depths of our understanding, and pass that on before it's lost. There are far too many practitioners of the arts, and not enough students.
When you isolate them and apply pressure, while you do usually get "something" in response, it's not nearly as drastic as other points and often not felt at all. That's why I said between 108 and 365. They're technically there, but not of significant combative use. Rather, these points assist in the healing properties of the meridian origins through acupressure and acupuncture. When affected, these points increase the flow of energy to the meridian origin.
Here is an example of the wrist-grab connection drills I described above. I must remind you that these drills are meant to isolate and teach the fundamentals of aiki. These are not self defense techniques, in and of themselves. These drills allow you to understand what aiki is, and how it works, so that the principles can be extracted and incorporated into your joint locks and throws. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to ask and I will be more than happy to address them. Also, the video is muted on purpose as there are some instructional clips meant only for students.