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Lau himself was wearing a red Mickey Mouse T-shirt and blue sweat pants. When we were introduced, I bowed to him as is customary when one meets a martial artist of higher rank.
He ignored my bow, shook hands, and insisted I call him Jim.
That air of informality is typical of wing-chun, also called Chinese pugilism," which is now one of the most popular martial arts styles in Hong Kong and Europe and is quickly gaining popular ity in American because of its simplicity and realistic approach to fighting.
Wing-chun has no system of rank, no colored belts to designate novice from instructor. When a student has reached a certain level of proficiency, the sifu may give him a small medallion J or personal token of esteem. Unlike Bruce, who was dedicated to becoming a film star, Jim Lau's primary ambition is to introduce his art to a growing number of devoted followers, most of whom have come to him experienced in other martial arts.
Despite Jim's casual teaching style, he feels a great responsibility for the progress and welfare of each student.
One day recently we were practicing "sticking hands," an exercise in which your hands seem to stick to those of your opponent's—thus its name. Through this training, wing-chun students learn to interpret the silent messages telegraphed by their partner's hands. It can give a clue to whether the next blow will be an uppercut, a roundhouse swing, or a straight thrust.
Losing contact with your partner's hand allows it to strike you. Pushing against his hand overextends you, and you can easily be knocked off balance. In this exercise, both partners try to interpret the other's signals while concealing his own.
The technique teaches you to ward off an oncoming attack and still remain centered and in control, neither overreacting nor underreacting. The result is often a stalemate. The exercise frustrated me because Jim was able to read my intentions through the sensitivity of his touch on my hands, much as a mentalist reads minds. I frequently became impatient and attempted to land a blow; but Jim sensed my intention each time, countered the move even before I made it, and always caught me off balance.
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Finally he stepped back and held up his hand, signalling the end of my lesson. I walked with him to his car.
Before an exchange of blows, several minutes may be spent in controlled patience and planning while each man respectfully observes his opponent, studying his position or stance, watching, getting ideas, and charging his energy. When one man thinks he is going to attack, his opponent may quickly change his stance. If he has overreacted, his opponent makes a note of it. This is a weakness which he will later attempt to use to his advantage. The good player is patient.
He is observant, controlling his patience, and organizing his composure. When he sees an opportunity he explodes. I had gone expecting to see a magnificent display of flashing acrobats and whirling limbs. Instead I saw two men in fighting stance study each other warily for several minutes.
Unlike boxing, there were no feints, no tentative jabs. For the most part, the masters were still as statues. Suddenly, one of them burst into movement so quickly that I was unable to grasp what had happened, although I did see his opponent hurtle backward.
The match was over and the two masters bowed to each other. I told Jim about this event at my next lesson. When a problem arises, don't fight with it or try to deny it. Accept and acknowledge it. Be patient in seeking a solution or opening, and then fully commit yourself to the resolution you think advisable.
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There is a coexisting relationship between you. You coexist with your opponent and become his complement, absorbing his attack and using his force to overcome him. I was aware of aikido, of course, and was interested in learning it someday, but I was heavily involved in karate and thought I would wait. Then on a visit to London some years ago, I noticed a poster advertising an aikido lecture and decided to attend. The lecture took place in a store converted into a small dojo within the shadow of the London post-office tower.
The practice hall was packed with spectators sitting cross-legged on a mat watching the master, a young Japanese wearing a white tunic and black hekama, or skirt, the aikido costume of a master. He looked fragile and vulnerable as he faced half-a-dozen burly men who circled him menacingly. As they began to close in on him, the master remained still, calm, and poised, standing in the eye of the hurricane.
Suddenly with loud shouts they attacked him in unison. What happened then was magnificent. The master seemed to flow like water into the mass. Swirling between them, his black skirt seemed to surround them. Every time they reached to strike his body, it was not there.
As a gyroscope spins faster and faster, its motion appears more calm; so it was with the master as he diverted the energy; of his attackers and projected them one by one out of the melee.
It was over in moments. The master, still calm, his mouth set in a slight smile, turned to the audience and bowed to their applause, He then bowed humbly to the student attackers who, in turn, bowed respectfully to him.
The master's actions looked so effortless that I knew there was something below the surface which could not be readily seen, some-thing unexplained. So there was, he said. It was ki, the invisible life force or energy that cannot be seen but that most martial artists especially aikidoists, train to develop.
