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Yi: The Power of Intention

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The theory of Yi in Chinese internal martial arts

 Yi, usually translated into English as intent, is of central importance in Chinese martial arts, particularly those that emphasise the use of internal energy. It is even part of the name of one internal martial art – Xing Yi Quan, which can be translated as Form and Intention Fist, or more commonly, Body and Mind Boxing. It is said that Yi leads the Chi, that ubiquitous internal energy of Chinese martial arts; meaning that wherever Yi is focused, Chi is directed.

            The application of this principle can take a number of forms. At its most simple level of practical use Yi is actually more akin to awareness or attention and concentration of the mind than what we are used to thinking of as intention. This simply means that if we focus our awareness singularly then the internal energies of our body will flow to the focus of our awareness.

            You can experience this principle very easily and quickly with a ‘body awareness’ exercise. This exercise can be practiced on any part of the body, or on the whole body together, but just as a brief experiment I find using the feet usually gives the most noticeable and obvious results:

            Take off your socks and shoes, and begin by running your hand back and forth across the top of your foot. Try to empty your mind as much as possible and focus your mind and your awareness as singularly as you can on the feeling of the contact between your hand and foot. Then stop and take your hand away but keep on ‘brushing’ your awareness backwards and forwards across the top of your foot, trying to maintain an even awareness across the width of the foot and being careful not to miss out any parts of the surface of the foot. Then speed up the movement of your awareness across the foot until you are doing it as fast as you can without just jumping from one end to the other, missing out everything in between. Do this for a couple of minutes, or longer if you have the time, and then do the same thing on the sole of your foot, and then the whole foot at the same time.

            It is highly likely that while doing this you will experience a buzzing and/or tingling sensation on your foot, which is the chi flowing into it, and/or short sharp pains seeming to come from the bone, which is deep energy blockages being worked out. Even if you don’t experience these things if you subsequently compare how the foot you have been doing this on feels compared to the other one, and the rest of your body, you will definitely notice the difference. These body awareness exercises are a great way to raise energy and cultivate chi throughout the body using the power of Yi.

            This kind of Yi can also be used for helping to heal diseases or injuries in specific parts of the body. The martial arts applications closest to this kind of application of Yi to generate chi are striking and iron body / steel jacket skills. In the former the martial artist focuses his attention / Yi as singularly as possible on the point of impact, thus transferring extra chi into the strike. A ‘her-it’ shout can also be used in which the ‘her’ part is used to channel chi up from the Dan Tien and then a sharp clean ‘it’ shout combines with the focus of attention on the point of impact to push this chi into the strike and to strengthen Yi and Chi at the point of impact. The One Finger Shooting Zen is the primary method for training this application of Yi and Chi. In iron body applications the attention is also focused singularly on the point of impact in the same way, drawing chi to provide a protective shield.

            Although this kind of Yi is probably best understood to the western mind as attention rather than intention it is important to remember that it is actually both. A strong intention is essential in maximizing the effectiveness of the techniques referred to above.

            Yi as intention is more easily understood when you move away from using it to draw chi to a particular place and look instead at using it to channel chi into a particular movement or to achieve a particular goal. It may come as a great surprise to any westerner who studies such things and struggles with the ever present difficulty of things being lost in translation that the principle behind this kind of application of Yi has a direct parallel in traditional western philosophy, where it is found in the work of Aristotle as ‘Final Cause’ (one of 4 categories of causation – material, efficient, formal, and final).

            The classic example of final causation is the tree and the seed. In studying a seed you can talk about the specific interactions between chemicals, sunlight, particles and so on (material and efficient causes) all you like, but you just can’t make any real sense of the processes involved without referring to the tree that it will grow into. This is even more obvious in the growth and development of a human embryo, in which identical cells (stem cells) grow into completely different structures. There is just no way to explain what causes on cell to divide and develop into an eye, and another identical cell grow into a heart, or a leg, other than by recognizing that the cells have a ‘final destination’ which they are trying to reach – a human body. This end point, or final cause, defines and controls the specific interactions between and within the cells, just as the form of the tree is present within the seed, controlling its development. Without the action of this final cause the removal or death of a cell from an embryo at, say, the 6 cell stage, would lead to a fetus missing parts of the body; but it doesn’t, it leads to a complete, if smaller fetus. Final cause manifests largely through the principles of cybernetic feedback.

            This principle of final cause can be used in the martial arts, or in life in general, and it is explained in Chinese through the concept of Yi. Yi, or intention, is the final cause operating within our own actions. A powerful concentration on the intention of a movement, or on the intention of performing a certain movement perfectly, holding the desired result strongly in mind, increases chi and aids in success. This means vividly seeing the successful completion / outcome of a movement even as you begin it.

