The Tao of Martial Arts. And Coffee.
Have you ever seen a real pro coffee drinker? Someone who can four wheel drive, dodge traffic, park, shift, pass, and occasionally jump small import cars while holding a cup – not a drop spilling onto the console or their pants? This is a remarkable thing to witness and an art I am starting to achieve some small level of skill in. The expert grasps the cup not too hard, not too soft. They give and sway with motions cancelling out the violent changes in vehicle direction and speed. The body acts as a shock absorber not so much by responding to every change but by simply staying fluid and relaxed. By allowing movement stillness is achieved. Setting the cup in a strong, stable, fixed position spells disaster. Even in the best of cup holders the hot bean-tea will be splashed about making a mess, burning occupants and worse, wasting coffee. It is the motion that allows safety, and security does not come from strength or anchoring.
This of course got me thinking about what Bruce Lee referred to as the tree of martial arts. The tree has leaves, all of which have value, but neither leaves nor branches should be regarded as the thing itself. While each branch is an expression of the tree, the tree comes up from roots. And these roots are of great concern to the martial artist. You might call these Universal Principles. The principles manifest in the many branches of study, with some branches becoming specialized in a certain expression. A rooted understanding allows freedom and humility that benefits all who study. One of these Universal Principles must certainly be; Mobility.
By contemplating mobility at the root, trunk, branch, or leaf level we come to understand it more fully and see how mobility is an asset. At the leaf level one might train how to get up from the ground. Standing up in a scientific, protected, defendable, balanced way under duress is a technical endeavor. It must be practiced. Mobility might be related to footwork, how to move quickly into opportunity, or escape harm. Mobility might be using a horse to cover ground or knowledge of the landscape. For each principle that is an asset there is an equal and opposite effect which is limiting that asset for the enemy. Limiting mobility is something to be considered and is exactly what my coffee taught me about today.
By placing a lid on my coffee I was able to confine the mobility of the good stuff to a small outlet, the sipping hole, and put one finger on it as needed for my rough mountain roads. Thus I could anchor the cup in the console and mostly free up that hand, except as needed, for other tasks. All of the coffee was forced to enter a constricted space which made dealing with the entire mass possible with less resources (one finger).
With a bolt of light from cloudy skies over Cold Mountain I thought of Spartans holding the Hot Gates! I remembered running a soccer ball up the field with players blocking each other from getting to me all at once. I thought of the bathrooms at Cataloochee Ski Resort, one toilet available for a squad of would be squatters not so patiently praying profanities for the endurance to make it a few more minutes. With this in mind a great drill came to mind and we tried it that very day. It is well worth recreating if you have a class. Slow sparring; grabs or strikes, grappled and attacks done safely against a defender or each other is a good way to analyze technique, build creativity, gain attributes and reinforce principles. After warming up by making sure students know how to remain under control and respectful, allow a student to defend against multiple attackers in slow to medium motion. Get them moving, protecting, aggressing, changing levels, and of course getting hit. In our class we arranged large pads to make a corridor that simulates an entry way or hallway. The attackers are coffee, the corridor is the spout! Start in the middle of the room and notice how the fight feels; the overwhelming numbers, the chaos, the difficulty. Have students work towards the entry way being especially destructive to anyone that might slip in before them. Step over and on said persons making use of the step as a final crippling blow. As the defender moves into the corridor the fight energy changes. The effect of numbers begins to dwindle and incredible damage can be inflicted by a student now fighting against one single angle of attack. In reality the horrible violence that occurs to the first few people into the corridor, who quickly become floor mats for their friends causing tripping and stumbling, a further decrease of mobility, has an effect on the mind of the mass.
Like the coffee, the multiple attackers while superior in strength and number, become manageable with less resources; even for a time, stoppable. In effect this drill teaches an individual the value of limiting enemy mobility while maintaining personal mobility to some degree. Watch out for goat paths. Being surrounded in a constricted position is a weak position. Be aware that a closet may limit attacker effectiveness but also limits mobility. The trade-off may be worth it for temporary survival; consider Helms Deep! In general as mobility comes to a stop the battle quickly tips in favor of the more agile contender. This is a Universal Principle and can be applied to tank warfare, naval strategy, small team tactics, the propagandist, nuclear arsenal survivability and individual combat.
Limiting mobility is not physical only. I once handled a potentially dangerous situation by talking a group of attackers into one on one confrontation, starting with the tallest member – it was an offer he could not say no to. It also stopped the group from killing me. I was able to walk away from that episode because their numbers were blocked at a choke point; a psychological corridor, built by ego.
Think how your martial art addresses mobility and honestly ask if you have emphasized it in some way as a study in itself. Think of stances, evasions, and even body conditioning to keep you going as your opponent slows down.
And next time you order your favorite beverage sit for a time and consider what wisdom it has to teach. But don’t sit too long. We are like a car; idleness is the enemy of our own flesh and blood.