The position of refinement of consciousness in the theory and practice of martial arts is utterly critical. It pervades the fundamentals of training in martial arts as well as the most advanced contents of their highest level. This is the technical and theoretical core and quintessence of martial arts.
To abandon this is tantamount to throwing away the living soul and fundamental work of the techniques and theories of martial arts, leaving only low level “external exercises” with their peculiarities of outward form…
Consciousness as we use it here does not mean consciousness in the ordinary sense, abstract logical thought, or abstract ideation; neither is it formal thinking in the ordinary sense…it is always a result of combined refinement of body and mind.
from Mind Over Matter: Higher Martial Arts by Shi Ming
Master Shi Ming, from Bill Moyers’ Healing and the Mind
Shi Ming’s demonstration, and similar performances by other Taiji masters always draw criticism from the incredulous.
The most common objection is at the appearance of cooperation between teacher and student: the disciples appear to be throwing themselves. In many cases, that is exactly what they are doing. This fact alone does not, however, prove that the master is a fake.
Cooperation is the most efficient way to accomplish any goal, and high-level martial arts are (among other things) a study of cooperation. It is not the polite reciprocity that you normally associate with the term; martial cooperation is involuntary.
Isn’t involuntary cooperation an oxymoron? In an imaginary world of completely rational actors, maybe; but in the real world, attackers are consistently incoherent. On the physical level, their bones, tendons and muscles frustrate each other; intellectually, they are dissonant and indecisive.
Involuntary cooperation exploits this confusion, by simultaneously granting the would-be attacker their immediate request, and denying them what they actually want. Without this force multiplier, truly effective Aikido or Taiji would be impossible.
Although the strategy of involuntary cooperation is often mediated by physical contact, it is controlled by the force of will (yi). If we have any hope of understanding no-touch throws and other demonstrations of “empty force”, we must first appreciate the difference between willpower and meat.