Check out the latest info and research from Coach Chris' explorations in the Subject of Internal Power.
Following on from the previous article, today we will talk about one of the most fundamental aspects of internal power training, utilizing our intent to enhance and fuel our movement. Some systems of internal art place this concept at the very forefront of the system, Xing Yi Quan being a prominent example. The important of ‘intent’ should not be overlooked by the practitioner as it is both a useful training tool and a fundamental movement enhancer.
Intent can have many different interpretations in the various internal arts, there are some who say it means mind, some who say it means visualization, still others who say it is the direct use of our nervous systems, or others who identify it as the will to move energy around the body. For the purpose of clarity in this article I will use my own definition of Intent as it relates to the Internal practices I teach, but understand and accept that others may well define this idea differently for instance some would define my ideas on Intent as 'will power' (zhi rather than Yi).
A few years into training the Internal Martial Arts, after many years of Daito Ryu and Tai chi Training I became exposed to the direct and highly effect martial art of Xing Yi Quan. The power and forward force of this art was something I had not encountered before, the practitioners seems to be so intently focused on taking the space you occupied it seems as though nothing could stop them. It was an art I was to throw myself into and became the second foundation upon which all of my subsequent methods were to be built (the first being Daito Ryu). It was in this art that I was to learn the importance of ‘Intent’ and the absolutely vital role it plays in efficient, powerful and effective movement for it was the intent that gave the Xing Yi practitioners their amazing power.
Movement can often be thought of in two ways, the mechanical process of articulating our bodies, or the minds ability to create those mechanical processes. But there is a 3rd important part to the process of movement that straddles both of these concepts and that is the manner in which the mind transfers and receives information to the mechanical tissues. This ‘link’ is what I define as Intent. It is the link between the mind and the body.
Strengthening this link is one of the fundamental exercises of Xing Yi and its famous San Ti posture is designed to maximize our ability to direct our intent so that when our body follows, over time, the motion is extremely refined and efficient and at one with the direction of the minds will.
But how exactly does this seemingly esoteric practice translate to real refinement of movement? Well numerous experiments have shown a direct link between thinking of an action and that thoughts improvement of the physical action itself.
“A study in 2004 found that volunteers were able to increase muscle strength simply by imagining using the muscles. Scientists divided thirty volunteers into groups: some did physical training of their little finger for 15 minutes, five days a week for twelve weeks. The others only imagined doing the training. At the end of the twelve weeks the group doing the physical exercise had increased their muscle strength by 53% as expected, but the group that imagined doing the exercise also had a significant increase in strength of 35%. Another study in Canada showed that participants who learned a series of foot movements through mental rehearsal alone showed an improvement in performance. Not only that, but scans showed changes in the brain had occurred that were consistent with the kind of changes that occur after physical practice. The researchers suggested that mental practice improved performance by acting on preparation and anticipation of movements. “
From 'Whole science article - Visualisation key to improving sports performance"
NOTE: study links present at the bottom of this article.
In the internal arts we combine these two processes in a very refined way, first utilizing and building the intent, then following it with the physical action. When we consider movement vs imagined or intended movement they are actually extremely similar. Both rely on the firing of neurons in specific sequence to achieve the movement, over time the practice will strengthen and optimize the organization of these neurons whether the resulting movement is achieved or not.
The training of the intent, the link between the minds will to act and the bodies physical action, found in the internal arts is directed towards strengthening the link between these two systems. Often it is described as the strength at which the intended action commands are transferred to the muscle and tissue in order to make the motion occur. It has been shown that some of the strongest people in the world are able to command their muscles to create larger volumes of force in shorter periods of time, the signal from their brain to their hand is strong, pure and direct. This is the essence of building the intent in the internal arts and although we are not trying to win any strong man competitions, the basic idea is the same.
The intent is the translation of thought into action in as pure and direct a way as possible. It could be thought of as the bodies preparatory or anticipatory mechanisms combined with the health or strength of the nervous system. Once this strong source, signal and action is in harmony a new and uniquely refined way of moving presents itself. We see the Internal masters moving effortlessly but with extremely strong and clear expression. This is the result of a clear mind linked to a connected body by a strong intent.
In the internal systems there are several methods to increase this connection, all of which require great attention to the details. I will outline the details of these methods in the next article. Stay tuned!
Switching gears away from intent training, but in a related vein, in this post we will be exploring how different types of movement can create opportunities and effects in a Martial Exchange.
The study of the mechanics found in the combat arts is, at its core, the search for efficiency in dealing with forces. These could be forces acting upon us, or forces that we produce to act on others. Forces as we mean them here encompass all possible martial tactics and motions, be that the forces produced from Grappling with a partner or the concussive forces created through striking or impact.
How we move, and using which principle, will have wildly different implications for the interaction with the partner or opponent. The situation dictates the type of motion that is appropriate but it is fair to say that our aim is almost always to maximize the how our force is perceived by the opponent. Here we will explore some of the ways in which forces can be created or applied in general terms, the types of power we see in the fighting arts and their utility to the various combative fields.
We can’t really look at movement skills without talking about how movement complexity and capacity is handled by the brain and nervous system. It is our brains that give rise to our ability to move in complex ways and also our brains that allow us to retain good movement habits once they are learned.
Indeed, some people theorize that movement diversity is the reason for humans developing such large and complex brains.
In the last article I talked about the idea of ‘no mind’ in the martial arts being one of the highest forms of competence. But there is another process that we see mentioned time and again in martial traditions from many parts of the globe. In the Japanese arts, it is known as Zanshin and in the Chinese sheng xing and it represents a key aspect of focus for the martial artist, it is the concept known as ‘after awareness’ or literally the ‘remaining mind’, but we can say that as a general idea it is in extending the mind and creating focus, or awareness.
Born out of the life and death struggle of war and the practical requirement for warriors to be fully aware of themselves, their surroundings and their situation, the remaining mind held a special place for the ancient martial artists.
Linked to the last article, in this post we will be talking about how ‘mental preparation’ increases performance and how this is utilized by the Internal Arts. Most notably in the form of the intent training method called ‘Move before you move’.
There are several very well-known examples of mental preparation being used by elite level performers to increase their physical capability. Perhaps most strikingly this is seen in Olympic Weight Lifters who will often spend time behind the bar in deep focus and concentration, then time with their hands on the bar with a yet deeper level of focus before attempting and completing their lift. Indeed, we often hear of unsuccessful lifts that ‘His mind wasn’t there’ or ‘He lost his focus’ rather than ‘he wasn’t strong enough’.
In the upcoming series of articles, we are going to look at the unique movement methods and techniques found in the internal arts and their impact on our mental and physical health and our ability in the Martial Arts. We will be looking at some of the components of Internal arts methods like spiraling and the interplay of opposites as well as more detail on how these movements deal with force.
Movement is a fundamental ‘must have’ for the human organism. Our bodies are built such that much of our health and happiness is directly related to the volume, composition and more importantly quality of our movement. As soon as someone stops moving regularly they start to develop a host of problems that can cascade into serious health issues.
Click here for more info
This site is designed to be an online learning environment and community for people with an interest in the internal arts and internal power training. Our aim is to help people around the world optimize their training practices through the dissemination of previously hidden information.
Sign up for our mailing list to get latest updates and offers.