“Self-protection against fails lies in our own hands,
but the opportunity to defeat the enemy is provided by the very enemy”
Have you ever noticed that the Kung Fu Master’s movements are smooth? They are confident, quiet and natural so much that there is no better word than “harmony” to describe their actions. The Master does not fight, taking their energy out on the enemy and, thereby, causing the response of the other party. No matter how paradoxically is it to say, he finds himself in the dynamic balance with the aggressive enemy. Two different systems merge united by the effort to resolve the conflict.
In other words, the Master tries to develop and use the enemies’ intentions and force, not to get involved in the actions exchange, engaging the Arsenal of his own efforts. He loses himself, leaving aside all the subjective sensations and his own individuality to go in with the opponent and become the part of him. The internal contradictions associated with the process of decision making in the extreme situation of combat become mutually cooperating instead of mutually fighting against. In this state, the inner ego and conscious efforts are not directed at their own strength’ and selfhood manifestation. Master takes what the opponent gives to him and turns it to advantage. This is an exertion of the perfect mastery in Kung Fu: actions without actions, or in other words Wei Wu Wei.
The origin of Wei Wu Wei conception, which was firstly expounded in the form of the learning in the text “Tao Te Ching”, belongs to the philosophical and religious tradition of Taoism. It is widely accepted that the author was Lao Tzu the Chinese Wiseman, though some people believe that he is nothing else but a mythical character. Chuang Tzu, who was a philosopher and mystic of 4-3 century B. C., made most part of the Taoism concepts’ systematization and put it in the form of philosophical doctrine. There are three basic Taoism terms:
1. Tao. It is a road, trail, path to the truth, the path of nature, the path of the absolute reality.
2. Te. It’s the goodness, the influence, the moral force, the Tao attribute, the force that comes from Tao.
3. Wei Wu Wei. Wei stands for “to act”. Wu is translated as “no”.
The combination of two words into the organic unity gives the paradoxical formula and generates multiple interpretations. The direct translation can serve as the simplest comment: “to act without acting”. One can find such interpretation: “to live as the nature lives where everything happens without any efforts”. In relation to the man, the metaphor of Wei Wu Wei could mean: “to be calm, peaceful, in balance with the individual self and the world”. Indeed, it is not necessary to take on the value of the whole phrase more simply: point blank, call for non-action.
For a fighter Wu Wei does not mean “to do nothing”, trusting exclusively to the exertion of their instincts, laid on the subconscious level. The passive waiting in a battle is fraught with consequences. This extreme position as its opposite is mindless aggression, which is contrary to the “medial” path (state), and connects the fighter with undesirable behavior. What is meant here is about getting free the mind of the constant hard work (and not always effective) to track the information which comes from the enemy, process it and make decisions. Breaking this vicious circle through the humility of one’s aggression and the taming of the individual self, the fighter gets things off the mind for direct simultaneous use of natural forces manifesting through the body. There is no mystery! All the common laws and Newton’s mechanical principles, as well as the positions of the Wave Theory, can be used in battle in full measure only upon condition of the lack of “psychological blocks”. Tao and the Absolute Reality are the Laws of nature which can manifest in a person who has given the freedom to himself. Well, it seems that the ability to relax is the first step and the most important quality for the achievement of Wei Wu Wei. How else otherwise is it possible to waive and let the things run their course?
One can try. Let’s relax and consider one more definition of this concept for better understanding in relation to Kung Fu.
Wu Wei is the spirit of the acting, awakened consciousness in that at the moment of the fight the main guiding force is the free consciousness, rather than the stream of feelings. Physical actions are only the manifestation (the mirror) of such consciousness. For comparison and in contrast, the sport is focused on competitions: the comparison of participants’ qualifications. There is the second force — the feelings (from the extrinsic stimuli) which are the motive, shaping force. In recent 15-20 years, the “Western” Institute of Athletic training has become able to take the concepts of the “East”, considering the person as a psychophysical unit. Academic developments and practical recommendations for psychotechnics can be very effective for the martial arts athletes’ training. Currently, however, the researchers consider the interpretations which were discovered and used for the last two thousand years.
The loss of the fighter’s individual self is necessary but not sufficient condition for the way into Wu Wei. He “forgets” himself and follows the movements of his opponent. However, the gleeful and unmolested mind doesn’t go into hibernation. The range of his functions is changed only. The chain of human’s physiological reactions to danger is detailed described and thoroughly studied. The simplified scheme of the human reactions to a stressful situation is shown below.
The identification of the external signal stimulus; the transmission of information through the CNS to the brain; the scanning of the previous life experience to compare with the fresh information and the definition of the stimulus as dangerous one; the forming of solutions; the transfer of the decision to the muscles; the action; the feed back after actions.
