The Spectrum of Changeability

The highest level of “blending” is to be internally changeable (small, subtle movements that evade an attacker’s force and extend your own into his emptiness.) When mastered, your actions will be so deft that your results will seem like magic. To the extent which you are limited in your ability to change internally, you will need to move more grossly, making larger, more obvious motions through space. In other words, you will have to change externally. This will cause you to waste energy, take longer to complete actions, and require you to be more dynamic. As your skill increases, your changes will occur more within the space you currently occupy and require less displacement of your posture and position, making you more efficient and effective. I call this the spectrum of changeability.

It’s common when first learning to use a blending strategy, to focus on evading an attacker’s motion and yielding to his force. While this is an essential aspect of blending, it is not enough to execute the strategy effectively. Essentially, you’re just running away. To “blend” properly you must partially displace yourself from the path of your attacker’s motion and force, and partially displace the attack itself (or the attacker.) In other words, you’re not only changing yourself, your changing the whole event of convergence.

This would be like playing a chess game and getting to move your opponent’s pieces so that your own could take position uncontested. This is how your responses will begin to move closer to the internal end of the spectrum of changeability. The more immediate and intense your affect on your attacker, the less motion required to evade and yield to his motion and force, because you will have taken over his movement and robbed him of his power. That’s how those little old Chinese guys toss around younger, stronger men with hardly any movement or effort.

In pursuit of this skill, it’s important to understand that there are no specific techniques involved in a blending approach to combat. The entire concept of changeability is opposed to having a plan. This strategy, and the achievement of its highest level, requires a cultivated sensitivity and attentiveness so that you can become aware of your attacker’s intentions and begin to respond appropriately before his motion has developed into a full-fledged attack. You must also remain mentally flexible so that you can instantaneously respond to changes. If you have a technique, or set of techniques in mind to execute, it’s like trying to find the right hole to fit your round peg into. The problem is that there are nearly an infinite number of holes and many of the shapes look almost round, but aren’t quite. You can either wait for the right hole to come along, or try to force your round peg into a less than round hole (an approach that requires excessive force and energy.) A blending strategy, on the other hand, employs sensitivity and a set of guiding principles to create on-the-spot responses to any attack. It would be like having a peg that assumed whatever shape was necessary.

Perhaps the most important aspect to consider in the spectrum of changeability is the concept of the substantial and the insubstantial. This has to do with what you feel when you are in contact with an attacker or training partner, and what they feel from you. Substantial means that when you press, you feel strength resisting you. This strength may come from the other person using force to push back, or it may come from their structure being in good alignment to transfer your force to the ground. In either case, that is not where you want to concentrate your force. According to yin-yang theory, if your attacker or training partner is substantial in one area of his body, he must be insubstantial in another area, often on the opposite side. Insubstantial means that when you press into your partner, you feel little or no resistance and can move him easily. This weakness, or emptiness, may be due to the fact that he is moving, or concentrating his force in a direction that moves away from the area of his body you’re pressing into. It may also be that his posture is structurally weak in connection to that area. In either case, that is where you want to concentrate your force.

While we look for negative substantiality and insubstantiality in our attacker in the forms of excessive force and structural weakness respectively, we look for positive substantiality and insubstantiality in ourselves. This means that when our attacker or training partner applies force to us we yield to it,creating an insubstantial surface – or emptiness – for his force to fall into. When we apply our own force we seek to connect the entire kinetic chain of our bodies from our contact point with the other person, to our contact point with the ground, without any loss of power due to blockage or leak in our alignment. This makes us as substantial as the solid ground beneath us, and allows us transfer all of our force into the other person’s weakest point.

Our ability to accurately sense the substantial and insubstantial in another person is the deciding factor in our ability to blend with his motion and force. This may be more relevant when in contact with an attacker or training partner, but the same principles are applicable to spacial relationship in the form of positive and negative space. Anyone who’s taken a drawing class will be familiar with this concept. Positive space is the space that your attacker’s body occupies. Negative space is the empty space surrounding his body that defines its shape in your visual field. By moving into an attacker’s negative space, you avoid his attacking motion, and with a little skill, move into an advantageous position. With training, you will be able to read your attacker’s intentions before his attack develops, and begin to move where his negative space will be upon completing his attack. This will allow you to invade his space in a way that does not collide with his force, but adds your force to his and puts you in the driver’s seat. Then you can send him flying, crashing to the ground, or tie him into a pretzel (or whatever seems most appropriate.)

The spectrum of changeability provides a way for you to measure your level of skill at blending. It also provides a goal to your training. Evaluate yourself based upon your internal development (structure, softness, coordination, and mind-intent) and your level of sensitivity and responsiveness. Constantly seek to blend seamlessly with subtler movements and less effort. Keep the spectrum in mind as you train and continue to strive for the highest level. It may seem like a horizon forever beyond your reach, but what else is so worth reaching for?