Internal Arts IA

martial arts , health enrichment, development of consciousness

“Mind-Intent” and Force: Hong Junsheng’s Perspectives

Posted by Editor on September 24, 2006

Reply to Wujimon: Focus for Form Practice, Point 3
Here we reply to Wujimon’s Point three, (go here for reply to points 1 & 2, and here, for original post) which raised some issues relevant to Hong’s valuable contributions to Chen Style Taiji theory and practice.

Wujimon’s Point 3:

Physically, the move is still the same whether going in/out, it’s just the intention is shifting depending on action, correct? Ie .. intention on elbow when moving in, intention on finger when moving out, yet physically there is no difference in movement as the elbow and hand are connected by the frame of the body.

Another excellent question. But this time we have to explore some very different angles.

First, before getting into a consideration of Hong’s Practical Method relative to your question, let’s consider what it means to say “just the intention”, and “physically there is no difference”. That opens up a whole can of worms, as it seems to imply somehow mind and body are these two separate entities in some mechanistic view of the “physical” body controlled by the “abstract” mind. We know from modern scientific understanding, in biology, physics, psycho-physiology, etc., that this old Newtonian view of human existence just doesn’t hold any water. Even rudimentary understanding of things like “muscle memory”, “cellular intelligence”, “holistic approach to health”, even the general concepts of “mind body coordination”, etc. —- all these things reflect a world view where it is not meaningful or productive to consider mind and body as separate.

Now, when we look at Taiji movement in particular, we add even greater emphasis to the unifying values of mind body integration. We might consider that to be one of the foremost foundations of internal martial arts. The standard principle, expressed in so many different ways by different teachers, conveys the idea that intention becomes integrated into the physical structure, so that structure, movement, and power flow directly from intention. Pick up most any issue of Tai Chi Magazine, and some article will refer to the principle: yi leads the chi, and chi leads the li. As in, intention leads the chi, which leads the physical.

Now, to consider the question with the benefit of perspectives we might gather from Hong’s book, Volume One on Theory. Let’s look at some of his writings which specifically address the issues of mind intent, and relationships between intention and force, and force and skill.

In his introduction, Hong includes a section, “Mind-Intent, Strength, and Dynamics”. He writes,

“Mind-intent is a desire, not an empty fantasy… the learning of Chen Style Taijiquan requires the use of ‘mind-intent’ as opposed to awkward force. However, this does not negate the use of force. One should combine force with skill.”

Then, of course, throughout the entire text which follows, Hong develops his theories as to the various requirements which lead to the development of the skill which emerges from the correct training methods. But before we consider that aspect, let us look at Hong’s further consideration of the context of force and power.

In his preface to “Annotations on Taiji Treatises” (the classic work of Wang Zongyue, of the Qing Dynasty), Hong addresses the problems which evolved over the centuries, from teachers misinterpreting those writings. He lamented these misunderstandings, which he felt revealed that:

“…there is no clear understanding of what the text is about. For example, the text ‘…it obviously is not power that wins’ and ‘what can speed do’ were originally criticisms of the natural abilities, and reminders to the learners to ‘learn to use force’, not a negation of the use of ‘force’, ‘speed’, and ‘ability’. The intent was in the scientific use of power, to utilize the ‘four ounces’ of a small power, to move the ‘thousand pounds’ of a greater power. Using power minimally and efficiently will naturally cause ‘speed’.

However, some ‘learned’ practitioners of Taiji could not understand the original meaning. Thus they put their emphasis on “intent’ and ‘qi’, and as a result, they reject the word ‘force’. Even worse, they created the absurd notion of ‘slow defeating fast’, which no doubt changed science into superstition.”

He wrote further that this unfortunate history of losing correct Taiji knowledge led to the modern practice of participants in push hands competitions using only awkward force, as opposed to the application of true Taiji skills. In that same section, he then introduced what he described as his eventual understanding of the skill,

” ‘follow the curve, and open into the straight line’ refers to the spiral movements of Taijiquan.”

