The Configurations of Force (shi) in Chinese Cultural Tradition (focusing on martial arts)

Publication type Article
Status Published
Occupation: Research Professor
Affiliation: National University Higher School of Economics
Address: 17, M. Ordynka st., Moscow, 109028, Russian Federation
Journal nameProblemy Dalnego Vostoka
EditionIssue 4

This article, based primary on previously unexplored texts of the XVI-XVIIIth centuries, deals with one of the most important and original concepts of Chinese culture and martial arts in particular: the notion of the “configuration of force” shi (势). This term has no close synonyms in European languages and is translated quite differently in Western literature: “configurational dynamics”, “potential of the situation”, “strategic advantage”, “propensity of things”, etc. The author points out that shi had both an objective and subjective, spiritual and material dimensions and served the main goal of human activity in Chinese tradition: “completing the work of Heaven” and achieving “harmonious unity of Heaven and man”. The force generated in its normative configurations was related to the transformations of the organism’ s psychosomatic substance called qi. Accordingly, the practice of “nourishing” (养) or “sublimating” (炼) this life energy was the necessary condition of acquiring force in its various configurations. This force is usually defined as “internal” or “spiritual”. The appropriation of the changes’ efficiency required the strengthening of spiritualized sensitivity, the capacity to grasp the smallest impulses of transformations and, consequently, to anticipate the course of events. In fact, this kind of efficient knowledge is related to the existential meaning of the living body as the act of self-concealment, the persistent absence. The impossibility to objectify the configurations of force resulted in their dissolution into subjective will and external forms. In modern China the normative routines of shi have actually become part of physical culture and choreography. Their legacy has been preserved within small and closed schools of traditional type.

KeywordsСonfiguration of force, impulse of change, spiritual enlightenment, internal force, typeing of experience
Publication date01.09.2022
Number of characters45821
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