The Mysterious Art of Chi Power

Olivier standing over a stack of 6 cement blocks. He is preparing to break only the last one on the stack.
Olivier standing over a stack of 6 cement blocks. He is preparing to break only the last one on the stack.

Much of the mystical power surrounding the martial arts and its superhuman deeds stems from the Eastern concept of chi or “energy,” in Chinese, and ki Japanese. Every person possesses this internal energy, but not everyone can tap it for external uses. Master John Olivier claims it is more mind over matter than anything else.

Is there rally anything mystical to the power of Chi or ki [“internal energy”]? The mystique that surrounds this invisible strength has been the subject for many martial arts fables and forklore. I’ve often heard stories about someone being able to knock a person down without touching them. The mere force of his chi was the tool used to unfoot the individual.

Another great tale regarding the power of chi or ki is an “isolation” break. This is where a person will select one brick or board in a stack and only break that particular one.

Over the past 30 years I have seen many demonstrations. Some were quite impressive, others should never have been attempted. However during all of my years in the martial arts I have never, until last week, witnesses an isolation break.

The “Isolation” Break

Master John Olivier from La Mesa, California stood poised over four bricks. He looked at me, then pointed to the last brick in the stack. A moment later his hand slammed the top brick . . . the stack appeared to be undamaged.

One by one he removed the unbroken breaks until he came to the one he had selected; it was nearly halved, almost as if it had been cut by a laser.

As I had inspected each break before it was put on the stack I knew it wasn’t a trick, but a true demonstration of the power that we all have inside of us. A power that only a few have harnessed to the degree that Master Olivier has.

When I go to break a brick or concrete blocks, I tap into an energy that comes up through my chest and into the center of my hand,” explains Olivier. “It creates a force field around my hand. I’m not using physical power to break the object, I’m using a mental and spiritual power. I am able to generate a vibration to the end of my hand and, through the power of chi, I send that pulse to whatever brick I have selected and only break that PARTICULAR break.

Olivier, a master of Shorinji kempo, claims that he has a 98% success rate when he does an isolation break.

“I can break the bottom, middle to top break at will,” says Olivier. “This art is known as Dim Mak, or “Death Touch,” or the “Red Hand.” It was passed down to me from my teacher. I am to the point now where I would like to be able to break a board from five feet away. That would be the ultimate and that’s what I would like to achieve.”

Olivier breaking two bottles, one in front of the other.
Olivier breaking two bottles, one in front of the other.
Olivier breaking two bottles, one in front of the other.
Olivier breaking two bottles, one in front of the other.

Mind Over Matter

Another impressive break that involved some serious chi was the bottle neck break originated by the late legendary Master Mas Oyama of Japan. Oliver placed two whiskey bottles side by side and, with a single slice of his hand, removed the necks of each bottle without tipping either one from the table.

I’ve often heard stories about someone being able to knock a person down without touching them. The mere force of his chi was the tool used to unfoot the individual. Another great tale regarding the power of chi or ki is an “isolation” break. This is where a person will select one brick or board in a stack and only break that particular one.

Master Olivier demonstrated several other fears of chi for me. Standing about four feet from a burning candle he extinguished the flame.

“Now that wasn’t air or turbulence that caused that,” he explains. “I did that by force of mind. I’ve reached a lot of achievements to show the mastery of the mind controlling the body.”

To further illustrate his point, Olivier placed a pointed spear to his throat and pressed against it until the wooden shaft bent bowed like the arch of a rainbow. Afterwards there wasn’t so much as a scratch on his throat. This was a feat made famous by Master Al Dacascos, father of current martial arts star Mark Dacascos, way back in the early 1970’s. So it wasn’t the first time it had been seen.

Olivier then stood 40 feet away from an archer who shot arrow after arrow at the five foot, six inch master. Like a scene out of an old episode of “Kung Fu,” Olivier caught each arrow before it made contact with his body.

This feat, too, has been done before, by several prominent East Coast martial arts pioneers, among them Glenn Premru, one of the first Top 10 ranked forms champions in the U.S.

