Mind Intention in Taijiquan

Postby Kalamondin » Fri Apr 16, 2004 8:55 pm

Hi Wushuer,

What about asking your instructor what the energy ought to be and then focus on changing your mind intention? After all, you know well how the chi, and thus the body, follow intent--so in your case, it might be more efficient to start with intent. My feeling of the opening is a rising energy from the bubbling well point, much like tree sap rising in spring, which extends out to the arms, then makes a small circle and reverses direction, settling again. Definitely more up and down than forward and back.
What happens if you set your intention this way?

I know what you mean. I have used intention this way too for everyday things. it works particularly well for cleaning Image.

The feeling of connection can be uncanny at times. I was standing with a tree the other day and got confused about where the tree ended and I began. I could feel my head swaying around like branches in the wind, but I wasn't sure if it was my head or the branches swaying....

Anyway, let me know if the intention idea pans out.

Kalamondin
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Postby Wushuer » Tue Apr 20, 2004 5:13 pm

Kal,
I can change this at will, I only make this "mistake" in my YCF forms if I'm off in Monkeymind Land at the beginning of my form.
Once I get my mind under control I do allright.
So you are right on the head with the "intention" thing. This is what my "mind intends" when I'm not concentrating well enough, so that's where the chi goes.
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Postby Wushuer » Tue Apr 20, 2004 9:51 pm

Kal,
I can understand what your teacher is telling you about thinking too much just from your posts. You are over analyzing your push hands.
I have said this over and over, because I was told this over and over and it takes many times hearing it to understand.
If you "think about it" you have lost.
TCC should be a naturally occuring response to outside stimuli. You need to turn off your ego and allow your senses unfettered access to your mind. You can't be thinking, "Is he double weighted yet?", because as soon as your mind goes there, it's not on your opponent and YOU are then "double weighted", or more accurately, "double intentioned" in your own mind.
I can't describe for you how your opponent will "feel" when he is double weighted. It is something that you have to learn from your body. You will "feel" with "listening jing" all the energy of your opponent. When that "energy" is bound up, double weighted, you will instantly "feel" this as "different", your body will react to this totally on it's own, if you let it.
It's not easy. I'm nowhere near as sensitive to opponents as I used to be, though I'm getting better at it again, and I'm going through a process of retraining my sensitivity right now.
What I have found is just what your teacher told you. Stop trying to "think" what to do next. Let your body take over, only listen to what it has to say not what your ego has to say.
That is the path to peerless boxing.
Maybe one day I'll go down that path myself. I can see it, I know where it is, I just have't gotten to tread it more than a few steps at a time yet.
I will though, someday. As GM YZD says, "One brush stroke at a time".
It's not a race, folks. Take your time, relax, enjoy.
We'll get there in the end, if we just remember it's supposed to be FUN!

That was my inspirational post of the day. You may now go back to your regularly scheduled content.
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Postby Kalamondin » Wed Apr 21, 2004 6:36 pm

Thanks for your advice, Wushuer,

You're right, I'm thinking about it entirely too much! I've had a few experiences where I've been able to let my body just do what it wants, with excellent results...I guess I just need more practice letting go of my ego. I can remember that those few times where I've really been able to "invest in loss" have paid off...but man, is it hard to do in the moment!

Thanks too for reminding me that it should be fun. I think I'll just have to go at it with the idea that listening to my body and to my opponent is fun, no matter what the end result is.

Thanks again,
Kal
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Postby Kalamondin » Wed Apr 21, 2004 6:40 pm

Oh, I also appreciate what you said about the mind being "double intentioned." I see what you mean and why it doesn't work...and even though I mustn't think about it during push hands Image, your description of feeling the opponent's energy as bound up will also be useful.

Thanks again,
Kal
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Postby The Wandering Brit » Fri Apr 23, 2004 10:39 am

What a thread...so much to digest.

Audi, can I echo the comments others have made about your epic post earlier in this thread - I too have printed it out, stapled it together and taken it home in order to re-read and attempt to digest the information within it. Great stuff.

Anyway, reading this thread reminded me of something I read a long while back. Unfortunately I can't remember where I read it: This is hugely irritating as A - I'm going to have to paraphrase the author, probably badly, and B - I suspect that certain elements of it could have been more accurately explained by the knowledgable and erudite linguists on here.

That notwithstanding, it went something like this...

"Observe the cat before he leaps onto the gatepost. First he looks up at his destination and places himself there...then he jumps. It is as though the cat is already on the gatepost before he leaps...his body simply joins him there."

[As I mentioned, I'm sure that if I could remember the original source the terms 'himself' and 'him' may well be incorrect. The 'proper' translation may be mind, spirit, intention or a number of other things.]

This description of the way a cat leaps chimes with me - at a gut level it just makes sense and I have had very limited experiences in my own practise and sparring that bear this out.

The way the cat's body seems to flow upward, as though it were being pulled into its 'correct' place without thought or effort...it's almost as though the intent is the tip of the wave, and once it is in motion the rest of the wave can do nothing but follow.

Does that make sense to anyone, or am I rambling inanely?
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Postby Kalamondin » Fri Apr 23, 2004 8:41 pm

Hi Brit,

Thanks for the leaping cat description--it really looks like cats do exactly that when they leap! Moreover, it will be fun to use this idea in forms practice: visualizing the movement as done already, and trying to let my body flow there as though the outcome were preordained (I was trying to think of a more secularly connoted word, but can't seem to. In any case, the root is something like putting in order beforehand).

The idea of being there before going there raises all sorts of interesting questions: if the mind is "ahead" (visualizing the coming event as if it had already come to pass) then can the practitioner really be said to be "in the moment?" Or does the focus on the completion of the desired immediate future allow the body move effortlessly, as though pulled there, and thus relieve the temptation to not be in the Now by concentrating on the details to the exclusion of the whole? Is thinking about the future as the past a gateway to the Now? Is "being there" before "going there" a way of accessing non-linear time?

Fun! Thanks for the idea!

