Confused About Unification?
by Joey Nishad
Just recently while conversing with a group of martial artists on Facebook, I began to think about my current understanding of “unification”. More specifically, realizing how much I have taken this understanding for granted. Of course my understanding is not my own handiwork, but a result of guidance from my skilled and generous teachers, over the years. I can’t take credit for it, other than for any misunderstanding, which is of course no doubt, very much exclusively my handiwork. I’m good at it!
Now in my experience, the concept of “unification” is a fundamental concept in the internal arts. We hear phrases like “unified/whole body power” and “move unified” in these practices all the time. But it seems there is also, so much disagreement and confusion about what the term “unification” really means! So let me share my current understanding, based on the worldview of multiple traditions I’ve been fortunate enough to have been exposed to. Of course other traditions may describe “unification” differently, to suit their framework/approach. No harm in that! Words are not our masters after all.
So “unification” as I understand it, can be described with the following little metaphor.
Imagine each of the various individual components of our minds and our bodies, relevant to these arts, is being represented by a person. Then of course, any of us practicing these arts, will be represented collectively by the group of such persons. So what could “unification” mean in this context?
If some members of this group are not helping to the best of their ability towards achieving a common goal (take a movement for example) or worse, doing their own thing (which could even be counter productive towards achieving that common goal), it is clearly not “unification”. So for example, a body builder, isolating the bicep muscle when doing a particular resistance training exercise, in order to stimulate the bicep muscle to the maximum possible extent, is clearly not engaging in a “unified movement exercise”.
But in my understanding, if the whole group is moving in the same direction, roughly at the same speed, as a unit, it is also not “unification”. This would be what one of my teachers likes to call “moving like a block of wood”. Hurling ourselves at somebody would be somewhat of an extreme example of this.
So then what is “unification”? To explain it, as I understand it, we need to give our group of people a common goal that is sufficiently representative of these practices. Then let’s say our common goal has two sub objectives. First sub objective is to collectively carry a large object, without letting it drop. Second is, the group has to navigate challenging terrain (carrying this large object collectively), to the destination.
Now I hope it is obvious how this is not going to work if everyone was doing their own thing, without being concerned about the common goal (like stopping to see the scenery, blocking everyone else). Also the second case of moving in the same direction, roughly at the same speed, while trying to carry this large object through rough terrain isn’t going to work either.
Okay then, what could possibly work? How about everyone working together, each person having an idea of what everyone else is doing and as such, choosing to do the right thing to help the whole group move towards the destination (while carrying the large object of course)? That could work right? Everyone harmonizing under the common goal, is obviously what is going to work most efficiently, no? This would mean some people in the group will have to bare more weight that others at times. Some people would need to move faster or slower than others at times. Some people may even have to move in different directions at times. But overall, the group will work together, each doing their part in carrying the large object to the destination, navigating the rough terrain. This my friends is “unification” in these arts, to my (current) understanding. Carrying the large object is analogous in this metaphor to the conditions we strive to maintain in a given practice, like the “central equilibrium” in Taichichuan. Navigating the rough terrain is analogous to creating a movement against someone trying to stop you from making that movement (and of course gravity can be this someone too, or viscosity of water, if you happen to be submerged in water!).