The Four Intangibles: Self-defence prerequisites.

(Image courtesy of University of Oregon Health and Science University)

For some time now a senior member of Cold Mountain) has been telling me that I have been misunderstanding the importance of Xin / Heart in the martial arts. She is right. My understanding (conditioned by one of my teachers who was a hard-core Buddhist) was focused only upon the negative aspect of Heart -- as in: heart-sick, heart-sore, downhearted etc. ;-) Understood simply as desire or appetite, Heart can have very negative and unsettling implications.

But in a different sense, Heart is crucial to martial success or self defence.

In one of the Classics we are told that:

" Heart / Xin must be in harmony with Mind / Yi;

Mind must be in harmony with Qi;

Qi must be in harmony with Power / Jin."

I've come at this in a perversely back-ass-wards way by independently developing a group of four prerequisites for successful self defence, and then belatedly realizing that I've simply re-invented the wheel. My "Four Intangibles" are simply a reformulation of this old idea from the Classics.

Still, I think them valuable because they communicate in a way that avoids the necessity for cultural translation. Together they constitute a martial discipline.

The Four Intangibles are:

Cultivated Character: I think Heart conflates this and what I lower call Will.

In essence we must cultivate within ourselves an inner quietness that is balanced and controlled. It is a vital centre that is both peaceful and very, very strong. It is resistant to either unreasoning anger or fear. As the centre of our vitality and person, it represents the cultivated psychic foundation of our character. It is not brittle but flexible in the way that a steel cable is flexible. In a sense it is high, wise and enduring like bamboo.

There are many paths to this: the martial arts, the Way of Tea, meditation.... Tai Chi is but one path; the Cultivated Character is the goal. It is the basis of one's personal integrity. It enables us to cope with grief and with joy. It connects us to others and the world around us.

Awareness: We should also develop an enhanced awareness of our environment and those around us. The world of relationships, both benevolent and potentially malign, enfolds us. In this middle realm of the people, which stands at mid-point between Heaven and Earth, we should be open to the potentialities of our situation. To paraphrase Master Kong (Confucius), we should not anticipate hostile action, but we also should not be surprised by it. (For a deeper examination of this quality, see installment #9 on Self Defence in this blog: )

Understanding Mind in this way deals with the mental aspect in Chinese called Yi. It is the aspect of mind that pays attention, is aware, and is capable of forming intention strengthened by Heart.

Will: Cultivate within yourself a quality of resolution and a sense of your own power. Be willing to exert it to the utmost in defence of yourself or those you wish to protect. This is attention carried into resolute intention. Equivalent to Qi, this is energized Will, based upon character and awareness. It empowers your self defence. Qi is directed by Yi. Will is empowered and moved by Awareness.

Mobility: This is where all of the preceding culminate in action! The most basic Power of any living thing is is the ability to move! You must bend before the storm and advance to meet a foe. In a conflict situation you must move your feet!

It is astonishing how many people forget this, how many martial artists, confronted by an attacker, freeze up! You are not the passive recipient of the attacker's aggression! You are the physical embodiment of Will, informed by Awareness and empowered by your strength of Character.

Heart, Mind, Qi and Power!

Character, Awareness, Will and Mobility!

The typical self defence course consists of tricks -- little combative techniques, designed to fit into specific assault scenarios. But the psychic component is actually much more important. It allows one to avoid the trap of responding to an attacker as prey. It leads one in a course of confidence, spontaneity and self-actualization.

These principles do not apply only to physical self defence. They also apply to social and employment situations. They permit us to confidently take our place in the world and to interact with others in a positive fashion. They allow us to realize the gifts with which we are naturally endowed.


In my next instalment I shall address the "Four Tangibles" which contribute to effective self-defence.

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