Kal
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Postby Polaris » Fri Apr 23, 2004 9:26 pm

Greetings All,

"Observe the cat before he leaps onto the gatepost. First he looks up at his destination and places himself there...then he jumps. It is as though the cat is already on the gatepost before he leaps...his body simply joins him there."

That is as good a description of "I" or "Yi" (intent) kung fu in T'ai Chi as I have seen.

Experienced competence, truly relaxing in the trust in one's own ability brought about by realistic training under watchful supervision over the course of many, many years is what leads to that effect in humans...

Regards,
P.
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Postby Gu Rou Chen » Fri Apr 23, 2004 10:51 pm

Great athletes (outside of martial arts) exhibit similar focus coordinated with their movements especially when faking in one direction and going in another.

Likewise, in martial arts the cat can put himself on the post, but he does not necessarily jump.

To tie this in with comment by Louis from other thread:

“I can be pushing with a partner, and compromise his root in such a manner that I know I’ve “got” him. I know it and he knows it, but that does not necessarily mean that I have to follow through with a push. It depends on how the conversation is going, n’est pas?”

Often I experience “conversations”, to use Louis’s term, where the cat is on the post, in front of the post, behind the post, inside the post, and/or behind himself, jumping from one place to the next or at all of them simultaneously such that I become totally confused and freeze up not knowing which way to go. Greater confusion is experienced when, after trying with all your might, you have no idea where the cat is or where it intends to go. The greatest fear is fear of the unknown.

Jeff
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Postby Audi » Sat May 01, 2004 3:53 pm

Hi Kalamondin,

You posted the following exchange above:

<<A: <<First, I think one can be quite “successful” in competitive push hands play without establishing a firm basis for learning intermediate or high level push hands skills.>>

K: Are you talking about push hands competitions? I’ve heard they can become quite hard in style and execution, but I’ve never seen one. Or are you talking the competition that is inherent in the practice? I can think of at least two types of competition here (and I’m sure there are more): 1) the kind where personalities clash and one or both are trying to assert dominance; and 2) the kind where the competition is more with yourself—to improve and maintain balance.>>

I was referring more to freestyle push hands within a normal practice setting than to actual competitions. In either arena, the prime goal of competition is to win and only secondarily to learn new skills. If one has non-Taiji skills, it think it may be laudable, but somewhat unnatural to suppress them in such settings. My belief is that Taiji strategy, tactics, and skill sets overlap with those of other arts and sports, but by and large are not the same. Using Taijiquan is not the only way to upset someone’s balance or send him or her tumbling. If you are engaged in an activity where the prime goal is to uproot your opponent, I believe that one can easily draw on non-Taiji approaches to do this, without necessarily advancing one’s own Taijiquan.

You also posted the following:

<<I asked my teacher about some of these things, indirectly, and he suggested that I add standing or sitting meditation to my practice as a way to stay calm. I had done this only sporadically before, but it is helping. He also pointed out, gently, that I’m not reading people well enough because I’m not empty enough. I’m thinking too much and not just feeling and reacting naturally to what’s going on.

I could use some advice on what this process is like (feel free to add your two cents, everyone!): what is it like to empty yourself in the face of what feels like attack (even if the opponent has the requisite self-control not to break things)? It’s one thing to be empty in meditation, or even during push hands practice with someone you trust—but what is it like to be empty in the presence of someone with whom you constantly have to be en guard?>>

Your teacher’s advice is, of course, very good and is what most people say. I find such approaches difficult, however. If it is in your nature not to be calm, is it not unnatural to fight this head on? I find it is like telling someone who is overweight just to concentrate on eating less. Would that it were that easy. As I mentioned, in such arenas I try to find a way to change what seems good, but unnatural to me, into something I would naturally want to do.

Let me give my general view of push hands from where I see it at the moment. First, I should say that I am no expert and have every reason to believe you may have more experience in it and be better than me at it. I certainly do not get anywhere near the practice time I think I need and have gone through many years when I basically had almost none.

I should also say that I try to follow the Yangs’ teaching in my actual training, but do bring to bear some viewpoints I have been taught by other teachers. I have had still other teachers, who have taken substantially different approaches that I do not think are compatible with the Yangs’ approach. Although others disagree, I find it of crucial importance not to mistake one approach for the other. The words may be the same, but I find the intent behind them different.

From time to time I have pushed with people who have had no experience with push hands, but do manage to “stick” and “follow.” When I do this, I sometimes feel that underneath their sticking is really an intent to deflect and block my arms, rather than an intent to exchange and manipulate energy. When I have felt this, I have occasionally asked my partner to engage in the following exercise to try to show them the difference.

First, I make sure that my partner feels completely comfortable with me and feels no sense of intimidation or fear that the exercise can result in injury to either of us. I then ask him or her to maintain a slow and constant speed and concentrate solely on preventing me from touching them (in order to simulate a hit), rather than on attacking me.

As we then begin to push, the person usually overacts as he or she tries to block and deflect my arms away. I react by simply folding my striking arm around the point of contact. A simple way is to alternate between back fists to the nose and hammer fists to the abdomen or groin. If the person catches on too quickly, I throw in a few elbow strikes. To avoid the possibility of injury (like fingers in the eyes), I keep my striking hand in a fist and take probably at least a second and a half to two seconds between strike attempts.

The wonderful thing about this exercise is that the person has a palpable experience of why hard techniques are not always the answer. The more the person tries to strong-arm my arms out of the way, the less he or she is able to keep me away. If the person tries to use speed to block the strikes, I make a point of not speeding up and simply using the person’s speed against them to fold around the block and strike in another direction.

If the person lets intimidation take over, he or she immediately loses the ability to “listen” and receives a simulated hit. If he or she begins to let frustration, anger, or any unsettling emotion take over, he or she again gets “hit.” Only when the person maintains focus and calm can he or she summon up the appropriate feelings to follow the exchange.

