Yi, Intention: A Key to Chinese Internal Martial Arts

About Yi (Intention) in Daoqiquan
Copyright IAM Co. 2009
John P. Painter

[For More, Join these Yahoo Groups: Daoqiquan; Jiulong Baguazhang]

Yi Intention

Yi Intention

Early martial training of China including those classified as internal styles in their original forms were for developing combat ability. There were however various approaches taken towards developing these abilities. One of the unique methods developed in numerous schools influenced by Daoist thought was that of inner skill training (Nei-gong).

Nei-gong exercises are part of inner family (Nei-jia) traditions from Chinese martial arts. Primarily Daoist in origin Nei-gong training emphasizes coordination of a student’s mind and body with breathing and relaxation exercises; sometimes called achieving accord of inner
and outer (Nei Wei he yi) these methods aid in improving internal and external power and technique.

Training Nei-gong involves using specific exercises for cultivating physical and mental control over breathing, body movements and emotional energy. It was designed to promote the release of muscular tension (Song) as well as instructing a method of subtle neurological control of skeletal muscles.

Nei-gong mental training is activated by powerful visualizations accompanying seated meditation (Jingzuo), standing meditation (Zhuan Zhuang) and physical exercises including specialized methods of Daoist Yoga (Daoyin). It is said to enhance internal energy (qi) and
inner power (Nei-Jin) of the body. It was this Nei Wei he Yi that the creator of Yiquan, Wang Xiangzhai claimed had been lost in Chinese martial arts during the 19th and early 20th century. His method was known as Yiquan or (intention fist)

Today Yiquan has, as do all things split into many branches and concepts due to this it too is in danger of losing its way from the original intent of the creator Master Wang. Wang believed that true power came from the mind. “The mind commands, the body moves and the Qi follows along.” This says that whatever we do we do first in the mind and this influences the body.

The Word Intention
When we are dealing with most Nei-gong skills we are dealing with training the mind. The Chinese martial artists of old looked at man as not having a conscious and subconscious but as having will or intention and heart or attitude. In Chinese the word for mind and intention is (Yi) and the word for mind and heart or attitude is (Xin).

The best way to describe this is an example. If you want to throw a ball to a friend then you have the intention to throw the ball. This means you are thinking about doing it but nothing has happened yet. During this phase of thought what most people do not realize is that
the brain is already sending signals to the muscles that will be involved with the action of throwing the ball through the nervous system to the motor neurons in the respective muscles. So in other words the power has been turned on slightly and all that is left to do is make the action.

Now if you stand very still and really truly visualize throwing the ball to your friend you are exercising intention this intention to throw feeling will continue during and after the physical action of throwing, but that is not where we are going just now. What is important is that you are not moving, not tensing up any muscle but you are thinking of throwing the ball. If you pay attention you can feel sensations throughout your body that feel as if you are getting ready to do this action.

What you are experiencing with this feeling is what is known as sense memory. Your are having a “waking dream” so to speak that reminds you of throwing a ball. In this “dream” you can feel the sensations of acting on your intention / idea (Yi) as a real sensation even if you are not moving and are still relaxed. In fact the more relaxed you are the stronger you can feel the sensations.

This is the crux of all practice of Nei-gong it begins with intention skill or sense memory arising (Yi-gong). Now when you do throw the ball to a friend the attitude with which you throw it is your (Xin) heart. If you are throwing to a small child the attitude is soft and gentle so as not to hurt him, if it is a buddy and you are playing football it may be much harder and with the strong feeling of blasting the ball right at him, if it is an enemy and you are throwing a rock at him to drop him in his tracks your Xin will change to reflect the way you feel emotionally about this. So the Xin affects the attitude of the intention.

What does all this have to do with sitting and standing? Read my first book Combat baguazhang volume one again to find out more but here is some of it.

“A presentation at the Society for Neuroscience conference in San Diego California in 2001 reported researchers had found a correlation between visualization and strength development. A report on the presentation appeared in New Scientist Magazine, November 21, 2001.
It explains that scientists studying the mind have proven that correctly imagining a specific exercising can increase muscle strength.

How could it be possible to increase strength just by thinking without physically moving a muscle? The answer lies in the fact that when we work out we are sending nerve impulses from the brain to the muscles. These muscles flex or relax in response to impulses from
motor neurons. The firing of those neurons is determined by the strength of electrical impulses sent by the brain.

Exercise physiologist, Dr. Guang Yue, at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio working with a group of researchers found that mentally visualizing exercise movements was enough to increase strength in a single muscle in the little finger, used to move it sideways. Dr. Yue states, “This experiment suggests you can increase muscle strength solely by sending a larger signal to motor neurons from the brain.”

Visualization uses Imagination or Imagery
Visualization can and should be used when training intention. We use the imagination when we visualize calling up or creating sense memories. Imagination is whatever is occurring in your mind not directly caused by what you are experiencing from the outside world. If you look at a tree, what you see is not an “image” you are seeing a real tree. But when the tree is not there, and you picture it in your mind, then you are producing an image from your stored memory of
the tree. Normally “imagination” refers to imaging things or events that don’t exist except in your “imagination” for example, dragons.

The mind has the ability to see in three specific ways (1) observation of external real objects in real time, (2) A memory of visualized real objects as images in your head, and (3) visualized
imaginary objects in your head. Each of these three ways of seeing involves imagery, because in all cases you are seeing something, and “seeing” is a mental event, happening in your mind. When a person cannot tell whether he or she is seeing a real object or just imagining it, this is a hallucination.

One important principle when dealing with internal training is the second of these factors, neurological strength. If we can improve the signal from the brain to the motor neurons there will be a resultant increase in contractile ability in the muscle especially in the muscle fibers that produce strength known as Mobilizer fibers (fast-twitch and or White muscle Fibers). Science has shown that guided imagery exercises similar to the ones presented here can do just that.

The core of my art called Yi Xin Gong revolves around producing clear palpable sense memories of pushing, pulling, lifting and pressing upon heavy objects. In short we are imagining feats of strength without actually doing them. Employing this technique is a valuable form of internal martial art training. We first begin to work with sense memories in standing meditation (Zhan Zhuang).

It is here that we train every part of the body to develop internal power using mind only. We learn to feel your image as if it is actually occurring although we are not flexing or tensing our
muscles. This is the true meaning of the Chinese axiom, “use mind not strength” (Yong yi bu yong li).

This way of training is much more than just holding your hands or body in a particular way and waiting for something to happen. Sense memories involve truly feeling as if your body is making the effort to accomplish the feat of strength you are imagining yet you are not flexing or moving in the early stages. You remain completely relaxed during the imaging process.

For example imagine lifting a heavy weight like a granite stone sphere with both hands. Once you assume the posture you should remember holding a real heavy object using as many of your senses as possible. If you understand the concept of imagining Dynamically Opposing Forces, that I will explain fully a little later, you will actually be activating motor neurons in muscle fibers associated with this particular imagined activity. The effects of this type of exercise when repeated over a period of time will be an increase in the strength potential of skeletal muscles involved in the imaginary action which improves the capacity to produce speed and strength.

This is the basis of using Yi. I hope it helps you. The best way of course is to read Volume One of the Combat Baguazhang books and then come train with me or one of our certified teachers who knows this material from direct experience so they can help you along each step of the way.

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