The Mind and Martial Arts Pt.2

The best defense against a surprise attack is ….. not to be surprised! Succinct and true. By remaining observant and mindful of our surroundings we will generally be alert to any potential danger, and have sufficient time to leave an area or change paths. (A wise intuitive mind knows to avoid certain situations altogether!) Once the option to leave is no longer available, and we become face-to-face with an aggressor, we can still know precisely when he is about to launch his attack. Most betray a ‘tell’ – just like poker players – offering subtle clues in body language or facial mannerisms – no matter how practiced they may be in concealing these. There are usually seconds only between initial confrontation and launch of attack, with which to judge the situation and respond accordingly, but nothing really should ever be a total surprise, and take us completely unawares. If someone should ever physically strike you, without provocation, return the favor instantaneously! Do not stop to think or process for a second. Just retaliate with all your might. (This must be hard enough to make an impact or else he will just become enraged.) By taking this initiative you not only break the attacker’s tempo, physically preventing him from a follow-up attack, but also relegate him to the defensive position, causing doubt in his mind about continuing with the intended plan.

Aggressors also experience symptoms of adrenaline dump, during confrontation, though not as extreme as the one being threatened, and in survival mode. They will do their utmost to disguise the symptoms, and distract from them. Some may smoke a cigarette, using sharp inhalations, to cover shortness of breath, increased heartbeat, and nervousness. Immediately prior to attack, some may ask their victim a completely non-contextual, nonsensical, and open-ended question. While the target is mentally distracted and confused by the question, the attack will follow swiftly, either while his mind is racing to find the answer or in mid-sentence of the answer, when least expected. We have all witnessed professional fighters bounce up and down, on the balls of their feet, in the ring, before the bell is struck. This helps manage the adrenaline rush in preparation for violent activity. Certain aggressors act the same at the onset of a street confrontation. If you should ever find yourself standing opposite someone exhibiting this primitive and unrestrained behavior, you may become transfixed, almost hypnotized, and confused by what you are witnessing. Do not be within striking range when this occurs! You must either step back, to create space in which to work around, or else step in (to restrict his space to attack and limit his options) and strike or shove hard, as a pre-emptive attack. He will have no stability while bouncing, and is primed to become a ‘push over’, quite literally. In many instances, a strong push, certainly strong enough to cause the attacker to fall to the ground, or at the very least lose balance and stumble backwards, can be enough psychologically to dissuade him from further aggression, as you show willingness to engage. But, do not become a passive ‘sitting duck’ target, as an attack on your person is imminent, unequivocally! As Chen Wangting stated in his Martial Poem, “If my opponent does not move, I do not move. If he moves, I move first”.

A good martial artist is an intelligent fighter, and a smart fighter will not always elect to stand and fight as the first option! This should always be the last resort. Sometimes, conflict can be resolved, or avoided, without blows exchanged, and situations can be dissolved with dialogue. In some cases, even running may be the best option. This opinion is shared among many competent, accomplished and respected fighters. Why? Because when a violent confrontation reaches the point of no return, in one moment a person’s life can be changed forever. The aggressor could resort to using a lethal weapon and end your life, or cause you irreparable harm. Consequently, you could inadvertently maim or kill the aggressor, and find yourself convicted in a court of law and sentenced to jail – all over a momentary error of judgment. Most street fights and bar fights are initiated over mere words exchanged, and ostensibly are battles of ego, but if there is no ego, no ‘I’, then there is no-one to be offended. So, does it really matter what anyone says?

Sun Tzu states in his classic, “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting”. In the Bruce Lee movie ‘Enter the Dragon’ we are introduced to “The Art of Fighting Without Fighting”. On the boat to Han’s martial art tournament, a burly henchman, tired of bullying the smaller weaker Chinese for sport, approaches Lee, minding his business, and looking out to sea. “What’s your style?” he asks menacingly, to which Lee replies, “My style? You can call it The Art of Fighting Without Fighting”. The henchman challenges Lee, “Show me some of it”. Lee agrees, but asks, “Don’t you think we need more room?” and suggests they take the lifeboat to the beach of the nearby island. Lee allows the thug to step down onto the lifeboat first then, remaining on deck, casually begins to let out the rope attached to the mooring. The lifeboat floats away with the thug confined and the threat eliminated by using The Art of Fighting Without Fighting! Intelligence wins. In fact, the Chinese calligraphy for martial art (or Wushu) comprises two characters. The first, Wu, comprises the characters Stop and Invader’s Lance, and the second Shu means Method or Technique. So, traditionally, Chinese martial arts were defensive methods of combat, and the idea was to develop good Stop Fighting Technique so that physical combat, violence and struggle, is limited or contained, by controlling the opponent, and ending the confrontation quickly, or better yet, averting it altogether. This is ‘high level’ skill. Martial art was created and developed for defending one’s family and protecting the oppressed and weak from violence, and defending one’s village or country from attack by invaders.

According to Sun Tzu, “All warfare is based on deception”. In his Martial Poem, Chen Wangting wrote, “Actions are varied and executed in a way that is completely unpredictable to the opponent, and I rely on twining movements and numerous hand-touching actions”. He also wrote, “Pretend to lose and run away, then suddenly change direction and you can defeat your enemy with greater odds”, and “Don’t forget attacking the left and hitting the right”. The ability to be unpredictable, to do the unexpected, and use deception, requires shrewdness, cunning, creativity, spontaneity, and the boldness to take risks. This provides psychological advantage as the opponent is surprised, and while he is trying to figure out what you may do next he is always one step behind. Sun Tzu advised, “Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance”. This allows the opponent to provide that opportunity for his own defeat. Laozi, in Dao De Jing, discusses retreating in a way as to lead the enemy on, but against no adversary, and wielding a weapon, but not clashing with the enemy’s. And, “Those skillful at overcoming an enemy never confront him directly”. Warfare expert Sun Tzu expressed the same strategy in Art of War, “So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong, and attack what is weak”. Chinese martial skills like Taijiquan and Wing Chun are regarded as intelligent martial arts as their core principles lie in seeking to avoid meeting the opponent’s force with force, and instead redirecting or “borrowing” that energy, leading him into Emptiness, and returning his energy, to use against him, attacking where he cannot resist. This approach differs vastly from skills that concentrate on using speed and strength only.