As a further demonstration of ki he invited any interested spectator to attempt to lift him off the mat. This seemed relatively simple to me so I volunteered. I got a firm hold around the instruc-tor's midsection and heaved, but I was unable to budge him. All though I outweighed him by at least forty pounds, he seemed rooted to the ground. He then asked me to punch him. Before my fist traveled half the distance between us, I felt myself politely but firmly guided to the mat.
I had never been thrown so quickly nor had I eve felt such gentle strength. I made a mental note that when I returned to Los Angeles would investigate aikido further. I sought out an aikido school and began to study this art which was new to me.
I constantly heard ki mentioned, and after one of my early sessions asked an assistant instructor, a slim brunette, to explain it to me. I am going to stand on the edge of the mat with my arm extended straight from the shoulder while you walk toward me and into my arm. Make your arm rigid.
Imagine your arm is a hose with water flowing through it and out your fingers in a stream which you have mentally aimed at infinity.
Have you ever tried to pick up a child or a dog who did not want to be lifted? The child seems heavier when it is not cooperating, but when the child wants to be picked up it is lighter. That's because the mind is truly a source of power, and when mind and body are coordinated, ki manifests itself. With practice you can turn ki on at will. Ki is defined as an energy or inner strength that can be directed from the 'one point' through visualization to places outside the body.
It can be combined with gravity to produce dead weight and extreme heaviness within the body, as in the case of the child who does not want to be lifted.
No matter where you are, you are always the center of the universe. By holding your 'one point' and remaining centered, you feel one with universe and, at the same time, totally aware of your bodily relation-ship to the universe.
When the valve is open, more water or energy is generated through the legs and arms. Ki can be sent in any direction, depending on what you plan to do I find this an especially difficult concept to understand. But rare occasions I have been aware of a spontaneous flow of steady strength or energy flooding my entire body without consciously seeking it. Everyone, including nonmartial artists, is capable of drawing on this super power, or inner strength. For instance, the frail woman who batters down a heavy door because her child is locked in a burning room, the husband who is able to lift a car because his wife's leg is pinned underneath—under normal circumstances, these people would not have been able to achieve such feats of strength.
But in an emergency, the mind works swiftly and coordinates its strength with that of the body, a technique the martial artist develops through practice until it becomes mechanical and then spontaneous.
For me, the lesson in this can be reduced to a simple statement: It is sufficient to know that there is such a thing as ki, an available inner strength that expands the concept of one's own resources. Merely knowing that ki exists in all of us is, in itself, empowering.
Flow with whatever may happen and let your mind be free: Stay centered by accepting whatever you are doing. This is the ultimate. Breath turned to mist in front of my eyes, and my thin gi was clammy to the touch. Outside it was still dark; the sun would not rise for half an hour. Inside the dojo there were twenty of us, all wearing gis, kneeling on thin mats, backs erect, facing the instructor. He was kneeling facing us, a wooden block in each hand resting lightly on his knees.
He spoke softly, and although he seemed to be staring into space, I was certain he saw each of us clearly. They do not fill up the bottom part. If you breathe correctly you will use the bottom of the lungs as well as the top, the same way you automatically breathe when asleep. Let it circulate there and through your body and your limbs.
Visualize it as it travels around the various channels and meridians of your body. When you exhale, see the fog leaving your mouth. When this happens, just start over again. At the sound of the sharp clack, I inhaled slowly and evenly through the nostrils, mouth closed gently so the abdominal wall was stretched, letting the breath circulate inside my body for about ten seconds until the sound of wood on wood struck again.
There was a gentle whooshing sound as we all breathed out together, exhaling about threequarters of the air through our mouths. Then the sharp clack penetrated the room, and we inhaled again. Soon a rhythm was established; the clack, a whispering sound as twenty people inhaled, and then a clack and a sound like a sigh as we exhaled in unison.
For the first few minutes I remained chilled, my body stiff, rebelling at the posture and the hard floor. But as the breathing exercise progressed, I became warm and my body was completely relaxed. By the time the first light of morning illumined the room, I was perspiring heavily and ready to begin the lesson. The breathing-in and breathing-out exercise is not as simple as it seems. In the beginning, I seemed to be the only one in class who could not stay with the rhythm.
I was either taking in too much air, or letting out too little or too much, and ending up breathless within a matter of moments and having to start again. In time I realized the wisdom of the sensei's image: By trying to visualize the breath as fog, other thoughts were kept from my mind, and with total concentration on breathing, I soon relaxed.