Everyone I have done this with catches on in a minute or two and manages to change strategy and begin listening to my energy and changing it, rather than just blocking and trying to anticipate what I will do. I think this gives a little taste of why Taijiquan talks about launching later and striking first, why the path to success leads through calmness, and how mastering Yin and Yang relationships can overcome speed and power. Another benefit is that some people seem too focused on trying to maximize “softness” without knowing what to do with it. In this exercise, there is only one way to defend, and it takes the focus off of self and puts it back onto the interaction with the partner.

I do not actually think of this exercise as Taiji training or really an appropriate way to learn or practice Push Hands skills, but I think it can open the door to a different way of thinking and acting. I do not train this way, but simply show it from time to time to help people understand a little bit of how push hands skills can relate to fighting and why it needs to be an exchange of energy, rather than of “techniques.”

With people who know the vertical four-hand circling, I occasionally do something similar to the above. For instance, when I am working with a partner and we are trying to improve together, I try to sense when he or she is being too “flat.” My understanding is that you more or less always have two points of contact with the partner and should have good Peng energy flowing through both. If I can disconnect with my partner without his or her immediate knowledge and ability to react, I understand this to be a faulty use of energy.

Another thing I look for is that both of us feel “round” without any “gaps.” To me, it should feel as if we are two big balls and as if we are rolling each other’s force away and constantly circulating it back and forth. When I feel that my partner has a point where he or she is stuck, I try to emphasize this so that he or she can figure out what is wrong with the structure. I use the analogy of following someone closely around a small room. No clash develops until the lead person happens to head into a corner. He or she cannot continue without turning around awkwardly to push the follower out of the way. As a “leader,” you try to avoid walking into corners. As a “follower” you try gently to herd the leader into a corner.

Most of what I discuss above, I would classify under the heading of Listening (i.e., Ting1). All of this merely sets the stage for learning how to “understand” how energy is being used (i.e., Dong3). After one has practiced Listening for a while, one begins to understand how the body uses energy. One begins to be able to distinguish empty and full in one’s partner’s intent and how energy has to circulate to follow that intent. I assume that everyone is familiar with these theories.

Once you get good at “understanding” the energy exchange, you can concentrate on learning how to manipulate and “transform” it (i.e., hua4). You learn how to guide your partner’s energy into “corners.”

Kalamondin, you ask what “doubling up”/“being double weighted” feels like or how to detect it. The way it was described to me is that when it happens to you, you feel your Qi rise into your chest and throat and your breathing gets tight. You feel as if skewered, like a bug on a pin. You feel as if you need to control a certain spot in order to move, but your partner occupies that spot and cannot be safely dislodged. When you do it to someone else, you feel as if he or she is forced to uproot his or herself and has no more control over the center. Your partner tries to rotate, but you control the pivot point. He or she is trying to exchange full and empty between two points, but you stand in a position that short-circuits the exchange. As you begin to “listen” better and “understand’ more, I think you begin to feel how to guide your partner into such points. You sense where they will need to be to make full and empty match their intent and you make sure you are there first.

I think one way to think about it is to use the image of the jumping cat mentioned in the earlier posts. If your partner is visualizing how to “jump” to a spot, but has not yet jumped, his or her mind is out of synch with reality and cannot change appropriately to match changes in the ever-moving present. He or she is trying to be in two places at once and is “doubled.”

If instead of visualizing how to jump, the partner feels for the web of energy that connects “here” with “there,” he or she is staying in the moment and is focused on the current reality. Any change is readily apparent, since it is already within the field of focus. To truly feel for this “web of energy,” the person must have enough training to be able to feel for how the body works and how it truly interacts with its environment. At least for me, it is not so much about predicting the future, but more about understanding and being aware of the present, in all its implications and potentialities.

Since my meaning may be somewhat opaque, let me describe it in another way. Imagine preparing to toss a light object underhanded into a trashcan at some distance away. I think that, when most people do this, they estimate the appropriate arc and speed to use on the object, based on their experience. A different way to do this is to “feel” for the proper path of the object. You feel for the connection between the arc and speed of the arm and the arc and weight of the object, even while it is still in your hand. You try to “see” how the already existing, but invisible arc in the air intersects with the mouth of the trashcan. If you do this, you actually perceive the arc taking shape before the object leaves your hand. The vectors are not just creations of your mind, but things with independent existence. When you release the object, you feel the arc that your mind has been groping to perceive coalesce with the actual path of the object.

If you push hands with this sort of mind set, you perceive how your partner must use energy even to stand in front of you. Energy is necessary to support the body weight, raise the arms, maintain the shape of the fingers, hold up the head, keep the feet flat on the floor, etc. I have found it best to focus my practice on this element, rather than on accumulating techniques, honing my “sensitivity,” or increasing my “softness.”

Kalamondin, you also asked about “highlighting or harnessing qualities that seem linked to personality.” I have found that working on counters is one way to explore this. The main way that I have been introduced to traditional ideas of Peng, Lü, Ji, and An were through various attack and counter drills. In doing these, I have found that the techniques do not work unless I consciously work with my partner’s intent, as opposed to his or her limb positions.

A counter presupposes something to counter against. If that something is not present, there is nothing to work with. In one drill, we have an attack, followed by a counter, which can in turn be countered. If the initial attack is poorly performed and does not appropriately follow the partner’s movement, all the following techniques become empty of content and unrealistic. If the first counter does not have enough Following in it, a clash again results, and the action stops. To work on these, I find I really have to focus on Zhan, Nian, Lian, and Sui as specific things that I cannot ignore. I have to work with my partner’s intent in all that I do. By intent, I mean the intention, conscious or unconscious, with which my partner deploys his force or energy. What he is trying to do, consciously or unconsciously, has somewhat more importance than what he may actually be doing. If I do not do this, I invite my partner to resist my motions in such a way that my techniques become immediately ineffective. All this is hard to express in words, but easier to demonstrate.

When these techniques are successfully applied against you, you feel that there is no scope for struggle or resistance. You do not feel that you are tricked into anything, but rather that the attack comes out of nowhere. You do not feel a clear beginning to the attack and so are not sure what you should have done to avoid it. Since you are not sure how should have deployed your force, you do not feel that deploying more force or deploying it quicker would have been more successful. Often, you feel that such a reaction would have made things worse.