According to Laozi, “A good fighter does not lose his temper”. Allowing the emotions to rule the mind courts enough ill fortune in just everyday life, and wreaks enough havoc on physical health, but during the heat of combat, when anger arises, all sound judgment is lost, and this leads to irrational and reckless actions, the result of which can be disastrous. This is the reason why opponent’s ‘trash talk’ – casting aspersions on other’s parentage, sexuality, masculinity etc. These tactics are intended to cause upset (rage) in the mind of the opponent, and draw impulsive reactions, which will be anticipated and counter-attacked, in other words, beaten to the punch. Alternatively, the lack of respect exhibited can act upon a person’s insecurities and create feelings of self-doubt and shrink confidence, which all work to the opponent’s favor. Two of the most common errors in facing an opponent lie in our mind’s perception of the opponent. On the one hand, we can fear our opponent/ attacker, feel intimidated and insignificant, or give him far too much respect than he deserves, and be in awe of him. This may be due to a quantifiable size difference, his appearance, or his reputation. On the other hand, we may have trained very hard, possess good skill, and feel powerful and over-confident in our own abilities. No matter how good we really are, there is always someone better out there. If we are lucky we will never meet that person in conflict. So, every encounter should be treated with extreme caution, but not fear. Laozi wrote in the Dao De Jing, “No disaster is greater than taking the enemy lightly”. Therefore, according to him, over-confidence is more dangerous than self-doubt and insecurity.

Gongfu (consistent training) develops a stronger, more powerful body, Qi (vitality) and Spirit, which, together with a tangible self-defense skill set, all leads to greater self-assurance. Modern life in urban (and suburban) landscapes parallels The Law of the Jungle. In the wilds of nature, solo predators, and especially pack hunters, tend to select their prey based on feebleness and inability to fight back. Their eyes scan and zero in on the young, the old and infirm, and injured. They can also literally smell fear. Human predators will scrutinize a crowd of people, in the same manner, looking for victims. But, when their eyes come upon the kind of person perceived as a “threat”, who exudes physical strength and athletic prowess, in addition to strong Spirit, their subconscious minds will instinctively know to avoid, while their conscious minds will not even register this person’s presence, and their eyes will pass on by, looking for their next target. Our eyes being “windows to the soul” are very powerful at projecting energy or intention. They can even be used to feint or trick an opponent, and draw a reaction in the heat of combat. A strong unyielding gaze, the Tiger’s Eye or Thousand Yard Stare (looking through a person and not at him) without blinking, can be thoroughly intimidating, and cause the aggressor to lose confidence and feel apprehensive, even fearful. This tactic alone can be sufficient, in some cases, to avert confrontation. It can be used as a “bluff”, by persons with absolutely no fighting capability, but this does require being a very convincing actor. However, far better still is to possess a genuine confidence in the knowledge that skill is available to back up the “stare”. Chen Changxing (14th generation Taijiquan master) said, “If you meet multiple opponents who surround you, appear strong like a living dragon, or tiger. Attack one opponent, with the power of a large cannon booming straight.” Sun Tzu, also said, “Appear weak when you are strong and strong when you are weak”.

When discussing mind and combat, the single most important trait needed to increase the chances of surviving a violent encounter, unequivocally, has to be possessing an iron will or an indomitable Warrior Spirit. Without Spirit, years of training martial art skill can amount to little or nothing at all. And yet, Spirit alone, without one iota of skill, can, in some cases, mean everything! For example, a person having studied martial arts, with many colored belts to his name, even the coveted black belt, may freeze, choke and fold during his first real street confrontation, while an elderly grandmother, with no skill or abilities, can fend off an entire gang of youths, intent on robbing her, armed only with her handbag. Granted, she may not leave them incapacitated, writhing in the ground, and in need of medical attention, but may cause them to flee and assure her own safety. Righteous indignation or the sense of injustice and moral outrage trumps fear and self-doubt. Whether facing one opponent, or numerous attackers, if you doubt yourself, and your ability to emerge safe and secure, you will have created a self-fulfilling prophecy. Your mind will have convinced yourself of the outcome and sealed your fate. This is why “There must be no thought given to winning or losing”.

Martial arts are a means to knowing and understanding our own minds and those of others, and the principles of martial psychology can, and should be, applied to everyday life and interactions within the workplace. While certain bosses, supervisors, and peers may not engage in physical violence, they may be psychopathic personality types that abuse their positions and ranks, and enjoy finding victims to bully and torment with mental cruelty. They attack using humiliation, harassment, and verbal abuse instead. Still, these energetic attacks can be neutralized, and the right moment can be chosen to counter effectively and prevent further occurrences. In some cases, nothing really can be done to fix the situation in which case, just as an intelligent fighter has the presence of mind to know when to retreat, and there is no disgrace in this, a smart and courageous person will transfer out or resign rather than continue to suffer abuse, and become a victim. The right mental attitude, and understanding psychology as it applies to martial arts, can mean the difference between winning and losing, or between surviving an encounter and remaining a victim.

– Adam Wallace