Can anyone help me better understand "intent?"

Can anyone help me better understand "intent?"

Postby global village idiot » Fri May 27, 2016 10:18 pm

I’d be grateful for your thoughts on the topic of “intent.”

As I read the Classics and understand my instructors, “intent” is something they all seem to grasp intuitively, but in a way that’s hard for me to completely wrap my mind around. I’ve come to a certain understanding of “intent” as relates to tai chi chuan; but since this understanding exists only in my mind (so far), I have yet to have it evaluated by anyone else.

My best friend trained for a long time in judo (along with bayonet fencing and other combative disciplines) and refers often to the term “conditioned response.” It’s a sort of “lizard-brain” reaction to external stimuli – opponent does X, you do Y, and you do it because it’s been drilled into you.

I don’t think this is what we mean by “intent” at all.

I’m willing to be proved wrong but for a long time I've had an internal understanding of “intent” in the context of tai chi chuan which is very similar to what I’m doing at this very moment. I’m typing this post on a computer keyboard, but I’m not looking at the keys or willing my fingers to type. I simply think about what I want to say and I’m focusing on saying it, whereas the typing just sort of happens. When I make a mistake, I know I've made it without having to re-read the text or retrace my key-strokes - I just know I've made it and go back and correct it.

So in a similar way as pressing keys on a computer keyboard without thinking about it fulfills my intent of communicating ideas, I interact with an opponent in tai chi chuan without thinking about the interaction, in order to fulfill my intent of…

…what, precisely?

I could say that my intent is “I don't want some ugly Mook to hand me a beatdown” but saying it like that feels philosophically vulgar. It also seems to be a rather Western way of framing the issue, which I think is part of the reason I'm stumbling with the concept.

It feels like I only half-understand the concept of “intent,” and that the half I'm not sure I understand is the important and fundamental part. There’s an element I’m missing, which is right there in the plain language of the Classics and my instructors, but I need it rephrased in just such a way that it becomes clear.

gvi
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Re: Can anyone help me better understand "intent?"

Postby Audi » Sat May 28, 2016 3:08 pm

Greetings GVI,

You raise a great question. From my perspective, your description of typing is indeed quite close to the mark. However, the word I would use for the ability to touch type in the Tai Chi context is "shenming" (神明).

One way we look at the learning progression, both in the macro and micro sense, is in three phases. The first is to become practiced in the move/technique (zhao1shu2) (招熟). The second is to understand the energy involved in the move/technique (懂劲). The third level is to exercise complete mastery of the move/technique (神明) to use it however you want.

I think of “intent” (意) as being the meaning or purpose your mind attaches to an action. This should be a very simple thing; however, since the mind itself is subtle, the concept becomes subtle when usually applied.

According to my understanding, "intent" is in part something in your mind and in part something physical.

Imagine someone putting your palm on someone's arm. Depending on your intent or the meaning you attach to your palm movement, you will make subtle changes in angle, pressure, and rhythm. These can express an attitude to console, to express friendship, to keep at a distance, or to injure.

If we stick to discussing touch typing, what would you say your mind does to type a word? I would say that you simply think of the word and activate your fingers. You have passed through phase one of becoming practiced in applying the correct finger technique to the correct letter in the word. You have also passed through the stage of feeling what happens when you do this. You have now arrived at the stage of "shenming" (神明) or complete mastery.

Master Yang frequently talks about "shenming" (神明) in the context of driving a car and knowing how to use the wheel. I sometimes talk to my students in this way to say that once you have learned the fundamentals of how to steer a car. You gain an ability to drive all cars and to navigate all turns. When you approach an exit, your driving confidence does not come from having practiced that specific curve and now being able unconsciously to reproduce the necessary movements. Your confidence come from having completely mastered the "energy involved" in steering through everyday curves and not having to think about hand positions or angles. When you make a right turn, could you even tell me how far your hands turn the wheel?

The word or character we often translate as “intent” is "Yi4" (意). This word is no longer used independently in daily conversation, but is still common as a component in other expressions. One pair of common expressions that can give insight into its meaning is "you3yi4" (有意) and "wu2yi4" (无意) . These could be translated as "intentionally" and "unintentionally"; however, in a Tai Chi context, I think it is better to think of what you "mean" to do and what you "unthinkingly" do or perhaps what meaning you attach to your actions. Notice that these words have much less of a future orientation than the word "intention" can have in English. They are not really about planning, but rather about "doing."