In this statement he begins to address his position as to the “skills” which enable Taiji practitioners to “learn to use force” with greater efficiency. His own push hands experimentation enabled him to formulate his theories on double weighting, and of the functional relationships of upper body and lower body coordination, of separation of heavy and empty on left and right sides, and front and back of the body. He elaborated on these in great detail throughout his work, concluding in his realization of “how to lead, so as to understand ‘Four ounces can move one thousand pounds’ “. For Hong , Chen Style offers the important contribution of cultivating usage of spiral movements, to develop the skills which facilitate “minimal” and “efficient” use of lesser force to overcome greater force.

Later, in his “Annotations”, on Verse Three, Hong elaborates further, addressing the relationship of soft and hard:

“When the opponent attacks with hard strength, I must flow (neutralize) with softness. On the surface, this is a simple statement. In reality, when beginners use softness to neutralize hardness, they will easily lose power (be deficient).

Therefor, we must understand how to use hardness and softness. What is soft and what is hard? How do the two coordinate and exchange? Without learning Chen Style Taijiquan, or learning Chen Style Taijiquan without understanding silk reeling, the hard and soft energies are both, unavoidably, the straight lines of advance or retreat…..Therefor the perception of the learner is that hardness will result in a head on collision, while softness will result in losing control…..”

Hong goes on to point out the value of the circular movements of Chen style, in adjusting for straight line power, with coordinated rotation of body parts to always meet the opponent’s force with the appropriate hardness or softness, as required at the point of contact. He describes this as a process whereby the circular movement revolves to a point where it changes into a triangle, when it encounters the opening of the opponent’s movement creating a point of force, exposing their vulnerability. He states:

“But how can one be with the flow while the opponent is against the flow? I believe this has to do with the coordination during the spiral movement of the torso, stance, and hand techniques. In general, when self-rotating, shun and ni must be governed by the opponent’s changes. The revolving movement must change into triangles according to the opponent’s movements.”

We see from this sequence of Hong’s writing, that issues such as the relationship of intention and physical force, and the relationship between force and power, and softness vs. power, all come down to understanding and development of true Taiji skills. In particular, the unique skill of Chen Style is the skill of coiling with the silk reeling energy, driven by the coordinated rotations of joints throughout the body, which allow for maintenance of solid structure, with the alignment for correct angles to be employed in response to the opponent’s movements. Rather than “awkward force”, it is the skill of integrating these objective principles, developed through correct practice.

Hong’s Practical Method arrived at its theories and practices through decades of its evolution in applications employed by Hong in actual practice. In his annotations on Verse Seven, Hong used an analogy comparing Taiji to calligraphy and writing. He wrote:

“Every movement in Taijiquan is like a dot or stroke in Chinese calligraphy. Every form is like a sentence in an article. One routine is like the whole article. In learning, one must first of all recognize the shape of he characters, the pronunciation of the characters , and the meaning of the characters. Then he can use these characters to make sentences. Eventually, he will be able to write a whole article. Push hands is like making a sentence. Free sparring is like composing articles….

Therefor, I believe push hands is a stage of learning used to test the correctness of movements after learning the routines. The secrets (subtleties) should be learned through learning the moves, and then having the teacher explain and test the applications on you. This method should give one a rough understanding of the subtleties.”

Obviously, in this discussion, we have gone a little bit further than merely answering the question of intention and its physical correlates, in connection with Taiji movements. But this is a very important issue, when we put it into the context of so many misunderstandings that have cropped up over the years, when people think of Taiji as a “mysterious” practice, with the “mental” aspect being somehow separated from the physical outcome of Taiji techniques. We can see that Hong was sensitive to this “confusion”, and that he sought to always clarify the mechanics and processes to help students achieve the expected results. If the practitioner is able to achieve his “mind intent” with successful applications in push hands or free sparring, utilizing the desired Taiji principles, as opposed to crude force, then it is a sign of good progress. The “scientific” method Hong advocated was to try it out, apply it with guidance from the teacher, and find out what really works.

