形意拳 Xing Yi Quan (sying ee chwan) in Mandarin it means “form intent fist” but what does that mean? What was meant to be conveyed by that title?
Xing Yi is a chinese martial art and as is often the case, the title is generally the summation of the central thesis behind the system or the name of the family or hero who popularized the system. Some examples of this are as follows:
Wing Chun is the name of the practicioner who made the art famous.
Tiger, crane, snake, etc… are the animals the style was modeled after.
Tai Ji is the philosophical term used to represent the ultimate balance and harmony that was observed in the universe – yin and yang.
Hung Gar means Hung family and is the kung fu designed and taught by the Hung family.
Jeet Kun Do means “way of the intercepting fist” which was the central concept behind the way Bruce Lee fought.
Xing Yi is not a persons name nor is it an animal; since the martial art was designed around Chinese understanding of the way of the universe it is an attempt to encapsulize a central concept that drives the art form – the harmony of the actions and the intents of the individual toward the desired goal… this is XingYi.
In this harmonious partnership between Yi (intention) and Xing (form) there is a designated order of importance or established roles in the relationship. It is understood that Yi (intent) is to lead Xing (form) if this does not happen you have mindless movement that wastes energy, time, and opportunity. A fighter who allows his Xing to lead will always be frustrated by the one who allows his Yi to lead. Yi does not dominate Xing, it simply directs where it can be most effective. It is true that Xing can respond faster than Yi, so in many cases Yi will designate a path for Xing to follow and the circumstances will change so fast that only Xing can keep up. Those times should not generate frustration, provided that the Xing was trained to respond properly.
Yi is translated as intent, and often includes the will, it is the reasoning mind or the wisdom mind, and in Xing Yi theory the Yi and the Xin (heart; not Xing for form) or the emotional mind must come into agreement. What is so interesting about this process is the roles that they play in relation to each other. Xing Yi theory teaches that the Xin (heart; emotional mind) must be brought into submission to the Yi (intent; or wisdom/volitional mind). Only when this precise relationship occurs can the Yi lead the Xing (form) effectively.
Let me share an example, often times when I spar with a new student they are nothing short of defenseless because they are intimidated to the point that they hesitate so much they do nothing. They cannot think clearly, they cannot respond appropriately and thus they are defeated with ease. It is not because they have no skill, it is because they are not able to utilize it due to disharmony between the Xin (heart) and the Yi (mind). The Xin cannot make the right decisions and lead the Xing, but it cannot be ignored, it must serve a purpose. And it does, it is brought into subjection to the Yi and when that happens it provides the intensity and energy that drives the Yi. We have all experienced those times when we were emotionally committed to a course of action, the emotion did not make the decisions our mind did, but when the heart and the mind were in unison the intensity that we have allows us to be so much more effective in the actual doing of our task. You can always tell when someone is not emotionally invested in a task they are performing. They may be doing all the right moves, but their heart just is not in it.
Where am I going with this? I would like to propose that we need to take this concept of having a clear intention and letting it lead our actions and apply it to our faith. I believe that often Christians get it backwards, or worse yet, they only get half of the equation. When a Christian does not let their intention lead their actions then all they have is a set of actions that they go through with no clear understanding of what they are trying to accomplish or worse yet they have no intention at all which leads to ineffective spirituality and/or Christians who never seem to grow at all. Growth does not just happen, we have to have a clear goal of growing. But even with a clear goal, with no clear intentions or thoughts on how to accomplish this goal we can float aimlessly through our life doing all sorts of stuff and never really growing. We need to have a clear goal and a clear path to how we need to get there and then and only then can we effectively implement the right course of actions to get us to our goal.
The process proves true in regard to the emotions verses the intention as well. The Bible tells us that the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. We cannot allow our emotions to direct our steps, we must let the mind direct our steps and our mind must be set on seeking out God through the steps outlined in Scripture. When we have intentional actions then we begin to see a degree of effectiveness that will far outstrip the mindless wandering of just going through the motions.