Neurons & Intent

A common obstacle facing Tai Chi students is differentiating intent from body movement.

When most students perform the form their intent is not clearly delineated from their physical action. This leads to the inability to use intent over reliance on strength alone.

Why is it difficult to separate intent from movement?

Reading The Body Builders : Inside the Science of the Engineered Human has given me the answer. When you think of doing something the neurons in the processing areas of the motor cortex fires and triggers the desired movement.

However, these neurons fire so fast that for most of us it is difficult to detect that length of time between the neurons firing and the corresponding limb moving. The time between neurons firing and movement beginning is but milliseconds so you can imagine how short a time this is.

Given this is the case how then can Tai Chi players train intent?

This is where the specialized intent training of Grandmaster Wei Shuren’s Yang style Tai Chi comes in. The conceptual models for training intent allows us to experience a time lag, at least long enough to feel when intent begins and when movement triggered by intent comes in.

In this way we can truly separate mind and body. Incidentally, this fulfils the principle of using intent rather than strength and explains clearly why Tai Chi is boxing of the mind.

It would be interesting to one day use science to study this neglected aspect of Tai Chi. Who knows what we may discover that can not only improve our Tai Chi skills but be applicable to other fields such as medicine.


Implicit Learning

Today I found out a theory that can explain why we need to keep up the practice of forms.

In the past I have read that form practice is like swimming on dry land. However, I think the reason why those who say so is because they have not broken through to understand how form training really works.

Fortunately, studies into intuition have offered us a good explanation on this. Can you guess what this is?

For the moment I will leave this question here as I continue to read why implicit learning can explain the importance of form training.

Power Generation

On rumsoakedfist there is a link to “Essence of Combat Science” by Wang Xiangzhai as translated from Chinese by Andrzej Kalisz. Click here to go to the file.

Wang Xiangzhai wrote :-

In shi li there shouldn’t be partial, superficial force, especially there shouldn’t be unbalanced one directional force. You should observe if the whole body force is round, full or not, if it is possible issuing force at any moment, if there is feeling of mutual reaction between body and surrounding air. Intention shouldn’t be broken, spirit shouldn’t be dispersed. Light and heavy are ready to be used. If one moves, whole body follows it. Force should be unified, swift and solid at the same time, round and full. There shouldn’t be anything forgotten or lost on any side.

The above is good advice to keep in mind when practicing how to issue power.

In our Tai Chi tradition we have additional requirements such as :-

a) Have defined intent to control body movements

b) Align and tune the body internally to allow power to flow like a spring gushing out of the ground

c) Prime the 5 bows strongly to enable quick conversion of energy from potential to kinetic

An example of using these three requirements is shown below :-

The First Step-2

Have you ever been taught by teachers who made it seem that fajing is something mysterious, that you need to learn some secret breathing method, knowing how meridians flow, etc in order to fajing?

You would probably be told that it takes years and maybe initiation into discipleship before the secrets can be taught. Guess what? You don’t need secrets, you don’t have to be a disciple and you don’t need years to learn how to fajing.

In fact, you just need to follow SOP (standard operating procedures) and you can do it. Of course, you can’t apply it freely but that’s just a matter of practice.

Once you keep your mind open and you follow SOP you can demonstrate the ability to fajing even on the first lesson. Below is an example taken on the first lesson :-

In fact, beginners who have not learned Tai Chi before can pick it up faster than a student who has experience. The reason is that a total newbie is not saddled by habits, prejudices, opinions and what have you that prevent them for learning properly.

The First Step-1

Too often I see Tai Chi being taught in a manner that is devoid of its original roots as a combative art.

If you learn a form without understanding how the movements are used then your movements, the placements, the timing and so on will be out of whack. This in turn begins a vicious circle of learning useless movements. But why should it be like this?

I can’t answer for others but learning a technique should be accompanied by some explanation of its usage. In that way the learner can understand the importance of keeping correct distance, having the right positions, using leverage, maintaining a stance to have stability and so on.

Below is an example of learning the form on the first lesson :-

Discovering Point Mass

I first came across the book The Body Builders by Adam Piore some time back but I didn’t buy it. However, when I came across it again a second time I took a closer look and this time I bought it.

The chapter that made me buy the book is the very first chapter “The Bionic Man Who Builds Bionic People”. I mean who can resist reading this chapter particularly when I grew up with the television series The Six Million Dollar Man, a series running from 1974 to 1978 about, yes you guessed it, a bionic man.

However, there was a deeper motivation for me to read the story of Hugh Herr, the MIT Professor, who is a real life bionic man. Aside from being interesting and giving hope to the disabled there are a number of Tai Chi-related concepts in the chapter.

One particular concept, the point mass, describes :-

This approach worked because, like a single spring, the force of a limb could be compressed to varying degrees: ………… the total amount of weight converging from different parts of the body and exerting downward or outward force on a single point in space. In physics this is called a “point mass”

This “point mass” is the key to how we can generate explosive force in our Yang style with minimal outer movement.

One of my FB friends thought I had heavy arms because of huge forearms but I don’t have big forearms. Instead, what I have is the ability to concentrate and focus my body mass onto a single point of contact which I now learned is termed “point mass”.

We use the form to train how to use “point mass”. The training is much more than just gathering together your mass onto a point in space. There is a second more important part that we teach in the form.

As previously we did not have a scientific concept to explain it this secondary part sounds like a bit of mumbo jumbo. Now I know it is not. It is solid science which with the right concepts can be easily categorized and explained. Anyway, this is a separate issue.

Below is a talk by Hugh Herr on bionics. As with the book there are Tai Chi-related information here.

A second talk is even more interesting. Would we see augmented Tai Chi players in the future? Or even Tai Chi cyborgs?