Nim Tao Wing Chun

Conscious VS Subconscious

By Maksem Manler

To an outsider, it may seem that Chu Shong Tin Wing Chun has less to do with self defense and fighting, and more to do with bodily processes. That is because the process of learning how to generate force without using muscles has more to do with the mind and less to do with the body. It is intent-centric. And also, a lot less painful than fighting.

So, in alignment with the explorative sentiment of CST Wing Chun, I want to discuss a fairly intangible topic - conscious mind vs subconscious mind. What do we mean when we say conscious? Conscious implies voluntary control of your bodily processes. For example, the voluntary contraction of muscles. This would be an example of what we mean when we say conscious.

Subconscious means involuntary. For example, a reflex arc. What is a reflex arc you ask? When you touch a hot stove that you didn't realize was going to be hot, you pull your hand away suddenly without thinking, before your hand starts burning. A reflex arc like this bypasses the brain and is initiated by the spinal cord. The signal goes from the hand to the spine and back before it reaches the brain. Why? Because sometimes you need to act before you can think. These kind of instinctual responses would be deemed subconscious, involuntary - meaning they are below conscious awareness and control. They are automatic.

So, this means that the question of how to relax may not be as important as what to relax. The obvious answer to the question "what should I relax?" would be "relax everything". Which is fine to say to a student but it will not help much for the simple reason that the mind needs something to focus on - and everything is not specific enough. Just what is meant by everything? The word 'everything' does not have a specific target. What does everything look like? It is a generic answer you give when you don't really know what to say.

Another problem with "relax everything" is that the definition of everything is limited to what the student is consciously aware of. To recognize what lies beyond your current conscious awareness and perception requires experience which is not accessible until you experience it. Hence, you run into a catch 22. To relax what you can feel is fairly simple. To relax what you can not feel is not so easy. Why? Well, because you can't feel what you can't feel.

Which brings up the question, must you be able to feel your body in order to relax it? Short answer is not really. When we go back to Nim Tao and look at its function - the coding of intention and planning of movement - we can see that we don't need to worry about the details, just the idea is enough for the body to work out the details.

With experience, you begin noticing that you can feel more of your body as you become more relaxed. If at first you can't feel your body, you just take a leap of faith and simply see relaxation occurring in your mind. The body will respond to what your mind sees. The ability to feel your body with greater detail and precision comes after the fact. Feeling is a direct result of relaxing, but is not necessary for relaxation to occur. Intent is necessary. Nothing happens in Wing Chun without the leadership of the mind.

Nim Tao is like the conductor of an orchestra. The conductor conducts the entire orchestra, he doesn't play the individual instruments, he just guides the entire orchestra. The players work out the details, but the conductor sees, better yet hears the bigger picture. Your Nim Tao is just like this - big picture oriented.

Your Nim Tao does not need to feel specifically what it is trying to relax, just the idea to relax the subconscious tension is enough to initiate the process of relaxing the subconscious.

This brings up the idea that tension in your body lowers nerve conductivity. If you have ever woken up with a numb arm, you will remember the feeling coming back as the nerve and blood flow returned to the arm. When a muscle stays in a contracted state for a long time, it cuts off the nerve flow and blood supply to the area, resulting in loss of sensitivity to the area. This is why at first, beginners can't feel their bodies with much detail. They are so tense they are cutting off the nerve impulses to major areas of their body.

When an area is numb, it is out of awareness. In other words, the nerve supply is greatly reduced. This reduction means that the bodily area is subconscious. It has been removed from conscious awareness and is no longer accessible directly. It will take a leap of faith on behalf of the student to intend to relax what he can't feel and trust that eventually the body will work out how to relax this subconscious tension.

Subconscious power is actually quite profound. Your heart beats without you trying, your brain organizes information by itself - the body does so many things without your help that you can't help but wonder what the nature of this automatic life force is. When we say subconscious, all this is implied by it. Wing Chun satisfies the soul as it encourages you to take a deep dive into your own true nature.

Subconscious has all the secrets buried deep within like a hidden treasure chest. It knows everything you need to know - experientially. But tapping into it requires conscious intent and trust.

Without conscious control of the subconscious mind, one can not control energy flow in the body. There are many charlatans that profess to do magical things with Qi and energy, yet when probed about the mechanisms behind such phenomena they tend to draw a blank.

In my own experience, and this is only my experience, maybe others have it as well - Qi is simply uncovered in your body. It is always there but not normally felt. It can be felt flowing if you become relaxed enough to notice it. When you can feel it, the ability to control it occurs, in terms of direction and intensity. Just like Sigung said - "to control your body, you have to be able to feel it".

It seems to me that the key to these kinds of abilities lies in the subconscious mind and the progressive relaxation of the subconscious tension. It is not a matter of adding anything - it is a matter of subtracting tension in order to reveal to your awareness the natural flows of fluids, impulses and weight that were always there in your body but you never noticed.

By Maksem Manler