Psychology & Chinese Martial Arts
– Chinese Martial Arts & Psychology
Co-authors: Xiaopeng Wang, Matt Hynes
The Origin of the dialogue
The following is a dialogue between a Western psychologist, Mr Matt Hynes, and a Chinese martial arts (CMA) associate professor, Xiaopeng Wang, on CMA training. It focuses on two key areas: the psychological processes of this traditional oriental training, and how and why its tangible and intangible elements can impact on expected results in terms of better health and well-being.
Matt Hynes has over 15 years’ experience as a child psychologist. He currently works from his own private practice at Sage Psychology in Canberra. Matt has a reputation for building deep, respectful bonds with the children he sees. His practice combines his knowledge of attachment psychology, nature mentoring, narrative therapy, neuroscience, mindfulness, movement and play. Matt is a recent convert to tai-chi after training with Dapeng Wang for the last two years.
Associate Professor Xiaopeng Wang, currently serving as a Martial Arts teacher at Tongji University in Shanghai. He graduated from the Martial Arts Faculty of the Shanghai University of Sport in 1993. Xiaopeng practices intensively the Cha Family Martial Arts, the Family of Six Harmonies Heart and Mindfulness Boxing and the Yang Family Tai Chi Boxing and Weaponry. He holds a prominent position and has made an outstanding contribution to curriculum development, pedagogical organisation and promotion within the China national and international martial arts and Tai Chi circles.
Q1. (Psychologist, Mr Matt Hynes) I’m interested in the relationship between “Qi” (Chi) and “emotions”. At their most basic level, emotions seem to be very physical. We have language reflecting this such as, I’m feeling ‘down’ (or ‘flat’, ‘deflated’ or ‘stuck’ among other terms). Emotions seem to be related to the body’s internal movements. I think emotions are probably quite different to Qi. Can you explain the difference between the Western concept of “emotions” and the Chinese concept of “Qi”?
A1. (Associate Professor, Xiaopeng Wang) 这个问题很好，也很深刻，中国古代的哲学家将＂Qi＂分为二种，一种是先天之气，又名＂炁QI＂，此炁乃先天地生，代表着万物未生前的本来面目，一种生命原始本初的状态！另一种是后天之＂气qi＂。
后天之气主要同呼吸有关也和食饮五谷 (稻、黍、稷、麦、豆) 后的能量的转化及流动有关系。这个是情绪情感所涉及的领域，属于第六意识的范畴，良好的情绪可以令体内气血能量有条不紊，她可以带给人身心健康和旺盛的精力！而长期负面情绪则相反，会令体内血气紊乱，导致六脉 (浮、沉、长、短、滑、涩) 不合，影响脏腑的正常功能。这无疑是对健康不利的，不论是心理还是生理上的！这种后天能量的运化机制，意识可以指挥身体内部的气血运行，所以情感情绪关乎健康！而先天之炁更主要是指万物产生前的本原状态。简单的介绍就是这样。
This is a good question, and it is also very deep. Chinese philosophers in the older era divided Qi into two kinds. One is innate and is known as＂炁Qi”. The first type of Qi is born in heaven and earth and represents the original features of all things before they were born as a primordial state of life! The other one is acquired qi.
The acquired qi is mainly related to respiration and to the conversion of the cereal type of food (mainly the five refined and coarse grains稻、黍、稷、麦、豆) to energy and the energy flow within the human body. This is the field of emotion. It belongs to the category of sixth consciousness. A good mood can put one’s blood and energy flow, and their body as a whole, in positive order. It can also bring a person physical and mental health as well as vigour. On the other hand, long-term negative emotions have the opposite effect. As such, they will cause blood and energy disorders, resulting in the incompatibility of the six kinds of pulse images (浮、沉、长、短、滑、涩) of the human body, and they will affect the normal functions of the organs. This is no doubt bad for health, whether it is psychological or physiological. The postnatal energy transport mechanism means that consciousness can command the body’s internal blood and energy operations. So, emotions or feelings are about health! The congenital Qi, though, mainly refers to the primitive state of things. This is a simple explanation.
