Motor coordination abilities and mental training in Yiquan



Motor coordination abilities


According to the modern sports theory, the results achieved by athletes in various sports are based on:


motor abilities,

skills which are specific for a given sport discipline.


Motor abilities can be divided as follows:


physical (or energetic: mainly strength, endurance, speed),

coordination (or informational),

complex (mix of physical and coordination abilities),

mental (temper, motivation, courage)


Coordination abilities are related to the functions of nervous system governing and regulating the motor system. Those abilities enable precise execution of tasks with complex time-space-force relationships. They embrace mainly the abilities of:


space-time orientation,

sight-movement coordination,

kinesthetic distinguishing of movements,

maintaining balance in static and dynamic situations,

movement rhythm,

movement symmetry,

clarity of movement expression,

connecting movements,

relaxing muscles,

cooperation with other people,


fast reaction,

adapting to changing and unexpected situations,

switching to other action.


Training of coordination abilities in big part consists of practicing in postures and situations that are different from basic or standard technique of a given sport discipline, which creates bigger range of changes of time-space-force parameters of movement. A person's level of coordination abilities affects the speed of learning technical skills and possibility of achieving success in this, and is also the basis for adaptability of technical skills. This adaptability – ability of adapting and changing action according to changing situation, is extremely important in so called sports with open structure of movement, as for example combative sports.


Ideomotor training


Mental training is extensively used in modern sports at the highest level. If talking about mental abilities, it helps with the ability to focus the mind, coping with distraction and competition stress, increasing motivation and self confidence. Part of mental training, which is called ideomotor training (also: image based, visualization, imitation) is used mainly for enabling faster acquisition of technical skills and helping with their improvement. The effect is creating more effective nerve pathways for receiving and analyzing signals and sending them to body, so that it can adequately react.


In sports ideomotor training 2 senses are most important:


visual sense of space,

kinesthetic sense.


Visualizations of execution of movement have been popular in sports training for quite a long time already. Both visualization in first person and of watching from perspective of another person is used. Thanks to using both perspectives more memory traces can be crated in nervous system. Observing other people skillfully executing some action is also helpful – the same neuron groups are activated as when actually executing a given movement. Training based on kinesthetic images appeared in modern sports more recently. Here the proprioception sense is used – feeling based on the system of receptors located in muscles, articular capsules, ligaments, tendons, periosteum. In order to be able to work with kinesthetic feelings effectively, an athlete needs to improve sensitivity to kinesthetic sensations, and develop the ability of awakening and refreshing them. In various sports there are various sensations and complexes of sensations. For example in fencing they often talk about feeling the weapon, in swimming about feeling water, in combat sports about feeling opponent etc. These are very much subjective feelings developed by an athlete during the training process – so they are difficult to describe to people who are not engaged in serious training of any given discipline. The more senses become engaged during this kind of training, the better. So apart from visual space perception, kinesthetic perception (and touch perception – based on exteroreceptors), hearing and even smell and taste can be used. For example the imagination of taste and smell of water is used as part of visualization training for swimmers. But, in order to activate some perception channel, sometimes cutting the others down can be advisable. For example closing eyes helps to focus on kinesthetic sensations. Visualizations can help to improve skills. At the same time sensitivity to sensations increases, and visualization can become clearer and richer. The feedback mechanism is very important there.


Chinese martial arts and YIQUAN


In the western countries there is a lot of misunderstanding around traditional Chinese martial arts. In big part this is because of difficulty with adequately interpreting and translating classical Chinese concepts and theories into the language of modern science, especially by people who have no direct access to a teacher who knows and can practically demonstrate and explain what is actually described when using those traditional concepts and sayings. During 1920s Wang Xiangzhai (1885 – 1963) – a renowned xingyiquan expert started the process of modernization of this system, aiming toward creating a more scientific theory, which of course resulted also in modifications of the training methods. The new system became known as yiquan and was also called dachengquan. Wang's students continued his work, especially Yao Zongxun (1917-1985) – who was named by Wang as his successor. Modern day exponents of yiquan are also working on further development of the system and its theory.


YIQUAN characteristics


In yiquan we are trying to maintain what is valuable and reliable in the traditional heritage of Chinese martial arts. At the same time aiming toward consistency of used concepts with modern scientific theories. However in some areas still some terms, which are specific only for this system, and are difficult to understand for people who are not engaged in actual yiquan practice, are used. But science and knowledge is something which is continuously developing. More and more of the topics which have been part of yiquan theory and practice become areas which are researched by sports scientists. In more and more cases the old terminology can be replaced by language understandable by anyone who has learned some sports theory. So I started this short article by recalling some basic concepts from modern sports theory, focusing on motor coordination abilities and ideomotor training, because these are in fact very important aspect of yiquan, although most yiquan teachers will express these ideas with different terminology. Mind activity is the core aspect of yiquan training. We are frequently using terms such as yinian huodong – mental activity, jiajie, xiangxiang or shexiang – imagining. We are talking about feelings, sensations – ganjue. Even the name yiquan points to the importance of mind. Yi translates as mind, thought, idea, intention. Quan is fist – which is general expression for martial art. Even if most of yiquan teachers don't talk directly about a theory of motor coordination abilities, during learning process students who know about this modern scientific theory can notice that at various occasions, explaining things and answering questions, their teacher will point to those areas which are covered by this theory.


