Softness and Martial Intent

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Linda Heenan
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Softness and Martial Intent

Post by Linda Heenan » Tue Jan 20, 2009 5:01 pm

One of the things I notice about my form in comparison to someone else I was watching on video, is that my movements were smaller and I didn't extend as much, so I'm trying to fix that.

Then I watched another advanced student, and his movements were very small. They are much softer than mine but I couldn't pick the martial intent as easily.

Last year when Laoshi was here, he worked with us on making the movements with lesser and lesser degrees of tension. I find that difficult while also trying to keep the martial intent, especially in movements like the punches in the last set to the diagonals. How can we have both softness and martial intent in the form?

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Post by iglazer » Wed Jan 21, 2009 2:06 pm

You have implied a false dichotomy in your question. Softness and intent are not mutually exclusive nor are they comparable.

You can be hard and have no mind intent. Come to a beginner's class and you'll see what I mean.

You can be soft and your form can have no mind intent. People who have this sort of practice are easy to spot as they have no internal pressure and no liveliness. These kinds of practitioners cannot fa jing without relying on muscle strength.

You can have great mind intent and be hard. Someone who is practicing with a focus on mind intent, can forget the lessons of softness and end-up clenching their muscles.

You can be soft and have solid mind intent. In fact, to transmit jing you need to be both soft and have established mind intent.

I think some clarification on your part is needed to continue. Can you clarify what you mean when you say 'martial intent'? When you say 'martial intent' do you mean 'mind intent' or 'martial application'? My assumption is that you mean application. Describe for us what, in your mind, the connection is between small movements and softness and intent.

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Re: Softness and Martial Intent

Post by Linda Heenan » Fri Jan 23, 2009 9:55 pm

Can you clarify what you mean when you say 'martial intent'? When you say 'martial intent' do you mean 'mind intent' or 'martial application'? My assumption is that you mean application. Describe for us what, in your mind, the connection is between small movements and softness and intent.
I'm talking about developing steel wrapped in cotton. If softness and martial correctness are both important, I don't have enough of either in comparison to what I see in the form of others. I'm trying to work out how to get a good balance and work at improving it from there.

We know that mind intent leads and controls the movement of the body. We also know that we don't use force to generate force in taijiquan. We use intent - the intent leads the qi. This is why someone who has developed their practise to a good level can send a duifang flying to the other side of the room with what looks like no effort at all. I've done that too but it isn't automatic yet. I still use force too often. Developing the right principles while doing the form should make this work better.

With all the access we have to people doing forms on video, there is much to observe and compare. I see some people doing the form with beautiful softness - very smooth and flowing, but I don't know if their applications would work if there was an attacker. These people sometimes tend towards very small movements - the same form, but no clarity of application.

I want both in my form. I want it martially correct but also soft. The problem seems to be how to focus on what the strikes intend to do to the duifang while at the same time remaining free of tension. I realise this all takes practise, but I'm after the next steps. How did others, who already have this worked out, get there? How, for example, can you sink into a punch under the arm without putting any force into the punch or feeling muscular tension in the lower rooted leg while delivering that punch? Most people doing our form put a little extra speed into that movement. This also seems to create tension... at least, it does for me.

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Extension

Post by Linda Heenan » Sat Jan 24, 2009 4:41 pm

Another term I should clarify is "extension". There seems to be a point of completeness in a movement that is lost if the movement is done too small in the form. If a movement is taken to a slightly more extended position, it naturally sets off the next movement...yin becomes yang, or whatever - like an inner bounce that continues the momentum. We have something similar in push hands where there is a moment defence becomes offense and if a person tries to change before that moment, he is left with the need to use force. We do it in swordsmaship where we sink into a prepared position for the next step. I read in the classics recently (and I don't know where, because I opened and read at random), something about seize the moment, take the advantage. These are elements I'm trying to get into my form to have the intent of it more correct. The soft flow is useless without the correct martial intent. I hope this explains a little more. I'm barely reaching for the edge of understanding this myself, so it's not easy to put into words. It's one of those things that are better felt than tellt.

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Re: Softness and Martial Intent

Post by detective » Mon Jan 26, 2009 5:14 am

I think that one possibility to get the answer is to define what is "force" (this "force" that we should not use).
In my opinion it`s the force which is generated only by hands and arms or/and upper body.
If your body is well connected, the power is generated mostly by legs while upper body and hands are used for directing this power and keeping right alignment. All the muscles cannot be totally relaxed, but it is important to relax them as much as possible (and never forget this principle), otherwise the tension will block the connection.

