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October 28, 2010

Phillip Starr has authored three books on martial arts with Blue Snake Books, with a fourth book, Hidden Hands: Unlocking the Secrets of Traditional Martial Arts Forms on sale November 23, 2010 (pre-order here!). Starr shares his wisdom from over 50 years as a practitioner and teacher of martial arts in a monthly article on our blog, and writes books to help martial artists not only improve their skills on the mat, but strengthen their minds. For more information or to purchase Starr’s books, just click on their covers.


by Phillip Star

The idea of utilizing the yi; the intention/mind, is so important in the practice of martial arts that one of the internal systems, Xing Yi Quan, based its name on it. “Xingyi” means roughly, “Shape of the Mind” or “Shape of the intent.”  The word and character for intent and mind (yi) is the same.  Although virtually all Xingyi practitioners understand the translation of the name of their chosen art and, like many other martial arts devotees, have some concept of the importance of the concept of yi (using the translation of “intent”), I’m not sure that they fully grasp it’s significance insofar as the application of technique is concerned.

It’s one thing to “have the intention” of delivering a given technique against your opponent and it’s quite another to commit yourself to (the delivery of) that technique.

I think that very often, martial arts practitioners have the intention of striking with a given technique; that is, they simply intend to strike the enemy with it, but they don’t really commit themselves to it.

There’s a real difference.

In the practice of Japanese iaido (the art of drawing and cutting with the sword), there’s a lot of emphasis placed on committing the technique.  That is, as the imaginary foe attacks, you must commit your entire being; your body, mind, and spirit to the delivery of your technique.  This commitment must be absolutely total with nothing held back.  It is felt that holding back; giving anything less than 100% of one’s commitment, could very well weaken or slow down the technique (or one’s reaction) and result in defeat.  Defeat, insofar as the philosophy of this kind of martial art is concerned, isn’t necessarily completely concerned with the fact that you get yourself killed; it’s chief concern is that you fail in achieving your immediate goal which is destruction of the enemy.  Your own personal survival is of secondary importance…

So, when you train each kata you must do so with total commitment to your immediate goal.  Nothing is held back.  Nothing is held in reserve just in case “things go wrong.”  Their feeling is that if you believe that something may go wrong, your technique is bad.  If your technique is perfect, what could possibly go wrong?  If your timing, distance, balance, power…if everything is just right, how could you possibly fail?

So in facing an opponent, you must go beyond simply “having the intention” of striking him with your technique.  You must commit yourself to it.  It must be done with feeling that, “If it’s the last thing that I ever do, it’s going to be to strike down this opponent…”

This isn’t something that you can simply think about and then do when the chips are down.  It takes a lot of practice; a lot of repetitious practice, over and over.  When you practice your basic techniques you must do them with this feeling.  The same is true when you practice your forms.  You must practice it when you engage in two-person training exercises with a partner, although you must exercise proper control so that you don’t injure him/her.

To commit doesn’t mean that you should recklessly charge in…that’s foolish.  You wait until the moment is just right.  When the opportunity presents itself, you commit.  At that instant, you pour your self; your whole being, into that technique with the goal of striking the opponent. Don’t commit yourself to the execution of the technique!  Then there is no goal except for the performance of the technique.  Performing the technique isn’t your goal…striking the opponent is!

When you can do that, then you’ll understand the true meaning of “intent.”

How do you commit to your technique? Do you agree with Pete Starr? Give us your 2 cents in the comments below, and you could win the following set of Pete Starr’s books! Don’t forget to include your email with your comment so that we know how to contact the winners!

Other must-have martial arts books from Philip Starr:

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