Q & A: Yi (意-Intention) and the Levels of Tai Chi

I have been told that tai chi can be done on three levels: up high and lightly for stress relief, down low working the muscles for health, and in the middle for combat. But as I was drawing a diagram for my students, it didn’t seem complete.

The more I looked at it the more it seemed that it should go like this: on one level I can do the forms to just reduce intention in tai chistress, on another level I can do the forms and unpack the techniques and applications, and I can do it for health (but there is more to health than just exercising the body and range of motion, it includes qi gong as well, which appears to be linked to energy), another level I can do it for is the flow (that awesome flowy feeling when all the moves are one continuous motion and energy feels like a shadow following the flow), and finally when you do the form feeling like your moving through water and/or stuff in the air and specifically to connect to energy and your own energy just spikes.

I wanted to see if the extra dimensions track with your experiences.



Congratulations! You have a lot of information coming at you.

This is just from my own experience, but also from colleagues, many of whom I have discussed this with. You’re definitely on the right track, as I understand it, but I would like to add another idea predicated on the pivotal point of Yi (意-intention).

When I work with martial artists, I explain that a full-length movement done slow has the ability to issue energy anywhere in the path. This is the opposite of, say, the karate blow which crystalizes at the end. So, at any moment, we can expel energy. That moment is determined by our Yi. So, that’s for punching. The exact same process might be duplicated with any of the topics you have. Instead of an elevator, which would take you to the implied stacking of the levels, you would have a car that could wend its way among the various modalities. Flow could become meditation which could become applications which could become…

Of course, leaping from meditation into application is not easy, but in internal practice, it is only the ability to do that that counts, and that should be a constant state during the practice of the form.

I have one more thing to add: we often teach our students, especially beginners, in discrete levels. But in my opiinion it is crucial that we always remember that the final state is not at all segmented. It may take a while for them to get to that point, but it does a disservice if we do not remember it ourselves.

Best in the martial arts,

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