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”
When we move skillfully in karate all motion is initiated from the center of the body and projects up the spine, down to the earth and out to the target, in a single wave.
The waist, shoulders and head, and the hips, knees, legs and feet all move together, as a single structure, conveying energy freely, sending force where it is needed.
Any other way of moving is sub-optimal. 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 is relatively slow, weak, and awkward. It is the way we ordinarily walk when not under pressure because it conserves energy. Under normal conditions we want to maximize efficiency while conserving energy. In a life or 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 in all styles discover the same principles.
For example, “Keeping to the center in action” means being able to move in any direction without having to shift balance or delay the move. It means not overextending a limb and so exposing it to manipulation. It means maintaining centered balance in motion, so that an opponent’s attempt to shift, grab or destabilize you will fail and will work against him instead. These principles apply to all of life.
For example: a friend raises a hand against his friend whose treachery was revealed in an instant. He saw an odd look on the face of his friend. His eyes were locked in passionate gaze with his girlfriend when they thought he was out of the room. Brother betrayed brother. Emotion rockets out of control, he reaches too far forward as he punches and grabs. He went off balance as he lunged. He fell a long way. He never recovered.
Or: A lonely lady in the middle of the night who knew better, answers a message from a stranger on the internet and falls in love. He says he’s coming to see her as soon as he can, he needs her, he needs her help, she mortgages her house to help him, sends him the money to help him wind up his business affairs overseas so he can see her, she loses everything. She never saw the danger, sent one more payment, went too far, and fell.
Or: A smart guy gets a tip about a sure thing that anyone would want to get in on, if they knew about it. Through the miracle of leverage he lives on hope for a while, glories in fantasy, sobers up at the first unexpected cloud, feels fear, then terror and then utter horror as his dream and his fortune vanish. He collapses. He has nothing. He became nothing.
Rage, seduction, envy, greed, addiction and fear are names for imbalance. These are dangerous conditions, unstable, vulnerable, subjecting you to the whims of chance and the will of others who may not have your best interests at heart.
Balance is the remedy. Maintaining a stable foundation beneath you as you move is not automatic. It is possible. It is the essence of endurance, pulse, accumulation of strength and victory. It applies to each of us every moment. In work, love, and everything else we do. It applies to our families, nations, world.
Just as we keep to the center in physical movement, we keep to the center in our mental attitude, 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, to yearning, to a moment of victory or to an obstacle overcome.
Here we 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 appear.
In weakness, without training, without clarity, 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 morality. They have often been applied in the realms of politics, strategy and personal conduct. We can export our karate experience into these realms, and import insights from them into the dojo.
Note: Zhu Xi’s work formed the centerpiece of Chinese philosophy for more than 600 years. Reference to Zhu Xi The Middle Way, also called The Doctrine of the Mean and Maintaining Perfect Balance; with reference to James Legge, Robert Eno, Daniel K. Gardner, Charles Muller, Terebess.
Excerpt from “The Good Fight” by Jeffrey M. Brooks
Copyright © 2018 Jeffrey M. Brooks, Mountain Karate, LLC
Published by Stochastic Press