Tuesday, October 4, 2011

What Were You Thinking?

     Of all the bodily weapons which we seek to strengthen and perfect through the practice of martial arts, the one which is probably the least understood and most neglected is...the mind. To be sure, there are many aspects of the "mind" that have to be considered - and trained - if you intend to achieve a high level of skill in any form of eastern martial discipline. I don't intend to even try to cover all of them; I'll just pick one aspect which I'll call "Misdirected Yi."

     First, we have to establish just what "yi" is. It is often translated simply as "mind" although that term, even in our own language, is more than a little elusive. Certainly, "mind" refers to much more than the brain and its known functions. "Mind" is something more subtle, more...abstract than "brain." "Yi" can also be translated as "will, intention, idea, imagination..." and that gives us a better sense of what the teachers of times past meant when they spoke of it.

     We know that where the "yi" goes, the "qi" (vital energy, life force) follows...and, if you remember your basic Intro to Qigong 101 class and hearken back to the fourth principle of Qigong known as EXTEND, you'll recall that the body wants to go wherever the qi is directed. Therefore, where the "yi" goes the "qi" also goes, and the body wants to follow! This is a vitally important principle because it applies not only to the practice of Qigong, but to all other aspects of your martial arts training...and your life! As I always tell students when they first learn about this basic principle, "This is the most (unconsciously) abused principle not only in martial arts but in daily life."

     Let's start with a very basic example of misdirecting your "yi." Let's say that an opponent (or your training partner) grasps your wrist or your lapel…or your whatever. And he/she doesn't just give it a limp-wristed wimpy grab - THAT'S not going to help you learn anything - so he/she really seizes it firmly like he/she means it!
And where does your mind instantly go? Usually to the spot where you're being grabbed. This is especially true if the opponent's hand actually touches your body (in a lapel grab his or her hand may not actually touch your body, y'know). And as soon as your mind (yi) - which, you'll recall, means, "attention, intention, imagination..." - your "yi" is fixed on that spot. It's as if it is frozen in place and as long as that (mental) condition remains, you'll have trouble struggling to break free...even if you try to perform the nifty "escape technique" that your instructor showed you.

     Yes, it's perfectly natural to fix your mind on the spot where an opponent grabs you...but that doesn't mean that it's the right thing to do. And the same kind of thing usually occurs when your opponent strikes at you. Your mind often becomes "fixed" on the spot (or the area) where you believe you're about to be struck.

     Your mind becomes temporarily paralyzed and as long as your mind is paralyzed, so is your body.

     The other half of this principle involves where the opponent’s mind is fixed. And of course, his "yi" is fixed on the spot where he's grabbed you or the area where he intends to strike you. You both have your minds fixed on the very same spot!

     So for simplicity's sake, let's go back to the wrist grab. Instead of putting your mind on your wrist, try putting it on your elbow...or your shoulder. You'll find that you can easily move your arm! Your wrist may not be freed, but who cares? You can move your arm and do all kinds of nasty things to your opponent as a result. He, on the other hand, must keep his mind fixed on your wrist! By attacking you he has placed himself at a terrible disadvantage.

     How about hearkening back to the name of the art which you practice (for the Yiliquan crowd here)...and Yili means what? "One Principle." And what is this "One Principle?" It is,
                                              KEEP ONE POINT AT ALL TIMES. about focusing your "yi" on your One-Point (dantien) and moving from there? Try it. You'll find that directing your mind to your One-Point allows you to move your body pretty freely, especially if you utilize pivoting actions.

      If you're focused on the spot where you're being grabbed, you're actually making the opponent’s grip that much stronger. Don't give him any extra power! If you put your mind on your One-Point, you'll actually siphon off a good deal of his strength! And your instructor can show you how to kindly give it back to him-

   Instead of concerning yourself with the opponent and what he is doing to you (in the case of a wrist grab) or obsessing over what he may do to you (in the case of striking), place your mind on your relationship to him. This isn't to say that you become momentarily engrossed in some spiritual concept that speaks of all men (or women) being brothers (or sisters...).'s about how you, your One-Point, and your movement are related to him, his One-Point, and his movement.

     You will take control of his movement by controlling his One-Point. Sometimes, as in the case of grappling techniques, this is done quite literally. In the case of percussive techniques, it is done figuratively but it has the same effect(s) as if it was done literally. When YOU strike, HIS mind becomes fixed on what YOU'RE doing - he "loses his One-Point" and you penetrate through to his very center with your One-Point...

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