One way to attack with this method is to strive to make the opponent feel awkward while you feel comfortable. As your partner becomes more and more agitated to find a way out of the awkwardness and sense of vulnerabitiliy, he or she will give you the energy you need to launch them effectively. Your parteners’ anxiety forces them to push themselves.

If you experience such attacks and can understand the broad picture intellectually, you have the opportunity to connect this understanding with your “spirit.” (I do not mean this in a religious, new age, or occult sense.) This can allow you to reorient your training of the moment into understanding why you need to be calm in order to learn to respond. In other words, you work through your understanding of the Shi to make calmness feel like the only natural response. If, on the other hand, you do not connect this with your spirit, it will be hard to set aside other methods you are comfortable with in order to seek something that seems esoteric. Even if you tell yourself to be calm, you cannot be, because your spirit will be screaming inside you that this feels suicidal and that your only prayer for safety is to use more adrenaline, more strength, more speed. This disturbance in your Qi will then prevent you from truly experiencing the nature of what is happening to you and from feeling comfortable with trying a different path out of the dilemma.

As usual, I have droned on and on, but hopefully this can spur some thinking. Let me now if you have any questions about this.

Take care,
Audi
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Postby Kalamondin » Fri May 07, 2004 10:30 pm

Hi Audi,

Sorry for the delay in getting back to you—I’ve been thinking a lot about your post. Thanks very much for your detailed explanation of how you see push hands. I responded to some things but not to others—the parts of your post that I left out made sense to me.

A: <<Let me give my general view of push hands from where I see it at the moment. First, I should say that I am no expert and have every reason to believe you may have more experience in it and be better than me at it. I certainly do not get anywhere near the practice time I think I need and have gone through many years when I basically had almost none.>>

K: Thanks for saying that. While I think it’s clear from your posts that you have a greater understanding of the art than I do, I’ll say that I am no longer a beginner, but certainly not an expert, nor yet even particularly competent. I also don’t get in as much practice time as I would like. I can get out of some sticky situations and fast incoming attacks now and then because I’m fairly decent at listening, but I often have no idea what I’ve done afterwards. And just as often I get knocked over because I understand what’s coming just a little too late, or don’t know what to do about it.

A:<<If the person lets intimidation take over, he or she immediately loses the ability to “listen” and receives a simulated hit. If he or she begins to let frustration, anger, or any unsettling emotion take over, he or she again gets “hit.” Only when the person maintains focus and calm can he or she summon up the appropriate feelings to follow the exchange.>>

K: This, in short, is my biggest problem at this stage, but it’s improving a bit and it’s fun notice that I’m not rattled as much by things that would have had me wanting to go in swinging last year.

A: <<Another benefit is that some people seem too focused on trying to maximize “softness” without knowing what to do with it.>>

K: Can you expand a little bit more on this? I don’t quite catch your meaning.

A:<<Another thing I look for is that both of us feel “round” without any “gaps.” To me, it should feel as if we are two big balls and as if we are rolling each other’s force away and constantly circulating it back and forth. When I feel that my partner has a point where he or she is stuck, I try to emphasize this so that he or she can figure out what is wrong with the structure. I use the analogy of following someone closely around a small room. No clash develops until the lead person happens to head into a corner. He or she cannot continue without turning around awkwardly to push the follower out of the way. As a “leader,” you try to avoid walking into corners. As a “follower” you try gently to herd the leader into a corner.>>

K: I like your corner analogy—I will try feeling for corners next time I practice. I can tell when my opponent is momentarily blocked or impeded as a result of my pushing, but I can’t always follow through. I can tell already that thinking about corners is going to help me triangulate in on a specific point. Before, I’d been looking for centers of circles, which is more elusive. Now I’m going to think about closing in the walls on a round ball for a bit.

A: <<Kalamondin, you ask what “doubling up”/“being double weighted” feels like or how to detect it. The way it was described to me is that when it happens to you, you feel your Qi rise into your chest and throat and your breathing gets tight. You feel as if skewered, like a bug on a pin.>>

K: Ha! I’ve definitely been there—nice description!

A: << Your partner tries to rotate, but you control the pivot point. He or she is trying to exchange full and empty between two points, but you stand in a position that short-circuits the exchange.>>

K: Thanks also for this short-circuit image. Hmm, it’s one thing to stand between where they are and where they’re going in a very physical way, but it seems there are also implications here for chi interruption that could be quite dangerous. Push hands is very much a process of learning about the body, learning its range and limitations. Sometimes, however, it’s hard for me to tell where the line is between independent study of what I can do/what can be done safely to others and where I’m on dangerous ground and need to consult with my teacher. I suspect this is one of these areas.

A: <<If instead of visualizing how to jump, the partner feels for the web of energy that connects “here” with “there,” he or she is staying in the moment and is focused on the current reality. Any change is readily apparent, since it is already within the field of focus. To truly feel for this “web of energy,” the person must have enough training to be able to feel for how the body works and how it truly interacts with its environment. At least for me, it is not so much about predicting the future, but more about understanding and being aware of the present, in all its implications and potentialities.>>

K: Wow, fascinating. I think I see what you’re saying. I’ve felt the repercussions of chi sent out along this web of energy, like shockwaves, or a sudden penetrating energy, but I don’t think I’ve tried to feel for the web itself. I’ll have to try that and see what I can pick up. Occasionally, I am lucky enough to catch glimpses of this web on those rare occasions when I am so deep in the moment that I can see the revolutions of lines of force spiraling between my partner and my self, or understand that my partner and I are one big tai chi ball instead of two…hmm, come to think of it, my “one tai chi ball” image sounds a lot like your web, but things often come to me visually before I understand the feeling/tactile sensation of them.

A:<<If you push hands with this sort of mind set, you perceive how your partner must use energy even to stand in front of you. Energy is necessary to support the body weight, raise the arms, maintain the shape of the fingers, hold up the head, keep the feet flat on the floor, etc. I have found it best to focus my practice on this element, rather than on accumulating techniques, honing my “sensitivity,” or increasing my “softness.”>>

K: I’ll try this too, thanks.