In the transformed state of consciousness Wei Wu Wei, the scheme suffers changes. The blocks of the foregoing chart do not fall out of the chain, closing the remaining ones directly, however, the degree of functional activity of two of them moves to the background. The operation of the stimulus’ identification and the decision making switch to the subconscious level, providing to the system to cause appropriate actions without the conscious intervention or thinking. This fact gives a tremendous advantage as it reduces latency time (delay time) of the response to an outside threat. The entrance to this state frees the soldier from the conscious analysis and the process of decision making, replacing it with flexible, pliant attitude to the ever-changing situations. His actions are deprived of self-affirmation (let’s remember the diametrically opposite impulsive force in sports). The fighter gives to his mind the opportunity to stay spontaneous and not paralyzed. As soon as he starts to “think”, the stream of his actions will be broken. From the “analogue” fluid, flexible and pliant format, the actions will revert to the “discrete” opposite and the fight will reach the level of comparison of qualities: who is faster, who is stronger... Everything will be back to square one: punch — defense, defense – punch…
Thus, Wu Wei embodies of unintentional behavior, where actions occur without any conscious attempts to “do it right”.
Of course, one can object that a person, who has never done the martial arts before, but who has the strength of mind to choose the path of resistance at the time of confrontation with aggression, instead of escaping, will act (attack and defend) spontaneously, intuitively like it is prescribed by Wu Wei. It is absolutely right, because his consciousness does not involve any affirmations, restrictions, and regulations. He has no “blocking” experience while practicing Kung Fu. He's just doing the best he can, both mentally and physically. Unfortunately, the effectiveness of confrontation in the state of such furious desperation is not always fine and the “sporadic” rage dries out very quickly.
Joining the world - the world of Kung Fu - the novice chooses a bendy and tortuous path. He will be taught to defend and attack, what he should focus at, how to transform his body. These rules, systems and regulations would often be a strange way to hinder the pupil. Trying to attack the enemy, he will experience difficulties. Defending against simple attacks, he will feel helpless. Looking back on months and years of training, he will find himself “frozen”. In this crucial moment, many will stop and leave Kung Fu, the very few will be able to link together what they already know and to see the way of applying the knowledge. Some will come with questions to their mentors. And if the questions are correctly formulated and the mentors are able to see the problem, they will explain to them that while practicing they lost their original sense of purity, naturalness and freedom. They have lost their selfhood, their “ego” identities. This is the price that he paid for a holistic maturing in the martial arts. If you have reached the moment when the control and use of the range of techniques hinder you, it is time just to open the next door which is Wei Wu Wei.
This will resemble the beginning of the path when you knew nothing about Kung Fu.
But isn’t it too high price - to lose yourself? Indeed, it is! However, the Kung Fu practice is actually a serious matter; certainly, it’s not for everyone. There is also a little secret. Replace the verb “to lose” to the verb “to change” and you will see that you has just changed and crossed the line of intellectual prudence, mechanical logic, giving place to a spontaneous state of adequacy.
In the narrow, practical sense, this means that your technical level is good enough and your actions have moved into the category of skill. There is no necessity to track and improve one’s behavior. One feels comfortable in the similitude of a fighter that was instilled you by the style and the school. The “technical” issue is relegated to the background. One’s limbs and body are doing what they are supposed to do without the constant engagement of the apparatus correction. Now the flexible consciousness is free to stay here and the paradox of Wei Wu Wei is removed. You have become Kung Fu.
After reading this, some readers will have a feeling of disappointment: “... well, again they’ve confused, but haven’t said how to reach Wu Wei…” In this disappointment there is the internal resistance and the desire for the early logical solution of the situation. It perfectly illustrates the false view of the subject matter! And who told you, my dear reader, that there are answers to all the “wrong" questions? Is there, for example, one pill for all the diseases in the world?
Nevertheless, there are some clues, but working with them will be in the places not usual for your Kung Fu practice. You do not need to use transport to get there, for the place is always with you — in your consciousness.
1. Firstly, one needs to grasp the fact of the ongoing struggle. A man of thinking, sooner or later, realizes that the world he lives in is inhospitable and inappropriate for comfortable human existence. The subconscious fear of this hostility causes a reaction — the struggle for survival. This view of the world perception is most likely a result of logical thinking. Another possible approach tells you that the whole stream of the happening events is the essence of life itself. You can watch the stream of events, to trust this path and to be able to use it following the events. In fact, the world perception, built by your mind and logic, where you are doomed to an ongoing struggle is just an illusion, for it exists only in your mind and is far from objectivity. The concept of Wu Wei is the solution to the problem.
2. Secondly, after realizing the futility of their struggle, it is necessary to stop this usual routine. Stop fighting for life!
3. Thirdly, the best way to achieve this is to interrupt the chain of your desires. No desire, no need to fight for this desire to be embodied.
4. Fourthly, when this happens, start to observe what is happening around you. From this moment you are not an active “arranger” of the world, but neither are you a passive observer, which does nothing, expecting things or events to happen. You act in the stream of events, but you are also aware of the unpredictability and of life, ready to accept changes and to take the next adequate step. You are in the stream of Wu Wei.
Such a complex internal restructuring will not happen by itself. You need to practice it. In relation to the martial arts this is especially true. Indeed, in military practice, there is an important precondition for the approach to Wu Wei.
5. For the liberation of consciousness and the approach to Wu Wei the set of technique’s actions of the school or style that you practice, have to be put on the skill level.
Originally, this article was published in magazine "Martial Arts" at 12.2014:
Translated by: Ekaterina Pryamova
Club “Jook Lum”, St. Petersburg, Russia