In yiquan hunyuanli is a very important concept. Usually we translate it as unified force. Actually it is a whole complex of technical skills and motor abilities that are gradually developed and improved during the training process. It also means developing and improving specific perception – feeling of body, movement, force, also while interacting with opponent. From the point of view of the practitioner it is important to perceive it subjectively as one thing, one feeling, something which is simple and not complex – this gives more confidence and freedom in action. During the training process various problems can arise. Different for different students, different at different stages of practice. The main tool for diagnosing them, which we use, is tui shou (pushing hands) and san shou (free fighting). Depending on what problems and insufficiencies are found, some aspect of the unity which we call hunyuanli should be more stressed during basic training.


Several glimpses at YIQUAN training


When the mind is in a state of relaxed focus, more memory connections can be created. And relaxing muscles as you remember is one of the motor coordination abilities. Mental training in modern sports usually starts from mental and physical relaxation. The same is stressed at the beginning of yiquan training. This is done in standing, sitting and lying postures. Various positive images and mental associations that help to induce relaxation can be used. In the state of relaxed focus we can start practicing so called mo li - feeling force. An important part of this is the kinesthetic feeling, but also spacial imagination. The feeling which is developed this way serves as a medium for improving the mind-body coordination. We start from an extremely simple situation, so we can clearly feel and better control this feeling. For a beginner it would be too difficult to achieve this in situation of complex movement. It's much easier in relatively static postures, where movement as if starts, but doesn't continue. This is called „seeking movement in non movement”. Even if making a longer movement, at beginning it is relatively simple, and we are doing it slowly, so we can control and correct the feeling at any point. This part of the training serves mainly to improve basic neuro-muscular coordination and develop the basic feeling, which is used in the later, more advanced training, where it is gradually modified and further developed. Starting from a very basic unidirectional feeling of force, we move to multi-directional perception, where there co-exist movements and forces in all directions of three dimensional space. The perception of proportions is very important here. From simple movements we move to more complex, then to linking them in various configurations, and also with steps. This is important to realize that those movements are not seen as strictly fixed fighting techniques, but rather as basic directions of movement and applying force. Later modifications and adaptations of movements appear – adaptability of skill is extremely important.


In basic exercises with partner – tui shou (pushing hands), which are also done slowly, we are searching for the most economical positions and paths for transferring forces through the body (at each moment of continuous movement) and learning to redirect and neutralize our opponent's force. The feeling related to this is then also transferred to basic solo practice. Being able to maintain a stable, steady feeling in the situation of slow, even movement, the student can start working with a whole spectrum of changes of speed and rhythm of movement, including explosive acceleration and sudden stops – gradually enriching the feeling, becoming able to use mental imagery related to more complex perception. But also slow movement can become more dynamic internally. At each point of movement the practitioner is ready to change: stop, slow down, speed up, change direction, change to a different action. This readiness should embrace whole body – the change might appear at any of its parts. Such mental readiness, alertness is important in order to develop fast, adaptive reactions. Gradually pushing hands practice becomes richer – from basic movements students move toward modifications and adaptations of paths, speed, rhythm. Maintaining control over opponent's arms and body is a basic principle. You can affect his balance – usually by short jerking – explosive actions, at the same time trying to neutralize his actions of this kind. When the opponent loses balance and control, you use this opportunity to hit him. In this kind of training you are developing an interactive feeling with the opponent, improving your abilities of anticipation, cooperation (cooperation as a motor coordination ability means both adapting to a partner, like in a dance, or to opponent's actions in fighting), adapting to situations which are changing in various, often unexpected ways, switching to other action, which sometimes needs to be done repeatedly with high frequency. Awareness, being sensitive to sensations is very important. The feeling developed this way is a basis for further enrichment of imagination work during basic solo practice.


San shou – free fighting training is more challenging than tui shou. Many practice methods are used, with various kinds of sparring – from the very limited, focusing on some aspects of fight, to more free. Our basic idea is not preparing for participating in competition with fixed rules. The main point of reference for our training is rather more chaotic and less predictable „street fighting”. With this in mind, less stress is put on training fixed technical/tactical drills and more on developing ability of efficient use of all parts of body as a weapon and the ability to adapt to unexpectedly changing situations. We see such approach as more stimulating, if we are talking about developing motor coordination abilities. Exactly as with tui shou, experience of san shou practice helps to enrich imagination aspect of solo training.

Find inspiration in YIQUAN


I hope that the above 'glimpses' will help you to get at least some general idea about character of yiquan training and to understand the relationship between our training methods and the concept of developing and improving motor coordination abilities with use of ideomotor training. This part of training was rarely emphasized in sports until recently, but in yiquan it has been developing for several dozens years already. People practicing other martial arts and combative sports, or just any sports may find these methods and concepts interesting and inspiring and could integrate them into their own systems and disciplines.

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