We want you to move so that all your actions have meaning. Let's talk specifically about forming the hook in Single Whip. During the first stage of your learning, the meaning you attach to your hand shape probably will be and should be to copy your teacher's movement as supplemented by his or her words. During the second stage, the meaning you attach should probably will be to fulfill your teacher's words as supplemented by what you think you see in his or her movement. You begin to focus on what the movement is for and how this is accomplished through the movement. At for the third phase, you focus simply on what you want to accomplish through the hook hand.

Let's talk about our stepping technique. Some might say that we use the "heel-to-ball-to-toe" method over and over so that we can reproduce it unconsciously. I think that is part of it; but that even more importantly, we learn to feel and understand the energy aspect. We learn to use the heel to root, the ball to develop energy, and the toe to send the energy out. Then your intent is simply to use the legs in the combined body energy to accomplish your objective. Every change in your leg joints has meaning to you in relation to what you are doing, just as every movement of a swimmer's leg will have meaning to them as they tread water.

To practice your "intent," you must know the meaning of your movements in a fair amount of detail. That is the main reason why we teach the applications portrayed by the postures in the form. It is not to rehearse the movements, but rather to become familiar with the energy behind them.

Some people say to do the form as if you you are doing push hands with an opponent and to do push hands as if you are doing the form by yourself. I understand this as a direction to restore yin-yang balance. When you do form beyond a novice level, you need to think about what you are doing to the opponent and how. Every part of your body should have a purpose. Like anything, this can be overdone. For instance, some people alter the form movements too much in accordance to what they perceive as more martially effective techniques. I think this results from a misunderstanding of what we are actually training. An obvious example would be the speed at which we train. Doing the form quicker to make your movements more martially efficient would be a misunderstanding of our training philosophy.

In practicing your "intent" in the form, there are questions you can ask yourself. Do you know what the posture is for? Do you know where you are focusing energy (Jin4 or 劲) to leave your body (the Jin point)? Do you know what circle your waist should be using? In Lifting Hands, where is the Jin point in your right arm? What part of the opponent is your right arm in contact with? What is your left hand doing. What is your waist doing? What is the arm circle? How do you feel the energy traveling from down to up?

I hope this helps.

Take care,
Audi
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Re: Can anyone help me better understand "intent?"

Postby ChiDragon » Sat May 28, 2016 3:57 pm

gvi,
I admire your persnickety attitude in pursuit of profound knowledge such as Tai Chi Chuan. You know, once I had the same curiosity as you have about the word "intent". I was wondering was it a good English translation for the Chinese character (yi). If I look at it macroscopically, yes, it is a closest translation. However, if I look at it microscopically, then no.

To me, the character (yi) is a subconscious thought or notion in the mind which has a subliminal effect on the person. It has no intent whatsoever. Let me use your idea about typing on the keyboard as an example. When you learn to type, you just strike the key each time for a particular letter which comes into your mind. After you have conditioned yourself by familiarized with the keys of the letters, then you know which finger to use to strike the key. The thing that is you just do it unintentionally but unconsciously.

You want to write a story on a computer by typing on the keyboard. Actually, you are not typing the story or the words nor the letters. In your mind, you are just thinking about the letters only. However, there was no intent on your part to select a particular key to strike. Your finger just strike a key associated with a letter which was already conditioned in your mind.

In Tai Chi Chuan, by practicing the movements repeatedly, you have conditioned those moves in the mind. So, each time when think about the name of the move or you are in a certain position; you will act out the form unconsciously. Do you recall that you had mentioned at one time you just did a "single whip" from a certain position? For that manner, did you know that was your (yi) having a subliminal effect on you?
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Re: Can anyone help me better understand "intent?"

Postby global village idiot » Sat May 28, 2016 5:51 pm

"Persnickety" - Thanks :wink: I suppose I am more than just a bit bothersome in my impatience. The only defense I can offer for being such a pest is that I reckon if I have the question in my own mind, others have it as well.

As one of my former Sergeants was fond of saying, there are no stupid questions - only inquisitive idiots (hence my username).

