There is something about tai chi training that people don't discuss very much, but that is a part of walking the tai chi / qigong / meditation path. Call it psychic ability, the paranormal, tuning in to energy, or whatever you want. If you do a lot of tai chi and qigong meditation, sooner or later, you'll start to see and feel...things. This can be a fascinating experience, and it will probably develop alongside your self-defense and qi skills, so there is nothing to fear.
What kinds of things?
Well, a lot of people begin by seeing auras, or the electromagnetic field that surrounds all living things. I remember years ago doing sitting meditation. I sat behind one of my friends, and as I settled into my meditation focus, a bright red layer appeared all around her head and shoulders. I knew that red typically means a heightened emotional state - it can signify that the person is angry, or that she is feeling especially lusty. I assumed it was the former situation - we were in class, after all. When I spoke to her after meditation, she told me all about the terrible day she'd had, and how frustrated and angry she was at something outrageous that had happened.
It was one of my first clear moments of knowing I'd really seen something significant.
Chances are, when you first start to see auras, you'll see them as a faint pale gold glow around people. It's easy to dismiss this as an effect of lighting or tired eyes. Just bear in mind that we are trained, especially in Western culture, to dismiss anything that isn't 100 percent verifiable by science. The more you sink into your tai chi and qigong training, the more you'll notice that not everything is what it seems. It can be a bit of a disconcerting experience, especially if you're accustomed to embracing our culture's habit of skepticism.
One of the things that happens to us as we train is that we begin to become aware of how we are affected - physically, mentally and emotionally - by our activities, by the food that we eat, by the people we spend time with, and by our surroundings. Because we develop a habit of tuning in to our physical sensations and our thoughts, we take notice when something seems intrusive or out of place.
A lot of my students experience this awakening as a sudden sensitivity to other people. As energy beings, humans toss around a lot of loose qi, usually when we're feeling strong emotions. We throw anger; we project disapproval; we send love. Once you've learned how qi feels, you can walk into a room and get an instant impression of the emotional and energetic temperature of the people there. If someone who hates you is sitting in the office you just entered, you might feel their emotional presence as a drop in the pit of your stomach. That's your qi reacting to theirs.
Back when I was doing my PhD and I taught undergrad classes, I always hated the days when I had to hand back essays. The classroom was often ripe with the students' nervousness, and I felt their fear of doing badly hit me like a wave.
One of the things tai chi can teach us is how to manage such scenarios so that we aren't quite as vulnerable to the emotional projections of others.
Another key aspect of tai chi and qigong is a sensitivity to non-corporeal energy beings that surround us. On a fundamental level, our world is composed of such energies. Not all of the sentient and mobile energies out there have physical form like we do. If you're out in the woods, and you see what look like multi-coloured or golden sparks, don't worry: your retinas probably aren't tearing (as I thought mine were the first few times I saw this phenomena). You're seeing elementals, rudimentary energies. You can feel these energies at times, too. While meditating a couple of months ago, I felt a large, sinuous form pass by me where I was sitting on the floor. A while later, a white, translucent, smiling face floated in front of me. I'd been visited by a dragon - one of the guardians of our practice.
While seeing these things doesn't make you a better tai chi practitioner, it does highlight the fact that there is layer upon layer of reality that is unacknowledged by our materialistic culture. Being able to see such things doesn't make you crazy. It's just a part of taking a deeper look at your world. One of my favourite things about walking the tai chi path is watching the world unfold before me, in ways that are constantly surprising, new and unexpected.
Masters who learn to tame their minds and emotions, and who build an intimate relationship with qi, can also use their energy for self defense. YouTube is full of videos that include demonstrations of qi manipulation, often followed by cries that they are "fake." While it's true that a lot of these videos are the qi master equivalent of professional wrestling, some offer wonderful insight into how qi manipulation works. This demonstration by Venerable Lama Dondrup Dorje of the Pathgate Institute of Buddhist Studies both shows and discusses the use of your qi bubble. While the demonstrations might look fake, the Lama's assistants are reacting to the way he is using his qi field. Enjoy.