Let “IT” Happen!
Some of the greatest martial artists in the world — Ueshiba, Funakoshi, Chojun Miyagi — they were in their absolute prime in their 70’s and 80’s. That’s unheard of for an athlete. A gymnast is in their prime in their teens. Most athletes think about retiring in their mid-30’s, by 45 they’re coaching, by 60 they’re consulting, and in their 70’s they’re remembering and watching it on TV. How in the world can martial artists be in their prime at 70 and 80 years old? They can’t do more push ups. They’re not stronger than they were at 25. They aren’t more flexible. They aren’t faster. The only way these people can remain in the prime of their practice with a body well past its peak is because, at the highest levels, martial arts is a mental discipline.
A young, strong, fast martial artist fires a front punch at you and you, as a young, strong, fast martial artist yourself, are able to sidestep or get out of the way of the punch. And an old 80 year old master has the same punch thrown at him and is also able to get out of the way of the punch. To the naked eye, it appears to be the exact same occurrence, but it’s really not. At some point before impact, the young practitioner recognizes the punch being thrown and, with quick reflexes, is able to move out of the way, or block or counter with a technique of their own. But the old master isn’t that nimble, isn’t that quick. Yes, he is able to recognize the punch so much more quickly than the young man that it compensates somewhat for slower movement or less flexibility. But there’s more going on. As the punch is coming in, the old master’s mind is truly in that moment, and so the punch is not moving at 80 mph, 90 mph. In his mind, the punch is moving is slow motion. Not because he’s concentrating intently — quite the opposite. His mind is clear, like a still pond. When the water is like glass, when everything is completely still, then the tiniest movement produces a ripple that we sense instantly and clearly. But if the water is choppy and splashing and moving about, then that same tiny movement is lost — you don’t feel it at all.
It is often desires that keep us from living in the moment, for they can only be fulfilled in the future.
Your mind is that pond. When you clear your mind completely, then you will recognize every tiny ripple very clearly and much earlier, and be able to spontaneously and creatively respond. Bruce Lee said “It’s when IT happens.” Ueshiba Sensei said “It’s when Spirit flows through you.” That’s the state of Mushin — no-mind — that we are striving for.
I’ll give you an example. You’re driving down the road 50, 60 mph and you hit a piece of ice and the car starts to spin and you know you’re going to hit the telephone pole. What happens? Everything slows down, doesn’t it. Why? It’s because your fear has put you right in the moment. You aren’t thinking about the argument with your wife. You’re not thinking about getting your child off to school. You’re not thinking about the meeting at 11:00. You’re not thinking at all. This is Mushin. You are right there, completely in that moment, to the exclusion of everything else. Your consciousness changes and your perception of time-flow changes with it. Now imagine being able to control when you go into that state.
Creativity is when you get out of the way and the Divine shines through.
24 / 7 – 365
Understand that this state is not exclusive to martial artists. I’ve said for years that Michael Jordan does not love basketball. Baryshnikov does not love ballet. Mohammed Ali does not love boxing. They loved the state of consciousness they were able to achieve when performing these activities. Michael Jordan was asked in an interview, “What is the number one thing that you miss about playing since you’ve retired?” And he said, “I miss the quiet, the peacefulness. When I was on the court, playing, it was the quietest place in the world.” The reporter seemed confused and said, “But Mr. Jordan, thousands of people were watching you, sometimes screaming and jumping up and down. You had announcers and music and loudspeakers and hundreds of thousands watching on T.V. How was that the quietest place?”
“I can’t explain it,” said Jordan. “It just was.”
In his mind, he was so completely focused right there, in that moment, that everything else was gone. In Mushin, there is no past and there is no future. There is only now. We have created this concept of linear time, of 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, 7 days in a week. We all agree on the rules and we use it, we need it, to interact with one another and create societies. But it’s an artificial structure that bears no resemblance to the way our minds really work. Linear time has no bearing on consciousness.
In Mushin, there’s only this moment. And in this moment, duality ceases. There is no up or down, no left or right, no good or bad, no right or wrong. There just is. And then, from that state of centred calm, you react spontaneously and creatively. It happens and, when you’re able to let it happen, you cannot take credit for it. A great master said, “You don’t throw the punch. You don’t do the block. It happens to you. You are a conduit at best.”
Most teachers’ advice is think, think, and think. The zen masters advice is stop thinking.
Of course, if you’re performing technique incorrectly, then it could be that you need more physical practice. But at a certain point, your body can do it. What goes awry is that you’re thinking too much about it. You’re considering too many cases of either-or. You’re trying too hard.
Prepare, then Let Go
Sometimes, we really prepare for a situation that’s coming. A speech, a test, an event, a spotlight moment. We prepare intently. We make sure we have all our ducks in a row. We really understand our topic and we know what we’re going to do. And we still choke. Why? It’s because our minds become cluttered with all the thoughts, all the possibilities of things that could go right or wrong. We’re trying too hard. The water is too choppy. We have to just let go and let it happen. I’m not saying that you should not prepare. Preparation is very, very important. But once you’ve prepared and you’re ready and the moment comes to perform, then you have to let go. The struggle culminates in surrender. In Mushin, we’re surrendering to the consciousness of no-mind. The chatter ceases and only the moment matters. We are no longer there, except as a part of the universe. And so the universe is moving through us, with us.
In martial arts, whenever you attack, you’re thinking. You cannot enter the state of Mushin if you’re striving to attack. You must be defensive, but not calculating, not anticipating the other person’s movement or motion. You have to truly just be. You have to wait and be. The essence of Mushin lies in the breath. The breath and the mind are inseparable. The condition of one directly reflects the condition of the other. As your breathing slows, your mind slows. As your mind slows, the waters grow calm, turn to glass, and you’re able to touch that state of no-mind, the state that is going to help you not only in your practice, but every day throughout your life.
It is your thoughts that decide where you go as well as hinder you from knowing who you really are.
Sensei Matt, Shudokan Black Belt Academy – Aikido Nottingham