Tag Archives: goals

The Four Energies

One of the central concepts behind SPM is the idea of four energies – types of motion, flow, or interaction, in some sense.  They’re Sink, Float, Spit, and Swallow.  (Some of you reading this probably have your mind in the gutter, going by some of the reactions I’ve gotten talking to friends about this.  Not the idea.)

I’m sure that, as my understanding and experience develop, how I characterize each of these energies will change.  For now, though, I’d describe them – simply – like this:

  • Sink – Grounding incoming energy or dispersing it through your roots.  “Stick” to the ground and become the Immovable Object
  • Float – Throwing energy upward/forward to lift your opponent and extend or open their structure
  • Spit – Whipping, waving or snapping energy.  Imagine a bullwhip in slow motion – the energy travels in a wave down its length until it reaches the tip, which snaps hard enough to generate a sonic boom (really!)
  • Swallow – Redirecting energy with circles.  Using incoming energy to add power to your own counterattack or strength to your structure

I like the idea of martial arts as philosophies, which sometimes is part of the intent, sometimes makes for some neat ideas, and sometimes is probably mostly just intellectual masturbation.  I have been toying with looking at other aspects of Life, the Universe, and Everything through the perspective of the Four Energies, though, and I think I like some of my inferences.

Sinking –

My first thought was stubbornness, really.  Or stick-to-it-iveness, if you’d rather.  When pressure is applied to you, hunker down.  Strengthen your structure.  If you have a sound foundation, you can use what’s testing you to strengthen your resolve.

Second thought?  Something I hear over and over in so many arenas, it’s uncanny: When in doubt, fall back on your fundamentals, your foundation.  If you couldn’t get a flying kick in Karate, my Sensei would tell you to work on your cat stance or your standing, stationary kicks.  If you aren’t closing sales in business, learn how to carry on a conversation, how to ask questions to get people talking about things they like and are excited about, and how to find common interests.  Build relationships.

Floating –

If you’re faced with a knotty problem you can’t break through or sneak around, take it apart.  See what gives it its structure and separate it.  Attack the problem a piece at a time or get straight to the root once you know which bits you can disregard.  Keep your focus and your form while you assault the same in whatever you’re facing.

Spitting –

Couple of things here, too.  Use everything at your disposal in conjunction to achieve huge results.  To borrow a cliche, be like flowing water and then, just for a moment, a tsunami crashing into your objective.  I actually relate this to the mindset I try to adopt when pursuing any of a number of goals.  I aspire to applying education, experience, fundamentals, and focus consistently day to day, week to week, etc.  When I pull that off, I do feel like I get this strange whipping effect.  I make a little progress, make more and steadier progress, and suddenly everything might fall into place and I’ll almost snap from a bit of a distance away to having achieved what I was going for.

Swallowing –

I like thinking of this as sort of a rhetorical device.  It’s redirecting a question to allow myself room to ask my own.  This applies to the wargaming I like to nerd out on, too.  My opponent might ask me a question by fielding lots of hard-to-hit models.  My answer, and a question in its own right, might be the threat of skating past all those difficult to kill models and winning the game by assassination – essentially killing the opposing army’s commander.  It’s having a debate – “Yes, you say that, but on the other hand…”

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…Which reminds me of one of my Sifu’s favorite metaphors.  He likens Mantis to learning a language.  First you learn some words and grammar with simple techniques and basics.  As you progress, you string some of those words together into phrases.  Eventually, you can generate a sentence of techniques, footwork, structure, breathing, and energy.  Ultimately, you carry on a conversation, a debate, or an argument as you work with other practitioners or, if necessary, engage in a fight.

So, things I have fun toying with while I’m doing busywork or just enjoying some quiet.  If any other martial artists or people with analogous experience would like to chime in with their thoughts, I’d love to hear them!

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On Again, Off Again

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I have this nasty habit (previously discussed) of adding lots to my plate.  Usually it ends up becoming more than I can reasonably handle.  I’m not all that great at juggling lots of priorities and I have plenty of bumps and bruises from falling off of one wagon or another.  It’s humiliating when one of those priorities is something that I’ve professed to myself or to others is important to me – something I value and respect and want to honor, accomplish, or stick with.  It’s been diet, it’s been martial arts, it’s been taking care of my emotional state, it’s been my wife, and it’s probably been most everything that I want to be able to pay attention to with any regularity.

