Many of the Tai chi classics refer to postural conditions, and will talk of the waist, the legs or the position of the head focusing on how this impacts the various internal processes of the body and our movement. In this month's edition of unpacking the classics we look at a verse that is more concerned with the mind and it's link to the body.
All movements are motivated by I [mind-intention],
not external form.
To understand this verse we must first understand the concept of mind intention, as without a clear definition we will be unable to use the advice in our practice. There are, of course, many different and varied definitions of intent, from the simple English translation of the term to the deeper meanings and consequences that the term has in Chinese martial arts. We can, however, break this term down into a very simple concept that marries both the western idea and the traditional internal arts idea of intent.
In western thought, intent could be defined as the will or idea to perform a given action. Intent comes before the action that we wish to perform and is a mind driven process linked to the will. This is also true in some respects of the traditional internal arts translation, which can describe the process prior to action in which the minds will to perform is connected to the body. As with many terms in the Chinese martial arts intent or yi has shallower and deeper meanings based on one’s own perception and level of competency.
As a simple exercise, hold your hand out in front of you towards a wall or an light switch. Then think to touch the wall or light switch with everything that you are, make it real that you are going to touch it, but do not allow your body to move even one millimetre. You should feel a deep level or focus and a clear connection between the minds will and the bodies wish to enact it. This connection is part of the intent system.
As such, we could describe the intent system as linked to our neurology, in that our minds will to act requires that our nervous system responds by engaging the tissues of our body. I like to imagine this system as similar to the wiring networks inside a car or similar machine. This wiring system carries instructions from the inputs and commands over the driver to the active areas of the machinery. In systems such as these the thicker the wiring, the better it is insulated, the stronger and clearer the signal. Relating back to the body, the training of the intent system, using various methodologies and techniques, similarly aims to make this system stronger and the interference between the minds will to act and the bodies motion lessened.
Very often yi is translated as mind intention rather than simply intention. This is because the mind is the motivator and commander of the intent and without the mind intent would not exist. It is in our mind, either conscious or subconscious, that we create the will or intention to move often fuelled by forces acting upon or within us during the practise of Tai chi. And so mind and intention are closely linked to one another and cannot ultimately be separated.
Because of this close connection, if our mind is disordered and we are acting without clarity in Tai chi we call this moving from external form. It is a state where we simply move around trying our best to move correctly and is often the domain of the beginner. At this stage of training one must concentrate very closely on the new techniques and movements in order to understand the angles, positions and postures. Ultimately however, to remain in this realm of surface level attension is an error and we must strive to move past this simple and basic approach to Tai chi. Instead our movements should be motivated by clear and unobstructed mind and intent.
When we are able to move in harmony with mind, intent and body our breath or chi becomes smooth and powerful. However, if our mind is distracted, or overly focused on a single point we may begin to disrupt a smooth and regular breathing cycle and fall into the trap of breathing out of sync with our movements and methods, here lies another error that we must constantly monitor and observe.
And so we see that movements should be motivated by the clear mind, and the intent, so as to make sure that our Tai chi is powerful and full. The longer we train the more we will naturally be able to utilize our intent and the stronger the signal will become between the mind and the body. As this progression occurs our training enters a new phase and Tai Chi practice finds new depth.