…during the Sept 23 Zoom class GM got that gleam in his eye, we’ve all come to know, “Little sparrow wags its tail…” and he went on to share a story about developing the skill of intention and about the skill of not telegraphing intent through micro-level somatic signals…
When I started thinking about GM’s story from that Zoom class several ideas came at me. In this thought experiment, I want to focus on one particular element in the development of ‘mind-intent’ or the skill of intention. ‘Intention’ is the moving of the mind before the body is engaged. So, at home after class, before I try out a movement that’s been demonstrated I engage my brain. I try to develop a mental picture of what the teacher demonstrated as closely as I can. I consult my class notes and update them with any new ideas. I start this ‘intention training’ by trying to picture the movement in a mental picture with my body pasted over the moves of my teacher. I then use my imagination further to go deeper into the movement, within my mind. I would think that the same kind of micro-step adjustment is necessary for the development of intention skills as for the development of physical skills. I am saying that all this and more happens as your body is held completely locked/still/unmoving internally or externally. Not dead just quiet. These exercises are for your brain tissues. Before any movement is made the mind must move; internal has to begin in the ultimate hidden realm of the mind. So I would postulate that in using intent as part of the training you have to train your brain.
In a fight, the idea is to have practiced the movements so often as mental processes that you can experience the movement in your brain a millisecond, a nano-second before the execution of the move. Then to have practiced the physical move so often and well that the body just performs that action without conscious deliberation. I think perhaps intention training is similar. As you develop your mind intent you automatically use that skill when needed. A student’s eventual success in delivering correct PM movements within the context of push-hands or the more stressful context of a fight depends on their ability to move without any ‘telegraphing’ of their movement. As GM Hong said, ‘…no seams, no hesitation…as the cloth of heaven…’. So if you are going to punch the only movement anyone should see/perceive is the hand punching, no tell-tale extraneous movement of any other physical structures prior to the intended movement. So it is like creating a picture, more of an outline, of the move in your mind, then filling in the outline with detail as you actualize/perform your intent. The mind goes and the body follows; another slogan maybe ‘PM; mental picture = body process’ (okay this one’s mine, lol)
I think this applies to practice as well. Let me make a concrete example. Let’s say you’ve been given a shoulder stretch exercise to do. It is fairly simple. Stand in an open doorway. Turn your body to face the doorframe. Move close to the frame. Move the body so you can grasp the frame with the right hand with the right arm fully extended parallel to the ground, so your body ends up arm’s length from the doorway opening and frame. Now you are standing grasping the doorframe with your hand, arm extended fully out in line with the shoulder joint. Now before you try to begin to stretch anything in the shoulder, be still. Just experience how the various parts of the body feel in relation to each other. In other words, begin at the beginning. Use your mind to get to know your body and its parts and how they interact before you try to move. See if you can hear the words of the teacher describing how to do the stretch correctly. If not then remember the exact words, if not then start to take notes in class. Then use your mind to imagine making the stretch exercise with your body parts moving according to instructions, exactly, no additions or modifications. Once you have used imagination to create mind intent then practice creating intent a few times before trying to move. Use your imagination to break the entire movement into as many components as possible so that your intention includes as much of each part of each segment of the body as it progresses. Can you imagine moving the shoulder from the joint so that the fingers are rotated strictly as a function of the rotation of the ‘rotator cuff’ structure of the joint? Once you have thoroughly gone over this process in your mind you can move, very slowly.
Perhaps because of my AnkySpondy, I am loathe to try new moves at any speed but super slow. Often Master Allan teases me that my moves in class are too ‘precious’, too careful. So in class, I am working to be less deliberate and more direct. At home I am careful. I am also beginning to wonder if intent also has to do with our generalized attitude towards practicing PM. Sometimes I am particularly poor at having a martial focus in class. I can joke around and be way too informal which might lead other students to believe I view this pass time as a fitness experience or some kind of medical treatment for my spinal arthritis. GM has reminded me, very directly, that my practice of PM has to be as it was intended, pun intended, as a martial art. Any health or humor benefits are side effects of the art. Not to be denied or denigrated but not the reason for the art. Combat, survival, primal existence are the reasons for each of our PM movements. It is also likely true that I am only getting to the stage in my Peng metamorphosis of body and mind where I am able to have a martial focus at all. I am finding that regaining and reinforcing a martial intentional focus is making my practice both more correct and more enjoyable. I can joke about anything as long as there’s no part of someone else’s body trying to make contact with my joking apparatus. A punch is only a joke after the fact.
Please let me know your reactions, even just a couple of words so I don’t think I’m way off the mark.
…learning to live a breath at a time…