My mind was calm but alert, and my physical being serene. I was ready to go on the mat because I could flow easily in any direction, like water.
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And if I were thrown I would land gently like an infant dropped on a mattress. I remember how fascinated I was by the fact that even such a simple thing as breathing was subject to being relearned and mastered, as part of martial arts training. I had no awareness then that there would come a day when the controlled-breathing technique I had learned would save my life. Some time later, in October , I was on holiday with my wife, Hike, in Europe. One lovely summer morning we were driving through the wine country of France when I felt an agonizing pain in my abdomen, compounded by a splitting headache.
Soon my entire body ached with excruciating pain. Within an hour, I was writhing on the seat and intermittently lapsing into unconsciousness. My teeth chattered and my body convulsed with coughing attacks. I had to ask Elke who, fortunately, was driving for a tissue so that I could wipe my lips, because I was too weak to pluck one from the box.
Elke quickly took the tissue from me, glanced at it, and threw it out the window. I later learned that it was covered with blood. Elke began driving at a furious pace, taking unpaved roads and driving on sidewalks to gain time. She knew of a university clinic in Freiburg just across the border in Germany, and we could be there within minutes.
I drifted in and out of consciousness as if in a dream. By the time we arrived in Freiburg, pain filled every joint in my body. When Elke found a doctor he came to the car and immediately called for a stretcher. I have only vague memories now of being wheeled into an examining room and given some tests. I have a clear memory, though, of the doctors telling Elke in German that I was not only vomiting blood but also voiding it.
I then heard him ask her if there were any next of kin to be notified, and I knew I must be dying. I panicked.
My heart started palpitating, and each heartbeat shook my body. The doctor who was attending me thought I was having a heart attack and had a fibrillator prepared to regulate my heartbeat. At that moment I thought, "This is absurd. I am sick enough without adding a heart attack to my problems. I repeated the process until I settled into a relaxed belly-breathing that required my concentration, inhaling through my nose for four counts and exhaling through my mouth for four breaths.
This technique, which I had been taught as a prelude to aikido, is an aspect of Zen practice that makes one oblivious to external impressions.
The more I concentrated on my breathing, the more immune I became to the fear that I was dying. Within a few minutes I was in control of myself and my body again. Before the fibrillator reached my bedside, my heartbeat was normal. Of those moments, I recall only floating in a cocoon of warmth down a narrow tunnel where I would be free of pain.
I could hear Elke's voice from a distance pleading with me not to die. Each time this happened I began to regulate my breathing.
Three weeks later I was discharged from the hospital. I had survived a case of Weill's disease, a rare virus which is usually fatal. I was the first case in Germany in over forty years. Had this incident befallen me a few years earlier, I would certainly have died because the Zen breathing technique was not yet known to me. Since then I have found the technique especially useful in stressful or anxiety-provoking situations when my breathing becomes irregular and fear distorts orderly thought processes, which tend to immobilize both my body and mind.
Before certain business meetings or personal confrontations, I try to put myself into a relaxed state by controlling my breathing; this relaxes and refreshes me as well as calming my mind. Controlled breathing restores calm, confidence, and strength. The exercise called for me as the defender to avoid a straight punch to the face by moving inside the attacking arm and projecting the attacker backward by placing my hand on his chin and moving in with my body.
I closed with my partner several times but was unable to budge him. Finally, in some desperation I applied physical force, and he toppled to the mat. Then I felt a light tap on the shoulder and turned around to find the assistant instructor frowning at me. His action is directed by his mind. You don't need to deal with his body at all if you can redirect his mind and the flow of his ki. That's the secret; lead his mind away from you and the body will follow. You don't pull, push, or hit.
You merely touch his body softly and gently and guide it where you wish. That way his mind is not upset and his body will follow. The aikidoist never goes against his opponent's strength. Rather, he redirects the strength away from him. We apply the same principle to problems that arise in life. The skilled aikidoist is as elusive as the truth of Zen; he makes himself into a koan—a puzzle which slips away the more one tries to solve it. He is like water in that he falls through the fingers of those who try to clutch him.
Water does not hesitate before it yields, for the moment the fingers begin to close it moves away, not of its own strength, but by using the pressure applied to it. It is for this reason, perhaps, that one of the symbols for aikido is water.
