心意, 氣, 力
Good evening everyone. I’m a little late today, but I was thinking about this subject a lot and took some inspiration from my teachers. Mental discipline and concentration are paramount in the study of Chinese martial arts. In order to progress in the art of Kung Fu and truly become one with what we practice, the mind needs to be empty of contamination. This being said, it is one of the most difficult things to do, especially in our day and age where we are being constantly bombarded with messages from billboard signs and flashing neon. Not only are we distracted by the external, the worst distraction of all is the chatter in our mind which drowns out the clarity of our mental process which allows us to decipher what is true or false. Keeping the mind clean and empty is an extremely difficult thing to do and maintain. Yet it is what needs to be done to excel.
A very good example would be training with a student and trying to do a movement with a long-tassle spear where you throw the spear up into the air and catch it, but the student constantly misses. You could say the spear is too heavy or too light, or my hand is sweaty or whatever other feeble excuse you want to conjure up, but in truth, the ability or inability to perform a particular action, technique or maneuver, be it empty handed or weapon, has to do with the mind of the individual and its clarity. Achieving clarity of the mind is a skill that one must develop. One means of developing this calmness, clarity or emptiness of the mind is through meditation. Meditation can take many forms and is not always the one that you envision sitting cross legged in a lotus position.
In our Kung Fu training, meditation begins from the first day. Unbeknownst to the student, it is from the first stance that they learn, i.e., the horse stance. The horse stance by its nature and structure is testing the will, determination and mindset of the student and gives them a platform wherein they can challenge not only their physical body but their mind to transcend the physical pain that they feel from this rigorous position and be able to redirect their mental focus onto something else. I’m sure many of you have gone through this, but how many have actually tried to utilize this position as a state of meditation? It’s challenging and difficult to keep your mind clear when you’re under such physical duress, but that’s the whole point. That’s meditation in stillness.
You also have the other side of the coin which is meditation within movement – form training. It’s two sides of the same coin, and you’re introduced to both as a Kung Fu practitioner. In the beginning when people start to learn form, they’re caught up with learning the sequence of the particular piece that they’re working with, making sure the body alignment is correct, all the techniques are properly executed with speed, power and so on. Those attributes are in the physical realm of training, but we have to talk about the other side of training, which is the meditation.
If we look at the word meditate – what does that mean? It’s not what most people think, that it means to think nothing. The real definition is “to think deeply or carefully about something.” Look at the example of a “premeditated” murder in a court case. That means the individual had the intention to kill; he thought about it beforehand. In our case, we wish to establish the proper intention for the individual technique because every movement has its own structure, meaning and theme. The mind of the individual is extremely powerful. Coming back to the example of the student dropping the spear every time they tried to catch it, it wasn’t a function of the spear or external circumstances, but rather where that individual’s mind was at that point in time. One of the goals and purposes of training is to be able to capture your thought, mold it into something and direct it. Focus is something that many people today have issues with. Martial art training seeks to give that structure to the individual wherein which they can gain control over themselves. When we say themselves, we mean the mind because that’s really what creates you. To the ancient Chinese, the heart and the mind were one. There was no division between the two. Intellect and understanding go hand in hand. The term that they use and I prefer is sum yee 心意.
So, we’re talking about 心意(mind), and the hei (氣). Grandmaster Paul Eng said, “In Kung Fu, understanding the relationship between intention and internal energy and physical strength is critical to developing the effectiveness in fighting technique.” I really appreciate this wisdom and statement from him. Your mind is able to first acknowledge your internal energy, give a form to it through mental imagery, direct it, guide it, couple it with your physical strength and produce a technique that is effective for fighting. This is an ancient Chinese concept and theory that Kung Fu adheres to. As with any technique, there’s a beginning, middle and end on a physical level. As many of us have seen, it is the mental fortitude and willpower of the individual that sometimes makes a decisive win. The physical movement has limitations, but there are no limitations put onto the mindset of the individual. Therefor, for fighting, which is one aspect of Kung Fu, you need to have the proper mental attitude. If you don’t have that attitude, even though you have the physical capabilities you may not have what you need to see it through.