Q2. I find that practising in front of a teacher is very different to practising alone. It is obvious that a teacher can quickly correct any movement patterns. However, I wonder if there is also something that happens when a student is witnessed by a teacher. It might have something to do with the atmosphere that the teacher creates. Does the mere presence of a teacher change the nature of the practice?
A2. 在教师指导下的练习效果是大不一样的！ 优秀教师的示范是多角度的同时也是深层次的！首先教师动作示范的直观性，免去了自己练习时各种意识上的造作与揣摩，这无疑降低了学习难度也节省了学习的时间。
The effect of the practice under the guidance of the teacher is really different. The demonstration of an excellent teacher is multi-angled and, at the same time, deep-seated. First of all, the intuition of the teacher’s demonstration eliminates all kinds of conscious creation and conjecture in practice, which undoubtedly reduces learning difficulty and saves learning time.
Secondly, the teacher’s correction of erroneous actions can help practitioners quickly understand their own mistakes and bad habits, including fine habits, which is helpful for establishing good habits. Again, the teacher’s explanation and ideation (power of thought) will speed up their students’ mastery of the movements.
Finally, the mode of teaching and learning can not only enhance the emotional connection between teachers and students, it can also play an immeasurable role in shaping the healthy personality of the students! In this way, the students will know more about gratitude and the awe of art.
Q3. Most of our movements in Wushu and Tai Chi are modeled on animal movements. Do animals have a perfect balance of Qi? Why do humans have to practise each day when animals do not?
It is very reasonable for Chinese martial arts to emulate nature’s laws. An animal grows in nature, which is full of various challenges, both physical and psychological, and full of danger. Survival in this harsh environment forces the animal to quickly adapt their body to sudden changes in order to better protect their own safety. Speed, strength, sensitivity, endurance, reaction, flexibility and so on will become strong through practice!
The power of an animal’s perception is also extraordinary. In this respect, the differences in the physicality and perception of human beings and animals are quite obvious. So, the agility of a monkey, the grasp of the eagle’s claws, the tiger’s jump and pounce, a snake’s coil force, the dexterity of a swallow, and the galloping force of a horse all have a capacity that cannot be compared because these constitute a congenital and acquired advantage. Therefore, people need to draw on the strengths of animals to make up for their own shortcomings. It is also necessary for people to practise day after day.
The capacity for logic in human beings far exceeds that of animals as does their ability to manufacture tools and create shelter. This is the main difference between the two.
Q4. It appears Chinese martial artists have had a very different childhood compared to modern-day Australians. Do you think it is possible for an Australian child to develop their practice to the same level as them?
Technically, training Australian children through a formal specialisation can definitely be done! In China, martial arts are usually divided into several forms of practice which lead to various levels and realms based on personal pursuit: ‘Wu Yi’ as to martial arts skills, ‘Wu Gong’ as to the accomplishments acquired through all the efforts of martial arts practice, ‘Wu Xue’ as to Wushu-ology, a domain of martial arts knowledge, ‘Wu Xia’ as to martial arts chivalrous men, ‘Wu De’ as to martial arts morality, and ‘Wu Dao’ refers to martial enlightenment (a happy and ultimate way of living). These are inherited from practices that are sequential in nature!
First of all, ‘Wu Yi’ emphases skill, a technical skill and capability which can be achieved through hard and repeated practice of applications! ‘Wu Gong’ is more representative of the expression of the intrinsic temperament and self-cultivation of practitioners through technique with a powerful touch of artistic charm! ‘Wushu-ology’ represents the rich culture of the Chinese nation; it is the eternal cornerstone of all art and is a carrier! ‘Martial arts chivalrous men’ represents a general practitioner’s feelings, supports the weak, is generous, and embodies justice! ‘Wu De’ marks one’s inner cultivation, meaning that the gentleman knows what to do and what not to do, knows to make one’s choice, and understands when to advance or retreat. This is also a display of wisdom. ‘Wu Dao’ is the highest state of the whole inheritance of practice. It is the understanding of the relationships between humans, between humankind and nature, and between humankind and the world. This is the realm of “harmony between humankind and nature” advocated by the Orient.
Thus, what kind of realm the practitioners can reach is a matter of their own efforts and personal creation.