Proprioception & conscious movement

Proprioception & conscious movement

Postby Louis Swaim » Wed Nov 29, 2006 5:51 pm

Greetings,

A while back in the thread named “neck muscles,” I mentioned the concept of proprioception, which I defined as one’s ability to sense one’s position in space and gravity, the relative movement and speed of torso and limbs, and the amount of force appropriate to perform a given task. Wikipedia has a useful page on proprioception here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proprioception

The page includes useful related terms, such as interoception, exteroception, haptic (touch) perception, and some good links to additional research.

Out of curiosity, I clicked on the Chinese language link, to find a short synopsis of the concept, termed “jirou yundong zhijue” (muscle movement awareness). I’m struck by the close similarity of this term with the concept we recently discussed that appears several times in the Yang Forty material— “conscious movement” (zhijue yundong).

Food for thought?

Take care,
Louis
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Postby Audi » Wed Dec 27, 2006 6:54 pm

Greetings Louis,

I read your post with interest, because the idea of proprioception helps give substance to the way I think of Yi (Mind Intent). I still find Yi hard to explain, but for me at least, the meaning is very concrete and immediate.

The closest way I can think of how to explain Yi at the moment is to to use the verb mean in English, such as in how you mean something. In Chinese, I can think of youyi ("intentionally") and wuyi ("inadvertently"). The problem with this formulation, however, is that it does not explain what you apply Yi to. It is only the use of the idea (yong4), but not its substance (ti3). I am wondering whether proprioception applied to the whole body is the substance to which you really apply your Yi.

I sometimes hear people say that when you do something like punching, you must use your mind or your will. For me, this is not very helpful or descriptive and does not capture what I think of as Yi. To me the issue is whether the movements of your whole body, or at least most of your body, expresse a punching meaning and use the natural energy paths of the body. To do this, I am positing that you use proprioception to be aware of the placement, condition, and movement of all parts of your body and feel how this placement, condition, and movement relates to your immediate goal.

Let me take a specific case. In Cloud Hands, I count six large geometric curves and lines that are important to the movement. I find I like it when practitioners show that they can feel and are using all six. Let me focus on four of them.

There is a straight line that characterizes the stepping and the weight shift. If this is done in deliberate coordination with the hands, it looks good.

Next, there is a clear rotation of the lumbar spine from left to right and back. Again, you can say whether people really feel this and use it to power their hands. I see it specifically across the shoulders and upper back, because the appear to move as a clear unit.

Next, the arms move in a propeller-like or pinwheel like circle centered primarily on the shoulder and secondarily on the elbow. It shows when people do not know how to use the shoulder circle, particular during the bottom part. If the bottom part is weak enough, it puts into question whether the top part is really part of a circle. You can see this in how low the person circles his or her hand and also in the precision of the arm rotation at this point. If the bottom of the circle is cut off or if the rotation becomes indistinct, it puts into question whether the person really feels any circle at all and certainly whether they are using the circle for any real purpose.

Feeling and using the geometries are what I am proposing as the role of proprioception in Taijiquan. What you use the geometries for is what I think of as Yi.

Any thoughts?

Take care,
Audi
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Postby Louis Swaim » Sun Dec 31, 2006 8:28 pm

Greetings Audi,

I appreciate your feedback on this, and I think your consideration of yi in light of proprioception is helpful. As I think you are suggesting, to think of yi as “mind,” independent of the intended somatic action would miss the point. I’ve come to understand yi as more than what may be implied by “mind intent.” Yi implies a unity of intention and action. According to A.C. Graham, yi “includes both the image or idea of a thing and the intention to act which is inseparable from it. . . .” (Disputers of the Tao, p. 133) Elsewhere, Graham quotes the Song thinker Chao Yuezhi’s use of a fine metaphor: “. . . ‘intention’ [yi] is a combination of ‘mind’ [xin] and ‘sound’ [yin]. It is like striking a drum. The sound is not separate from the drum; it comes out from the drum. Intention is not separate from the mind; it is an emission of the mind.” (Graham, Two Chinese Philosphers, p. 63) As such, yi does not stop with an initial idea, image, or mental impulse. It includes the feedback experience of the neurons, muscles, joints, and bones interacting with gravity, the immediate environment, and/or an opponent. As Fu Zhongwen put it, “In using the consciousness (yi) to thread to a given position, the consciousness arrives, then the jin arrives—the place where the consciousness is concentrated will then have a resulting sensation (ganjue).” (Mastering Yang Style Taijiquan, p. 42) The constant monitoring of the resulting sensations is the crucial feedback component of yi.