That humiliation feels like the bane of my existence sometimes.  It’s hard to swallow my pride and say that I’ve failed and that I’m coming back to try to pick up where I left off. It’s hard to admit to others or to myself that I’m not as capable or enduring as I’d like to be by coming back to face those priorities again.

On the other hand, coming back to those things that fall by the wayside for a bit is another way to demonstrate that they do matter.  I’m not perfect.  I’m not strong, smart, or tough enough to handle everything with its due attention all the time.  I try and try to maintain that state, but it never quite works, or never does for long.  That’s ok.  Returning to a thing to pick it back up is good and important no matter how awkward it feels.  Momentum is the least of what I lose, but any of that loss is better than sacrificing ideals, concepts, goals, or people that I value.

So the word of the day, I guess, is probably humility.  Yes, demonstrate it in public.  Don’t discount yourself or your worth, but don’t take yourself too seriously.  By the same token, be humble with yourself.  Know that you’ll fall off the wagon.  You’ll make mistakes, lose sight of your goals, forget basics and fundamentals.  Forgive yourself.  Refocus.  Remember.  Relearn.  You’ll get back on track.

The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore. – Vincent Van Gogh

More hinging on martial arts today!

So one of the reasons that Southern Praying Mantis Kung Fu appeals to me is that it’s aggressive and decisive.  One of the changes I’d really like to see/make in myself involves fostering those qualities.  I’m naturally sort of an engineer, I guess.  I love details, planning, plotting, and drilling down into reasons and ramifications.  That’s a huge strength in many situations; I’m pretty good at financial stuff, math and science, logic (arguably), and other sorts of technically-oriented things.  The problem with it largely stems from a tendency toward analysis paralysis.  I’m prone to second-guessing myself, scrapping and rebuilding plans at the first sign of resistance, and just plain stopping at the planning stages of a given pursuit.

One of the great ways I’ve run into for characterizing personality types is the STAR system, popularized by Jim Hoyt.  The premise is that most people have one of four tendencies as a primary personality trait, usually with a pretty huge influence on their perspective on the world and interactions with people.  S is for Structure – people who like systems, processes, rules, and SOPs.  A is for Action – people who buy cars because they’re fast, who like being loud and visible and paid attention, and prefer to act from their gut rather than think a question through.  Rs are Relationship people.  They’re the kind of people who are genuinely hurt or distressed if you don’t accept two pops, a cup of coffee, dinner, and dessert when you visit their place.

Ts…  Ts are Theory or Technical people.  At the extremes, a few things might be true.  If they own a fancy car, they can take the whole thing apart and reassemble it in better shape in one afternoon.  If they have a great stereo, they know all the circuit schematics and maybe have added an “11” to the dial because of the technical challenge.  They build their own computers if they’re chipheads and they’re power users in any program they latch on to.  They don’t keep pictures of people in their houses.  Ts, I prefer to think, are not misanthropes, but really do tend to exist in a very detail-oriented, mechanical, and intellectual frame of reference.  A thing that isn’t practical or functional is hardly a thing at all.

I also like to think that I mitigate some of the social issues that arise from being a strong T.  When I’ve taken STAR assessments in the past, that aspect has always been primary for me.  Usually, though, R and A are also fairly high.  To some degree those compensate for the “weaknesses” of a pure T.  I’m not all that often inclined to be social, but it’s not for lack of love for friends and I absolutely cherish time that I spend with them.  There are times when action is required and having some A in me has saved my hide on a few occasions.  I feel like that A also plays a lot into my spirituality, incidentally, since I consider myself largely intuitive and spontaneous despite relatively rational foundations.

What really throws me, and where I want to find a better balance, is in long-term action.  Like I said, I tend to be a pretty thorough planner.  I can incorporate ratios, statistics, scheduling, daily activities, etc etc.  I can understand (I think) how to get from A to B in a lot of different circumstances, especially with time to research and learn where I feel like I’m lacking.  The disconnect is in the doing.  I might stick to a long-term plan for a few days or a week, or stay on top of record-keeping for a long string of related tasks, or whatever else before getting distracted or reconsidering or second-guessing or just becoming disenchanted by whatever plan or by the labor and focus involved…

…Huh.  Maybe I’m thinking backwards about this.  Was going to get back to hoping SPM would strengthen my A streak, but that can wait for another time.  I had in mind that I’m too much of an extreme – such a T that I naturally exist in more or less constant planning and not much doing.  On the other hand, though, maybe I’m having issues not because I’m too much of a T, but because I let too much of my gut-checking, immediate gratification, easily-distracted A butt into my headspace while I’m acting on my grand and far-reaching plans.

