Tai chi, chi kung and the microcosmic Orbit

I’ve been practising tai chi since 1995 (I stopped for about three years from around 1998 to 2001). Tai chi, especially at the frequency I practice, can be a slow art to master. The very first tai chi book I read mentioned that an average person with no prior experience would take around 5 to 10 years before becoming competent at defending themself.

Well, my 10 years are up (7 if you’re being picky), and twice I’ve had the opportunity to use what I’ve learnt in defending myself.

The first time involved me lying in bed, early one morning. Anique had just left. I heard someone coming up the stairs. I realised it couldn’t be her, as I hadn’t heard the front door open again. I sat up in bed, and a man with a machete appeared at the bedroom door. My next memory is of me having pushed him out the room. I have no idea how I got to him without him reacting – perhaps the fact that I was naked helped buy me a few more seconds 🙂 I pushed him out the door, and closed the door – he gave his first reaction (lifting the machete) as I closed the door. We’d just installed a house alarm the previous day (as good an example of synchronicity as any), so I pressed the alarm, and he ran away. Our only contact was my push, and it worked remarkably well.

My second opportunity was while sitting outside the front door of a house in Observatory, waiting to be fetched. I was reading, and had my wallet and cellphone next to me. A man came to the garden gate asking for money. I said no, and he left. Obviously he saw my wallet and cellphone, because he came back, and I realised something was wrong when he came through the gate and began to approach me. He had a number of glass returnable bottles which he’d been collecting. He took out one, a 500ml Coke bottle and, as I started to rise, attempted to hit me with it, while grabbing my wallet. Again, I don’t recall much, but I deflected the blow, and pushed him away. He fell backwards against the gate, which broke. So far the tai chi had worked well – the push being quite effective as the gate was about 5 metres away 🙂 Unfortunately I forgot my tai chi principles after that and picked up the bottles which he’d dropped and went charging after him. He was dropping money to try delay me, while I went charging after him, smashing bottles over his head. Eventually, after about a 200m chase, he dropped the last of it, and I went back to the house, as I remembered my cellphone was still lying outside the door. When I got back, my cellphone was nowhere to be found. Furious, I went charging after him again. Someone else joined me, and we searched the area, eventually finding him about a kilometre from the house. Again my tai chi was forgotten as we tried to apprehend him. He was eventually arrested, but I ended up with lots of his blood all over me, and after much discussion decided to take anti-retrovirals as a precaution. They have hideous side-effects. I could probably drink 2 litres of whiskey every evening and feel better the next morning than I did when taking those things. I’m not a fan of pharmaceuticals as it is, but those were bad. The cellphone had fallen in the garden, and was safely back at the house.

Proof of concept in defence aside, I’ve had a number of milestones in tai chi and chi kung. The first time I felt my arm moving on its own. The first time I sunk (having thought I knew what sinking was for ages before – it took me years to experience something similar again). And this weekend I experienced the so-called Microcosmic Orbit, which is when chi flows around the body, up the back, and down the front of the body. It’s also called the Lesser Heavenly Circuit, or named after the meridians along which the chi flows, the Governer and Conception Channels.

There’s much written about the Microcosmic Orbit. I’m not going to add to it. Much of it is written by people who have an incomplete understanding, and my own understanding is barely at the beginning, so I can’t add much. But, basically, it’s an important technique to master in chi kung. Its mastery opens doors to a number of more advanced techniques involving chi flow around the body.

I have no expectations of repeating it again anytime soon. As with my experience of the tai chi concept of sinking, attempts to repeat it were only met with disappointment. I may experience it again soon, I may not. But the experience has been quite profound, and a boost to my motivation. It’s great to actually experience for myself what some of what advanced practioners talk about. I’ve seen all sorts of effects of tai chi, old men pushing away rows of much stronger men, and I remember laughing as I was launched airwards without feeling a thing in an early demonstration of push hands. I try to have no real goal – no end point. There are little points to achieve along the way, but all I want to do is continue to improve, and that process can never end. Without a goal, one has to enjoy the journey, and right now I am.


  1. I too am on the journey of Tai Chi, and getting close to my 5th year. Before I discovered Tai Chi, i’d already been playing with meditation for several years, so the sensitivity part came naturally (I believe! by comparison to others). I still have not discovered the microcosmic orbit in its entirety, though I feel it want to go half-way now and then. It seems to disappear around the top and bottom.
    I’ve been having difficulties of my own; sometimes I end up with too much energy in my head! Have you ever dealt with this? I’ve read that the main way to alleviate this is with the microcosmic orbit, and that really sucks because i’m sure i’m still a ways off from that.
    The benefits of Tai Chi in combat are amazing!! I haven’t actually used it in a real situation, but in sparring with pair of stronger and more experienced jujitzu fighters, I beat both of them, and it didn’t take very long. My sifu once told me that those grappler types always had a serious problem with Tai Chi practitioners.

  2. Microcosmic circuit – I am working towards this with breathing exercises but can find nobody (including my teacher & those students who have experienced it!) to tell me exactly what it feels like so I’m not sure if my experience is that or something else. A couple of times I’ve had fairly electrifying sexual feelings but I don’t think that’s it. Is it similar to the chi sinking feeling you get with raising and lowering hands after a practice session, which is a bit like a stream trickling down the front of the body? And does it happen while you are doing the breathing exercises or spontaneously afterwards?

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