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Following the lines of intent Bookmark

In the last few articles we have looked at ‘Intent’ and its physiology as it relates to the internal arts, so in this article I will provide a couple of practical ways in which we can practice following the line of our intent to improve our movement.

There is a saying in the internal arts that one ‘follows the line of intent’, this is the process of moving in accordance with our will to act using the Intent as the link between the mind and the motion. But there is more to this concept than simply following how we would like to move.


Moving along the lines of intent is a concept that is, at its core, related to efficiency. It is the pure and unwavering action, the movement that is not diffused with other thoughts or considerations. Often I would hear one of my teachers say ‘don’t think, just go!’ when my movement would be sluggish, disjointed or inefficient.

As we have discovered in other articles, movement is formed at the level of the brain. The root of movement is not in the final action observed by others; this is merely the result. If we look at movement as if the physical action is the beginning and end of the story, it would be a bit like thinking a tree grows from its leaves first.

But the movement does happen, and how it happens, with what level of efficiency is of the utmost importance to the internal arts practitioner (and probably any movement artist). In the internal arts there is a deep introspection and focus on how the movements follow the will to act. We see the disciples of the many styles agonizing over their alignments and connections, looking to squeeze every last bit of efficiency out of their motion.

Correct alignment, connection and conditioning are all pre-requisites when looking at our ability to move in accordance with the directions of our intent. But there are ways to work on our movement capability at the level of Intent itself. These techniques use a combination of visualization, strong will to move and clear mental focus. Of course, when fighting the various systems work in harmony, but whether it be the conditioned response or the conscious decision to move, it is in training of the intent where one of the Keys reside. Correct training of the intent can increase our ‘signal strength’ and increase power dramatically in the motions.

Here are a couple of exercises that you can try in order to train ‘Following the line of intent’.

1)      Project to the horizon.
Stand in a relaxed posture with one arm outstretched pointing straight ahead. With your mind, visualize the tips of your fingers being ‘pulled’ forwards as if they are tied to string which someone is pulling. Imagine the string being so long it actually goes over the horizon. As you stand there, focus your gaze on the distance, feel the pull get stronger and stronger until you feel like you are going to be pulled over! When the pull reaches its zenith, let your feet go and follow this projection of intent for several steps … It should be like you have actually been pulled forward and have to catch yourself with a few quick steps. With this technique learn to feel the line and recognize when your movement fails to follow the line.

2)      Touch the point
In this exercise we are working on our focus and the way in which our focused intent can lead a direct and efficient action. The idea with this training is to pick a point on a wall, a leaf on a tree or a point on a fence and focus intently with the will to reach out quickly and touch it. You attempt to ‘build up’ the will to touch the point then allow the body to follow the resulting line of intent. The trick with this training is to monitor the efficiency of the motion. Sometimes you will feel as the though the arm shoots out all by itself very smoothly, others you will feel as though the action was somewhat forced or clumsy.

3)      Move Before you move
One of the best tools for training the intent, and how to form action from the minds will to move, is the ‘move before you move’ concept. In this training it is important to understand that we are not strictly talking about visualization of the movement, but in fact we are looking to REALLY be moving, with everything that we are, but not allowing our body to act out the motion. This training can be applied to any movement, of any martial arts form, in any environment and is a training methodology that can be seen permeating the Chinese Internal Arts. When we move, before we move, there is a direct physiological response in the body, the muscles prepare, the connective tissues begin to react, the skin sensitivity increases, in very subtle ways our body is actually moving and preparing for the larger motion to come. So, we basically move before the motion begins, the body prepares then we follow the line of intent and complete the motion. Stand there and build up this preparation to move before letting yourself follow the motion and repeat for the next motion. This sort of training is very interesting in long forms like those seen in Taiji.

These are just a few concepts that can be used to link our motion and our intent in a direct and uninterrupted way. These training methods can be the difference between someone moving with clarity and fluidity and someone moving with a clumsy or lazy motion. It is the mind that brings life to the movements, the Intent that links this life to the body, and the body that expresses it.

Give these methods a try in your own forms or training and see if you can feel your efficiency increase.

Many of the methods highlighted here will be presented in the ongoing course on Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan. To join the course, which is about to publish month 3 of its material, please click here.

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