For the purposes of this discussion, I’ve described the particular way that I use some key terms. Violence is sudden change. Combat is a violent relationship (an interaction that involves a series of sudden changes). Combative skill is the ability to adapt to a series of sudden changes while maintaining inner harmony (remaining mentally and physically balanced and whole). In short, our aim is to be changeable.
Although combative relationship is only one aspect of human interaction, it provides a setting for some of the most dynamic changes in relating to others there can be, and therefore, can illuminate many other aspects of human interaction in its lessons. In such a way, the study of this martial art can lead to insights into all of our relationships: those we share with others and our environment, and our internal relationship to ourselves. Also, though our focus is combative, in our case, this does not mean “fighting.” We do not oppose our attacker. Rather, we seek harmony amidst the violent changes of combat. Our attitude and approach therefore, is to blend ourselves with spacial and energetic changes, to cultivate the forces of influence in our relation to others, and effortlessly diffuse aggressive energy into emptiness.
To begin to understand a method to do this, we must examine the two main aspects of combative relationship: spacial relationship and energetic relationship. Our goal is to find harmony within these relationships.
Spacial harmony with an attacker, or multiple attackers, requires an element of evasiveness. An attacker seeks to hit or grab YOU. His aggressive intent is focused on YOU. Therefore, your evasive skill must be good to make him miss. This requires a developed sense of distance, an understanding of lines and angles, mobility, and above all, timing.
While total avoidance of a combat situation is the first and best course to take, the study of martial arts presupposes a failure to avoid such a situation and a subsequent need to deal with one or more attackers. Along the same lines, merely evading attacks is not enough, because your attacker remains unaffected and able to continue his assault. Over a long enough period of time the law of averages says he will eventually succeed. Therefore, while to achieve spacial harmony we must evade, we cannot simply increase the stance. We must get close enough to subdue our attacker and neutralize his capacity to continue attacking us.
I call this the evasive-invasive strategy. We avoid our assailant’s attacking motion and move into his empty space. For example: say an attacker is throwing a strong, straight punch with his rear hand toward your face. You could take a slight step forward and to the outside of his punching arm, while at the same time ducking your head down and to the same side as you stepped. Not only does this avoid the punch, but it also affords you an opportunity to affect him. You’ve evaded his attack, and invaded his space.
Once you’ve moved into an attacker’s space, spacial harmony gives way to energetic harmony.
The essence of energetic harmony is blending your force and motion with your attacker’s force and motion. This means not confronting his force and not contradicting his motion. To do this, you must have a developed sensitivity to the direction and intensity of your attacker’s motion, the level of integrity in his body structure, the state of his balance, and the ability to instantly adjust to changes in those things. In turn, it requires that you yourself have balance, structural integrity, and control over the direction and intensity of your motion. In a word, you must be centered.
When centered, and in spacial harmony with your attacker, upon contact you will begin to move into the emptiness left in the wake of his motion. You add your force to his and steer it all into the structurally weak places in his body. This will crumble his structure, uncenter his balance, and in that moment, put you in control of his motion. Then, depending on the particular nature of his attack and your relative positions upon contact, you will either drive him to the ground, send him flying off, or possibly break his joints.
An important thing to realize here is that none of those effects are planned in their specific details. We do not aim to do any of those things to a person as our goal. They are results of harmonious interaction with an attacker. Interaction with someone of less aggressive intent will not lead to such violent ends. It is their own aggression turned back on them that leads to injury.
Understanding what has been discussed above, you may begin to realize that there is no need for specific techniques. There are no pre-planned responses. There is only a method of interaction based upon your internal harmony and your harmonious relationship with your attacker.
Of course, one must train diligently to accomplish this state of harmonious relationships and the resulting experience of effortless interaction (wu wei). Our training includes two mutually traveled paths that must merge together as the student develops: internal, or personal harmony development, and external, or relational harmony development. Internal harmony is developed and refined through practices including zhan zhuang (standing post), cansigong (silk-reeling work), yoga, and meditation. External harmony is developed and refined through mook jong practice, skill drills, and tui shou (pushing hands).
Zhan Zhuang is a practice that involves holding a neutral standing posture and using breath, relaxation and internally focused attention to seal the structural leaks in your alignment and remove blockages in your energy pathways (fascia-muscular-skeletal). In addition you learn to infuse your body with intent, a mental-physical energy potential for motion in any direction. It is also a form of meditation focused on letting go of mental tension, accepting your present reality, and centering body and mind. This state is often referred to as wuji, meaning “no extremes,” or “non-polar.”
Cansigong (pronounced chan shu gung) means “silk-reeling work,” and it refers to the coordinated motion of the whole body, guided by the mind’s intent. The idea of silk-reeling refers to the perfect balance one must have between strength and gentleness to thread silk without damaging it. This is the quality we want when transferring energy through the body – like threading silk through the bones and joints. The overall feeling in the body should be a sense of evenness in motion and equality of involvement of every single part of the body to generate that motion. Silk-reeling is typified by spiraling motions of the limbs and torso.
Yoga, or yoga-like disciplines, will stretch and strengthen the body to eliminate chronic imbalances and restore balanced function to the muscles and joints. Without such a practice, imbalances in the body may lead to a limited ability to perform skills (such as cansijin – silk-reeling power) and hamper progress toward internal harmony.
Meditation equips one with the state of mind necessary to respond to changes with the instant, spontaneous, correct actions needed for harmonious interaction. Being still, relaxed, and spending time observing oneself think, feel, and be, quiets the mind, clears away mental clutter, and prepares one’s consciousness for direct and total perception of the unfolding present.
Mook jong means “wooden dummy,” but can be an appropriate apparatus of any material. The purpose of a mook jong is to simulate an attack, or attacker, and provide an object to interact with in the absence of a live training partner. Such tools are invaluable for practicing foundational aspects of spacial harmony, body-mechanics, and power generation (fajin).
Skill drills are partner exercises designed to develop the proper mechanics and timing to deal with an attacker. They may range from simple repetitive drills such as slipping a straight punch, to more complex drills involving multiple attackers who attack at random.
Tuishou means “pushing hands.” This is a duel within which two partners attempt to take control of the each other’s motion and balance. This can be played in a light manner in which the first person to take a step loses, or it can be played more openly, in which steps are allowed and one partner must subdue the other. At this level, it is like sparring, only starting from a neutral point of contact (usually crossed wrists). In either case the focus is on developing sensitivity and the skill of blending.
In all of the above training methods, harmonious interaction is the focus.