Moving with Intention

For anyone who has done a sport with any level of partner assisted drilling or contact, the sensation of someone moving without control will be at some level familiar. Grappling is no different; it becomes very easy to identify the difference between someone who is moving without control or without thought and someone who is moving with intention. 

I’d like to explore this topic in a bit more depth, discussing learning to move with intention, why intention is so important and the place of intentional movement in our broader lives. 

20170414_105307.jpgFirstly, I’d like to explain the difference between intentional and unintentional movement. For the case of this article, I will not refer to involuntary movement, but rather movements we do have control over. 

Intentional movement can most simply be described as movement with a set objective in mind. A person with good coordination, practice, repetition and a sound awareness of their body & what they are hoping to achieve will be able to move with intention. We see this from skilled athletes who have conditioned their body to respond effectively to the messages that the brain sends to it. We also see this with artists who have developed efficient and smooth brush strokes or hand movements to create the desired effect. When we reach across the desk for a pen, or bend down to pick something up, this is intentional movement. When we move with coordination to complete a specific task, this is intentional movement. 

Unintentional movement can be described as movement without a specific objective in mind. A person who unwittingly adds superfluous movement or moves without purely out of the need to move will be moving without intention.

Why intention is so important.

From any sporting, creative or martial arts perspective, intention in movement is crucial. I think the key to its overall importance is efficiency. The key to being efficient lies in the ability to strip movement from anything that makes it inefficient. The more efficient we can be in our movements, the more energy we save. We can only reach a high level of efficiency in our movement if we move with a clear intention in our minds.

I see this a lot in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu whilst observing beginners. As beginners, especially in such a technical martial art, we are not versed in the execution of movements required to achieve control or to submit our opponents. The beginner does not yet now how to move with intention; often resulting in them becoming exhausted because they are unable to move efficiently yet. I think this is often why the beginner is labelled as “spazzy” or moves in crazy, unpredictable ways.

A person who is not versed in a discipline that requires such a high level of bodily awareness will take a long time to learn how to move with intention. It is very clear to see and to feel if someone is capable of moving with intention, they are capable of moving fluidly and efficiently and likely has a very clear understanding of how their body moves and what it is capable of. This in itself is a very challenging thing to pursue, but its importance is of the highest value, especially as any physical pursuit becomes more physically demanding.

Learning to Move with Intention.

Learning to move with intention is important for anyone looking to gain mastery over their body, or even just to become better at one’s own athletic pursuit.

A lot of recent studies have suggested the significant extent to which our brains’ are able to develop better coordination and perfect complex patterns of movement. The saying, “practice makes perfect” could not be more appropriate here. Through practice, repetition and dedication, we can teach our bodies how to move with intention.

Even in the relatively short amount of time I have been training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for, I have seen people with very little coordination turn into well coordinated, efficiently moving martial artists through practice and conscious effort to improve.

Applying Intentional Movement in our broader lives.

Once again, if you know the way broadly you can see it in all things. The idea to be taken away here is that intentional movement can benefit our broader lives. In the same way we can learn how to move more efficiently, we can learn how to do other things efficiently too.

The first way that this ever translated for me was around my job. When I first began working as a high school teacher, I would exert so much energy every day trying to teach, plan, mark and do my job that I would be so drained that I was physically ill by the end of every week. This happened because I had not yet learned how to be efficient. As I learned more about where my energy was required & what demanded my attention, I began to work with more focused intention and I was able to save more & more of my energy. This only came through repetition and practice. I feel that now, after five years, I have it down to the point where I can leave at the end of the day and be fully energized for my own training and learning.

Starting out with anything new can be a challenge, it’s often not made any easier when we are teaching our body to move in ways it never has before. Even simply learning the objective of the movement itself can be difficult, but unpacking this and pursuing efficient movement holds reward for anyone with the dedication to pursue it.

Thanks for reading.



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