You write: “The closest way I can think of how to explain Yi at the moment is to to use the verb mean in English, such as in how you mean something.”

In this sense, I think yi is close to “feeling,” as in playing music with feeling, or acting a part with feeling, or making a speech with feeling. One could say, then, that yi is what keeps practice authentic. I think Jou Tsung Hua used to say that you should practice your form as though you’re taking a final exam. This may carry some negative connotations for some of us, but I think it comes close to describing the required attention and concentration. This brings to mind the philosophical term found in the ‘Yang Forty’ text that we discussed recently: cheng, often translated “sincerity.” It’s one character in a four-character motto by Fu Zhongwen: Qin (diligence) Hen (perseverance) Li (respect) Cheng (sincerity). I have a fan bearing Fu Zhongwen’s personal calligraphy of this motto, given to me by some of his son’s Australian students. As I mentioned before, Roger Ames (and before him, D.C. Lau) translates cheng as “creativity,” because it implies a continuous adaptive response. The Song thinker Zhu Xi combined the terms “cheng” and “yi” in his commentary to the Greater Learning (Da Xue). Graham explains that by chengyi, Zhu Xi meant “integrating the intentions,” or making intention accord with reality as it unfolds.

In the “Conscious Movement” thread I quoted some material from Jane Geaney’s _On the Epistemology of the Senses in Early Chinese Thought_ (2002, University of Hawai’i Press), where she takes specific exception to interpreting yi as ideation, merely mental, or merely visualization. Her findings reveal that yi is better understood in the context of “sensory knowledge.” She writes:

“Yi is better translated as ‘intent’—in the sense of something external and manifest in movement. This is apparent because the Xunzi attributes ‘intentionality’ to a dance:

‘The intent [yi] of the dance joins with the way of heaven. . . . How can one know the intent of the dance?—The eyes do not themselves see, the ears do not themselves hear, and yet the order of the bowing, raising the head, crouching and stretching out, advancing and retreating, slowing down and speeding up is such that none of it is not modest and controlled.’
(Xunzi 20/37-39)

“Thus, yi is not an internal mental picture at all. As in the orderly movement of the dance, yi is a manifest and measurable tending or movement.”
—Geaney, pp. 37, 38-39.

As for my understanding, I don’t mean to discount the role of visualization, particularly in learning and perfecting the form. But I think one must go beyond visual models and concentrate on developing and monitoring a constant adaptive response, moment-by-moment, in order for practice to be authentic.

Take care,
Louis
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Postby Kalamondin » Sun Dec 31, 2006 11:09 pm

Hi Louis, Hi Audi,

<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"><B>
As for my understanding, I don’t mean to discount the role of visualization, particularly in learning and perfecting the form. But I think one must go beyond visual models and concentrate on developing and monitoring a constant adaptive response, moment-by-moment, in order for practice to be authentic.
</B></font><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

I agree that it's necessary to go beyond visualization--or at least include it as part of the moment-to-moment self-monitoring that goes on. I've been doing a lot of internal work lately, and it's changing my internal landscape such that I can't do my tai chi form the way I used to. I can't rely on the old habits of forming postures on auto pilot just because yesterday was similar to the day before. Internal shifts are resulting in external changes to the shape of my spine, the spaces between the joints, the angle at which I hold my head--all of which threw off my balance until I threw out the idea of habitual postures and started doing something more like Audi's concept of geometries to guide yi.

I think of the geometries as a kind of magnetic template that I can allow the internal and external to tend towards. There's a mental visualization component but also a felt sense of my body being drawn towards a new way of moving. It's palpable and I can feel the way intending makes things happen physically. It's being able to feel that central equilibrium is both the vertical center and the intersection of left-right, forward-backward, up-down. Ground is the geometry of the tai chi diagram itself. This helps with balance on un-even terrain and in absurd work shoes. I can think about the geometry of arcs and curves and by linking my intention towards movement with these shapes and patterns, I can facilitate the felt sense of moving more smoothly no matter what has changed between my last practice and today's practice.

It's as though setting one's intention for a particular thing during practice tends to pull the physical form or external postures in a new direction. I was thrilled to see Louis quote from Fu Zhongwen: “In using the consciousness (yi) to thread to a given position, the consciousness arrives, then the jin arrives—the place where the consciousness is concentrated will then have a resulting sensation (ganjue).” (Mastering Yang Style Taijiquan, p. 42) I think it sums up neatly what I've been trying to describe.