So then, it might be reasonable to ask, what is the value of reading and writing about these things, anyway — if it is all about “the proof is in the pudding”? Well, the hope is that there might be some insights gained that might steer us in a slightly better direction, if we have been laboring under some basic incorrect assumptions. Hong’s writing can be seen as the endeavor of a true scholarly warrior to analyze, test, clarify, and express certain principles for correct Taiji practice, in a manner which might allow readers to get a somewhat more concrete understanding of the basics and subtleties. In this article we have attempted to bring out some of his expressions which reveal his insightful perspectives, common sense, and his ability to bring clarity to issues which often got very muddled by other teachers —- issues which still confuse many students to this day. Hopefully, some better understanding can lead to some more fruitful practice.

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14 Responses to ““Mind-Intent” and Force: Hong Junsheng’s Perspectives”

  1. Paul Mushrush said

    Let me take this chance to say thanks for your really unique and terrific website. I had encountered Grandmaster Hong’s concepts previously on the internet and was always intrigued, but lacked any key or point of entry except of course for the logicality and commonsense aspects of the [excerpted] material itself. Now I have purchased Volume I of the Practical Method (in english). The depth and “difference” of his ideas is tremendous…

    I’d like to ask about the “triangles”:

    >>Hong goes on to point out the value of the circular movements of Chen style, in adjusting for straight line power, with coordinated rotation of body parts to always meet the opponent’s force with the appropriate hardness or softness, as required at the point of contact. He describes this as a process whereby the circular movement revolves to a point where it changes into a triangle, when it encounters the opening of the opponent’s movement creating a point of force, exposing their vulnerability.

  2. Hi Paul,
    Thank you so much for your expression of appreciation. It means a lot, especially since there has been such a lack of response from readers, to inspire writing more articles of this nature. It is difficult to know if it is worth the effort, if the response isn’t there. It is also encouraging that you have studied Hong’s book and identified some very key concepts in his teaching (evidenced by your second post, in the students Q & A section).
    Your question got cut off, but I found your followup in the Q & A section. You have raised a very interesting point there, which could certainly be deserving of lots more consideration for future study.
    I have responded at some length to your question in the Students Q & A section, here:
    Students Q & A Reply to Paul
    Text

  3. Paul Mushrush said

    Though there are a number of good websites and blogs these days – from which average seekers like myself benefit greatly – the “kua” exposition which you worked so hard on, was a jaw-dropper and a showstopper. To those of us who focus on stance, kua, dang, and “achieving sung” ahead of all other aspects, this material is like gold, if I may say so. I downloaded the Chen Zhonghua clip which was posted. Wow! Internal force almost made visible; and that was just a teaser?? I will have to get some of this man’s instructional material, that’s for sure. Anyway I should think the “triangles” another labor-intensive topic to write about. So thanks for considering this. Keep writing, you are creating real excitement.

  4. wujimon said

    Hey Paul.

    I’ve also added a clip of CZH doing the 6 Sealings, 4 Closings application on youtube. That should be a great teaser to show EXACTLY how the form applies to application. Do a search on youtube for “ChenZhonghua” and you’ll find it 😉

    Enjoy

  5. Paul Mushrush said

    Bless you! That’s terrific. I reread the Hong book pages you mentioned. Light starts to dawn; will take years to manifest. All I’ve read about Hong method seems to lead to what I’ve dubbed “adjust-ability” that calls for great skills and timing – plus taiji body – to effect in real life. Takes a lot of study and practice… here we go!

  6. Paul Mushrush said

    Oops, pardon me Wujimon, thank you for this and didn’t mean to confuse you with Internalartsia. Anyway, I’m excited as you can tell. Best wishes!

  7. wujimon said

    Hi Paul.