From your answers - and thanks for taking the time to share your understanding - I begin to get the idea that "intent" might not be so goal-oriented as my vulgar statement above. Rather, it should be one of integrating or inculcating the principles of tai chi where and when they are called for.

We don't type to type or even to communicate - we type to share the idea. We don't drive to drive or even to travel - we drive to BE at the place we want to go. And if I understand you correctly, we don't do tai chi to do tai chi or even to apply the applications - we do it to be better, more capable and more complete people.

In the Army we have a saying for getting too focused on details. We call it "getting wrapped around the axle." I think that's what I'm doing right now. This conversation has taught me something valuable. I ought to just shut up, stop overthinking and just go practice more, since by doing so I get to where the real benefit lies. Thanks a million for the insight! It's helped a great deal.

gvi
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Re: Can anyone help me better understand "intent?"

Postby Audi » Sun May 29, 2016 1:10 pm

Hi GVI,

The only defense I can offer for being such a pest is that I reckon if I have the question in my own mind, others have it as well.

The whole point of this forum is to ask questions and share knowledge. Feel free to ask away, even if you feel you are the only person in the world with the question!

I think I practice differently from ChiDragon and so use a different understanding of these words.

Imagine walking down a corridor. Your Yi ("mind intent") is focused on easy efficient movement to your destination and will automatically make use of a rolling method of shifting weight between the legs that has saved humans energy for millions of years. I do not believe Tai Chi can appreciably improve on this method for this purpose. Now imagine walking across a terrace covered in slippery ice. In this situation, that original method of walking no longer works very well, because it allows for only minimal control over your energy. Here, the Tai Chi method does much better.

When you do the form, we do not want you to have the feeling of walking down a hall, even if at a slow even speed. We want you to have the feeling of walking on thin ice, walking on splashy mud in nice pants, and walking like a cat. This is using the Yi in the way we want. This is how you learn to control the energy movement in the legs and “Distinguish full and empty.” This Yi is improved by practicing with the principles, but not through external practice alone.

My point is not so much to say that one method of walking is inherently better than another for all purposes, but rather to show that it matters what purpose you hold in your mind while walking. For me, this is what Yi is all about, the purpose or meaning of the actions you hold in your mind at the moment.

When you do Single Whip, how do you conceive of the final rightward movement of the right hand as it forms the hook? Where should the energy leave your hand? Where does this energy come from? As I understand it, you want to envision a throat strike with your right wrist using the rightward movement of the waist and weight. If you keep your mind on doing this in accordance with the principles, your movement will tend towards being correct.

Often you will see practitioners doing our version of the form with their right hand ending up too low. This comes partly from not properly using the Yi. You need to focus the energy release on the throat height of someone your size, taking into account the upward motion we show in the form. Many practitioners seem to put more intent on curling the fingers inward that in rolling the wrist outward.

How about the final position of the left hand in our Single Whip? What precise surface are you striking with and do you actually show this? Do you lead too much with the fingers? Try showing the hand strike against a wall. Do you need to adjust your hand position to avoid smashing your fingers? Is so, then perhaps your Yi may not have been correct in the first place.

The classics talk about the relationship between the Shen 神 (spirit/intellect/mind), the Yi 意 (intent/purpose/mind), and the Qi 气 in terms of the command and control structure on ancient Chinese battlefields. The Shen is the general; the Yi is the signal flag conveying the general’s commands to various sectors of the battlefield; and the Qi are the troops that carry out the commands. In common terms, I interpret this as: the Shen is your perception of the situation and the decision maker; the Yi is your conception of how to apply the decision, and the Qi is the movement of your energy that actually carries out the decision. You use your Shen to evaluate the situation and to decide on a course of action. You use your Yi to design a disposition of force/energy to deal with it according to your evaluation. You use your Qi to transmit the force.

Imagine driving down the highway behind two cars in line, and the first car suddenly swerves right and then back left. Your Shen is what perceives a potential danger and tells your Yi to slow down and prepare to maneuver. Your Yi is what focuses on your speed and tells your foot to let up on the gas and hover over the brake.