Happy new year,
Kal
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Postby Audi » Mon Jan 01, 2007 2:52 pm

Hi Louis and Kal,

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">...to think of yi as “mind,” independent of the intended somatic action would miss the point....Yi implies a unity of intention and action. Yi “includes both the image or idea of a thing and the intention to act which is inseparable from it. . . .”</font>


Louis, I think these are excellent point that you put quite accurately. I also think, however, that they are always easy to misunderstand. For many years, I thought people were speaking of Yi as something you put into your body or movements. It was merely about putting "awareness" into a body part or thinking about a certain thing intensely. I would have interpreted the unity you refer to above as something achieved through an act of will that bends reality to my desires. I think such an image is subtlely, but crucially off the mark, as you make clear throughout your post.

Either you or the Wiki article you linked to mentioned the sobriety test of spreading your arms wide, closing your eyes, and touching your nose with an index finger by swinging one arm horizontally inward. When I do this, I have a distinct taste of what I think of as Yi. It is not just the proprioception, but the proprioception linked towards a goal. It does not have all the characteristics Yi should have in Taijiquan, but it seems to have the kernel.

The sensation is even truer to what I feel doing the form, if I do the exercise with my eyes open. By an act of will, I can use proprioception throughout my arm and relate the sensation to the action of touching my nose. This relationship, more than the act of will, is what I think of as Yi. If I lose the sense of any part of my arm, then my Yi becomes weak and I need to rely on my eyes to guide the movement and lose even further any sense of the Jin in my arm.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">As such, yi does not stop with an initial idea, image, or mental impulse. It includes the feedback experience of the neurons, muscles, joints, and bones interacting with gravity, the immediate environment, and/or an opponent.</font>


Yes, I like it a lot. To add to your idea a little more, I think you even want to feel why the feedback makes any difference. In other words, what are you using the feedback for? E.g., to fight gravity to rise high?, to defy gravity to gain distance?, or to use gravity to aid your movement? All are possible and relevant in different aspects of the form. Similarly, is your touch maximized to receive a sensation from the opponent, or to give one? All the ideas are entwined, but the sharper you make your Yi, the more choices and the more decisions you realize you have. The more your refine your Yi, the simpler those choices and decisions seem to be and the more rest seems to take care of itself.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">As Fu Zhongwen put it, “In using the consciousness (yi) to thread to a given position, the consciousness arrives, then the jin arrives</font>


I have read this before, but reading the word "threading" now really made me sit up and pay attention in this context. If I go back to the nose-touching exercise. I think the Yi can be felt if you try to feel the location of your entire arm throughout the movement, using your proprioception. I think the sensation of Yi is stronger if you relax your muscles and do the same. However, I think the sensation only truly threads throughout when you relax and lengthen the tendons throughout the movement, because then you are forced to maintain a connection between the relaxing and lengthening and the motion towards your nose. There is a sensation of equilibrium you are forced to monitor and adjust from moment to moment. If you get down to the sensation in the fingers, you even feel the impact on the joints in your index finger and in how you direct the positioning of your other fingers.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">yi is what keeps practice authentic</font>

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">This brings to mind the philosophical term found in the ‘Yang Forty’ text that we discussed recently: cheng, often translated “sincerity.”...As I mentioned before, Roger Ames (and before him, D.C. Lau) translates cheng as “creativity,” because it implies a continuous adaptive response. The Song thinker Zhu Xi combined the terms “cheng” and “yi” in his commentary to the Greater Learning (Da Xue). Graham explains that by chengyi, Zhu Xi meant “integrating the intentions,” or making intention accord with reality as it unfolds.</font>


<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">As for my understanding, I don’t mean to discount the role of visualization, particularly in learning and perfecting the form. But I think one must go beyond visual models and concentrate on developing and monitoring a constant adaptive response, moment-by-moment, in order for practice to be authentic.</font>


I think the emphasis on cheng, creativity, and authenticity is making more sense to me now. By mentioning geometry in my earlier post, I was attempting to mine this territory for meaning.