A:<<… I have found that the techniques do not work unless I consciously work with my partner’s intent, as opposed to his or her limb positions.>>

K: And this.

A:<<I have to work with my partner’s intent in all that I do. By intent, I mean the intention, conscious or unconscious, with which my partner deploys his force or energy. What he is trying to do, consciously or unconsciously, has somewhat more importance than what he may actually be doing. >>

K: I agree. If they are being as gentle as a kitten physically (“what they are doing” and conscious intent) but they really want to pound you into the floor (unconscious intent, marginally conscious intent, or conscious conflict), the sum of the two categories of intent and action is more than both.

A:<<When these techniques are successfully applied against you, you feel that there is no scope for struggle or resistance. You do not feel that you are tricked into anything, but rather that the attack comes out of nowhere. You do not feel a clear beginning to the attack and so are not sure what you should have done to avoid it. Since you are not sure how should have deployed your force, you do not feel that deploying more force or deploying it quicker would have been more successful. Often, you feel that such a reaction would have made things worse.>>

K: I’m wondering about your experience of applying attacks like these. Does understanding someone’s intention necessarily entail a deep understanding of him as a person? Do you feel like you have to listen to their every motivation in order to counter them effectively? How close do you need to get? I’m wondering if the injunction to “read their mind” involves a blurring or dissolution of distinctions between you and your opponent. How can you match them unless you listen so closely that there’s not really a difference anymore? Do you experience anything like this?

A: <<If you experience such attacks and can understand the broad picture intellectually, you have the opportunity to connect this understanding with your “spirit.” (I do not mean this in a religious, new age, or occult sense.) This can allow you to reorient your training of the moment into understanding why you need to be calm in order to learn to respond. In other words, you work through your understanding of the Shi to make calmness feel like the only natural response. If, on the other hand, you do not connect this with your spirit, it will be hard to set aside other methods you are comfortable with in order to seek something that seems esoteric. Even if you tell yourself to be calm, you cannot be, because your spirit will be screaming inside you that this feels suicidal and that your only prayer for safety is to use more adrenaline, more strength, more speed. This disturbance in your Qi will then prevent you from truly experiencing the nature of what is happening to you and from feeling comfortable with trying a different path out of the dilemma.>>

K: If my opponent is anxious and it is not in my nature to yet be calm, should I link my self to their anxiety (in order to stick and follow their emotions) or would that result in both of us spiraling out of control? I can see that it might be possible to link this way and stay calm because you’ve managed to put yourself on their wavelength and you just move together like two people in a rubber raft on a choppy ocean. Scary as hell though, and it does feel suicidal.

What is Shi? Also, could you please expand on the word “spirit?” I understand it has definitions that are particular to tai chi and TCM, but I’m kind of foggy about what is meant. I’ve heard statements like “show your spirit through your eyes” and “raise up your spirit,” and I’ve seen master Yang Zhen Duo demonstrate what this looks like. When I try to imitate it, I do feel a sense of upward expansion and brightness, but I don’t understand what “spirit” means specifically in a tai chi context.

It seems to have connotations of “spirited” and “lively,” as well as showing things like determination or fierceness as expressed through the eyes (I’m thinking in particular of the transition (?) in the Yang style sword form between White Tiger Swishes its Tail and Tiger Covers its Head where you’re supposed to glare fiercely, like a tiger). But how is tai chi “spirit” different from “religious, new age, or occult sense[s]” of the word? I’m not arguing that it’s the same; I’m just trying to understand, especially since I see aspects where tai chi seems very much a spiritual discipline, intrinsically linked to Daoism (about which I claim absolutely no expertise).

This is a vast can of worms, I know.

Thanks for your detailed response! You gave me lots of fodder for thoguht and as you can see, I’ve thought up a lot more questions!

Kalamondin
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Postby Audi » Tue May 18, 2004 1:23 am

Hi Kalamondin,

<<K: This, in short, is my biggest problem at this stage, but it’s improving a bit and it’s fun notice that I’m not rattled as much by things that would have had me wanting to go in swinging last year.>>

I am not sure I made my meaning clear before. Why not try to find an exercise that tends to rattle you, but will give you immediate and physical feedback whenever you yield and let yourself become rattled?

<<A: <<Another benefit is that some people seem too focused on trying to maximize “softness” without knowing what to do with it.>>

K: Can you expand a little bit more on this? I don’t quite catch your meaning.>>

It would seem that many if not most of the regular posters disagree with me on this point; but, in my experience, many popular versions of Taijiquan do not view softness in the same way. If one mixes and matches approaches, I find that the relationship between different principles can become muddled and lose effectiveness.

For some types of Yang Style, it seems that striving for maximum “softness” is a long-term training strategy that one should pursue, even if only on faith. I personally have not found this method to my liking. I also do not think the Yangs teach in this way. I would also say that their method calls for a particular quality of softness, rather than trying for a feeling of a complete lack of substance or solidity. An opponent should feel a firmness that he or she cannot engage directly. To some extent, the degree of softness seems to be a matter of individual choice and personal style.

Also, I understand that Chinese has several terms that are close in meaning and that can all be translated as “soft.” I believe that the Yangs feel their style should best be characterized by one of these terms (rou2) that gives greater emphasis to suppleness and resilience. I do not think they favor some of the other terms that have greater connotations of flimsiness and weakness (such as ruan3). Other styles describe their qualities differently.

One phrase often used to describe methods such as the Yangs’ is “soft, yet firm” (rou2 zhong1 you3 gang1). If there is no steel inside your cotton, I do no think this accords well with the Yangs’ methods. Water is “soft,” but external circumstances can make it cut like steel (e.g., a pressure hose, waves spurting through rocks on a beach, the “water pick” of a dental hygienist).

