What is Intention?
There are a few definitions for intention in martial arts, but two that are easy to digest are:
- An aim or purpose
- The state of mind with which an act is done
Intention is an important part of your Yi Quan training. Whether you are training for self-defence, emotional or stress release, or just for fitness, it is essential to achieving your goals. A lack of intention may be hindering your training and effecting the execution of your techniques.
This is important not only for martial arts, but things in your life as well! How often do you sit down for an exam in school and simply start writing or marking answers without reading the questions completely? How often do you find yourself giving a business or professional presentation for a topic that you haven’t thought through? Me neither! The key component missing is intent.
When we are dealing with most internal martial arts 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 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 understand is that the brain is already sending signals to the muscles that will be involved with the action of throwing the ball.
Now if you stand very still and truly visualise 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. 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 about to do this action. All of this is using visualization and intention in the mind, the body is relaxed.
What you are experiencing with this feeling is what is known as sense memory. Your are using your visualisation, imagination or having a “waking dream” and you can see yourself throwing the ball. You can feel the sensations of acting on your intention(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.
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 friend and you are mucking around it may be much harder and with the strong feeling of blasting the ball right at them, if it is an enemy and you are throwing a rock at them to drop them in their tracks your Xin will change to reflect the way you feel emotionally about this. So the Xin affects the attitude of the intention.
Training with intention helps you have clear and correct techniques. You know what you want to achieve in your mind and you do it! As I always say, don’t try just do!. It adds focus to what you are doing – not only once, but every time you do it. Your goals and state of mind help you understand the information and you can then perform it to the best of your ability. Always understand the technique first, what are the reasons for this movement, what will it achieve, what is the goal. Then train with intention, train as though it were real, in your mind.
While learning new techniques, do you have a purpose? Of course! Your purpose or aim is to learn the technique. You want to absorb the information being presented, process it, mold it into something you can easily understand, and store it away for later. This intent it easy to use, and is natural for anyone training in martial arts. The fact that you are in class shows that you intend to learn something.
Once you have learned a new technique, what do you do with it? Do you set aside some time to practice that technique over and over to perfect it? If so, you are displaying intention again. Your aim is to make the technique work for you in a way where you don’t have to think hard to perform it correctly. You want it to work on demand, you want your body to have muscle memory of what it needs to do. Why? The answer to this question varies from student to student, but the simple answer is because you want to be able to think of what you will do next while performing this technique. For example, you don’t learn an entry to just enter. You learn it, practice it, attempt to flow effortlessly with it so that you can think of what your next move will be. Eventually, you will know your techniques well enough that you can work with the intention of making them effective in a more realistic scenario or unscripted practice.
When you practice your techniques, are you trying to improve them? Even those that you learned as a white sash in your first class? I learned my first techniques years ago! I am still always working and thinking of how to improve even a straight punch! Every time I move or strike, I do so with the purpose to feel how it works and even try something just a little different to get my skills to work better. In your classes, it is almost guaranteed that there is at least one person that is training with intention for every technique that they do. You know who they are, and so do most casual of observers. They are the ones that are full of energy, the ones with techniques that look like they would hurt their opponent, often the ones with sharp focus and good breath control.
Training Without Intention
In contrast to those in class that are practicing every technique with intent, there is at least one that is not. These are the students that “go through the motions.” Casual observers can notice these students as well, but it may not be as obvious. These students are doing the “right” technique, but are lacking some key components. They are doing what I would call dancing with their skill and not using intent. While this is most common in children’s classes, it can be found everywhere. The student may not have focus – looking around at others while doing their technique. They may have improper stance, movements ending in the wrong place, and may even not be breathing with their techniques. These students may look confused by what they are trying to do – or even worse, they might look tired and sluggish. When training without intent, the student will perform the techniques the same way every time, regardless of the situation. Their techniques often look like they wouldn’t work for what they are supposed to do. Once again, it is not always the technique that is the problem but the intention behind it. A sales manager once told me, enthusiasm makes up for lack of knowledge. To me this holds true, you will always be able to learn new things and need patience to do so, but to teach will, determination, intention! A lot of this comes down to you. In saying this, intention can also be developed over time by being around the right people in the right environment. A lot of people come to martial arts classes to improve their self-esteem and attitude, hence with development and time a lot of emotional and mental improvements are a gained. When dealing with a self-defence situation, intention is the key to survival, not always the techniques. When things get real you use basic movements but need the (Yi) intention to act. Having a loaded gun is useless if you cannot pull the trigger.
Those that practice with intention every time they do a technique improve that specific technique. Eventually, they are able to make their techniques work for them and may even be able to use them successfully if ever forced to do so in a self-defence situation. In addition, these students often have quite successful gradings and look very sharp. They may have fewer frustrations while learning new things because of the way they apply their purpose to the learning. These are some of the helpful effects of training with intent.
Students that go through the motions often don’t improve techniques much from when they learned them on their own. They often need motivation to keep going, to focus, to improve. Their training sessions often seem lackluster and look confusing. The lack of intention from a student can imply that something is wrong or that they are not ready to move forward in their training. If confronted with a dire need to use a technique, these students may not be able to defend themselves successfully because their body only knows how to make the motion without focus or a purpose. Techniques cannot work when you most need them if they are not practiced with intent. These are some ways that your training can be harmed from the lack of intent.
There’s More to it Than Technique
What about for those that aren’t training for self-defence or combat situations? We know there are many different reasons for people to learn martial arts. In addition to self-defence and survival skills, people start training for strength, confidence, stress relief, flexibility, fun etc.. Does training with intention help everyone? The answer is “Yes!”. That intention isn’t always the “purpose” of the technique, but the “state of mind” in which you are in while learning it.
To train with intention helps you relieve stress, improve strength, flexibility, and coordination. It gives you improved self-esteem when you are able to see yourself improve toward your goal and keeps you motivated. Giving your training purpose and your full attention while practicing can make you feel better.
If you leave intent behind, you will not see improvements in the same time span. You won’t relieve your stress as quickly. Most importantly, you will not gain the self-esteem and pride felt of reaching those goals soon.
Never Forget the (Yi) in Yi Quan.
If you or your child are interested in enrolling in martial arts classes, the Whitby Martial Arts Academy has the classes and teachers to help your child succeed. We will do our best to help you achieve your martial arts goals. Come on down to the Ontario Self Defence Centre. Whether it’s Safety. Self-protection. Confidence. Martial Arts Training. Kung Fu. Fitness. Health. Speed or Strength we got you covered. We offer classes for Men, Women and Children.
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