Then imagine that the car immediately in front of you does the same right-left swerve, revealing a yawning pothole that you are heading toward. Your Shen is what decides whether to swerve or slam on the breaks. Your Yi is what focuses on your needed path and relays the commands to your hands or to your feet to get you there. Your Qi is what powers your hands to swerve or your feet to slam on the brakes.

In such an urgent situation, we do not concentrate on either our hands or our feet, but rather on the road and where we want to go. You shouldn’t even concentrate on the pothole, but rather the path you need to travel. According to my understanding, this is the principle that Tai Chi focuses on and what we mean by Yi.

If you want to practice your Yi in the form, just make sure that you know the meaning of the postures and that you express those meanings as you do the postures. Be careful to observe the principles and not use external means of exaggerating movements in a misguided attempt to show their martial value.

Take care,
Audi
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Re: Can anyone help me better understand "intent?"

Postby global village idiot » Sun May 29, 2016 5:23 pm

Thanks for the different perspective. One of the things I like best about tai chi chuan is that it isn't an "if/then" martial art, but instead very amenable to different circumstances.

As to single whip, the more I think about it the more useful it appears - perhaps that's why it is repeated so often in the form. Sometimes I think of it as a throat strike or face-jaw punch and shoving in someone's face from the opposite direction. But sometimes I think I'm trapping an arm from a missed punch and pushing the puncher away as he reacts to being trapped. Sometimes my left foot is just repositioning me, but sometimes it's getting behind my opponent to trip him,and some times it's striking my opponent's knee or calf and sliding down to stomp on his foot. It all depends on how bloody-minded I'm feeling when I practice.

gvi
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Re: Can anyone help me better understand "intent?"

Postby ChiDragon » Sun May 29, 2016 6:17 pm

global village idiot wrote:From your answers - and thanks for taking the time to share your understanding - I begin to get the idea that "intent" might not be so goal-oriented..... Rather, it should be one of integrating or inculcating the principles of tai chi where and when they are called for.


You welcome!

global village idiot wrote:We don't type to type or even to communicate - we type to share the idea. We don't drive to drive or even to travel - we drive to BE at the place we want to go. And if I understand you correctly, we don't do tai chi to do tai chi or even to apply the applications - we do it to be better, more capable and more complete people.


Exactly! If one follows this philosophy, at the end, everything will be fallen into place. Sometimes in the future, you will be applying its application without your realization. For example, a photographer told his teacher that he is so glad that he practiced Tai Chi. One day, he was setting up his camera on the tripod. Unfortunately, the camera slip off the tripod during the setup. Right away, without any hesitation he used his quick reflex to catch the camera before it hit the floor.

In this case, it falls into the application of Tai Chi:
You don't move; I don't move. If you move, I'll move first.

Again, the yi() plays an important part here in the quick reflex. Most people would let the camera drop onto the hand. A person without Tai Chi practice, one's hand would try to move the hand up against the camera which might cause the camera to bounce off the hand again. However, a Tai Chi practitioner would slip the hand under the camera and lower the hand at the falling speed of the camera. This action will let the camera approach the hand with zero force at contact. Hence, the action of the hand was initiated by the Yi(); and the zero force at contact was the application of push hand.

global village idiot wrote:In the Army we have a saying for getting too focused on details. We call it "getting wrapped around the axle." I think that's what I'm doing right now. This conversation has taught me something valuable. I ought to just shut up, stop overthinking and just go practice more, since by doing so I get to where the real benefit lies......


I do appreciate your line of questioning. Please do not hesitate to ask questions as they come along in your practice. I am sure we all can learn and benefit from each other. I am glad to be challenged with tough questions is because they will reveal how much I don't know. However, that won't stop me from going to find the real answer. :mrgreen:


Happy Tai Chi practice(without weights)! :wink:
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Re: Can anyone help me better understand "intent?"

Postby global village idiot » Mon May 30, 2016 7:50 am

I apologize for not answering a question put to me. I believe Audi asked me where I see the energy flowing out of my body as I do the forms. I'm sorry I forgot to answer you.

I can't really describe how I see the energy leaving my body, because I don't really see or visualize anything leaving my body at all. What I "see" is similar to vectors, if you'll pardon the engineering term.

A vector is a representation of all the various forces acting on the thing you're examining - a beam on a bridge, a foundation wall, water pressing against the sides of a tank, etc. It is a straight line in a given direction with a magnitude expressed in a unit like pounds or kilograms.

