In a world where many aspects of our lives are accelerated at an unnatural pace, it’s important to remain free of the pull ‘away from ourselves’ and to maintain autonomy over our thoughts and decisions.
It’s easy to get caught up in the ‘swing of things’ and gravitate away from what is truly important, from what our inner self knows is the right direction. Work, money concerns, family commitments, etc., all require our attention and can take us away from what is truly important in life – and that is - being free.
Martial arts is a way of tuning out of the rat race and tuning back into our self. It’s a little like time out from all the obligations, and time in for being free, which I believe is one of the most important aspects of being human. As martial arts is both a physical and spiritual activity, it involves every aspect of our being – the concrete and the abstract. One martial art which is less about technique and strength, and more about awareness and sensitivity to our thoughts, our surroundings and our body, is Ving Tsun. The concepts behind Ving Tsun help magnify the things we need to be sensitive to, and which can get drowned out by daily life.
To benefit from martial arts, one needs to be committed. This is true for anything in life. Commitment is the understanding that results don’t always come instantaneously but they do come with concerted, repetitive and consistent daily effort. Commitment is a concept that sometimes falls by the wayside, especially in a world of short-lived pleasure and attention. Endurance and stamina, patience and determination, never say die and get up if you fall down, have become old fashioned notions. But no matter how outdated they are, the truth is they are essential.
Commitment is closely related to discipline. By being involved in a martial art, or any kind of exercise or technique that forces us to pay attention to and be aware of our self and our interaction with the world around us, we start applying the core concepts studied, into our daily lives. For example, keeping ourselves controlled (disciplined) when confronted or challenged by situations we may find ourselves in. Not flipping out over the smallest matter – or better said, not reacting to and getting involved (mentally or emotionally) with everything that happens around us.
When we get ticked off by something or someone in our surroundings, then we start to resist it. Resisting on one hand is good. But the kind of resistance that is not so good, and which is a key concept in Ving Tsun, is the kind of resistance that makes us lose our inner balance and control. This kind of resistance is a weakness both in martial arts and in daily life.
As the concept of resistance is such a major building block in Ving Tsun, I’d like to describe what it means in more detail here.
Each day we are met with challenges, difficulties, unexpected surprises, things that we are obliged to do, and so on. The amount of resistance we give these events depends on how balanced we are as individuals. Some things don’t phase us, other things set us off. Each person has a different threshold and trigger. In Ving Tsun resistance is what ultimately throws us out of balance, out of our centre, and makes us tense (unrelaxed). Each of these states is not a good thing, not in life and not in Ving Tsun. It’s how we get beaten – on every level. To avoid becoming a victim, we firstly have to become aware of our resistance levels and triggers. For example, a common reaction when someone pushes us, is to push back against their power, to avoid falling over. This is resistance. It means that we engage ourselves. We also freeze and tense up, instead of stay relaxed. When we resist, we transfer our power out of our body and into the hands of our opponent - or to the world around us. Once they have it, they can manipulate us. It’s as simple as that.
Obviously this is a bad situation, and a martial art such as Ving Tsun would rather have us remain impervious to our surroundings; rock solid in a fluid kind of way. Where the violence and aggression of our opponent (their push) flows over and around us (like water off a duck’s back), and does not penetrate through to our core (mind/body) or engage us to do anything (no movement, no pushing back, no nothing). Instead we remain neutral and relaxed (hold our centre, our balance, our relaxed state). It is this relaxed state, this lack of resistance, that makes us strong and free. It may sound strange, but the less we do, the stronger we are. Perhaps there is a lot of truth in the saying: there is something in nothing.
Resisting means that we give a little part of ourselves to the person or thing provoking us. We let them ‘manipulate us’, and through this manipulation we ‘move’ the way they want us to move. By not resisting, e.g. not reacting, showing no engagement or interest, just pure neutrality, we become silent, formless, immovable, like nature, without any grip for the other person or situation to grab onto. Resistance means tension. Tension means mass and that mass can be moved.
The simple exercises that are learned in Ving Tsun, help to maintain a neutral state of awareness, and can be applied in any mental event and situation. Every day we are faced with things that ‘manipulate’ us to behave a certain way, whether through habit, programming, biology or instinct. By becoming aware of the habit or tendency, we can change ourselves and learn to become formless and quiet.
First and foremost, a martial art such as Ving Tsun is about lack of force. To be free of force and tension in our body, there needs to be an understanding of what being tensed means. Once we know what is tension and what makes us tense, then we can undo it, and learn how to feel relaxed and balance. The idea behind ‘power’ in Ving Tsun comes from our ability to be relaxed. Power does not come from forced intent and brute strength. It doesn’t matter how big, small, round or thin we are, if we’re able to put ourselves in a state of readiness without engaging any kind of tensed position or hold (body or mind), then we can generate true essential power.
Exercises for understanding these concepts are practised in Yi Quan, where we activate our body (prepare and ready it) but do not engage any of its parts (no use of energy). The simple idea of activating our mind and body before the act of physical engagement, also helps train and tone our bodily systems, from the musculoskeletal to endocrinic and nervous.
To be in balance, we also need to be centred and to maintain focus on the centre of our body, where all the most critical areas lie, e.g. heart, liver, kidneys, solar plexus, throat, spinal cord, and so on. This is the area that we protect, as well as the area that we focus our attack on. Centring is also a way of grounding ourselves and keeping our body in balance. When we’re in balance, our energy (mental, emotional and physical) can run smoothly and freely.
Each of us thinks we have a good understanding of our bodies and our bodily movements. But we don’t realise just how ‘formed’ and ‘shaped’ we are by our environment, until we start to look inward and use our bodies in ways that are different to what we are used to. More often than not we are in a constant state of tension, whether self or environmentally created.
Learning a martial art like Ving Tsun helps us to reconnect with our body and physical senses, as well as our mind and its para senses.