If I talk only of moving my arm in a perfect circle, I think I am missing something and stopping merely at what you have called "ideation." If I instead feel what the circling does for the purpose of my arm in the relevant context, I then calibrate its movement to maximize this feeling. There is a feedback loop between what my mind conceives to be the favorable properties of a circle and the positioning of my arm. I do not use my mind to bend reality to my will, but rather to see into its nature and take better advantage of its properties. This seems to me intensely a type of pursuit congenial to Zhuxi's ge wu ("investigation of things"). The possibility of morality in movement is something I would not have thought of before.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">In this sense, I think yi is close to “feeling,” as in playing music with feeling, or acting a part with feeling, or making a speech with feeling.</font>


<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"><B>“Yi is better translated as ‘intent’—in the sense of something external and manifest in movement. This is apparent because the Xunzi attributes ‘intentionality’ to a dance:

***

“Thus, yi is not an internal mental picture at all. As in the orderly movement of the dance, yi is a manifest and measurable tending or movement.”</B></font><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

I am glad you wrote this, because musical metaphors have been coming strongly to my mind of late. For instance, a person can talk about "playing with feeling." However, simply having feeling is not enough. The feeling must show on the outside in a concrete way. But merely copying the outside is also not enough. Any musician (or actor) knows that it is incredibly difficult to copy someone else's "feeling" without changing your inside. When you have the right thing inside that motivates and manifests what is on the outside, then you play or act with feeling. This is Yi, and proprioception is perhaps the means you use to calibrate it.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">I think of the geometries as a kind of magnetic template that I can allow the internal and external to tend towards. There's a mental visualization component but also a felt sense of my body being drawn towards a new way of moving. It's palpable and I can feel the way intending makes things happen physically.</font>


Kal, your use of the phrases, "magnetic template," "tend towards," and "body being drawn" resonates strongly with me. I think I had my first inkling of this way of thinking when I was first exposed to the way Yang Zhenduo explains fangsong and "relaxation." I found it both jarring and intensely interesting, because it was a completely fresh idea to me.

I hesitated to put my understanding into practice because it seemed quite alien to anything I had done before and seemed to contradict almost all that I had read and understood before. I remember doing the form once and deciding that it exhibited questionable morality for me not to give the idea the full benefit of the doubt, at least for a few seconds. I think it was during the transition into Fist Under Elbow. All of a sudden, it felt like my body was possessed. My limbs seemed to fill out the posture by themselves. My mind established the "magnetic template" your referred to and just sat back, watched, and drank in the sensation. It was weird, but extremely exciting. I have been hooked ever since.

<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"><B>I can think about the geometry of arcs and curves and by linking my intention towards movement with these shapes and patterns, I can facilitate the felt sense of moving more smoothly no matter what has changed between my last practice and today's practice.
</B></font><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

This also resonates strongly with me. If I am doing my form in the way I like to, I feel as if I am recreating every posture from scratch every time. It never feels the same. I feel saddened sometimes when I hear people talk of the form as if it were just mindless repetition of the same thing or as if it were merely a serious of complicated jumping jacks or calesthenics, repeated day after day. In my view, every posture should feel like an act of creation that surprises in the newness of its feel.

Take care,
Audi

[This message has been edited by Audi (edited 01-01-2007).]

[This message has been edited by Audi (edited 01-01-2007).]
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Postby Louis Swaim » Thu Jan 04, 2007 8:13 pm

Greetings Audi and Kal,

Thank you both for your added thoughts on this. I’m gratified that you both “get” something that I’ve been trying to articulate in one way or another for some time—the experiential or sense-based (ganjue) aspect of yi.

Audi, you wrote: ‘I am glad you wrote this, because musical metaphors have been coming strongly to my mind of late.

Me too. I’ve just started playing guitar after about a twenty-eight year hiatus. I injured a finger in a factory accident when I was at the peak of my guitar-playing skills. (A young guitar hero’s career cut short!) Because of nerve damage and pain in the end of one of my left-hand fingers, I basically couldn’t play anymore. So I got rid of my guitars and forgot about it. Recently my teen-aged daughter has taken up guitar, and we’ve been learning chords and songs together. It seems I can play again without pain. What struck me right off the bat was how much muscle memory has remained—enough to remember basic chords and how to do progressions. But of course knowing how to play a b minor is far from being able to play it effectively and musically. So I’m doing a lot of reflecting about the mental and somatic processes involved.

One thing that fascinates me about development of neuromuscular skills is a sort of creative tension between conscious and unconscious processes. The psychological terms “conscious,” “unconscious,” and “subconscious” are imprecise, but I suppose that you could say that as a physical skill gradually becomes a matter of muscle memory, it becomes more unconscious than conscious. Skill, however, is not fully realized in simply getting a movement down pat as though fitting a template. Once it finds its way into muscle memory, there is an endless horizon of honing and perfecting. It’s as though you build upon the unconscious muscle memory by constantly bringing it back to the realm of conscious deliberation and monitoring through the senses. Running through this process, from the beginning levels to the upper ranges of skill, is the thread of conscious intent (yi).

