Maintaining Perfect Balance

“According to Confucius:

The well-trained person keeps to the center in action;

the poorly trained person moves away from the center in action.

The center, for the well-trained person, is such that he is always exact in his timeliness;

the departure from the center for the poorly trained person is such that he will notice nothing.”

– from Zhu Xi “The Middle Way” (title is also translated as “Maintaining Perfect Balance” and as the “Doctrine of the Mean”) [1.2]


In karate we emphasize the physical and mental application of this principle. The physical comes first because it is easier to learn.

When we move skillfully all motion is initiated from the center of the body and projects up the spine, down to the foundation and out to the target, in a single wave.

The hips, waist, shoulders and head, and the hips, knees, legs and feet all move in coordination, forming a single structure, conveying energy freely and sending force where it is needed.

Any other way of moving is sub-optimal in combatives. That is: any other way of moving uses more energy, yields less force, is slower, and is more vulnerable to disruption.

For example shifting the weight to the front foot before moving the rest of the body forward. This is slow, weak, and awkward. It is the way we ordinarily move when not under pressure because it conserves energy. Under normal conditions we want to maximize efficiency while conserving energy. In a life and death moment this will be unwise.

Confucius articulates the fundamental principle of the body mechanics and energy flow used in our karate. Although outwardly martial styles look very different, proficient practitioners discover many of the same principles.

For example “Keeping to the center in action” also means being able to move in any direction without having to shift the balance or delay the move. It means not overextending an arm or a leg and so making it vulnerable to manipulation. It means maintaining centered balance even in motion, so that an opponent’s attempt to shift, grab and destabilize you will fail and will work against him instead.

We keep to the center in our mental attitude as well, with equanimity:

Not desiring and not fearful; poised and present.

Not baited into premature attack; not projecting ourselves into a hoped-for or dreaded future.

Not hesitating when the moment for action comes.

Not clinging inwardly to an error or a regret, or to a moment of victory or to an obstacle overcome.

Here were are, poised in the center, free to move spontaneously, without impulse, in response or in action, as fits the moment.

Unencumbered by the imaginary we are free to see everything, as it is. We can see what is about to arise.

In weakness, without training, without balance, this is impossible.

Talent will not provide it. Enthusiasm will not. A righteous cause will not.

Good training will.

Zhu Xi’s comments on Confucius were concerned with the source of morality. It has often been applied to the realms of politics, strategy and personal conduct. We can export our karate experience into these realms.

This is not an obscure source. Zhu Xi’s work formed the centerpiece of Chinese philosophy for 700 years.


Posted by Jeff Brooks

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: