Connecting with Your Opponent - Philosophy and Self-Defense In Action
A Martial Arts Journey -- Signposts Along the Way

Bruce Lee Was Right -- We Need Emotional Content -- and We Need Shen (Spirit)

Bruce-Lee-Emotional-ContentOne of my favorite scenes in a Bruce Lee movie is when he lectures a young student about what he perceives as a lack of "emotional content" in the young man's movements.

When I was a younger student, practicing techniques with fellow students, one of my teachers would occasionally warn us to maintain our "spirit." When we received a certificate of rank, the certificate mentioned the "spiritual discipline" involved in achieving the rank.

In Tai Chi, the Chinese term "shen" means spirit. It is not a supernatural spirit -- it is an awareness of your action and a physical fullness that means you are giving it 100%. You are in the moment. 

Shen is also translated to mean "heart," but it is the same thing. You are emotionally connected (the heart is often associated with emotion) to the intent of the movement or activity.

It applies to any martial art and it also applies to other aspects of your life, from relationships to work and other activities and endeavors.

How many times have you seen a student in any martial art perform weakly -- no real spark of energy or excitement? Sometimes, you'll see a student stepping through the motions of a form without peng, with no connection in their movements. A fighting application will be performed half-heartedly, with "chi in the chest" and a lack of proper body mechanics or stance work.

How many times have you seen someone come to work listless and uninterested? Or perhaps you've been in a relationship where the person you cared about was emotionally unavailable -- not in sync with you.

Sometimes we say, "His heart wasn't in it." 

We need emotional content.

We all have days when we don't feel 100% -- we're tired, we have deadlines for school or work, we're having problems with a relationship or the family -- there are always excuses to slack off.

That's when the spiritual discipline sets in, and you focus your mind on your practice. What is the true intent of this movement? How can I perform it the best of my ability?

In each movement of the internal arts, whether it's Taiji, Xingyi or Bagua, you should have a whole-body connection through each movement. This also includes a connection of Mind and Heart (Yi and Shen), which leads the Chi and the Li (strength).

If you do not have spirit for your martial art, your relationship, your work -- what are you doing here?

When you perform your movement with shen, then I would ask "How did it feel to you?" Your answer might get you a slap on the head. Without spirit, you may be missing out on all that heavenly glory. :)



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