a question about "Use Yi, do not use Li, 用意不用力"

Re: a question about "Use Yi, do not use Li, 用意不用力"

Postby Bob Ashmore » Fri Nov 01, 2013 4:50 pm

I'm glad you find it useful.
I'd like to take the credit for it but...
I can't.
This is how the teachers at Wu's Tai Chi Chuan Academy first taught me to understand the purpose and uses for relaxation and so this is how I teach my students.
In my personal, humble opinion the only way to teach someone else why they need to relax it to start to teach them Chin Na (Qinna, Qin Na, potato, potatoe).
Believe me when I tell you that if you drop someone to their knees by lightly and gently twisting their wrist joint into the wrong configuration, then show them exactly how to do that to someone else (you do need multiple students in attendance for that lesson) and make sure they do so successfully, then you stand there and let them twist away at your wrist while you smile and shrug a lot...
They'll ask you pretty quickly how come that didn't work against you.
It's one of my best ways to lead up to and then teach a lesson on the merits of "Sung".
Just telling someone "You need to relax" doesn't really do a whole lot of good because...
It doesn't give them any context as to WHY they need to do so.
Once someone understands the wrist lesson they usually make the intuitive leap to understanding they need to do this with their entire body.
And then the relaxation process can begin.
You've got to start somewhere, I've always started with the wrists.

Bob Ashmore
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Re: a question about "Use Yi, do not use Li, 用意不用力"

Postby Audi » Sat Nov 02, 2013 6:03 pm

Hi Meghdad,

I liked the story of the MMA fighter and I got your point. If I want to use this story to explain my intention I should say although there are quite suitable and close translations for Yi and Li in Persian Language, I thought they might not have the same weight due to the associations they might trigger in the readers mind. Besides a Taiji practitioner is already exposed to many Chinese words when reading books, listening to Masters and so on. Therefore I think in this context it only makes the reader more curious about the real meaning of Yi and also would stress the meaning of Jin when reading more about Li. Anyway, I know it might not work this way for all readers but hope it would do for most.

I think this represents two Yin-Yang extremes: being misled by the familiarity of one's native language and being misled by the unfamiliarity of the Chinese. I think you are best suited to know where do draw the line for your audience.

I think I have taken this issue as far as it can go in this thread. Nevertheless, since I find it very important, I will try one further explanation of my thought in case it might be useful to someone.

let the body relax while practicing Tai Chi. Use your mind to lead the movement because where your mind goes, qi goes with it, and also goes the energy. When you do not use force, your body will be light, and your movements will become more natural.

I agree with these statements, of course; however, many people are still not sure what exactly to do. For instance, what is meant by: "Use your mind to lead the movement"?

I recently came across a Chinese saying or chengyu that goes something like this: "The teaching of one is drowned out amid the clamor of many" (一傳众咻). I am not completely sure how it is used in modern Chinese, but the saying is meant to encapsulate the following hypothetical told by Mencius (孟子) .

If an official in the state of Chu (an ancient Chinese state) wanted his son to learn the language of the state of Qi, he would hire a teacher who spoke Qi. However, even if the son were beaten every day, he would not be able to learn how to speak Qi if he were still surrounded by the voices of a multitude of Chu speakers. The voice of the one teacher would be drowned out by the clamor of the more numerous other influences.

We try to use our minds to lead the movements, but we are still overwhelmed by the "clamor" of how we move around in our daily lives. One cure for this is to practice, but sometimes even this form of "beating" is not enough.

There is an English saying that goes something like this: "To someone skilled with a hammer, every problem begins to look like a nail."

Most of the time when I use a screwdriver to drive a screw, I cannot get the image and function of a nail out of my head. I insist on trying to push the screw in. That is, after all, what my goal is: to get the screw in. Even so, that type of technique is not only inefficient, it goes against the nature of a screw and begins to be self-defeating. I could say that I need to relax, but turning a screw often requires a fair degree of force and so the idea of relaxation often does not seem to make sense. For me, it easier to think: "Just turn the screw and do not push; the screw will pull itself in."

Once or twice a year I have to use a saw. Whenever I do, I must remind myself: "Do not try to slice through the wood directly. Apply only enough pressure to let the saw itself do the cutting."

