I now find myself regularly practicing and exploring Hsing-I as part of my advancement material. As a result I find myself contemplating the concept of intent; a particularly important concept because intent (I, pronounced ‘e’) is in the name of the system Hsing-I. The hope is to use the ‘I’ to strike or otherwise act before your conscious mind has formed the thought; this bypasses all of the slow confused conscious thought we usually have to go through while performing techniques. The obvious paradox: how am I going to not use my preconceptions to practice a series of preconceived movements? Seems silly. My solution: practice. They call it kung fu for a reason after all.
One day whilst helping out I was asked a “what if” question involving a hair grabbing chin-na. As in “what if I ended up facing the wrong direction?” I did what I always do when asked a question where I am not sure about the answer, I told the questioner to put me into said situation so we may observe my invariably spectacular response. Often my invariably spectacular responses vary from the spectacular and result in my face turning blue or something of the sort. However, this is not always the case and my body seemed to know what to do and have a response to this particular variation. While I have not necessarily been taught every variation on every imaginable hold, by learning many different chin-na and practicing them with different people I have gained a rudimentary understanding of the underlying principles. I had no conscious thought regarding the technique, I had not been taught the variation, and I was just as surprised as the recipient as to what occurred. Eventually it occurred to me that I already know how to act without conscious action and do so on a regular (if not predictable) basis.
Upon further reflection, and some time later, I realized that these sorts of things happen regularly when Shao-Lin are put into a position where they are forced to improvise. Given enough time, repetition, training, and pressure our bodies are forced to find a way to cope with surprises if we don’t stop them with erroneous thoughts. The erroneous thoughts part is the tricky bit; it takes time and relaxation to turn off the chattering monkey that tends to rattle around in our heads. Wait a minute, this sounds kind of like hou tien ch’i; maybe there is a reason meditation is taught along with Shao-Lin.
I used to be very proud of my ability to multitask. In college or work it often seems very useful to be able to get homework done during a boring lecture or to type out a report while eating lunch and listening to music. Our culture and technology tends to encourage having as much sound and flashy pictures and computer programs in front of us as possible at all times. At this point, I am very proud of myself on the rare occasion when I can do one thing at once. This is significantly more difficult, but I think having somewhere to be and something to focus on helps. To me, this is the best part about martial arts, it gives me a place to relax and focus on the task at hand; one punch, one kick at a time, no room in my head for taxes, traffic, or television. This is part of the reason we bow at the entrance to a Shao-Lin school, it’s a reminder to leave our mental baggage outside.
Maybe if I can relax and do one thing at once, I can get good at one thing at once. Maybe if I can do one thing at once, I can act correctly without having to think about it consciously. Maybe all those techniques and training methods amount to something if piled on top of each other for long enough. How does one cultivate ‘I’? Practice, focus, relax, and have fun. Best part is, even if all does not go according to plan, you’re still having fun at the end of the day.
See you in class