I am attending a martial arts workshop this weekend with a teacher visiting our school from California. This teacher is a small, slightly stooped, Chinese man in his late sixties. (That’s his photo above.) He said something today that made a big impression on me. Hours later I’m still trying to wrap my head around this.
He was explaining to us the way he responds to someone who is attacking him. My paraphrasing won’t do him justice, but basically he said that he can “feel” an attacker’s energy and intention. He doesn’t try to meet force with force because there is always someone bigger, stronger, faster than you. Instead, he moves his own energy into the empty space around his attacker and is able redirect his attacker’s energy to neutralize him. Rather than trying to control the attacker head on, he controls all the space unoccupied by the attacker’s body.
That might not make much sense, I know. He demonstrated with a tall, heavy, muscular guy. Time and time again, the attack was deflected, and the attacker either fell backwards or fell past the teacher. The teacher didn’t seem to exert much effort or even move that much. A flip of the wrist, a slight turn of the hips was all it took to render his attacker harmless.
Naturally, we were all amazed and somewhat mystified. One student asked him, “What is your technique?” He looked puzzled for a moment and then replied, “You are my technique.” What he meant, I think, is that he does not have predetermined moves and countermoves. He remains empty and simply responds to what is presented to him.
The teacher’s response “You are my technique” excites me because it suggests a way to approach so many situations beyond martial arts. In a way, it is the art of listening.
Someone came to me recently, upset and needing to talk to me about something in his life that was causing much distress. Instead of jumping in with opinions and suggested actions, I stayed “empty,” listening not only to his words, but also to what was not said, and to the feelings underlying both. That allowed me to respond in a way that de-escalated the intensity of his distress, and gave him some breathing room to begin to sort out some things for himself.
“You are my technique” encourages us to pay attention to what is happening, and to work with circumstances in a natural, effortless way rather than trying to force them in a way that depletes our energy.
The sage does nothing, yet nothing is left undone. ~Tao Te Ching