Yang Chengfu cited a taiji aphorism that taijiquan is “easy to learn, but difficult to correct.” This may in fact refer to allowing your form to settle into a “template” mode without constantly testing and recalibrating it for authenticity. Could this be why “conscious movement” (zhijue yundong) is so crucial?

Take care,
Louis
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Postby bamboo leaf » Fri Jan 05, 2007 12:40 am

(Yang Chengfu cited a taiji aphorism that taijiquan is “easy to learn, but difficult to correct.” This may in fact refer to allowing your form to settle into a “template” mode without constantly testing and recalibrating it for authenticity. Could this be why “conscious movement” (zhijue yundong) is so crucial?)

I would say if one did this then it would be dead. We/I use the concept of yi in the practice from day one. One should realize that consciousness of movement can be done with out the physcal movement, if ones consciousness is strong enough ie their yi or intent then another will and often does feel the movement before it happens or if one is very good another will react to it alone.

It is also what allows one to move, before the movement has happened allowing some one to be lead. What is being lead is their intent, how this is done depends on ones own awareness of this and what there practice is based on.

Happy new yr all




[This message has been edited by bamboo leaf (edited 01-04-2007).]
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Postby Louis Swaim » Fri Jan 05, 2007 3:59 am

Hi Bamboo Leaf,

Re: "I would say if one did this then it would be dead."

Yes, I should clarify that I meant that Yang Chengfu's aphorism is a caution *against* allowing your form to settle into a “template” mode without constantly testing and recalibrating it for authenticity.

Take care,
Louis
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Postby lao-pei » Sat Jan 06, 2007 2:07 am

Greetings Louis:
This is Horacio.
Do you have Wang Peisheng's Wu Taijiquan in Chinese?
In it there is a helpfull section that I think relates to this subject. Still, not knowing Chinese I can not be sure. Hopefully, I can convince you to translate it in the future?
I met Wang Peisheng when he came to the USA in 1993. I have been pursuing the studies of Northern Wu TCC since then (in the closet for many years) and more in dept and openly since YZD last visit to the USA. (I can not write ...since his "retirement". I saw him in Canada this past summer)

The section is:
"What is meant by "Yi" and how to let "Yi" conduct the body?"
Are you familiar with it in Chinese?
I hope you don't mind my including the english version in here.
Thank you. Take care
Horacio

What is meant by "Yi" and how to let "Yi" conduct the body?

The word "Yi" denotes intent or thought, or thinking, or idea.
In practicing Tai Chi Chuan, "to let 'Yi' conduct the body" means that you must first have a clear idea and a definite intent of what you are going to do in your mind and to let the body do it accordingly.
Sometimes, it just indicates which part of the body the mind should be thinking of, or your attention should be focused on.
Though it is nothing unusual to have first an idea in one's mind of what one is going to do just before doing it, nevertheless, it is not a common practice in one's daily doings to think of or to be aware of how one is doing a thing all the way through, from the beginning to the end, and, at the same time, to make modifications if the body is not doing precisely as the mind wills it, especially when one's attention or thinking is not to be put only on his outer movements but on his inner activities as well. Thus it needs a period of training to get used to doing it this way and months and years to make the conducting more and more subtle and the response more and more refined.
As Tai Chi Chuan, is quite complicated in its movement formation and demands a high degree of inner and outer coordination, it is unlikely that one can form a clear integrated picture of what and how a posture, not to mention a whole set, should be done in one's mind in a short time.
The training procedure devised by Master Yang Yuting is: to set one's "Yi" first on the starting point and the ending point of each movement only; when one has become proficient in doing so, then shift one's "Yi" to make clear the line or the path each movement goes through; and then to do every movement, with the "Yi" leading, the body following, from the starting point all the way through the process a movement takes, up to the ending point; and then try to do every posture and finally the entire set of Tai Chi Chuan this way; then, when one has again become proficient in doing so, discard the concept of line or path and substitute it with a moving point in the mind, and let the movement of one's body follow closely the movement of this moving point when it moves, one moves; (and when it retreats, one advances). After doing one's daily practice in such a way for some time, he will be able to perform the complete solo set of Tai Chi Chuan flowingly and lively as does the running water or the drifting cloud.
As Tai Chi Chuan is basically an art of conducting the body with "Yi", the finer the body part to be conducted, the easier for the conducted part to relax; and the more sensitive the feeling and the quicker the response of the body, the deeper the interest in practicing and studying could be developed in the doer and the greater the charm of the art would appeal to him.
Usually, when the instructor says to place the "Yi" on a certain part of the body, it simply means to think of that part. But the body part one's "Yi" is to be placed on and the shifting of "Yi" from one part to another should be smaller and smaller, finer and finer.
For instance, one's "Yi" could be placed on one hand and then it could be shifted to another, but when one is thinking of one of his hands, a finer way is to think of the palm first and then to let his thinking be shifted onto the fingers or from one finger to another, or even from the root of a finger to its nail. There could be an infinite degree of fineness to be reached, hence, there is no limit to the development and achievement of the art. The more advanced one is, the finer and more subtle his using of "Yi" should be.