    Just out of curiosity, what style of taiji do you currently train? Chen? Also, it’s be nice to hear the details of your journey. Why not start a blog and join the fun? 🙂

    Get yours free at:
    http://wordpress.com/

  8. wujimon said

    In case you were unable to find it, here’s a direct link to the first video:

    Chen Zhonghua Yilu Instruction

    For other’s in the set, check out:

    Wujimon’s Youtube Videos

    Enjoy.

  9. Paul Mushrush said

    Chen style for me! I love it, didn’t realize it existed until I lucked into a library book roughly five years ago. Seeing the Chen forms really turned me on and also made me think that here was something I could attempt to learn. (Since then though, I’ve gotten plenty of good info and insights from Yang style and other sources.) The library book showed Simplified Chen routines and frankly, that’s been challenging enough for me ever since! But I do look into the Laojia Yi Lu and Er Lu so that I can see the original source of the component movements. (I found out the hard way that I needed to perform the Paoculi based movements in as “Yin” and non-flashy a manner as possible, or my Beginner’s form would come apart rapidly.) All in all, I’m at the novice stage of working out stiffness and seeking the meaning of the movements. Perhaps that never really ends…

    The blog idea is tempting and I didn’t realize how easy it is start one! However I still don’t train enough and furthermore haven’t seen my way to investing the time and money for serious instruction. I could talk about taiji for hours but I’ve spent half my life as a physically fit but (mostly) “armchair” martial artist – and the clock is ticking! Chen style opened the door for this guy who wasn’t up to training in Shaolin and wasn’t grabbed by the softer, slower styles of TJQ.

    I’m good at asking questions but can get myself into trouble if I seek to “educate” others. There are some good blogs out there from struggling students who’ve had good instruction and who practice religiously. (One thing I do hope to be able to contribute, one day, is good solid advice on “using taiji in everyday life” which is a big interest of mine.) For now, I’m grateful for the Chen taijiquan information explosion now in progress, and I’ll hope to contribute something to this wonderful interchange of lives and learning as East and West follow the way of yin and yang.

  10. Hi Paul,

    It is great to see your enthusiasm. And thanks again for sharing.

    One thing about your progress so far, has all your study been “library book” and video sources? Just one simple suggestion, Chen style Taiji absolutely requires personal instruction from a good teacher.

    The “time and money for serious instruction” will be very well invested if it is for a top level instructor. If you can study with a good teacher, at the very least on a part time basis, or through extended workshops, then you might be able to supplement that, working with videos. But getting corrections from a good teacher is vital.

    Chen Zhonghua is an exceptional teacher. If any of the locations of his upcoming workshop schedule are within reasonable travelling distance for you, you might want to take advantage of the opportunity. He will be in Eastern US in October (also Puerto Rico) and then Arizona, and West Coast, Vancouver Island, Oct 27- Nov 3. During the late spring and Summer months he teaches at his own academy in Daqingshan China. Other times he teaches in Edmonton, Canada. Are any of those locations near you? Also, a number of his qualified instructors are scattered around the US and elsewhere.

  11. Paul Mushrush said

    Though I’ve done, tried, viewed, and read an awful lot on my own, I have not had real Chen teaching. And I know the “corrections” thing is vital. Thanks for this push, nothing comes easy except pipe dreams. A Chen Zhonghua workshop sounds fantastic. I actually live within an hour of San Francisco, so if I was more dedicated, I would have a teacher by know. I do have other responsibilities that come first, but I need to think of myself too. One thing I can do is watch the schedule of nearby, inexpensive tai chi classes that sometimes now includes Chen! And I’ll go to Master Chen’s website and try to get a line on future opportunities of a higher level. Meanwhile hope you’ll have more good discussions about the “new view” of taiji that he received from Grandmaster Hong; concepts of great benefit and challenge.

  12. thanks for the GREAT post! Very useful…

  13. Editor said

    Hi Whatever-ishere. You are most welcome.

  14. ymarsakar said

    A good supplement to the Practical Method videos at the website.

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