In doing the forms, I see arcs and curves rather than straight lines, and I see them sort of swirling and moving in front of and around me, toward or away from me (in my mind's eye) as I do each form. Of course what I see doesn't have units of force attached to them because so far as I know, that's not how tai chi works (or if it does I've never seen it).

Sometimes these not-quite-vectors have an arm, a torso or the head of an imaginary opponent attached to them, sometimes they don't. But they always have a direction, and depending on the position, I'm connecting to the vector or moving out of its way or "riding" it or guiding it where I think it ought to go instead of, for example, my face.

You know how, at the beginning of every Disney movie, you see an image of that "Magic Kingdom" castle and a sort of fairy-dust arc swirls around and sails over it? Those arcs (minus the fairy dust) are close to what I "see" when I do the forms.

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Re: Can anyone help me better understand "intent?"

Postby ChiDragon » Mon May 30, 2016 6:29 pm

gvi...
I am glad that you have introduced an engineering or scientific term like vector into the discussion. Indeed, it would make it alot easier to explain an ancient concept. Since we are talking about the arm movements and energy, vector is a good term to be used here. In fact, a vector has magnitude and direction. It is a very good term in describing the movements of a Tai Chi arm.

In Tai Chi, there are tremendous amount of arm movements in various directions as you have said. In addition, there are energy in the arm which was generated by the muscles. The human arm can generate energy by itself as opposed to a robotic arm. The amount of energy was generated is the exerting force by the arm. Thus it was considered to be the magnitude of force. In Tai Chi term, it was called the jin(). In modern term, the jin is a tremendous amount of the bioenergy which was produced by the mitochondria in body cells from glucose and oxygen.

The momentum of a Tai Chi arm is a very powerful one. It is because the arm has the ability to exert a various amount of jin by well; plus the powerful torque of the moving arm in various direction. However, how does the jin was produced is a different story without going in the physical and biological aspects of the human muscles. Perhaps, we should have a new thread about how the muscle contracts. It would be very interesting which might clear the mist about energy flowing in the body or how Tai Chi works and benefits the health of the human body.
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Re: Can anyone help me better understand "intent?"

Postby global village idiot » Mon May 30, 2016 11:13 pm

A very welcome addition, though I confess my description was just of my own visualization. I know it's a metaphor and not the phenomenon itself.

gvi
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Re: Can anyone help me better understand "intent?"

Postby DPasek » Wed Jun 01, 2016 4:38 pm

GVI,

Wuyizidi’s blog post has some interesting thoughts on intent:
https://internalmartialart.wordpress.com/2009/07/21/what-fighting-at-highest-level-should-feel-like/

DP
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Re: Can anyone help me better understand "intent?"

Postby Audi » Sun Jul 31, 2016 3:47 pm

Greetings all,

Wuyizidi’s blog post has some interesting thoughts on intent:
https://internalmartialart.wordpress.co ... feel-like/


The discussion at this link talks about Yi (逸). This is pronounced identically as Yi (意), but is written with a different character and has quite a different meaning.

The first word/character (逸) derives from a distorted picture of a rabbit on the right and a thoroughfare on the left and bottom. Its meanings include "ease," "leisure," "escape," and "be lost"; however, the original core meaning was probably just "escape"--like a rabbit escaping pursuit. In the context of the discussion at the site behind the link, the connotation is something like "escape from constraint" or "ease in self expression unlimited by convention."

The second word/character (意) derives from a distorted picture of words or sound issued by a tongue from a mouth over a heart representing feelings and thoughts. Its core connotation is what emanates from your heart's and mind's inner life and can be translated, depending on context, as "meaning," idea," "thought," wish," intention," "intent," etc.

A simple way to understand how to use the concept expressed in the second word/character (意) in your Tai Chi practice is that all postures should be performed with their meanings in mind and with their meanings somewhat evident in the actual details of the movements themselves.

Take care,
Audi
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Re: Can anyone help me better understand "intent?"

