One day, a new student asked me; "Why is Tai Chi Chuan called an internal art? Is it because the movements
are execute slowly so one calls it internal? Yet, there are many solo forms
that one can execute the movements in different speed. How do you differentiate
Tai Chi Chuan from other Chinese martial art?" My reply to the questions was simply
that Tai Chi Chuan's movements are control by the Intent, an internal component
that is not visible and it is the key to Tai Chi Chuan's success.
The role of Intent in Tai Chi Chuan
Tai Chi Chuan practitioners often emphasize the importance of using the Intent in
training. The Tai Chi Chuan Classics say" Every movement based on the intent.",
"When the intent and qi come, the bone and flesh are secondary.", "First on the
mind, later, on the body.", "First, the intent moves, later, the power
follows.", "All of them are based on the intent, it is not based on the external
movement.", "When the qi is not there yet, the intent already there.", "When
practice the solo form and push hand exercises, one should pay attention to the
intent." The quotations clearly defined the priority and relationships among the
Intent, Qi and Body. In every Tai Chi Chuan's Solo Form movement, it is initiated
by the Intent, continue with the qi and end with the body movement. Does not
matter it is the qi circulation or body movement, it directs by the Intent. In
the Intent's creativity, qi circulation and body movement, they are the
disciplines that Tai Chi Chuan incorporates the Intent to work on the three
subject of Intent, Qi and Body. It bases on the ancient chinese philosophy which
said that the body is the basic matter for life. Mind is the life's controller.
Qi is the life's communicator. The objective of the qi's function is to have the
body and mind joint together. A visible body is considering alive because of the
mind. The Intent manages the body and base on the function of the qi. The three
components joint together is the key in Tai Chi Chuan training.
The emphasis on Intent by Tai Chi Chuan practitioners involves two areas.
It is the initiator to activate the physiologic organ functions. Intent or
Intent's power is a special kind of conscious behavior of the brain which carries
a coded message to function inside the body as well as outside the body. In
other words, Intent controls all physiologic functions.
The nature of Intent
If the Intent is so
important in Tai Chi Chuan training, it is necessary for one to fully understand
and define what is Intent. There are two approaches to understand it. The Intent
guides the body movement and the Intent guides the qi circulation.
a. The Intent guides the body movement
When the Intent
moves, the body follows. In the situation when the Intent guides the body
movement. This means all movements are controlled by the Intent. Intent's movement
means creativity. The "body follows" means the body is moving according to the
Intent's instruction. In Tai Chi Chuan training, it demands all movements are
initiating from the Intent and then follow with the body movement. Therefore,
the body movement is the expression of Intent's creativity outward. If one is
able to follow this expectation throughout the Tai Chi Chuan training, one's
skill will progress quickly.
b. The Intent guides the qi circulation
When the Intent
moves, the qi circulates. In the situation when the Intent guides the qi to
circulate. This mean all qi circulations are following the Intent's instruction.
Intent movement means Intent creativity. Qi circulation means the qi circulates
inside the body follows the Intent's instruction. Intent creativity and qi
circulation are internal. How can one interpret and understand? It is often
said that to find out what is inside, one has to begin from outside. What is
internal, will expressed outward. Although the Intent creativity and qi
circulation are intangible, the posture and movement a practitioner demonstrates
in Tai Chi Chuan, is an expression of Intent creativity and qi circulation
outward. From observing the change in a movement, one can tell the Intent
creativity and qi circulation condition. The highest form of Tai Chi Chuan
training is to have the Intent creativity and qi circulation inside the body
combined with physical movement outside the body. Therefore, if there is no
movement inside the body, there should be no movement from outside the body.
When there is movement, the components from outside and inside the body move
together in unity.
Although Intent is an important factor to determine the outcome of Tai Chi
Chuan skill, it is abstract and difficult to understand. However, it has the
following meanings and characteristics:
Intent and creativity
- It means attention.
- It has a meaning similar to qi. It is a form of energy and power.
- It is a form of thinking and imagination behavior.
- It has many levels. A student emphasizes the intent differently according to his skill.
- It is repeatable. At each time, the meaning and fulfillment are different.
- It can be understood from observing physical movement, feeling and
sensation. A student may not understand at the beginning. After many practices, the understanding becomes better.
- For it is a substance of abstract and intangible, it can be interpreted into many meanings according to one's experience. Therefore, it does not have any set priority and order.
- It is a state of mental condition.
- It is a mental activity and creativity.
- It is an objective and goal.
- Although it has many meanings, each meaning contribute to fulfill a complete whole. A unity.
To increase the
Intent creativity, one must cultivate it daily and incorporate it throughout the
Tai Chi Chuan training. This is included from practical experiences as well as
From psychological experiment, we understand that Intent has a very close
association with one's emotion and experience. Whenever we have good and
positive experience, the emotion is positive and the Intent creativity
unrestricted. Otherwise, the emotion is negative and the Intent creativity is limited.
Therefore, it is necessary to have good experience and positive emotion which
can be generated and supported from a tranquil environment. A tranquil serenity is
a condition better for one to concentrate, focus and the creativity to flow and
coherent. Therefore, it has a miraculous result.
Intent and Tai Chi Chuan
From a martial art
perspective, Intent is emphasizing on the technique, strategy and most
importantly, on the opponent's weak area.
Tai Chi Chuan is a relaxed, soft, internal and external activity. The movement
is stable, circular, continue and the body should be upright. Based on these
principles, Tai Chi Chuan movement is confining to a set of rules. When one is
engaging in Tai Chi Chuan training, one is consciously controlling the body to
function under these rules. How does one incorporate the Intent into Tai Chi
Chuan training? The following are some of the common practice in Tai Chi Chuan:
When one is practicing the Tai Chi Chuan's solo form, one should assume
involving with an opponent in an offensive and defensive movement. It is only
when the Intent is true so the power is truly will get to the target and the
movement is effective. One develops confidence in each movement by understanding
the application and variations. Believe in oneself during confrontation so
technique can by apply freely without any hesitation and restriction. This is
what the Tai Chi Chuan Classic said "When the qi is not there, the intent is
already there." When people said "confidence is half of success". It already
included the power of Intent.
One should understand each movement's mechanics and application. Understanding
the power and variation involved in each technique. Where and when to deliver the
power. This is what the Tai Chi Chuan Classic referring to "One should pay
attention to each movement." One should pay closer attention to each movement so
the power gets to the target. One should clearly understand the power in each
movement. Understanding the fist, palm or fingers strike in a movement? How to
move the fingers to correctly apply the seize technique to easily control the
In any particular posture, the head should have the Intent of supporting an
object upward. The body has sinking. The hands have pushing forward power. The
arms move to the sides. The toes are pointing forward. The knees bent like a
nutcracker. Buttock tuck in. The hip has roundness like a "U" shape.
The Tai Chi Chuan Classic said that one should walk like a cat. In practice,
one can imagine the stepping in advance or retreat, and empty or full, should be
very quiet, spontaneous and light. It is stable and continues like a running
The Tai Chi Chuan Classic said that mobilizing the jing is like pulling silk
from a cocoon. In practice, one can imagine the movement is gentle, circular,
smooth, even and continue like pulling silk. Otherwise, the silk thread will
Intent is a very important step in Tai Chi Chuan training. If one can
incorporate it in daily practice as described above, one will definitely
develope the Tai Chi Chuan skill and power quickly. The body is nimble and
every part of the body is a weapon. It is an expression of the Intent, Qi and
Written By Vincent Chu