<< K: Thanks also for this short-circuit image. Hmm, it’s one thing to stand between where they are and where they’re going in a very physical way, but it seems there are also implications here for chi interruption that could be quite dangerous. Push hands is very much a process of learning about the body, learning its range and limitations. Sometimes, however, it’s hard for me to tell where the line is between independent study of what I can do/what can be done safely to others and where I’m on dangerous ground and need to consult with my teacher. I suspect this is one of these areas.>>

I think this is a very sensible approach. Let me clarify, however, that I try not to separate “physical” from “mental” in my approach. I am trying to describe both at the same time, but lack the language and ability to do so clearly.

I should also confess that I personally do not accept the view that terms such as Qi and Jin used in the Taiji classics refer to “fields of force,” “emanations,” or principles of reality unknown to modern science. I personally do not believe in “Qi disruption” through non-physical means. I have not yet seen anything in the Yangs’ basic teaching or writings to make me reassess this view, but I am sure others would disagree.

What I am trying to describe is something on the order of “disrupting someone’s balance.” Balance can be disrupted through physical harm, but also without any direct contact at all. Depending on circumstance, the latter can have even more “impact” than the former. If I sweep your leg out from under you during a practice session, you may fall and get a bruise. If you are standing on a 20-foot ladder against a house and I suddenly lean out of a window and waive my hand under your nose, you may lose your grip and fall to your death. Disrupting balance is the same underlying principle in both cases, but the consequences and precise methods vary.

Disrupting someone’s ability to circulate Jin is the same, in my view. As I understand it, one seeks in Push Hands to understand in greater depth the principle of how and why Jin circulates, as well as the potential consequences of disrupting it in various circumstances. As I understand it, one does not seek to master the full range of specific methods to do so and, in fact, does not need to orient one’s basic training in this way.

<<K: Wow, fascinating. I think I see what you’re saying. I’ve felt the repercussions of chi sent out along this web of energy, like shockwaves, or a sudden penetrating energy, but I don’t think I’ve tried to feel for the web itself. I’ll have to try that and see what I can pick up. Occasionally, I am lucky enough to catch glimpses of this web on those rare occasions when I am so deep in the moment that I can see the revolutions of lines of force spiraling between my partner and my self, or understand that my partner and I are one big tai chi ball instead of two…hmm, come to think of it, my “one tai chi ball” image sounds a lot like your web, but things often come to me visually before I understand the feeling/tactile sensation of them.>>

I also love the image of “one tai chi ball.” It has many, many uses. One possible disadvantage of it, however, is that one can begin to relate only to the opponent’s center and ignore how one can affect the center by working on the periphery. Two of the basic push hands energies I work on involve using Peng and Lü on my partner’s arms to control his center. I do not really care where his center “is” when I do this, I care only about what his intent is. If his intent is doing what I want, I know that his center will have to follow my actions. If he has some other intent, my actions will be worse than useless, since I will expose a vulnerability to him for no gain. This is what I understand by “knowing your opponent, but not letting the opponent know you.” If I do not know the opponent I cannot execute my Taiji techniques at all. It is not a matter of excellence, but of necessity.

<<<<A:<<When these techniques are successfully applied against you, you feel that there is no scope for struggle or resistance. You do not feel that you are tricked into anything, but rather that the attack comes out of nowhere. You do not feel a clear beginning to the attack and so are not sure what you should have done to avoid it. Since you are not sure how should have deployed your force, you do not feel that deploying more force or deploying it quicker would have been more successful. Often, you feel that such a reaction would have made things worse.>>

K: I’m wondering about your experience of applying attacks like these. Does understanding someone’s intention necessarily entail a deep understanding of him as a person? Do you feel like you have to listen to their every motivation in order to counter them effectively? How close do you need to get? I’m wondering if the injunction to “read their mind” involves a blurring or dissolution of distinctions between you and your opponent. How can you match them unless you listen so closely that there’s not really a difference anymore? Do you experience anything like this?>>>>

You raise an interesting point.

In my inexpert opinion, one does not need to understand how a person generally is, but only how they are at the current moment. (In Spanish, for those who read it, this is “como es una persona” vs. “como esta una persona.”) To understand the person-of-the-moment, one has to draw on one’s common experience as a person. To some degree, one must put oneself in the other’s skin. For instance, sometimes you may feel your opponent gather Jin that you have not given her, your experience tells you that people only do this in order to launch a powerful attack and so you prepare and feel for the path of attack your opponent is preparing. This is again what I understand by “knowing your opponent.”

Blurring and dissolving distinctions is also a good way of thinking of this, because you really need to stick so closely to your opponent’s spirit, intent, Qi, and body that you are one system of energy. In my view, this involves surrendering initiative to the opponent, but not surrendering control or your autonomy.

<< K: If my opponent is anxious and it is not in my nature to yet be calm, should I link my self to their anxiety (in order to stick and follow their emotions) or would that result in both of us spiraling out of control? I can see that it might be possible to link this way and stay calm because you’ve managed to put yourself on their wavelength and you just move together like two people in a rubber raft on a choppy ocean. Scary as hell though, and it does feel suicidal.>>

If your opponent is manifesting a disturbed spirit and excited Qi, you should not copy this behavior. You just stick and follow with a calm and detached spirit. Imagine that you have a child that is throwing a temper tantrum. You can observe the child closely and make sure he or she comes to no harm and causes no harm, but you do not need to throw a tantrum yourself. In fact, if you copy the behavior, you lose all ability to follow closely and to “follow the changes” at will.

<< What is Shi? Also, could you please expand on the word “spirit?” I understand it has definitions that are particular to tai chi and TCM, but I’m kind of foggy about what is meant. I’ve heard statements like “show your spirit through your eyes” and “raise up your spirit,” and I’ve seen master Yang Zhen Duo demonstrate what this looks like. When I try to imitate it, I do feel a sense of upward expansion and brightness, but I don’t understand what “spirit” means specifically in a tai chi context.>>

I talked about “Shi” in my post of 1/24 on this thread and do not think I cand improve much on it. One thing I read recently was that during Han Dynasty times, this term apparently was applied to the “authority” inherent to the emperor as the moral and spiritual axis uniting heaven, earth, and humanity. Here are more “webs” of relationships to ponder.

