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.
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.
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.
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.
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…”
…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!