On Taking Direct Action in a Martial Arts Context
A wise person makes their own decisions, but a foolish person follows public opinion.
Two of the more popular topics of Social Media & the Online World are self-improvement & politics. From diet to exercise, education to ethics, there is no shortage of people offering advice, programs, or courses on how you can improve your life now. Many of these extol the virtues of “action”. They stress the superiority of action over stagnation, illustrate the ways in which action can erase fear, & generally insist that you must take action. On the political side, there is just as much insistence on action, though this usually takes the form of calls for “direct action.” The gulf between these two examples is enormous, but they both boil down to the same thing: cheap talk. The self-improvement concept of action is basically a marketing adaptation of the older political concept, so we’ll consider it the representative example of “talk-over-action” here.
The concept of “direct action” has always existed, but the heavy political overtones now commonly connected with it first appeared in the early 20th Century. The American feminist & anarchist Voltairine de Cleyre wrote an essay in 1912 called “Direct Action” in which she justified the actions of radical political groups by claiming historical incidents, such as the Boston Tea Party & the Abolitionist Movement, were early examples of Direct Action. This is, perhaps, the first deliberate conflation of nonviolent Direct Action & simple violence. The noble concept of resistance advocated by Dr Martin Luther King, Jr & Mohandas Gandhi is now the smug justification of Socialists, Greenpeace, & other unwashed wannabe-terrorists.
The real world is no better than the online one. The self-improvement set considers things like “taking cold showers”, “making a schedule” or “practicing EVERY SINGLE DAY”, to be Direct Action. Meanwhile, pseudo-Red Pill Twitter Anons consider “standing up to your wife” & “telling your children to do their homework” to be prime examples. As with so many aspects of life in 2019, these things that everyone used to just do, without a second thought, pass for high level. It would be sad if it wasn’t infuriating.
What does all of this have to do with Martial Arts? Nothing, of course. These lame excuses for “action” pale in comparison to truly direct, deliberate action.
以意引氣/Yi Yi Yin Qi – Use the Intent to Lead the Qi
In 527 A.D. the 28th Chan Buddhist Patriarch Bodhidharma, popularly known as 達摩/Damo, is said to have arrived at the Shaolin Temple in Dengfeng County, Henan Province, China. In addition to reorganizing the Temple he is credited with creating the Shaolin Martial Arts by introducing the Muscle Changing Classic & Marrow Washing Classic to the Monks. The above quote, “Use the Intent to Lead the Qi”, is one of the key concepts from those works. It refers to the principle on which the entire system hinges: deliberate intentional activity. In the case of Muscle Changing training, the activity this is applied to is isometric muscle development for strength enhancement.
This Method is a perfect way to develop the Intention required to take deliberate, truly Direct Action. The unity of the Mind, Qi, & Li (力 – Strength, Power) is a common theme in many Martial Arts. My own primary Style, Xingyiquan, is an excellent example of this. The core of its Internal training is centered on the systematic cultivation of Intention as a controlling factor in all aspects. The idea is best expressed by some of the classic proverbs: “Inside & Outside Mutually Linked, Front & Back mutually Required/內外相連，前后相需”; & “Upper & Lower, Outside & Inside, no trouble staying in contact/上下表里，不難聯絡”. The described states are achieved by sublimating & combining the Intention, Qi, Li, & movement, resulting in a practitioner fully “Embodying Intent”.
Though a Martial Artist spends time training their body, they are at the same time training their Mind. The Advanced Exercise Methods used to develop various physical capabilities have the added benefit of refining the mental processes & accelerating the maturation of the Character. These benefits are seen even in casual students. The inescapable real-world aspect of any Martial Art can guarantee an increase in efficiency of thought, the most obvious result of which is an increase in the efficiency of both planning & action. The time required for completion of the OODA Loop (observe–orient–decide–act) is dramatically shortened, resulting in greater control over all physical activity by improving the quality of the mental activity that precedes it. Your actions in the world are improved in all respects: greater volume of higher quality actions, performed directly in response to the situation at hand.
More so than any petty political temper tantrum, this is an eminently desirable type of Direct Action. The goals of an individual may be achieved, the fears of an individual may be averted or prevented, the vagaries of chance may be easily navigated by this qualitative refinement of the self.
When a person learns any Martial Art, especially an advanced one, they are, on some level, learning to achieve such a state of unified, deliberate action directed by the Mind. This is one of the most profound benefits of studying Martial Arts. Unlike the more widely accepted concept, this is true Direct Action. Whether practicing Applications, defending yourself in the streets, or going about your day to day activities, there is immense benefit in learning to act effortlessly, to spontaneously manifest your plans. The reduction in mental noise, time wasted worrying over possible outcomes, & fear of failure are worth the time required to learn this skill on their own. But, more than these, one gains the ability to direct their energy toward a goal more efficiently. Conception->Planning->Preparation->Execution; only productive steps are taken from beginning to end, resulting in truly Direct Action.
“Uncle Sickness” is the pen name of Brad Ruka, a man who has survived death through the Power of Kung Fu. An experienced practitioner & teacher of Northern Chinese Martial Arts with over twenty years of experience, he specializes in the “Big Three” Internal Styles.
His lifelong pursuit of self-cultivation through Martial Arts, Daoist Meditation, & Qigong has spanned the world from his hometown of Boston, to the souks of Morocco, to the mountains of Japan.
Visit sicknesskungfu.com for more on these topics.