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Often when I read something on forums or in discussion groups, I think a long time before answering on a topic. Of course If I answer on it… Sometimes my answer becomes all too long because I think about it too much. Sometimes I still publish the answer on a board or in a group, but sometimes when I write I choose to cancel the reply and go to my blog instead and write about it there. Or I mean here. Recently I saw a discussion about the Tai Chi Expression 用意不用力 or “Use Yi, don’t use Li.” Or “use Yi instead of Li.” I wrote about Yi in a more general sense earlier in this blog. But I think that the topic is worth to address again because the expression above is very much a Tai Chi specific expression. As I wrote earlier, using Yi in Tai Chi is more a kind of anti-yi, or Yi used in a negative manner to force the mind to focus on something else than using Li.

“Li” means common muscular force, and “Yi” means mind, intent or idea. In Tai Chi, Yi is not a way to “think”, and it’s not a way to focus strongly on something. If you focus too much or use a strong intentional idea, the mind becomes tense and your body as well. Yi is something else. Now, what is important to realize about the opposite concept of Li, which is something you don’t want, or something you want to get rid of, is that using clumsy force or Li is not about thinking, it’s doing. From a Tai CHi POV, Li is a clumsy, forced way to do something, but at the same time it’s something direct, something you do without thinking. Yes, using Li is a way to actually “do”. This might seem very obvious, but think about how people consider yi, they consider it to be a way to think or having a strong idea. But thinking or using any kind of thought as “wanting something” before actually doing something is too slow. We are talking about Tai Chi as a martial art here. If you think before punching, you are the one that will be getting punched. So Yi, just like using force, must also be something direct without thinking. Yi is also a way to do something. It’s not thinking, it’s not a stage before doing. That is too slow. Instead, “using yi” is a way to DO something. It’s to do something similar to how using force is about doing something.

So how about actually using Yi? Well, when you see an opponent offering an opening to strike, then your fist should just be there instantaneously without thinking. When you get rid of Li, your fist can land on your opponent without thinking. Now it can just land there on the target as a spontaneous reaction. This is your Yi that “do” the attack for you. The idea doesn’t come first, but instead the idea/intent and the action are one. There is no gap between them. The “idea” of watching an opening and attack it, is much faster then thinking and coming to a conclusion. It’s something direct and instantaneous. And there, just as this instantaneous idea pops up in your mind, your fist reach out and hits your target without thinking. This is “using yi”. This is the meaning of “Yi leads the Qi. The Qi leads the movement.” It’s not something similar a chain reaction or the movement of a whip. It’s rather similar to particle teleportation, where one end reacts together with the other end regardless the space between them. There is a direct connection. The instant thought or idea and the physical reaction moves together. They are both part of the same reaction.

But the expression “Yong Yi, Bu Yong Li” or “Use Yi and not force”, is not only an advice to not use clumsy force, it also express the method, or rather a collection of methods, that Tai Chi teachers use to teach their students to not use Li in order to learn how use Yi. There are methods on how to think and on how to move your eyes when you do something to use your mind to force your body to not use strength.  “Use Yi instead of Li” is a re-learning process. But when you have fully understood to “not use Li”, the concept of “use Yi” will lose it’s meaning. When you have got rid of Li, then “using yi” just becomes a matter of doing. Or like Hao Weizhen expressed it: ”If you are able to use intention to attack the opponent, then after long experience, even intention does not need to be applied, for the body standards will always be conformed to.“

The more clear and relaxed your mind is and the less you interfere with intentional thoughts, the better your Yi will work just by itself. The aim on developing a certain mind-set should, in my personal experience, rather be on emptiness and not on Yi. So “Use Yi” is just a stage, a transitional stage between using Li and another way of doing. Or rather, what you develop with this practice of “use Yi instead of Li“, is a way of “being” where the way to do becomes something perfectly natural and unrehearsed.