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.