“Can you also direct the qi to your feet?” he asked.
Mark was a new student in my studio. He told me that he had read a few books on qigong and tai chi. But his first week in the studio was an eye-opener.
He was loving the experience.
“Yes,” I said.
Mark giggled with excitement.
“What about directing the energy outside of your body?” Mark asked. “I read that past masters could do that.”
Mark would often corner me after class and pepper me with questions.
“Sure, I can do that too,” I said. “It’s not as mysterious as it sounds. But we call that transmitting the qi, which is different than directing the qi.”
I walked him over to a chart on the back wall of my studio, which had the following list:
The 12 Dimensions of Qi Mastery
- Discovering the Qi
- Circulating the Qi
- Aligning the Qi
- Gathering the Qi
- Purifying the Qi
- Protecting the Qi
- Mobilizing the Qi
- Directing the Qi
- Consolidating the Qi
- Transforming the Qi
- Unifying the Qi
- Transmitting the Qi
“The class you just took was here,” I said, pointing to #2 on the chart. “Directing the qi to my feet would be #8, and transmitting the qi outside of my body would be #12.”
As Mark stared at the chart, he looked like a kid in a candy store. He was grinning ear to ear.
And that’s exactly how it should be when you are new to qigong and tai chi — you should be excited and awed and even a bit overwhelmed by the amazing new world of qi cultivation.
Ancient Skills, Modernized
A few years ago, I started to feel like there was something missing from my teaching.
I needed something to help my students understand the many different skills that past qigong masters had.
I dove into classical and modern texts on qigong. I experimented. I meditated on the subject. And I practiced diligently.
The result was something that I called The 12 Phases of Qi Cultivation.
Some of you may remember my older article on the 12 Phases of Qi Mastery. If you haven’t read that article, you can skip it because this one is more up-to-date. (Or you can go read it if you’re a curious cat.)
That was the prototype of the 12 Dimensions of Qi Mastery.
From Phases to Dimensions
The 12 Phases, now called the 12 Dimensions, were originally meant as a simple teaching tool, but the concept has evolved into something much bigger.
Last year, during our annual retreat in Costa Rica, one of the participants suggested that we use the word “12 Dimensions” instead of “12 Phases”.
This person happens to be a professor of theoretical physics at the University of Florida.
He explained that in physics, dimensions are not linear. They coexist and overlap.
This was exactly the concept that I had been searching for.
The 12 skills overlap, and also coexist.
As we explore the 12 Dimensions together, you’ll see why I changed the terms, and why this whole thing is a journey, not a destination.
For example, there is overlap between the 2 skills of directing the qi to my hands and transmitting the qi to another person. If I use my hand to transmit, then both skills must also coexist at the same time. Right?
Seeking What They Sought
There’s a famous Zen quote that has inspired me through my 2 decades of exploring these arts:
“Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise; seek what they sought.” ― Zen Master Matsuo Bashō
In seeking what the past masters sought, I discovered the 12 Dimensions.
I stood on the shoulders of giants. In other words, I built on the knowledge of the past masters, combined with my modern understanding and experience of qigong (and physics!).
If you love qigong and tai chi, then my “discoveries” may help you, regardless of what style you practice.
Then and Now
As I mentioned, past qigong masters get all the credit for discovering and developing these 12 skills.
My work has been to organize, arrange, and teach these skills, not just to a few select disciples like in the past, but to thousands of students.
My goal is for students to experience all 12 skills.
In other words, I don’t want you to just read about these skills; I want you to feel them.
These skills are not mysterious. With proper training and proper practice, anyone can learn and enjoy all 12 Dimensions of Qi Mastery.
Before switching to qigong and tai chi, I earned 2 black belts in karate.
The belt system is popular. And I know why.
It’s comforting to see an organized path of belts ahead of you. It helps you feel like there is an order to the chaos of learning a complex new skill.
I still remember the feeling of pride after earning my green belt.
Belts are also important for karate school owners. It’s hard to run a successful martial arts business without using belts to increase motivation and attendance.
After I left the karate world, I stopped using the belt system, and I haven’t looked back.
But now, it’s tempting for students to view the 12 Dimensions as levels, similar to belts.
“What level are you?”
“Dude, I just passed my Dimension 4 test!”
Unfortunately, qi mastery doesn’t work that way.
Mastery in the art of qi cultivation isn’t linear. It’s circular. Or rather, spiral.
The Spiral of Qi and of Life
Our galaxy is a spiral. The “Golden Number” of mathematics maps out to a spiral. In many ways, life itself is a spiral.
The natural order is a spiral, not a line.
Qigong and tai chi are based on the philosophy of yin and yang. In other words, these arts follow the natural order of the cosmos.
Rather than thinking about the 12 Dimensions as a line, think of them as a spiral, like this:
If you look at the spiral above, you can see that by the time you finish all 12 dimensions, you’re basically back where you started — just a bit deeper.
Also, notice the overlap between each skill. This is to remind you that the separating into skills is not black and white.
In fact, the deeper you go into this art of qi mastery, the more the 12 skills become unified.
The Many Levels of Mastery
I’ve been through all 12 Dimensions, and I can perform each skill.
Does that mean I’m done? Am I an Enlightened Mega Grandmaster?
People today are extremely confused about the concept of mastery.
In an article on the subject, What Everyone Ought to Know About Jedi Mastery, I likened myself to a 4th degree Black Belt in qigong and tai chi.
This is just an analogy to remind you that mastery has many levels. It’s a lesson that I never forgot from my karate days — that black belt is only the beginning. (There are 10 degrees of black belt.)
In fact, black belt was the beginning of a fantastic journey for me, a journey that now has me exploring and teaching the 12 Dimensions of Qi Mastery all over the world.
If we continue using the karate belt analogy, then you need to understand this: You’ll be mastering the 12 Dimensions not only from white belt to black belt, but also through all 10 ranks of black belt.
The Messiness of Mastery
I’ve been practicing the various skills from the 12 Dimensions for decades. And I plan to continue practicing them for many more years.
For example, I still practice Dimension #1, Discovering the Qi, every single day.
It’s not a beginner skill that I learned years ago and then left behind.
If anything, I am discovering the qi in new and beautiful ways. For example, I’m discovering not just the flow of qi in my own body, but how qi flows through a room (which is part of the art called feng shui).
I don’t go in order through the skills. One day, I might focus on gathering the qi. Another day, I might focus on consolidating.
Or I might spend a month deepening my skill of transforming.
This is what mastery really looks like. It’s messy.
I’ve arranged the 12 skills in a pretty, color-coded chart. But your journey won’t look like that. Mine certainly didn’t.
For example, many of you reading this have probably learned some of the 12 skills, but not all of them.
That’s okay. You’ve got the rest of your life to learn and develop the other skills.
Understanding Each Dimension
If you’ve read this far, you’re probably curious to learn more about each of the 12 Dimensions.
Good! I was hoping to pique your curiosity.
But first, I want to hear from you.
If you want me to write more about this, then let me know in the comments below.
I especially want to know which of the 12 Dimensions you are most curious about! From the heart, Sifu Anthony