Adult Student’s Corner
What does it mean to be fluid, and why does it matter in Kung Fu?
As I’m sure everyone knows, our Shaolin Kung Fu Crane teaches us “fluidic harmony”.
Bruce Lee said: “You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can flow and it can crash. Become like water my friend.”
Being fluid is being like water. Water always gets where it needs to go—put a boulder in the way, it goes around it; a dam, it rises above it; a cliff, it goes over it. If we mimic water—become water—we can develop speed and responsiveness without creating muscle stress—we reduce reaction time without increasing energy output. This is a vital skill in Kung Fu, and increasingly so as we age and reaction times slow, flexibility decreases, and bodies become more rigid.
From Merriam Webster the definition of fluid is: capable of flowing freely like water; used to describe something that can change easily or that changes often; having a smooth and easy style.
This is not unlike the quality of resilience, which is the ability to adapt and change in the moment: You are responsive enough to effectively cope with whatever comes your way.
This ability comes from many hours of training and practice, and a complete awareness of your body and environment.
From a physical perspective our fluid movements, blocks, footwork, slips, weaves and other moves that help to keep us out of harm’s way and set us up for effective and efficient follow-ups as required.
There is also the idea of re-directing the energy of your opponent. As we learn in aikido, you don’t need to deal with the bodily attack if you can redirect the mind and the flow of energy; don’t go against the strength – but redirect it away from you. Never oppose the aggressor’s strength head-on. We can spend a lot of energy going “head to head” with someone. The result is usually a lot of energy and time, and a win-lose outcome. Redirecting energy is more efficient, effective, and allows the possibility for everyone to win, or to avoid unnecessary conflict to begin with.
Fluidity is not only physical, but mental as well. The English translation of the Japanese concept “Mushin” is “no mind”—letting your mind flow. It is a mental state into which trained martial artists are said to enter during combat. They also practice this mental state during everyday activities. It is about acting with unconscious awareness – with automatic action: no thoughts interfere with the action because the mind is flowing like water from one action to another unconsciously.
Of course, it’s much easier to talk about fluidity than to develop it. I have some ideas, but you will have to wait for the next issue of Fu for You….