Check out the latest info and research from Coach Chris' explorations in the Subject of Internal Power.
Indeed, when the highly trained internal arts adept does anything, from walking to the local store, to lifting a box to sparring with their peers, the body will move in accordance with the principles and methods that they have embedded.
Central to this ‘correct’ movement is the idea of method without thought. This concept is known in the Japanese systems as ‘Mushin’ which translates as ‘No Mind’ and is one of the more difficult concepts for the beginner or new student to understand. For the beginner every motion they learn in the martial arts is challenging or requires varying degrees of mental focus to achieve. The question is often asked, ‘How can you do something if you don’t think about it??’
Another difficulty with the idea of ‘No mind’ is that it is often framed within the context of spiritual practice and this can muddy the waters for the new practitioner. It is certainly true that, for many of the greatest martial artists, the methods and disciplines found in the spiritual traditions held great interest. These were the practices that held the keys to understanding the nature of the mind and how our perceptions can be skewed or dimmed if the mind does not freely flow. This understanding can be something of a requirement for the martial artist who strives to prevail in the chaotic arena of combat.
The 4 stages of Competence.
Remembering the focus of this article is to understand the concept of no-mind within the framework of movement, in all its forms and variety, the first thing for us to realize are the stages which we pass through as we learn. It must be pointed out that when we talk of moving with unconscious competence (A term I have coined from the 4 stages of competence model found in psychology), we are not simply talking about any type of movement. We are specifically talking about movements that have been en-trained in the practitioner to create ‘competence’ of some type, sometimes this is known as ‘second nature’.
For instance, a beginner can throw a punch without competence and without mind, but this would not make their movement correct or their ‘no-mind’ useful. They simply don’t know that they are incorrect, inefficient or incorrect in their movement. Whereas, the adept will throw a punch in accordance with all of the correct principles and requirements that have been ingrained in their body, even if the mind does not enter into the equation.
This is the stage we are in before we learn. We simply do not know that we are either doing something poorly or incorrectly.
Here is where we have the information to achieve our goal but are not yet able to perform it. This is where most people in the martial arts are in their steepest learning curve. A Very exciting time for the practitioner because everything is difficult and new and seemingly out of reach!
In this stage the practitioner has the requisite skill sets when they set their mind to it, but when not concentrating the skills can elude them. It is perhaps the most common for the Martial Artist to reside in this stage and very rarely do they proceed to the final level.
The stage of correct method without the need to think. Here is where the true adepts reside. The body acts in accordance with the methods trained natural, the adept is unconsciously competent in the system or method.
So through training we move through the various stages of Competence, the last of which is the level of trained intuition, of correct training movement, of a type of Naturalness filled with skill.
The Martial Body.
Before the ability to move and act with no-mind is achieved we must first have a body capable of performing appropriately for the situation presented. I have outlined in many of my other articles some of the practices that aim at this goal, but suffice to say, all of the major internal arts have the re-training of the body’s natural capabilities as their initial fundamental goal. This training is often to ingrain and ‘hardwire’ the specific attributes or qualities of the style so that, when called upon, not matter what the movement, the exponent moves in accordance with the styles core principles. I like to use the very well-known term ‘Second nature’ to describe this process. Through training the correct motion becomes ‘Second nature’ to the exponent. The first nature being their untrained state, the second nature being their trained state.
The actual training methods undertaken are myriad; however, we can say that it is the process of creating neural pathways and tissue qualities so that they work in complete harmony that is at the ‘martial body’s’ core. With the degree of freedom found in the development of the martial body, a situation arises where by flow or unconscious competence can begin to occur. This is why Body Method training must always come first in the internal arts, if the methods and skills of combat found later are to be useful.
Flow state is a state in which someone is entirely absorbed in the moment. Within the frame of motion or movement it is the state in which the person is not in a pre/post planning mindset but is present in the now; and their movement is reflective of this. In essence it enables the practitioner’s movement to be ‘correct’ based on the conditions which are presented. Some internal arts like I Liq Chuan have a deep foundation in this idea with ‘Awareness’ the core tenant of the art.
Far from being a modern term or concept, the idea of ‘flow state’ has been present in the arts of life and death for many hundreds of years. In the classic text the Unfettered Mind, Takuan Soho describes how if a thought arises in the mind of a swordsman, if he were to think of doing this or that, then he would fail. The thought would interrupt the correct course of thing’s; it would block the flow of the encounter. My Daito Ryu Teacher would call this dwelling in the correct point of the interaction, ‘The Absolute moment in time’.
When we look at the 6 commonly accepted characteristics of flow we can see how advantageous this state may be to the martial artist.
For the purpose of this article the attributes that link most directly to the unconscious competence in Movement are points 1, 2 & 3
The practitioner zooms in on the present moment, with a heightened state of awareness of the exact situation as it is with no fore or post planning. There is a seamless union between thought and movement and the two attributes are no longer separated by decision making. The ‘self’ fades to a tiny point as the body/mind is in complete harmony with the now and the situation presented before them.
Unconscious competence is a state of capability that can be trained, but it cannot be forced. There are specific steps that the practitioner must got through in order to achieve this ideal state of ability and so many get stuck in the conscious competence phase, unable to push through this limit to the ‘Mushin’ point. The adept must have a broad set of tools, from the correct hard wiring of the body through internal power training to the correct training of the mind to dwell in the present.
Those that do attain this level, from any discipline, be it MMA, BJJ, Taiji, Aikido or Wing Chun are often immortalized as masters of their art where ‘technique’ seems to be transcended by a complete freedom and a constant ‘correct action’.
But remember, at this level, to end as we began … “; the mind does not enter into this at all.”
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.
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).
When we think of the Internal Arts we often think of the slow motion practice or people standing in static postures but there is an interesting phenomena related to these practices. One which we see in combative exchange but is not immediately apparent in these fundamental training methods. This is the ability for some internal artists to move at blindingly fast speeds even though much of their training can be focused moving slowly.
How does static posture training or slow movement practice actually increase the speed of the practitioner? The two ideas seem to be at odds!
There are several factors at play here but first we can say that moving slowly or holding a static position makes us better able to recognize precisely how much effort is needed to perform a given action.
There is a physical law known as the Weber Fenscher Law which states:
’The higher the speed of a given movement, the less able we become to recognise the power required to perform it.’
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 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.
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