Not only do you have to have the will to win, you also have to have the proper intention of how you are applying the technique. If you don’t have that clear understanding in your mind, if the GPS of your mind is giving you wrong directions and it’s not giving you the most effective route, you’ve lost the purpose of having that guidance and intention. Haven’t you experienced that, when GPS gives you a convoluted way to get somewhere? Even though you end up at the same destination, you get there late, and you wasted time and energy. The effectiveness of any movement or technique is not necessarily based on the physical attributes of that technique. You have yee, hei and lek (力) – the mind, the internal energy and the physical strength.
The old saying is, “The intention of the mind manifests the internal energy which in turn becomes physical action. This happens in an instant. It is electric.” That is Kung Fu.
I don’t care what martial art you’re training, if you don’t have a clear cut intention, none of the techniques are going to work. If you practice properly, thought and movement become instantaneous. So when you’re practicing, we want to question, what is your thought, what is your frame of mind. Hey man, where are you? Are you thinking on all the levels that you’re supposed to? One, you’re thinking about the opponent and what their intention is. Secondly you have to formulate your intention and what you want to do. Thirdly, you have to have contingency set up for whatever else may happen. Therefor the mind is working on several levels at the same time while it seamlessly flows from move to move.
Most students, including my own, are limited in understanding of what they’re doing. It’s not the fault of the art itself but rather of the individual being incapable of understanding. You can punch; you can kick; you can jump; you can flip; you can turn. That’s all physical. At some point you will max out. You’re going to get old; this is inevitable. You’re going to injure yourself if you continue to push on that realm only. What about the other side? What about the meditation, the mental, the thought? The mind is like a candle. Sifu lights the candle for you, and it’s your job to hold it. That’s what they say in Chinese, 師父開 光 (the Master opens the light). The light is the mind. Outwardly, many movements may appear to be the same, but as you upgrade your intention with insight provided by your teacher, you can make gains. Otherwise, it may appear finite, but it is infinite. When the mind is enlightened, it has intention.
Every hair on your body should be fueled by the intention of your mind. The mind and internal energy create the movement. From your mental intention, you express your understanding. You direct and harness the chi, and then the chi makes the movement. Most students practice from the outside in rather than from the inside out. Initially, you copy the movements of the form, but at some point, there has to be a shift where the movement is no longer just an external expression but rather the internal movement that is expressed by the physical. Expressing something on a mental level that manifests on a physical level is no different than the expression of an artist. He has his mental intention, so he grabs the brush, and paints the canvass. His mental intentional takes hold of his internal energy and manifests itself into a physical expression.
Kung Fu is a form of self-mind-control. The mind is a very powerful tool that many people don’t use efficiently and effectively. We’ve been taught not to. Don’t get me started on cell phones… which we all rely on, and I hug mine like it was my baby, but that’s like the direct antithesis of Kung Fu. Your cell phone’s not going to win a fight for you. But going beyond winning a fight, being able to link up your intention and your internal energy, culminating into a physical expression, not only helps you “win the fight” but helps you win yourself. From physical movement to the metaphysical understanding of the mind goes back to your daily life. You need to genuinely practice and put aside misgivings. You’re going to fail many, many times until you’ve done it in earnest enough to try to come to some understanding. That’s the meditation and that’s the learning. Harnessing internal as well as external energy and expressing it -- that’s Kung Fu.
Everything we’re talking about is dependent on the maturity of the individual, but maturity is something unique to whatever task you’re doing. The maturity level that you have in your normal everyday life doesn’t necessarily spill over to your other pursuits, in this case martial arts training. It does take time and concerted effort to apply the mind to the task. In the beginning, we all start mindlessly following the physical movement until we pass enough levels and reflect. When we reflect, we start to utilize the mind. Then the mind starts to tap into different energies, and then we start to have a different level of improvement.
Our martial art training is the pursuit of the perfection of the self. Perfection cannot be found in the physical only, because the physical has limitations. So how are you going to change? You’re going to change because mentally you understand what you’re doing on a deeper level. So therefor, it becomes more. Stop copying the outside and start learning the inside. If you don’t know the mind within the movement you don’t know the movement. When you move, either you’re in line with what you’re doing or you’re not in line with what you’re doing. Through your practice, you must align your physical energy with your mental state and your internal energy. The greatest achievement of our Kung Fu is to galvanize the self and try to attain a sense of understanding and balance. In the end, Kung Fu goes far beyond the mere confines of winning the encounter but is actually about winning the self.
-Sifu Paul Koh 高寶羅