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What is intention?

By immersing yourself in the purpose of each movement, you can cultivate shen. Shen produces intention. Intention unifies the mind and body into one unit. This is an essential skill in tai chi.
'Intention' means an aim that guides action, a determination. It is a product of the mind. Yet, it is based on one pre-requisite: purpose.


Purpose in tai chi stems from the martial; you need to have real skill. If you do not understand how to apply the form, where does your intention lie?
Intention provides direction to the movements, teaches you how and why to move the body a certain way and codifies the sequence.
Without martial knowledge, where does your intention lie? What is the purpose of each movement? If you do not know what you are aiming for or what the purpose is, how can you possess intent?


Without intention you cannot jing. Jing requires the entire framework of your body to open and close along a specific vector without any tension interfering.
You must deliver kinetic energy via your movement along a very clear path. That path is established by the mind. It is intent.


When you and the tai chi become one, you experience 'sung'. You no longer feel the body itself; only the movements. But this is not enough. Shen must be present.
To have shen, you must let go of self and feel only the purpose. You pass from a stage of consciously moving your arm, to a physical sense of 'it moves'.
Totally immersed in the doing, you are no longer an observer in your actions; there is absolute presence at all times. This can be seen in every movement and in your eyes.

Good intentions

Our intention determines outcome. If you intend to harm your assailant and possess the means and the opportunity, then you will succeed. Be careful what you wish for.


Intention is not concentration. You are not narrowing your field of focus. It is quite different to that.
Your gaze must remain expansive and peripheral, with the eyes receiving information rather than seeking it. Intention is the beginning of the movement, the middle and the end.
It is the way of the movement, the process. Do not mistake intention for planning. You must remain adaptive, flexible, changeable - preconceived notions are not the Way.

Beyond intention

When a person attacks you unexpectedly, you cannot have a plan in mind. You must simply respond and move appropriately. This is a condition that transcends intention.
Intention may be present insofar as you have no wish to be injured, but beyond that there is no fixed plan. The event happens and you are part of that happening.

When the shen is raised, there is no fault of stagnancy and heaviness.
This is called suspending the headtop.

Inwardly make the shen firm, and outwardly exhibit calmness and peace.

Throughout the body, the intention relies on the shen, not on the qi.
If it relied on the qi, it would become stagnant.

(Wu Yu-hsiang)

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Page created 17 April 1996
Last updated 16 June 2023