             In practical terms this demonstrates the power of visualisation and positive thinking. If you are fearful or you think you cant do something, or if you worry about making a mistake, or are fixated on past mistakes, even being strongly aware of possible mistakes to try to avoid them, then scenarios of failure are created in your mind, and if your mind is occupied with these as you act then the power of final cause / Yi will make them happen and you will fail. If you are positive and see success strongly in your mind and believe singularly that you will succeed then you will succeed. So the principle of Yi also explains why visualization exercises practiced days or weeks before a competition can improve success, strengthening intention and making it more likely that you will see your success in your mind more strongly when it really counts.

            These principles can apply in general to life – being general more positive will make you generally more successful – or to a specific movement or technique; and you can train your Yi in advance or simply have a powerful and singular intention in the moment. I hope this helps you to understand Yi and how to use its power in your martial art.

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Shaolin Nei Kung

LUOHAN GONG Shaolin Internal Training Set
The history of the creation of this book goes back to Master Fan Xu Dong (life time: 1841 – 1925, according to another data - 1936). At the turn the 19-th and 20-th century Fan Xu Dong several times visited Shaolin Temple where he studied heritage of the monastery. That’s what Master Jon Funk writes about it: “Fan made several trips to the Shaolin temple and spent time there researching with the monks. From these trips to the Shaolin temple, as well as his other work with the Seven Star Praying Mantis system, he wrote five volumes titled "The Shaolin Authentic". These handwritten manuals contained concepts on fighting skills, medical information and historical aspects of kung fu. Contained in one of these five volumes is the eighteen exercises of the LUOHAN GONG complete with replicas of the original drawings of the Shaolin monks demonstrating the postures of each exercise.” These five books were later hand copied in Hong Kong by shifu Huang Han Xun. The original illustrations and calligraphy on LUOHAN GONG by shifu Fan Xu Dong was reproduced in shifu Huang's book in which he added photographs to depict the movements. Click the picture (top left) to download this text as an e-book from the Shaolin online library.


Jin Yi Ming. LIAN GONG MI JUE: Secret Methods of Acquiring External and Internal Mastery. Shanghai, 1930 /e-Book in Adobe pdf
An old proverb says: “If you exercise only the technique (style) but ignore special training you will be a nobody till your old days.” “Special training” implies particular exercises for developing both WAI ZHUANG – “the External Power” and NEI ZHUANG – “the Internal Power”. Those exercises (training procedures) are collected under a common title – LIAN GONG, literally “Exercising to Acquire Mastery”. In his preface the author writes: “...It is not an idle talk that “Strength can not overcome the Pugilistic Art (Quan Shu), the Pugilistic Art can not overcome Internal Mastery (Gong Fu)”. The people think that it is enough to exercise the Pugilistic Art (Quan Shu) but few know that the Pugilistic Art can not withstand the Internal Mastery (Gong Fu) as the Pugilistic Art is sprouts of Gong Fu and Gong Fu itself is the base and root of the Pugilistic Art. There are people who exercise only Gong Fu and do not exercise Quan Shu. But nobody heard that Quan Shu can be exercised without exercising Gong Fu. Such “mastery” is like flying fluff or floating duckweed - too weak base. It is necessary to exercise both Gong Fu and Quan Shu, only in that case there will be a strong base and excellent Mastery.” The first part of the book presents exercises which belong to the section “External exercising” (WAI GONG) aimed at the development of “the External Power” (WAI ZHUANG). It includes exercises for the development of “hardness” (YING GONG), “lightness” (QING GONG) and “flexibility” (ROU GONG). The second part of the book deals with the development of “the Internal Power” (NEI ZHUANG): the description of massage according to the method NEI ZHUANG XING GONG, the method “Rinsing marrow” XI SUI, some formulae of drugs to increase the level of the “internal power” are given. Undoubtedly, the book will be useful for serious practitioners of traditional styles of Chinese Martial Arts who are eager to reach genuine mastery. Click picture for Free download trial or to buy!


Jin Jing Zhong. DIAN XUE SHU. Skill of Acting on Acupoints.
DIAN XUE SHU that is literally means "The Art of Touching Acupoints" is more known in the West as DIM MAK ("Blows at arteries" in Cantonese dialect) or "Death Touch". It should be noted that the last two names do not fully reflect the essence of this method. DIAN XUE SHU is a profound teaching which is closely connected to Chinese traditional medicine. Besides the martial aspect, it includes a wide range of methods of reanimation and medication. You will be able to read about it in detail in the books which are offered for your attention. Besides theoretical fundamentals, the books give detailed description of the localization of basic acupoints, methods of acting on them with the aims of combat, reanimation and medication, effects of acting on a particular point, methods of exercising fingers and palms, blow techniques and many other things. Click picture (top right) for free download trial or to buy!.

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