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Re: Softness and Martial Intent

Post by Nik » Mon Jan 26, 2009 1:23 pm

Uhm, no. The power is not generated by the legs, there is a difference between "initiating" and "generating". You don't "jump" into opponents pushing like you push a car. The power really generates first in the lower body by the spine and belly muscles, closing or opening the frame, and the whole chain from the ground to the point of delivery fires on the expand or closing. ALSO the shoulder, upper spine, chest muscles (ribs) and arms. The whole twisting core strength is not generated from the legs, but the hips upwards. See this video showing one version of such an impulse (this is the staff I can barely make vibrate): http://de.youtube.com/watch?v=OJJeVl-Oikc

There is a reason why long-term IMA practice tends to develop a hefty mid section growth.

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Re: Softness and Martial Intent

Post by Tashi James » Mon Jan 26, 2009 5:12 pm

Hi Linda,

Softness is the by-product of fang-song that is developed, while martial intent is simply any technique that is done with a clear purpose. Remember 'the qi follows the mind and mind follows intention.'

Not sure if this was mentioned before because I was too lazy to read the entire thread.
"There is nothing that does not become easier through familiarity" (Santideva).

"We become what we do repeatedly. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit" (Aristotle).

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Re: Softness and Martial Intent

Post by iglazer » Tue Jan 27, 2009 12:04 am

Nik wrote:Uhm, no. The power is not generated by the legs, there is a difference between "initiating" and "generating".
I'm not sure I understand your differentiation. Can you give us a clearer distinction?

I like to fall back to the Taiji Classics on matters like this:
The root is in the feet, energy issues up through the legs, is controlled by the waist and is expressed in the hands and fingers.
In my own practice, I can clearly feel the legs as an integral part in issuing energy. Sinking or rising up, it doesn't matter.
Nik wrote:You don't "jump" into opponents pushing like you push a car.
I agree with you on this point. The error you describe is one of protruding and not connecting the body.
Nik wrote:The power really generates first in the lower body by the spine and belly muscles...
If power is being generate by muscular force, then that power is hard energy which is antithetical to taiji. Did you intend to imply the use of hard energy here or was this my misunderstanding?

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Re: Softness and Martial Intent

Post by Nik » Tue Jan 27, 2009 10:20 am

This will only get problematic if you start to "differentiate" or go into the finer functions of the body and mix it with theoretical pictures.

First, ANY power the body generates is physical. You have different mechanisms contributing to it, you can waste energy, leave out subsystems that could enhance output, etc. The, in my understanding, best method to prevent fumbling around in your body is to keep learning with the simple, mechanical, feedback methods. Forms, push hands in various degrees, power issueing exercises (pole shaking etc.), leaving it up to the bodies own intuition ("body law") to pick it up, keeping your mind as much in Wuji as you can. If you insist on translations of written shortcuts to describe complex mechanical and chemical systems, results usually contain too many mistakes, and "head centered" moving. As opposed to natural, intuitive movements you for example find with people in pro sports when they're "in the zone" (hit any 3pointer while being butchered from all sides).

To shorten it, saying a movement starts in the legs does not mean the main power source is the legs. Legs are connection to the ground and play big role in positioning your "guns" in relation to the other person, making angles, shifting, etc. The main power source is the whole body, and chemical "boosters" you realize when you release fajins when in real danger, in grave need to protect. I don't think it's too much help to describe all those functions in detail, their use is so deeply wired to the instinct, you better keep it at "something" sneaking in, after you keep doing your fundamentals, over a good amount of time. If you reach a state where your skin starts tingling the whole day, the tongue, fingers, etc., and this increases significantly when exerting strength, you have opened a door, and your body will start "playing" with it, naturally. Scientists might want to identify and measure all that mechanisms, but for getting this, the basic work is in the everyday forms, partner and instruments work.