The “upward expansion and brightness” you experience is very good. I think the term for this is “jingshen,” which includes the word “shen” in it. We have discussed this word within the last six months somewhere on the board, but I forget where. Basically, it can mean “energy,” “vitality,” or “spirit.”

<<It seems to have connotations of “spirited” and “lively,” as well as showing things like determination or fierceness as expressed through the eyes (I’m thinking in particular of the transition (?) in the Yang style sword form between White Tiger Swishes its Tail and Tiger Covers its Head where you’re supposed to glare fiercely, like a tiger). But how is tai chi “spirit” different from “religious, new age, or occult sense[s]” of the word? I’m not arguing that it’s the same; I’m just trying to understand, especially since I see aspects where tai chi seems very much a spiritual discipline, intrinsically linked to Daoism (about which I claim absolutely no expertise). >>

This is a vast can of worms, I know.>>

“Shen” (“Spirit”) is indeed a difficult topic. This forum may have hosted a thread on this before, but I cannot recall this at the moment. Certainly it has been discussed before.

My understanding is that the term “shen” in this sense is related to views that emerged in philosophical discussions dating from Han Dynasty times (about 2000 years ago), or perhaps from the Warring States period (about 2500 years ago). Perhaps, either Louis or Jerry can supply greater specifics. At that time, “shen” was viewed as the most refined form of “qi.” This was simultaneously a philosophical, religious, scientific, and moral view. There are other words in Chinese for “spirit” that have other connotations.

As you probably know, even mud, according to the ancients, had Qi. If cultivating your Qi meant only being more like concentrated mud, this would not have appeared to be a very ennobling endeavor. Instead, the ancients talked about refining Qi to eliminate the grosser, heavier elements to arrive at Shen (“spirit”?). Traditional Chinese thinking never adopted the view prevalent in traditional Western philosophy that matter and spirit were opposed or that they were somehow made of different “substances.” I think this sort of thinking became quite current among Neo-Confucians and so could be thought of as the traditional Confucian view that prevailed before the advent of skeptical reformists and modern China. I am not sure that there is much of a specifically Daoist connection here, but maybe this thinking was inspired by the Yin Yang School that also existed 2000 plus years ago and was said to have had Daoist affinities.

I personally do not find this view of Shen helpful for my Taijiquan, since I do not agree with aspects of the worldview from which it emerged. I mention it because some of this thinking seems to be represented in some of the Taiji literature that talks extensively about Qi, Jing (“essence,” which is allegedly the purist, most concentrated form of Qi), and Shen. I do not find this view necessary to interpret the Taiji classics or the Yangs’ writings or teachings.

Where I do find Shen important to the Yangs’ teachings is in a role that ranges from the esthetic to the purely martial and utilitarian. Your use of your Shen, whether consciously or unconsciously, has a great impact on how you use your Yi (“intent”) and your Qi. I think Wushuer mentioned in an earlier discussion that if you keep looking at the floor, you will eventually end up there. I would agree with this.

Your use of Shen will be reflected mostly in your eyes. If you can demonstrate this in an easy place like “White Tiger Swishes its Tail in the sword form,” you have a chance of doing this in places where it is not so easy to know what to do. This issue is really everywhere in all the Yang forms, but one place where it is relatively easy to see is in Separate Foot Left and Right. You must direct your eyes first in the direction the Jin points in the active “rollback” arm, then toward the double ward off arms, and then back toward the direction of the kick.

While your Shen can affect your body, your body can also affect your Shen. This is why you “suspend from above” to allow your spirit to rise up your spine and into your head. I think another aspect of this for Yang Chengfu’s teaching is “matching inner and outer.” If you can integrate Qi, Yi, and Shen, then all you need to worry about directly is Shen, since this inherently the most nimble (“the most refined form of Qi”) and flexible of the three.

Yang Chengfu probably said it best (in Jerry’s translation):

“8. Match Up Inner and Outer

What we are practicing in taiji depends on the spirit, hence the saying: "The spirit is the general, the body his troops".
If you can raise your spirit, your movements will naturally be light and nimble, the form nothing more than empty and full, open and closed. When we say 'open', we don't just mean open the arms or legs; the mental intent must open along with the limbs. When we say 'close', we don't just mean close the arms or legs; the mental intent must close along with the limbs. If you can combine inner and outer into a single impulse [], then they become a seamless whole.”

Take care,
Audi
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Postby rmfield » Thu May 20, 2004 1:55 am

An interesting topic, and probably the crux of tai chi.

One exercise for practising mind intent is to look at a coffee cup (say) and imagine reaching out and picking it up. Do this a couple of times and then let yourself actually reach out and pick it up. If you do this several times you can start to become aware of the separation between the intent and the action itself.

In terms of the form, you can imagine raising your arms, or any other movement in the form, and then let your arms actually rise. Again, if you practise this you will become aware of the separation between the intent and the action.

After practising this for some time, two things happen. The first is the gap between the imagined action (the intent) and the actual action becomes shorter and shorter until it disappears altogether. The second is, because the gap has disappeared your mind or intent and your actions become one and you are no longer doing the form physically. The thought/intent IS the action. At this ponit, the form is no longer physical and you feel like you are “swimming in air”. The body no longer has any weight.

The practice of imagining you are pushing an imaginary person is basically the same, and it has exactly the same results. You can imagine pushing a fairly heavy imaginary person; the mind thinks it will need to do more work and so sends more chi to the hand. Imagine the person is fairly light and fragile. The mind will approach this differently. Don’t forget, however, that you ARE your mind, so it is really you who is creating the intent.

Once the intent and the action are one, you will find you can move a lot faster – in fact you can move as fast as you think you can, and there is no feeling of physicality or of moving masses of bone and meat. The saying that is something like the opponent moves first but you reach the target first illustrates this.

This unity can be practised in any activity. The thing about tai chi is it is practised with movements that have martial applications. If a situation arises that calls for some action, having thought the most appropriate action beforehand means it will “come to mind” more readily, unless fear steps in and screws things up. A person may have achieved this unity of mind/action through calligraphy or bowling or something else but in the same situation will be less likely to think moves with martial applications.

