Reading Intent

Reading Intent

The ethos of Gun Fu is to attack only as a last resort. The authority of Gun Fu is in defense. Until there is an attacker, the art of Gun-Fu does not manifest. This attitude is not uncommon in the world of the martial arts. Funakoshi emphasized, "There is no first move in karate."

There is a Tai Chi adage "If an opponent doesn't move, you don't move. If the opponent moves, you move first."

These diverse schools of thought recognize that within the metrics of an attack, openings unfold once the attack is committed, and work to the advantage of the defender. In the old days, Master Archibeque would spend entire classes demonstrating how, once the attacker commits to enter, openings begin to materialize for the defender. Aikido Master Morihei Ueshiba is reported to have moved like a spirit-being when neutralizing an attack. Stories abound, and even today video of his movement can be found on the Internet driving home the point that one who understands this most basic dynamic, and is able to respond effectively, appears almost transcendent.

Alas, skills like these do not come without their price. Like Ueshiba, those who have them have developed them over a lifetime of commitment to discipline, humility, nonviolence, compassion, and awareness. In case you haven't noticed, these traits are on a downward spiral. Nowadays, when a teacher enters a class and emphasizes the attributes of discipline, humility, nonviolence, compassion and awareness, the students receptiveness to their significance is along the lines of "Yeah teach, we hear you, go ahead and pick one, we'll give it our best"

The objective is to read intent. Reading intent is the holy Grail of skills in the martial path. Understand, anybody can sense intent at some primal level. To master the skill, you must be a complete human being. The road to actualizing your essential nature is through discipline, humility, nonviolence, compassion and awareness. Generally, that achievement takes decades. Once you are there, with proper guidance you might develop and perfect the skill of "reading intent ."

While within the context of this article, we can't get you to the end destination, we can certainly give you a sense of what it means to recognize, develop and nurture "intent awareness". The drill we're going to share with you is inspired by exercises common to Tai Chi, where proficiency in push hand drills requires mastery in sensing intent.

To keep things basic, we're going to isolate and categorize two particular types of energy.

Respecting the tradition of Tai Chi Chuan, we will borrow their terminology in defining these energies for our purposes. They are:

"An" -- we'll think of this generally as the energy of pushing. For example, take a solid stance, face a wall, put your hands against the wall, and push. In tai chi, this is sometimes visualized as a downward energy. Here, we'll just think of it as the energy of pushing. It is important for the arms and body to move as a single unit, and we should think of pushing along those lines. This is a much bigger concept than the pushing you do when pushing something like a car (biochemical or muscular energy). To develop "An" to its full potential, you should presuppose all the molecules in your body are turning in the same direction, at the same time, unleashing their energy like a whip toward the target. Nothing interferes with your intent!

"Peng" -- this is the energy of repulsion. Peng bounces incoming energy back in the direction from which it came. It denotes strength, power, literally boundless energy, like an inflated ball (if you want to feel it first hand, take an inflated basketball, put it down on the sidewalk, bend over and punch it, just as if you were breaking a board, or a brick). In the human form, it is expansive, like a balloon, and starts at the ground, works through the waist, and releases through the arm(s) back to the opponent. A master of Peng can send an attacker airborne with what appears to be little more than a touch. Of course, looks can be deceiving. A touch from a feather doesn't look all that much different than the touch of a sledge hammer. . . but of course, it is. The touch of a sledge hammer can crack a skull. It's still a touch mind you!

Drill #1 (Slow Load)

To save time, we're going to introduce you to An and Peng by having you view the first drill. As in many exercises, you have a conceptual attacker, and a conceptual defender. In fact, the partners are working as friends, each trying to help the other perfect his/her skill. Always keep in mind, this is cooperative, not competitive. The attacker initiates action, the defender responds. The attacker enters with An, the defender responds with Peng. The object in the drill is for the defender to respond with Peng as soon as he or she senses the incoming An. At this basic level, the attacker introduces An with a slow gradual increase in load. The defender responds accordingly. Here, sensing intent is easy, and you develop a base of confidence, and awareness of what to be looking for when you proceed to the next exercises.

Reacting to Slow & Heavy Load

Slow and Heavy Load


The object of this exercise, over time, is to develop within the defender, the ability to read the attacker's intent, merely by touch. While Drill #1 is quite basic, it is the necessary starting point for developing this important ability. The objective over time is for the defender to neutralize the attacker even as the attacker pushes quickly, with force and conviction. More specifically, at its evolved level, the defender responds with an effective Peng, before the An is fully actualized. In effect, Peng supersedes the An and becomes the dominant energy, literally propelling the attacker backward in the instant before An is launched. That's reading intent!