The martial intent Linda was refering to is in the perception of some deeper part of the mind to be in danger. If it thinks so, it will switch off moral considerations, and switch on boosters that enhance the energy output. You can trigger this with many "meditational" or "visualizing" tricks, however, I prefer the method of Complete Reality which means you face the plain concrete reality if you are in danger or not. True softness is not hindering this stuff, it's more of a basic state of the body allowing sudden increases of output without tearing muscles or overloading the body. The difference is in what the mind really does. You cannot "fake" a state of the mind where it sees itself in danger, activating (pre-)historic protection mechanisms of the body (run away from predators, fight them, hunt). The outstanding internal method is to combine these "raw" protection mechanisms with sophisticated organizational frameworks, maximizing the finer use of it. This is why we have complex forms and partnerwork, to not just plod through someone booming, but lower the hammer fine-tuned. The martial intent in a movement is that doing it, it has the meaning of keeping someone or something from harming us. It's just a thought, nothing you need to "concentrate" or stare on. If you start an exercise in the meaning to prepare for fighting something off keeping it from harming you, the mind will add the martial component on its own. You will for example realize that even the softest, weak person when really angry will double or triple in strength when they grab you. The same mechanism, just from another source. It's possible to replace this on-off disposition with one that has degrees. A scale that adjusts with the force needed. I advocate to not concentrate too much in fumbling around with that, just as much that it starts at all. Which is an emotional process, not some "trick". You want to defend, or you don't. The abilities in exerting jin when in need of strong movements develops more or less in the same way as you pick up complex balance skills when skiing. You do it, in that case using partners or objects, like a pole.

As you see, it's easy to get carried away if trying to explain things in great depth. ;)

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Re: Softness and Martial Intent

Post by Robert Bemoras » Wed Jan 28, 2009 10:31 pm

It is my understanding that movements begin longer when first learning because the limbs initiate the movement of the dan tian. As we become more experienced the dan tian becomes trained and it initiates the movement. As a result, the movements become smaller. I also noticed a couple of terms that left me puzzled. If I could get some explanation, I would appreciate it. The first is martial intent. Taijiquan is a martial art. Don't we do everything with a martial intent? The second is 'steel wrapped in cotton'. Doesn't that mean the bones wrapped with tissue that is kept soft?....Thank you

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Re: Softness and Martial Intent

Post by iglazer » Wed Jan 28, 2009 11:18 pm

Robert Bemoras wrote:The first is martial intent. Taijiquan is a martial art. Don't we do everything with a martial intent?
It would be great if this were the case. The reality is that practioners often lose sight of or not made aware of martial intent. In my opinion, you need to see the form once and then learn the applications. Essentially, you need to be made confident in your movements and to that you can add (and thus refine) the martial applications, the martial intent.
Robert Bemoras wrote:The second is 'steel wrapped in cotton'. Doesn't that mean the bones wrapped with tissue that is kept soft?
Not exactly. Certainly fang song is part of this. The part is that the fa jing, the issuing of enery, is the steel, but we don't always issue out energy and try to keep it hidden... thus steel hidden in cotton.

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Re: Softness and Martial Intent

Post by Tashi James » Thu Jan 29, 2009 3:21 am

I think Laoshi said something about martial intent being developed by process of learning the correct applications in correlation with the principles. But I could be wrong.
"There is nothing that does not become easier through familiarity" (Santideva).

"We become what we do repeatedly. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit" (Aristotle).

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Re: Softness and Martial Intent

Post by Linda Heenan » Thu Jan 29, 2009 2:02 pm

This discussion has become very interesting. I had no idea there were so many different interpretations of "martial intent". It's good to define our terminology since it appears to have already become taiji jargon ie, something everyone is supposed to know the meaning of but no one explains in such a way that a person new to the art perceives the correct meaning.

Through this discussion, I've come to understand that my interpretation of "martial intent" is the mental processes involved in doing a movement correctly: mentally picturing what the duifang is doing that I am countering in the form. This mental picture of another person helps me choose the position and movement of my own body, so that, if the duifang were actually there, the form movements I am making would result in good defense. This is why I think some of the form performances I have seen may be soft, but incorrectly positioned to be effective in a real situation. On the other hand, these people might be so good that they have the martial intent but are hiding it. I do this in swordsmanship while in real swordplay, but I don't do it in sword form.

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Re: Softness and Martial Intent

Post by Tashi James » Thu Jan 29, 2009 5:52 pm

Linda said "Through this discussion, I've come to understand that my interpretation of "martial intent" is the mental processes involved in doing a movement correctly."

It is like this in a training situation to some degree but it goes further too. If there is no martial intent accumulated through training in the form and applications, it would make it difficult to use the techniques in a 'live' that is actual encounter with an aggressor. While it is certainly useful to have a mental process in the beginning, it is also essential to bring it into your bones or make your 'practice alive with intent in the direction you seek to issue it' as it says in the classics (Davis 2004, p 126)
"There is nothing that does not become easier through familiarity" (Santideva).

"We become what we do repeatedly. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit" (Aristotle).

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Re: Softness and Martial Intent

Post by Linda Heenan » Thu Jan 29, 2009 6:54 pm

Hey Tashi,
C'mon over anytime you like and we'll practise some of those martial applications. I need a partner for some new ones right now.

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