November 24, 2014

Turning Point

"Sifu, today at work a guy asked me how my martial arts awareness skills were. I told him that they were pretty good. So he swung at me. But I immediately knew that at his distance he would not be able to hit me. I didn't do anything but lean back a little. Than he told me my awareness level was very low. How should I have responded?"

Well, how did you respond?

"I just told him that I didn't try to block his attack because it was not threatening. We were at work, it would have been a very stupid thing for him to try and hit me and even more stupid for me to engage him."

In our training we learn to build a special kind of intuition. If we do not feel tension or aggression of any type, we usually do not react. If we - as in your predicament - get punched in the face, well, then, we can immediately respond with a counter punch. The next step - if there happens to be one (which there usually is) is to be ready for the next set of actions. Anyone who has been studying reflex action exercises in the martial arts for even a few months should not have much trouble in dodging an incoming attack. But if he doesn't sense that it is coming and contact is made, he has to react to it in accordance with the situation and the setting.

"So, what would you have done?"

I would have done just what you did. As martial artists, it's in our nature to be peaceful. One person will be inclined to attack another person if he feels that no unpleasant consequences will result from his attack. So we maintain a "readiness" posture. It's a kind of Semper Paratus (Always Prepared) stance. Not until it is necessary that we act, do we act. And then we must act accordingly. Just like in life, we use our common sense. When I was young I used to have people at school who wanted to test my skills all the time. They'd throw a punch or kick trying to initiate combat. I had to discipline myself not to respond. I knew the nature of the attack... it was nonsense. They weren't trying to hurt me, they were trying to show off how tough they were. I knew that if I gave them their little satisfaction it would cost me more than the little pride I was sacrificing. In a school setting, both combatants are punished. They didn't mind being punished, but I valued my education. I wasn't going to throw it away just to please some show-offs. I knew the level of my own skill and I knew their level, too. That was more than enough for me. They were just like that guy at your job - typical young, egotistical, hormone-driven individuals. As Chan-persons and martial artists it's our duty to keep our egos in check. Force has to be governed by intelligence.

Let's take this as an inward journey. It is necessary to have a place within ourselves to go for refuge. I'm not saying that we hide there. I mean that it is nice and important to keep our experiences in perspective so that we can rise above adversity whenever we can. We should ignore what we can safely ignore. If we can't ignore a problem, we can try to brush it away as we would gently kick a meaningless stone out of our way. Such petty obstacles should never hinder us.

There will come a time when we need our skills and then they will be all the more effective because we did not squander the integrity of our position by over-reacting to trifles. We must be devoted to our art, our principles. The idea of return is based on a natural course of events. It is not necessary to hasten anything artificially. Everything comes at the appointed time. The sages say that "All movements are accomplished in six stages, and the seventh brings return. Thus the winter solstice, with which the decline of the year begins, comes in the seventh month after the summer solstice." They also say that there are six stages of learning and the sixth stage is usually the darkest. This is the stage in which we have to apply good judgment to what we have learned. After this comes the seventh stage of enlightened movement.

The I Ching: Thunder within the earth. Thus the kings of antiquity closed the passes at the time of solstice. Merchant and strangers did not go about, and the ruler did not travel through the provinces.

If we restrain ourselves and wait patiently for the turning point to come, we act wisely. Fools act without justification. Their blusterings are like a man shouting down a well and arguing with his echo.

"Why do people act like this?"

To stay with my point, they desire attention, respect, and recognition for their imagined powers. Most times they don't even realize that they are acting so provocatively. They may see their error when we refuse to play their game. If they don't and persist, then they will have to learn the hard way. But it is up to us to see to it that there is no better way or better place to instruct them.

Keep in mind, as long as we make a sincere attempt to act in accordance with our principles, all will be well.