Here also, An is executed with increasing load (eventually increasing the load to the maximum tolerable) In other words, the attacker pushes slow, as in the previous drill, but really tries to push the defender back and over. The Peng is executed assertively. By necessity, the defender incorporates an awareness of deeper rooting into the response. You may be familiar with the Kua. That is the inguinal crease between your lower body and the upper part of your legs. Opening this crease, generally by floating the hips outward, greatly facilitates your rooting and actually allows you to drain the attacker's energy to the ground , or, in the alternative to bounce the attacker's energy on the ground, then attach it to your own while returning the entire packet to the attacker.

Drill #2 (Impulse)

In Drill #2, An is short, condensed, like an impulse. Peng is explosive, committed, sudden, full and rooted. Here, the window of opportunity to detect the intent is compressed into a much smaller parcel of time and energy. To succeed in this drill, the defender must perfect the art of listening . Listening is an art unto itself, and goes far beyond the skill of direct auditory perception (i.e. hearing sounds). It requires you clean your mind of all distractions and listen with your entire being, much as an empty mirror  listens to the surrounding reality by capturing all there is to be had. Remember, when practicing impulse, the attacker and defender must assist each other. This requires commitment to mutual development. The attacker isn t working to humiliate or frustrate the partner s responses. If the defender is struggling, the attacker should modify impulse to allow more opportunity to read. Keep in mind, this is a skill which takes time to develop. Creating a base of frustration imposes an obstacle to developing the art of listening.

Reacting to Impulse

Reacting to Impulse


Drill #3 (Impulse with Load)

This is the culminating point of your practice. Drill #3, combines the aspects of impulse and power in the attack. The defender consolidates the instincts nurtured in earlier drills and applies them in a significantly more challenging dynamic. Ultimately, perfecting this drill will become your focus, as it will bridge your newly acquired skills and heightened instincts, into your instinctive repartee.

Impulse with Load

Impulse with Load


Practice Properly

Now that you have the layout of the drills, let's address how best to practice. We recommend executing 10 repetitions Max to avoid degradation of technique. Your partner "Ans" or pushes 10 times, with you responding, then...reverse roles. On completing the cycle, take a brief pause, perhaps 30-60 seconds, then proceed to the next drill. Take another pause, then go to the third. An alternative approach is for one person to be the designated attacker, proceed to exercise one, pause, exercise two, pause, and exercise three, then switch.

We find both ways work fine, choose how you will. Don't forget to work the opposite side. Remember when one side tires, switch to the other, before the technique degenerates. Always practice when your focus is highest. Stop a cycle if or when the technique begins to degrade. Always remember your habits develop most around patterns created in the closing repetitions of a drill. Don't do so many repetitions that you get lax or sloppy. Bear in mind, you're programing your computer here. Quality in ultimately produces quality out.

By way of quick summary, this exercise will develop two primary skills:


1. Reading intent from physical contact; and


2. Responding to an attack in the moment between the attacker's intent and his/her intended execution.

On a broader level, this first glimpse into the ability to read intent will ultimately bridge into all your strategic movements. In time, you'll understand that within all of us, before there exists an action, there is a thought. It's when that thought attaches to your intent, that Chi emerges within you to advance the complex of biomechanical responses and transmissions which ultimately manifest as an attack. It s that commitment to intent, which binds the attacker into a conceptual spot where they are momentarily exposed to the defender's consciousnes, and from where the defender can mount a confident response. This is a talent entirely different than countering your partner s attack. A better description would be you are pre-countering or pre-empting the attack.

"If an opponent doesn't move, you don't move. If the opponent moves, you move first."

The opponent's first thought of movement becomes your command to "go!"

Once you have digested the physicality of these drills, and made the mental adjustment to properly be on the lookout for intent, you can further research these and like concepts by following up with Push Hands training, or even experimenting with these concepts in your own tactical sparring.

A final exercise, mentioned only for purposes of experimentation, is when the person executing "An" begins to compress the push into such a small sliver of time, that it appears only as it happens.

Concealing Intent

Concealing Intent


This is a high art, and requires ultimate relaxation, converting into a nearly unforeseeable authoratitative impulse. To succeed in neutralizing an attack at that level, you mind must be like an empty mirror.

Where all is void, where can the dust alight?

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