Teachings of Yang Yuting, Born in 1887, died in 1982.
3rd Generation Disciple. Master of Northern Wu Style Tai Chi Chuan.
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Postby Louis Swaim » Sun Jan 07, 2007 6:17 pm

Greetings Horacio,

As always, it’s good to have your input. I don’t have a copy of Wang Peisheng’s Wu Taijiquan, but I will certainly look for it.

A number of things caught my attention in the Yi passage you quoted:

It states that one must “make modifications if the body is not doing precisely as the mind wills it. . . .” I agree about the process involved, but I fear that for some folks the way this is stated reinforces a notion that the mind and body are separate; that the mind is some pristine discrete entity that wills a separate, passive body into action. I doubt that was the author’s meaning, but it may come across that way to someone who habitually and unconsciously abides with this mind-body distinction. That mode of thinking tends to psychologize ‘yi,’ and overemphasize what I called “ideation” or “visualization.” I think of “mind” as including the sensitive feedback that makes it possible to monitor whether or not movement is “precisely as the mind wills it.” I think this is what the tradition expressed as “inner and outer are united,” and “complete integration into one qi” refers to.

What clarifies the author’s understanding, I think, are his statements, “the finer the body part to be conducted, the easier for the conducted part to relax; and the more sensitive the feeling and the quicker the response of the body, the deeper the interest in practicing and studying could be developed. . . .” Or his reference elsewhere to making “the conducting more and more subtle and the response more and more refined.”

My current understanding is very much in accord with the author’s prescription: “to set one's "Yi" first on the starting point and the ending point of each movement only; when one has become proficient in doing so, then shift one's "Yi" to make clear the line or the path each movement goes through; and then to do every movement, with the "Yi" leading, the body following, from the starting point all the way through the process a movement takes, up to the ending point; and then try to do every posture and finally the entire set of Tai Chi Chuan this way. . . .”

I’m less clear on the author’s meaning about discarding “the concept of the line or path,” and the substitution with a “moving point in the mind,” and would like to know more about it. It does remind me of the classical formula, “Each point has its point of empty/full. Everywhere there is always this one empty/full.” But recall that formula in the Taijiquan classic is followed by “The entire body is threaded together joint by joint. Do not allow the slightest interruption.”

I hope I get an opportunity to see the original Chinese for this passage. I’d like, for example, to know what the verb for “conduct” is in “let the ‘Yi’ conduct the body.”

Take care,
Louis


[This message has been edited by Louis Swaim (edited 01-11-2007).]
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Postby Kalamondin » Wed Jan 10, 2007 6:57 am

Hi Audi and Louis,

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">For instance, a person can talk about "playing with feeling." However, simply having feeling is not enough. The feeling must show on the outside in a concrete way. But merely copying the outside is also not enough. Any musician (or actor) knows that it is incredibly difficult to copy someone else's "feeling" without changing your inside. When you have the right thing inside that motivates and manifests what is on the outside, then you play or act with feeling. This is Yi, and proprioception is perhaps the means you use to calibrate it.</font>


There's some pretty exciting research in the last decade done on mirror neurons. From Wikipedia: A mirror neuron is a neuron which fires both when an animal performs an action and when the animal observes the same action performed by another (especially conspecific) animal. Thus, the neuron "mirrors" the behavior of another animal, as though the observer were itself performing the action. These neurons have been observed in primates, including humans, and in some birds. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirror_neuron

This may be part of how we change our feeling on the inside when copying others. This is the way I learn tai chi best: by observing and copying...or more and more, sensing and copying. I have had some uncanny experiences where during individual instruction with my teacher, certain ideas or ways of moving have just "clicked" instantaneously. I got "movement in stillness" in this manner once (but have yet to recreate it quite as intensely). But I've also had a similar experience to Audi several years ago: a sensation of my form being "possessed" wherein I finally understood how to relax into the ground and allow it to support my structure.