Postby fchai » Mon Aug 01, 2016 12:06 am

Greetings,

''Intent''? Just a simple question, if you do not have ''intent'' then why are you doing it? At the beginning ''intent'' is consciously applied, eventually it can become quite unconscious because of constant and diligent practice.
Just thought to throw in my tuppence worth.
Take care,
Frank
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Re: Can anyone help me better understand "intent?"

Postby global village idiot » Wed Aug 03, 2016 12:55 am

Audi wrote:Greetings all,

...all postures should be performed with their meanings in mind and with their meanings somewhat evident in the actual details of the movements themselves.


Something happened at the last class that left me a very tiny bit surprised, though I suppose I shouldn't be.

All the students in the "advanced" portion of the class have been attending the school a lot longer than I have, and many have been practicing tai chi a lot longer than I have, if you add up all the time I've spent on it (an aside: the habit I learned here of answering - internally - the question of "how long have you been doing tai chi" not so much in terms of how many years you've done it but how many times you've done the forms is, to my thinking, much more meaningful - thanks!).

We had gone through the whole form, and were working on imperfections the most senior students had seen in the more junior "advanced" students. Specifically, we were working on "Step Back and Repulse Monkey." A discussion ensued as to what the move is supposed to accomplish.

I've got into the habit at these times of dummying up and letting the discussion happen for much the same reason as youngsters are told to use their mouths for eating and not talking when they're first allowed to sit at the grown-up table. I learn a lot more that way; and after all, I pay to learn from the class - I don't get paid to teach it.

After not too long it became apparent to me that everyone in the class fell into two categories:
1) those who had never given it any thought and were making their answer up right there.
2) those who had never given it any thought and for whom it didn't matter one whit what it was for (more on them later)

So there they were mulling it over and I piped in.
"It's a throw."

You know that scene from the Western movies when everything in the saloon stops - even the piano player - and everyone turns to look at the cowboy who just did or said whatever got their undivided attention? That's what happened. I felt extremely self-conscious, like I'd just gored a sacred cow or something.

The most senior student asked what made me think that, and I showed how the arm in front guides an opponent's arm, while the rear arm guides the opponents torso; and while stepping back, essentially flips him through 90 degrees in all three axes. I showed him by having him do it to me and you could see a lightbulb go on above his head, as well as the other students in Category 1 above.

We carried on working through "Repulse Monkey" on each other, getting used to how it's supposed to feel. When the instructor came in with the beginning students for us all to work together, the senior student made an embarrassingly big deal out of saying "gvi worked out a use for 'Repulse Monkey,'" and showed him. The instructor was polite, as he always is, but the look on his face said "Well what the heck did you think it was for?!"

It makes me wonder, then. What do the other students really think they're doing as they work through the forms? What took me somewhat aback isn't that they had answers different than mine - it would surprise me if there WASN'T more than one way to apply "Repulse Monkey."

What caught me off guard was that this class was the first time it had really ever occurred to any of them to figure out if it's any good for anything.

I know this doesn't really concern me - everyone comes to tai chi for their own reasons and takes value from it in proportion to the effort they put into it and which they think it's worth. The older ladies taking the class aren't a bit interested in the martial aspects but are doing it to improve their balance and well-being. They fall into what I called Category 2 above. To the degree they apply the principles of tai chi "outside the classroom" they're getting everything they could possibly want out of it and they've said that's just what they want - they don't want the martial portion of tai chi.

I wouldn't say anything against them.

But the episode I described above speaks to our discussion of "intent" in that if you're studying it for its martial aspects (the males and a few of the younger females in the class fall into this category), and you don't give any thought to what you're doing, just going through the motions as precisely as you can, then you're probably not going to get much more out of tai chi than you'd get out of ballroom dancing lessons.

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Re: Can anyone help me better understand "intent?"

Postby fchai » Thu Aug 04, 2016 8:08 am

Hi GVI,

Very very droll. If one does a movement without understanding what it is for, ie. it's application, then it is just doing it ''parrot fashion'' without any ''intent''. Without ''intent'' there is no sense of ''energy'' and there is no ''spirit''. May I also suggest that you might consider getting a copy of, ''The Essence and Applications of Taijiquan'' (translated by Louis Swaim). It is based on what was orally explained by Yang Chengfu on the martial application of each of the Taiji movements. The translation by Louis Swaim is as good as any I have seen.

Take care,
Frank
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