I was reflecting today on a discussion I had with one of my students recently during training. I was sharing my perspectives on the ‘binary’ nature of the martial arts (or, martial science, to be more precise), and how it impacts how we perceive energy on a subconscious level. We can see how the 1 and 0 duality is a balanced, perpetual force in our practice . 1 and 0 exists as potential and kinetic energy; open and closed (or, ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ techniques- in internal arts it is also perceived as yielding and unyielding); yin and yang (as understood in internal arts and Traditional Chinese medicine); inhale and exhale as a constant, circular dynamic; and flowing and force (or Water and Iron as I teach it). It is a profound statement of the deep integration of physics in all that we do, and the sublime beauty and simplicity that is revealed through it. In meditating today in reflection, I wanted to share the following brief primer that I wrote regarding aspects of perception (it is part of the student manual that I provide to my clients). I hope it inspires you!
Energy and Perception in the Martial Arts
To further understand the dynamic of energy within the martial arts, we can see it from a perspective of relationships.
If we can see the interrelationships of energies as a whole, rather than merely receiving or projecting it, we see a process of systemic balance. The physical technique itself disintegrates from the moment of its inception through the apex of its focus- from an ‘action’ into a ‘connection’. It is a constant flow of probabilities, rather than an isolated, mechanistic singularity. Essentially, the whole (flow of energy) becomes much more than just the sum of its parts (singular techniques)- it is in actuality a system self-organized by inter-connections; a flow of patterns rather than just an isolated point.
The dynamics of the subconscious and conscious mind in the martial arts can be placed in the context of perception. This can be illustrated by this (paraphrased) example, provided by noted physicist Fritjof Capra: When we see an interconnected organization of leaves, twigs, branches, and a trunk we identity it as a ‘tree’. If we draw a picture of the tree, we will most likely not draw its roots. Yet, the roots are generally far more expansive than the tree itself that we can see. The roots are often interconnected with the roots of other trees, forming a vast underground network in which there are no precise boundaries between individual trees. The singular tree that we can see may even be just a very small part of a much larger organism that we can’t see on the surface.
Another example we can apply is a large grouping of icebergs. We may see individual icebergs, and on an external conscious level perceive them as isolated . Yet, often what we see is the proverbial ‘tip of the iceberg’- it is only a mere protrusion of a far larger mass underneath the sea that we can’t externally see, from which many other protrusions may extend (what we identify as individual icebergs). By perceiving a martial arts technique as a singularity- isolating it from the flow of energy and away from the sub-conscious, we perceive and even function on a mechanical level, unable to perceive any probabilities from energetic patterns that develop.
The ability to perceive on this level allows us also the ability to ‘self-create’ the outcome of any energy dynamic. It is a process of perception, based on interconnection rather than on isolated external events. As martial artists, we can translate incoming information (an incoming attack for example) by perceiving it in a context of concepts (the intent that is driving this particular action). In essence, the singular attacking strike in of itself is not as meaningful as the energy and intention driving it. By training our minds to perceive via the subconscious, simply countering and gaining control of the attack is a process of creating a new pattern within an interplay of energies, rather than externalizing and isolating (thus paralyzing us in a form of stasis and inaction). In this way, we have natural control of the outcome of the event, regardless of the intentions and continued action of the aggressor. Through this ‘yielding and unyielding’ perpetual balance, we have the ability to flow with the event, using the energy it generates as a resource- rather than fighting against it as a stone thrown in the lake fights the water. We become a component of the energetic relationship, rather than disconnected from it. In essence, we become the balance. For all of that to be realized, however, we must be present in the moment to perceive the wholeness of the intent (to see the roots) -not in the past, not in the future. Only in that moment. Then and only then can we flow like water and strike like iron……..
‘What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning’
– Werner Heisenberg; physicist