So more and more, there are times where I feel like I'm picking up information about tai chi and form corrections from out of the energetic template of tai chi itself.

Louis, I'm working with a different template model. I understand what you mean about some templates being humdrum, dead, cookie-cutter things that are all rote repetition. I'm using template in more of a Platonic ideal (perfect template) kind of way that keeps practice new, interesting, and very exciting for me because there are an infinite variety of approaches to something that has no manifest form. There are all sorts of template variations to choose from: What is the template for the perfect nature of tai chi? What is the template for separating empty and full? What is the template for central equilibrium? For yi? For conscious movement? What is the sum total of the tai chi template? This family? That family? What's the highest collective vision of the art? Where are the majority of other practitioners? Where are the spirals in the form? Where are the circles and arcs? Where is that single center point? What if everything revolves around it? What is swimming in air like? What is it like to conceal yi? Is there a template for suddenly appearing and disappearing? What does empty, lively, pushing up feel like?

After I have the question I direct my yi to "download" the template into my form. Sometimes it sticks, sometimes it doesn't. It doesn't work if I think about it--I have to _feel_ for it. That's what I mean when I talk about a magnetic tending-towards. If I consciously intend to move toward an ideal template then I can relax and allow my body to feel its way toward the perfect form. Whether perfection is attainable is an argument I haven't formed an opinion about yet--but it feels like I can approach it, no matter what the actual distance may be. I can allow my being to be drawn towards it and more relaxed I get about tending towards the ideal, the better everything flows and the cleaner and more precise the shape of it becomes.

I think this is a bit like Louis's statement: "I’d like, for example, to know what the verb for “conduct” is in “let the ‘Yi’ conduct the body.” I don't have the Chinese, but the English alone resonates with a musical conductor leading the orchestra and unifying its disparate parts. There's also the sense of fluidity in movement that I've been getting at. It also resonates with the occasional sense of "posession" or the body being led.

Still, at the end of it, I doubt we disagree even if we're using the word "template" differently:

Louis wrote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Skill, however, is not fully realized in simply getting a movement down pat as though fitting a template. Once it finds its way into muscle memory, there is an endless horizon of honing and perfecting.</font>


Endless horizon--yes!

<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"><B>
If I am doing my form in the way I like to, I feel as if I am recreating every posture from scratch every time. It never feels the same. ... In my view, every posture should feel like an act of creation that surprises in the newness of its feel.
</B></font><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

An always new act of creation--Yes!

Best regards,
Kal
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Postby Louis Swaim » Wed Jan 10, 2007 6:45 pm

Greetings Kal,

I find your thoughts about mirror neurons very interesting. You may recall my mention of George Lakoff’s concept of “empathic projection” in another thread:
http://www.yangfamilytaichi.com/ubb/Forum7/HTML/000090-2.html

In fact, empathic projection involves mirror neurons.

For a variety of reasons, I actually have philosophical objections to the concept of Platonic ideals with regard to “yi.” To put it simply, Plato’s notion was not reality-based. Plato privileged the idea over the actual. To him, what was real is not what you can touch, see and experience, but the idea behind the thing you touch, see and feel. Ideas were more real than things. This kind of abstraction gets people (including national leaders) into real trouble when there is a conflict between the idea and reality. That is precisely my objection to interpreting yi as “ideation.” I would also submit that a Platonic ideal is altogether counter to experience gained via mirror neurons.

A preferred perspective, I would suggest, is something Yang Chengfu discussed in his Introduction to his Essence and Applications book. He cited a quotation from the Xi Ci commentary to the Book of Changes: “Modelled on heaven and earth’s transformations, it never goes beyond them.” The traditional notion of ‘heaven,’ or ‘the heavens’ (tian, ‘sky’) is perhaps close to a concept of an ideal type, but notice the quote says “modeled on heaven AND earth’s transformations,” and that it “never goes beyond them.” In other words, you could say it is reality-based. Included in his discussion are the three terms “li, qi, and xiang.” In a footnote to my translation, I noted: The word xiang is most often translated “image,” and it should be understood as “a sensory (that is, visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory) presentation of a perceptual, imaginative, or recollected experience.” (as clarified by Hall and Ames, Anticipating China, p. 216.) That is, xiang is sense-based, not idea-based. I also noted, “In the Taijiquan context, it may be helpful to think of xiang as learning through emulation of a teacher’s model form.” Particularly when we consider that learning is facilitated via mirror neurons, and through the process of empathic projection, I think this traditional concept of xiang stands in contrast to a Platonic ideal.

