Intent is one of the most misunderstood concepts in internal Martial Arts. Here, we will seek to demystify what is in actual fact, a very simple concept. All of us use intent everyday of our lives, but on a subconscious level. For instance, when we throw a ball, we know from experience that if we relax the arm and focus far away, the ball will travel farther than if we use a lot of strength and focus on our arm. In other words, we focus outside the body.
Focus outside your body
There are two main reasons we use intent, and they are both related to power methods. One is to engage the core muscles, and the other is to achieve separation of moving parts. This separation of moving parts is best seen in baseball, where the hip to shoulder separation of pitchers as they throw the ball is extreme. In order to develop this skill, it is best to initially work on the core muscles and later on the separation.
Imagine yourself practicing Tai Chi. Without instruction, you will most likely wave your hands around with little core muscle involvement. If now we told you that as you perform the movement you are actually rolling an imaginary ball between your arms and that this imaginary ball is somewhat heavy, you will begin to engage your core muscles. You will remember what it feels like to pick up a heavy box and you will know you must bend your knees and keep your back straight.
In essence, this visualisation will help your body to achieve the alingment it requires to produce maximum force. This requires practice, and can take years to perfect but the ultimate goal is to have your body align itself in the same way it does when it has been loaded with force, before it has been loaded with force.
The reason for this is obvious if explained in a combat context. It is advantageous to have force-generating body alignment a fraction of a second before one engages the opponent, so as to destabilise him upon contact. The problem is that most people can only achieve this alingment once force is applied onto their frame. So we must use our intent to produce the alingment at will. The easist way to do this at first is to imagine we are lifting an object, and this is part of the function of the imaginary Tai Chi ball which is found in so many forms. Once we are skilled at this, the second stage is to imagine throwing this weight around. The purpose of this is to achieve separation of parts, like a baseball pitcher. As we do this, we will be able to engage our core muscles not as a solid block but as a spring. This is achieved by the twisting of the torso at first, and the whole body later. It is this twisting of the torso that will generate the hip to shoulder separation that we see in baseball pitchers. This is referred to as spiraling in some systems, and it is the bases for all advance level power generation methods. It is found not just in baseball, but golf, tennis, soccer, boxing and even in runners.
Once the method is learned, the practitioner is free to experiment with the use of the intent. The size of the ball can be altered from very large to extremely small. It can be heavy or light and it can be thrown at different angles. As we improve, the throwing analogy is no even longer necessary as it is only an introductory concept. Ultimately, the goal is to have the mind race ahead of the body so that our frame can achieve separation and produce vector forces of our choice upon contact with an opponent.
A traditional explanation of intent
The classic explanation of intent is that “Intent and Energy is the Emperor, Bones and Flesh his Ministers”.
A key to mastery in the internal arts is understanding Shen Yi Qi. Shen is the “spirit”, Yi is “intent” and Qi is the life energy.The spirit cannot be directly accessed and it represents our true values and sense of morality and righteousness. The Chi is also not directly accessible and can be best explained as an internal force that results in external vectors through extreme alignment of the body parts. It differs from brute strength in that it is an alignment type force which uses the body’s natural structural components (bones and ligaments) to create a short range force rather than the more common muscular force used in everyday life.
This is not an esoteric force and is in fact used by many elite athletes. A clear example is that of weight lifters using proper structural alignment to carry a weight, whilst using little physical strength.
The intent is directly accessible and is used to guide the Chi. As explained earlier, the visualisation of lifting a ball can produce certain structural alignments that will allow us to produce great force. This visualisation is the intent, and as we move and roll this ball, our chi will mobilise creating new structural alignments at new angles.
by Javier Garcia