We know how to walk, to run, to lift our arms, and to push with them. We have done so all day all our lives for various purposes. When asked to do so in a Tai Chi way, it is very hard not to bring our habits from daily life into our practice. In fact, it is even temporarily inefficient not to do so. Just doing the same old thing and adding relaxation on top of it is often not enough if we do not also understand the other principles and keep them in mind.

The general idea is that if you use your mind, focus on the principles, and practice a lot, you will eventually iron out the defects in your technique. By repeatedly folding, hammering, and tempering the brittle, stiff iron, you will turn it into strong and flexible steel. I believe this is true, but often difficult to do without the frequent guidance of a good teacher. For those with less of such guidance, it becomes more and more imperative to understand the nature of the technique in the first place. And yet, sometimes it is what is before us that is the most subtle and hard to understand; whereas what is far away does not seem so.

There is another story about the state of Qi. The king of Qi had a guest who was going to draw a picture for him. The king asked the guest what things were the hardest to draw. The guest replied that horses and dogs were the hardest to draw. He was then asked what was the easiest to draw. He replied that ghosts and demons were the easiest to draw. When asked to explain his answer, he said that everyone knows what a horse or dog looks like and therefore it is hard to draw them to people's expectations; however, no one has seen a ghost or demon, and so you are free to draw them however you want.

If you think of Tai Chi as being made up of principles like ghosts or demons that are just mysterious, it becomes easy to practice in any way we want. Since no one can see your Qi, you are free to imagine it moving in any way you want. But if you think of Tai Chi as being made up of principles like horses or dogs, you can also feel you already know what to do and feel free to follow your own familiar habits. For me, using intent involves consciously and repeatedly focusing on the voice of the one against the distractions of the many.

When, for instance, our teacher asks us to lead with the waist, we draw on our daily life to interpret what is required; however, often this misleads. I have seen many people who have done Tai Chi for many years, even 10-20 years, who have difficulty moving from the waist. They simply cannot feel it or cannot distinguish between moving the waist through space and moving from the waist. There are many ways to fix this, but simply relaxing and letting time pass may not work for many. This is what I understand to be a question of "Intent."

The other day I was asked in class how light the upper body needed to be and how heavy the lower body needed to be. I tried to make an analogy about how an archer draws light and heavy bows, but this seemed unsatisfying or mysterious to many, even if they had had the experience of drawing such bows. The explanation morphed into a discussion of sticking. The more I tried to explain, the more confused everyone seemed to be and so I called in my assistant: a Pilates ball.

I asked my students to practice with the ball against a wall, doing wrist and elbow circles and a slightly modified version of our double-hand vertical circling . If you do this correctly, you can control the movement of the ball with your sticking. But my assistant has good, natural technique. If you do not know how to stick, the ball will escape your control and drop to the floor. After doing this exercise, it was easier to put aside the influences of our daily movement and discuss what sticking is, what Peng energy is, how light is light, and how heavy is heavy.

After this exercise, we began to do a little application and I happened to demonstrate a version of Press my students were unfamiliar with. I showed how it could be used to deal with a punch. After more discussion and demonstration, the questions turned to what exactly Ward Off, Press, Rollback, and Push are and how they differed from each other. I tried to focus on descriptions of energy and the effect on the opponent, but the discussion seemed to descend into too much detail about arm angles and body surfaces, and so I again called on my "assistant." I held the ball in front of me and had one student push on it. I then proceeded to do versions of Ward Off, Press, Rollback, and Push using just rotations of the ball, weight shifts, and no arm contact at all. I also invited my students to focus on the effect on the student and not the angles I was using. Only then could the voice of the one teacher break through the clamor of the multitude of other influences. Only then could we break through a preoccupation with shape and begin to talk about energy as described in various sayings that we use to describe Tai Chi principles.

"Use intent, and not force" is a simple saying, but has deep implications for how we are to do something as simple as lifting an arm. If we try to work with the principles built into the fabric of how objects and shapes interact, we achieve naturalness and move in the natural grooves built into the universe. The universe works with us. If, however, we try to use force to move in our own way, we end up having to make our own grooves and leave behind what is naturally there. The universe tends to work against us.

Take care,
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