Forgive my admittedly incoherent yammering about abstruse concepts.

Take care,
Louis
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Postby Kalamondin » Fri Jan 12, 2007 12:49 am

Hi Louis,

Well, we can toss Platonic ideals out the window if you like because I see that idea gets in the way of the reality (mine) I'm trying to convey. Image My experience of reality is that it's only limited by what one thinks is possible. People's ideas about the nature of reality tend to shape it in surprising ways (see book Holographic Universe). Discrepancies between ideas and reality aren't the fault of ideas or reality, but speak rather to an inability to manifest an idea. From my perspective, ideas make things real every bit as much as reality shapes ideas. It's a yin-yang relationship and "reality" is as fluid as blood in the veins, or qi flowing here and there.

Lakoff also wrote about ideas shaping reality in Don't Think of an Elephant, wherein the words used to talk to voters were keys to deep rooted ideas, which, when activated, changed voting trends in measurable ways within reality.

If we take your discussion of xiang, it does sound more like what I was trying to get at--except that I'm going to use your quotes to argue that what was written is just as much idea-based as reality based. It's all according to how one reads it.

<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">You wrote: The traditional notion of ‘heaven,’ or ‘the heavens’ (tian, ‘sky’) is perhaps close to a concept of an ideal type, but notice the quote says “modeled on heaven AND earth’s transformations,” and that it “never goes beyond them.” In other words, you could say it is reality-based.</font>


I think the very juxtaposition between heaven and earth lends towards a yin-yang interpretation involving both ideas and reality--if heaven represents an ideal and earth represents reality. Therefore, it cannot be only "reality" based as there would be no dynamic tension between what is and what's possible, no growth, no development, no changes possible through practice.

I don't object at all to learning through sensory perception and agree that it's fundamentally important for closing the feedback loop between practice now and what the yi will craft later. But when you write:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">The word xiang is most often translated “image,” and it should be understood as “a sensory (that is, visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory) presentation of a perceptual, imaginative, or recollected experience.” </font>


Then I think that the senses respond just as readily to ideas as to reality. Perception itself is shaped by both reality and possibility. When I read "perceptual, imaginative, or recollected" I see that as a slippery slope that could tumble one into any number of imagined ideas that could shape perception and recollection in a variety of ways.

Here's a fictional example of a perception shaped by both reality and ideas: a young external martial artist comes up with the idea that tai chi is a worthless martial art, and that there are no true masters left. He casts about, trying to find a tai chi master to fight him, to prove that the art is viable, functional, and real. He succeeds in proving his idea that the art is worthless because in pushing, he cannot find anyone to fight back. Perhaps if he meets a tai chi master, that master might have the idea, "Ah, this person is quite hard and not interested in learning softness yet" so they do not engage. The master's idea of mastery doesn't involve challenging people closed to his instruction. It just doesn't register as important or necessary because he has achieved emptiness, so all the young man's pushing for proof falls into emptiness. They never meet. Or having met, never fight.

I might edit later, catching bus now.
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Postby bamboo leaf » Fri Jan 12, 2007 1:52 am

The master's idea of mastery doesn't involve challenging people closed to his instruction. It just doesn't register as important or necessary because he has achieved emptiness, so all the young man's pushing for proof falls into emptiness. They never meet. Or having met, never fight.


very well said Image
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Postby Louis Swaim » Fri Jan 12, 2007 5:58 am

Hi Kal,

. . . catching bus now.

Was it a blue bus?

I love ideas. As long as they are healthy and nurturing, I like to chew on them and digest them. It’s the half-baked ones I can’t swallow. They could be toxic.

I would never argue against the power of ideas, or suggest that ideas are opposed to reality simply by the fact that they are ideas. I was just suggesting that I don’t find the classic concept of the Platonic ideal to be a good fit for explaining ‘yi.’ I think that’s an altogether different way of thinking than what is entailed by ‘yi.’

Take care,
Louis
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