But Olivier’s best claimed feat, to our knowledge, hasn’t been performed since, well, the era of the Japanese samurai.

developing chi by perform archery
Another way to develop chi is to perform archery while mounted on a galloping horse.

“Another way I developed my chi to do archery while mounted on a galloping horse.” Olivier says. “This is a great way to get in tune with everything around you. I must be at one with nature, my horse and my bow and arrow. I must control the horse with my legs, and at a full gallop I’ve got to be careful that I don’t shoot the horse in the head with my arrow. And in accordance with the Zen of this technique, I don’t aim at the target. I close my eyes and think the arrow toward its destination.”

Developing Chi

Olivier began developing his chi by smashing 50 pound rocks with his bare hands, certainly an impressive deed. Then he upped the ante to a 300 pound block of ice.

“After I broke my first piece of ice I continued to add slabs until I eventually got up to eight pieces of 350 pound blocks of ice,”Olivier says. “The stack was well over 12 feet high and weight 3000 pounds.”

Admittedly, when “spacers” are used to separate each block of ice, or for that matter concrete slabs, such a monumental break becomes much easier.

The top weight of the broken black or concrete slab helps break those underneath. The really sensational break of this nature is when no spacers are employed.

Olivier is able to mentally talk his body into doing things that it should run away from.

Olivier standing on sharp swords while cement blocks are broken over his head.
Olivier standing on sharp swords while cement blocks are broken over his head.

“I’ve stood on razor sharp swords, pierced my arms with bicycle spokes and hung 15-pound weights on them. I also put a 50-pound cement block on my head and my assistant, using a sledge hammer, would break the block in half. Afterwards, I get off the swords and show that my feet are not bleeding or cut. Then I remove the spokes from my arm and show that they too are unharmed.”

Olivier insists that these feats are not sideshow stunts or gimmicks. He says it has taken decades of intense training to develop his chi to this point.

“To accomplish these feats I must talk my body into ignoring the pain and mentally will it not to bleed,” says Olivier. “You must have no reservation about doing the technique. You must absolutely believe that nothing can harm you, and you must have total belief in your ability.”

The Danger of Injury

Master Olivier has not gone unscarred in his quest for absolute chi. In the summer of 1992 he was injured while performing the bottle neck break. He was hospitalized with a deep laceration that required 14 stitches.

“I was doing a demonstration at a shopping mall and just before I was about to do my break two kids ran right in front of me. I pulled short of the break because I knew the flying glass could hit them.”

By changing the direction of his chop the broken glass flew back from his hand instead of outward in the direction of the two bosy. Olivier’s quick reaction prevented the boys from being injured, but in doing so he put himself in harm’s way.

“The doctor’s at the hospital told me it was a very serious injury and that I would probably lose about forty percent use of my hand,” says Olivier. “But I immediately began treating my injury with acupuncture and my chi and now I have about ninty-eight percent use of my hand again.

World Breaking Attempts

Master Olivier, with the recovery of his hand, plans to attempt a world record break of over 2.5 ton’s of ice. Each block of ice is 10.5-inches, 22-inches wide and 45-inches long. The weight of one block is 391 pounds. These blocks of ice will be stacked one on top of the other. There will be a total of 15 blocks, creating a 20-foot tower of ice.

Wrist-lock elbow strike
With limbs that can demolish bricks, glass and ice, a wrist-lock elbow strike can be devastating.

“I’ve been preparing for this break by striking the makiwara about 500 times a day,” says Olivier. “In addition to being mentally and spiritually prepared for this break, I must also be physically ready. In that regard, I also am working out against a tree. I wrap coca-matting around the tree, which gives me about the same consistency as the ice I will be breaking, and I practice striking it hundreds of times a day.”

Most people would think that the danger in doing a break involving thousands of pounds of ice would be an injury to the hand. This however, is the least of Olivier’s concerns. The real danger comes from within.

“When you hit a big mass, the chi you release could backfire and actually cause your internal organs to explode,” Olivier explains. “So the mental preparation is very essential in breaking the ice.”

Olivier plans to attempt the record-setting ice break sometime in 1996. Good luck!