That’s probably a thing worth paying more attention to.  As tend to have trouble with things that aren’t immediately visible or visceral.  If I have a 1, 3, 5, or 10-year plan involving amounts of money, situations, rewards, and sensations that I don’t know well-enough to feel in my gut, it makes some sense to me that the A side of me gets bored and restless when I’m acting to make progress on those long-term and lofty goals.  Trying to make the execution of said plans appeal to my T side for the sake of validation and realization might be more helpful than giving my A side such detailed parameters to work in, even if I  am trying to be proactive, aggressive, and in motion.

So maybe a lesson learned – or remembered, more properly – during my writing today:  Sometimes it’s better to be constructively unbalanced than to strive for equilibrium.

You don’t bring good to the world by suffering; you do it by getting off your ass and doing good in the world. – Me

Man is almost mad—mad because he is seeking something which he has already got; mad because he’s not aware of who he is; mad because he hopes, desires and then ultimately, feels frustrated. Frustration is bound to be there because you cannot find yourself by seeking; you are already there. The seeking has to stop, the search has to drop… ~Osho

Pneuma – the air, the breath, the life.  The philosophical soul.  The essence of will and thought.

Kinesis – the moving, the changing, the realization, the becoming.  The motion of a body through phases of existence or states of being.

This blog is intended as an experiment of sorts, a journal, and a sounding board.  It’s sort of a result of some decisions and some changes I’ve been making, the most important of which is probably to start willfully shaping myself and nurturing parts of my personality that I think are valuable and present, but… lacking, I guess.

So where am I coming from?  A sort of vague, procrastinating, indecisive rut, in many ways. I saw somewhere that “endurance is another way to excuse sloth” the other day, and it stung some.  I’ve been hanging in there on one of my biggest professional goals, watching other people fail themselves out, excuse themselves from the effort, or coast while I’ve pardoned myself for not achieving what I want to by saying that “I’m still here” and “I’m doing this the right way and that does take longer” and (maybe slightly more reasonably) “I’ve come a long way towards being able to do this but there’s a long way to go.”

I have a habit of letting myself down, breaking promises, and – probably the worst for me – giving in to fear.  I can put myself on the line for what’s right in arenas where I don’t really give a crap about whether I get fired, ostracized, or otherwise penalized for it, but in situations where I want to succeed, I’m often so afraid of sticking my neck out or being seen unfavorably that I may as well be paralyzed.  It’s a cruel irony.  I get so much more accomplished towards ends I don’t give a damn about than otherwise.  And I beat the hell out of myself for the excuses, the cowardice, the lack of movement.  I don’t know if it’s some bizarre sort of coping mechanism or some flavor of emotional masochism, but it’s one of the big things that I’m hoping to change and chronicle with this site.

What’s changing?

To know what is right, and not to do it, is the worst kind of cowardice – Confucius

For starters, I’ve revisited what I consider “right” in my life.  I’ve reaffirmed that it’s more important to do anything ethically and morally than quickly and profitably.  Live a life of wealth rather than get rich quick.  I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve not been as good in the past at building relationships with people as I’d like to have been.  I’ve acknowledged lots of stuff that I don’t need and don’t use.  I realized a few months ago that when I stopped physical training, I stopped doing what was both a great emotional outlet for me and probably the most powerfully spiritual activity that I’ve got.

I’ve recommitted to action on these points, too.  I’ve decided to study great relationship-builders, to make more effort to learn about and show care for people I’ve known forever and people I’ve only recently met.  I’ve joined a martial arts school again and consider myself to be a serious practitioner (or student, at least) for the first time in years.  I’m exploring ways to be accountable to others and to be more accountable to myself, but kinder.  More encouragement and less threat.  More building and less punishment.  Like I mentioned earlier, this blog is one of those methods.  I’ve decided to indulge in more philosophy and less process, and to work towards more grace rather than more technique.

I guess in the end I’m looking for more peace of mind.  Not peace, not boredom, and not a lack of challenge.  But something closer to serenity, maybe.  Learning to be more for the moment, more for the people around me, and to so thoroughly incorporate what I value into my being that I don’t have to think or to plan or to make time for it.  I’ll live it instinctively and hopefully it will be something that just about every act reinforces to me and demonstrates to others.

So, off we go!  I’m aiming for about an entry a week!  Poke me if I vanish!

Next time, physicality and spirituality!