During a business meeting I realized a confrontation with an associate was imminent. Determined to skirt it if possible, I avoided reacting to his initial attack to prevent a head-on clash. As the dispute continued I admit-ted that his argument had some merit. At the same time I tried to deflect his anger in another direction. By allowing my "opponent" an opportunity to expend his energy and anger and by not responding or giving anything back, the confrontation was avoided.
In time, he shrugged and walked away. Softness triumphs over hardness, feebleness over strength. What is more malleable is always superior over that which is immoveable. This is the principle of controlling things by going along with them, of mastery through adaptation. Occasionally a partner would accidentally make contact, and then I would feel a surge of anger.
One day after a workout, Jim Lau called me aside. I was ashamed. He had read my reaction all too well. Jim smiled. When you acknowledge these feelings you no longer have to pretend to be that which you are not. You can learn to accept these moods.
What is bad, however, is letting them dictate your nature. When you unleash your aggression or hostility on another person, it inspires aggression and hostility in return.
The result then is conflict, which all true martial artists try to avoid. Anger doesn't demand action. When you act in anger, you lose self-control. Then he spoke again.
I Think about that as an essential quality of martial arts. After a night flight I arrived at my hotel at 7 A. I was tired and had been looking forward to being able to get some rest before my appointments. I asked to see the manager, all the while working myself into a rage, rehearsing in my mind what I would say if he or she were unable to provide the room quickly.
When the manager arrived I was fuming. I spoke in anger. My antagonism provoked anger from her, and soon we were in a heated argument. I had forgotten Jim Lau's words and had inspired a head-to-head conflict. Later, when I was cooler, I apologized to the manager for my bad manners.
The experience taught me a lesson I will not soon forget. Rarely does anger avail. When you lose your temper, you lose yourself—on the mat as well as in life. Control your emotion or it will control you. In a confrontation with any such person I usually reacted in an extreme manner. I either quickly retreated from the field, feeling completely inadequate, embarrassed, and angry with myself, or I flashed back with anger, putting myself in direct conflict.
My reaction on the mat against an intimidating, aggressive opponent was usually the same, and so were the symptoms. I became tense, flushed, and tended to overreact. One day Bruce Lee took me out onto the center of the driveway at my home. He had me stand still and extend one leg as far as it would go.
Then he had me pivot slowly around while he drew a chalk circle around me, whose radius was the length of my extended leg. Bruce then stood some distance from me on the edge of the circle and made some feinting and aggressive moves. I stiffened, awaiting his attack.
From this distance, I can't possibly cause you any harm. Again, I started to tense and again Bruce chided me. Instinctively, I retreated. Now, suppose I stand at the edge of your circle. Am I a real threat to you? But, suppose I am physically threatened within my circle? But until then, you should maintain your control and your distance.
I was able to stand calmly back and let an opponent wear himself out with feints or attempts at intimidation because I was confident that, if necessary, I could defeat him.
I soon had an opportunity to translate this attitude to my business life. One day in a meeting I was faced with an aggressive person accustomed to winning arguments by putting subordinates on the defensive. I quickly realized that since his attempts at intimidation were not a real threat to me—after all, I did not work for him— there was no need for me to react aggressively, and I was confident that my work was well done.
He was trying to provoke me with words only, so if I could keep him at the edge of my mental circle he would soon exhaust all the hostile energy he could muster without having received any further stimulation from me. The would-be intimidator thrives on evoking a response from his intended victim. When there is none, he quickly wears out, which is what happened. The man finally shrugged his shoulders and gave up. There had been no real conflict between us, yet he had lost the match.
Here is Master Han's advice for warding off intimidating people and situations. Patience is part of it. To avoid being intimidated — think more and react less. But I can only defeat your mind with a reason. But Stirling Silliphant and I were trying to put into practice some of the jeet-kune-do techniques Bruce Lee had taught us.
I was so concerned with demonstrating to Bruce how much I had learned that my focus was scattered. I had been trying to anticipate Stirling's moves rather than respond to them; I was concerned with my footwork instead of letting my training lead me naturally to the right position.In the beginning, I seemed to be the only one in class who could not stay with the rhythm.
In fact, nothing could have been further from my mind. Feel him, sense what he is going to do, then jump all over his preparations. Shoto, meaning "pine wave", was Funakoshi's pen name and kan meaning "hall". Will you do in-house advertising and design work, or will you use a consulting firm? Married to this is that subtlest of arts — timing.