It seems the main aim of tai chi is to lead to the unification of intent and action. Once this happens, the action (of the postures, for example) does not need to be so obvious, but the intent remains just as strong. This is when the form has been internalised.

In fat, you don’t really have to move at all to do the form. You can stand in the preparatory posture and go through the whole form in the mind (or the first section if time is limited). Then, mentally step to one side and let the body take over and copy the actions that have just been rehearsed. It can have interesting results.

Cheers
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Postby psalchemist » Thu May 20, 2004 9:47 pm

Greetings RMField,

<<An interesting topic, and probably the crux of tai chi.>>RMFIELD

THAT WAS A BRILLIANT POST!!!

And I agree that it must indeed be the crux to acquiring, acheiving "internalization" as you've thus described.

<<One exercise for practising mind intent is to look at a coffee cup (say) and imagine reaching out and picking it up. Do this a couple of times and then let yourself actually reach out and pick it up. If you do this several times you can start to become aware of the separation between the intent and the action itself.
In terms of the form, you can imagine raising your arms, or any other movement in the form, and then let your arms actually rise. Again, if you practise this you will become aware of the separation between the intent and the action.>>RMFIELD

An interesting suggestion, which I shall attempt.


<<After practising this for some time, two things happen. The first is the gap between the imagined action (the intent) and the actual action becomes shorter and shorter until it disappears altogether.
The second is, because the gap has disappeared your mind or intent and your actions become one and you are no longer doing the form physically. The thought/intent IS the action. At this ponit, the form is no longer physical and you feel like you are “swimming in air”. The body no longer has any weight.>>RMFIELD

<<The practice of imagining you are pushing an imaginary person is basically the same, and it has exactly the same results. You can imagine pushing a fairly heavy imaginary person; the mind thinks it will need to do more work and so sends more chi to the hand. Imagine the person is fairly light and fragile. The mind will approach this differently. Don’t forget, however, that you ARE your mind, so it is really you who is creating the intent.>>RMFIELD

You make a very good point there... Image ...I had not pondered that in great detail, glad you raised that issue.

<<Once the intent and the action are one, you will find you can move a lot faster - in fact you can move as fast as you think you can, and there is no feeling of physicality or of moving masses of bone and meat. The saying that is something like the opponent moves first but you reach the target first illustrates this.>>

Excellent....."You can move as fast as you think you can move"...I have felt the slightest sensations of this and the other points you've mentioned...It is a very interesting endeavor, unifying intention with body...And is quite a long process...but again, seems to be the actual crux of Taijiquan...and a very satisfying feeling when one succeeds at it, even if only momentarily.

<<This unity can be practised in any activity.>>

That is a statement many make,(taichi integrated in all activity) but I've found your explanations of WHY to be quite valuable to my actual understanding of the concept. Thank you.


<<The thing about tai chi is it is practised with movements that have martial applications. If a situation arises that calls for some action, having thought the most appropriate action beforehand means it will “come to mind” more readily, unless fear steps in and screws things up. A person may have achieved this unity of mind/action through calligraphy or bowling or something else but in the same situation will be less likely to think moves with martial applications.>>RMFIELD

...hence the Martial application visualization or intention, to build up this familiarity.

<<It seems the main aim of tai chi is to lead to the unification of intent and action. Once this happens, the action (of the postures, for example) does not need to be so obvious, but the intent remains just as strong. This is when the form has been internalised.>>RMFIELD

Hmmm...an established (yet not stagnant) structure...Something I strive towards... Image

<<In fat, you don’t really have to move at all to do the form. You can stand in the preparatory posture and go through the whole form in the mind (or the first section if time is limited). Then, mentally step to one side and let the body take over and copy the actions that have just been rehearsed. It can have interesting results.>> RMFIELD

Interesting experiment, something I will also attempt.

Thank you,
Best regards,
Psalchemist.
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Postby Audi » Sun May 23, 2004 2:47 pm

In Confucian thought, I believe there is a practice called “investigating things” that proposes cultivating and extending one’s “shen” as broadly as possible to encompass “all things.” Applied to the body, I think this means moving in such a way that every part of your body appears to be animated. When you see people move this way, they appear snake-like and almost liquid in the way their joints coordinate.

I have seen some people who imitate such moves in an external way, but who do not capture the feeling of “mindfulness” in their movements. If such a person flicks his or her arm out like a whip, various joints in the arm can appear dead until the impulse of momentum moves through it. The arm appears no more lifelike than a piece of rope or whip.

When others do these motions, usually quite slowly, it can appear that they maintain an active awareness of the motion of a rope or whip and can command their joints to coordinate exactly to reproduce this movement at will and at any speed. It is as if they can embody the principle behind ropelike or whiplike motion, rather than simply using the arm like a rope or whip. “Everything moves,” or “everything stops.” It is as if the person has active and effortless awareness in every joint. This maybe is another way to explain the sense of “swimming in air” and how one must integrate Shen (“spirit”) with the Yi (“mind’s intent or purpose”) and with the body (or Qi).

I think that one thing that is worth distinguishing is the difference between studying patterns to learn how flawlessly to execute patterns and studying patterns flawlessly to understand the principles behind them. I think the purpose of the Yangs’ form (and similar ones) involves more of the latter than of the former. This is what I understand by achieving “shengming” (“spiritual clarity”), when all your movements become spontaneous and can freely follow your thoughts. At this point, you see through to the root of all situations and can instantly “see” how to move and why.

Again, swimming is a good analogy for me. When you are treading water and want to turn around to talk to someone behind you, you know immediately how to move your limbs, you do not have to reproduce some sort of limb sequence from memory in order to figure out how to turn around in the water. When you kick out with your foot or reach out with your hand, you are not surprised about how your body then interacts with the water. You can “feel” beforehand what will happen. Of course, some people swim better or more efficiently than others, but I think the big distinction is between knowing how to swim and not knowing.

Take care,
Audi
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