When a group of us were doing a demo, some teens came up and asked "can you use your chi power?"  The remake of the Karate Kid had just come out around that time and that obviously had sparked their question. It's understandable that what you see in films bears no relation to reality chi-wise, as the reality doesn't make exciting action to watch.

Also, there's a lot of stuff in books these days, some of which is accurate, but a lot of which is just written either out of sheer ignorance or just to cynically sell. If you want to buy a book on tai chi, then either get a recommendation from your teacher, or browse through the shelves of a BIG bookstore, which will give you at least an idea of what's out there, before shelling out - these books are usually fairly expensive.

Back to chi: Because so many people come with strange preconceptions gained from the media or elsewhere, a good tai chi teacher will avoid the subject to start off with. They may tell you to "just feel" - no one tells you what you are trying to feel, because they do just want you to feel what you feel. You can see why this doesn't make for exciting viewing!

You will probably be asked at some point to feel your slow deep breaths in and out, or to breathe with particular movements. DON'T worry about breathing - breathe naturally at all times, unless you are told otherwise for specific exercises or whatever. Too many people get caught up  in when they should/shouldn't breathe in or out with whatever foot is moving, etc. This is absolutely not useful at beginner stages.  The point of breathing exercises is for you to feel your breathing in or out at that specific moment. This helps you focus your mind on feeling rather than thinking, and the breathing helps you become a deep breather rather than a normally shallow breather, clearing out the stale air at the bottom of your lungs. Over months and years the breathing also helps clear energy blockages, according to Chinese theory, helping you circulate your energy around your body through its proper channels.

Chi can be translated as meaning "breath" or "energy", but really don't worry about it too much at the beginning. Just start on feeling what's going on in your body whenever your teacher says "just feel" and breathe with whatever specific exercises your teacher gives you - any other time, don't thing about it, don't worry about it, just get on with learning your tai chi. Over time, your practise of just feeling and just breathing will deepen your awareness of your own body/mind in harmony and you will then begin to experience those feelings of chi movement naturally.

People ask "how do I know if I'm feeling chi?"  Well, after a while you start feeling strange sensations in your body you never noticed before, but that comes with time and practise - at the very beginning, you just start to feel hot, for no obvious reason, during your gentle practises. The strange body sensations are not exactly describable, because not only are they different for everyone, but also they change over time, as your practises become a regular part of your life. But it never, ever looks like it does on the films!

So relax, just feel, and let things happen in their own time chi-wise!