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Claims of Chi: Besting a Tai Chi Master

Joe Nickell, PhD, is now well into his fifth decade as an investigative writer. Among his many books is Secrets of the Sideshows (2005).

Figure 1. Author at the grave of Dixie Annie (Jarrett) Haygood, a.k.a Annie Abbott, “The Little Georgia Magnet,” whom strong men could not move. (Author’s photo, taken before a headstone was installed.)

In nearly half a century of investigating strange mysteries, I have frequently encountered claims of the mysterious force or power known as qi or ch’i or simply chi (pronounced “chee”). The term translates as “air” or “breath” and, by extension, “life force” or “energy flow.”

In traditional Asian cultures, especially Chinese, chi is the essential principle in such practices as feng shui (pronounced “fung shway”), the art of creating harmonious environments; acupuncture, a form of traditional Chinese medicine in which needles are inserted at specified points to stimulate the flow of chi (Nickell 2012); and certain martial arts, including tai chi. I will expand on the latter here, exposing tricks used by masters and their followers.

I am quick to say I did not have much special knowledge for this particular investigation other than my background as a magician and wonderworker (Nickell 2005, 219–220, 231–232, 274), but I did have a college course in sport judo and was once trained—by karate black belt and physics teacher Matt Lowry— to break boards by striking them with my hand (Nickell 2011; 2012a).

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