Not Thinking About It: The Moves Within a Single Move

The concentration required in the art of Xing Yi Quan

Borrowing from the art of Xing Yi Boxing lets me walk you through an example. It’s the act of taking a step and punching straight ahead. This simple act can be a wonder of orchestration.

Consider. My left front leg begins by pulling on my rear leg. At that moment the rear leg pushes off the ground without even taking the time to roll up the heel. The rear leg come a bit in front of the left leg so the left leg switches from pulling to pushing and helps to shoot my front leg forward. As it lands the front (now right) leg pulls a little and a straight push form the rear leg move it forward a few inches, completing the stepping sequence.

While this is happening on the lower level, the right punching hand has already started before the leg work even activated. It then continues to shoot forward so smoothly that the legs must synchronize to its timing or the strike will be awkward.

This ends the concert.

If your legs and hand actually perform their parts, the movement will not be just fast; it will be undetectably rapid. Not so much like an accelerating race car as a abrupt crack in the ice.

I’m not bringing this up to give the impression of overwhelming complexity, but to make a point about a thought process.

If you execute the above-detailed series of actions perfectly (or nearly so) it will not be a question of thinking fast—it will be a question of not having enough time to think. The cascading actions themselves would barricade you from reaching your full speed even if you were going somewhat smaller.

Anti-Thinking I find that there are two types of “non-thinking.” One is simply going out there with no particular idea in mind and seeing what happens when you wing it. The thinking night-light has been turned off, some banged knees may ensue, but it’s all still fun. This might be called anti-thinking because it relies on the carry-me-away attitude and tries to take the mind out of the equation. Beginners often do this with a magical wish that they transform into that other way of non-thinking. You will often hear, “I’ve got to stop thinking to do it right.” But really they need more thinking, just of the right kind. Memory, evaluation, patient search for consistency but no overworking the problem, this is the thinking that rides partnered with pure, honest repetition and hard work. Thinking cannot be abandoned yet, just yoked to the task

Expert Thinking On its high level Martial Arts—in some ways more than any other physical activity—searches for a state difficult to describe. It is the scene staged above with the step and punch, a series of cascading energies so perfectly overlapped that they create a unique kind of speed. Its emphasis on shadowless speed may seem similar to practicing quick draw. Each stored moment of focused intent with every detail precisely arranged then explosively released, may recall an archer’s arrow sitting in the hand waiting for release. When you see an expert perform one of these actions, you are astonished because the untrained, miniscule, unconscious preparation everyone else displays is now missing; replaced by a lightning bolt movement, inhuman in its efficiency.

For most martial artists this is a goal with its own rewards; speed, efficiency, fluidity and other skills. But there is another benefit rarely discussed. The command of one’s own body, the recruitment of what is so often perceived as just parts and places, the absolutely hidden alignment of internal feelings with the outward criterion of maximum speed and minimum wasted movement; even if that punch is never thrown, that snake-dart instant never sprung; nonetheless implants in us a moment, if only a moment, of what might be the dynamic face of harmony.

2 Responses to “Not Thinking About It: The Moves Within a Single Move”

  1. Stan Meador says:

    The Dynamic Face of Harmony – is this the title of Book/Dvd from the Xing Yi seminars you’ll be hosting soon? I love the term!

  2. Angelika says:

    Thinking about how many moves are within a single move leaves me grateful and in awe how wonderful our bodies are!

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