What You Resist May Save You

Our To-Shin Do martial art was developed from the original combat methods of the Togakure ninja of Japan. One of our hallmarks is an educational process that incorporates an understanding of psycho-emotional influences described by a series of five element-nicknamed patterns.

The water element describes a tendency to put distance between self and others in order to gain more clarity and understanding of what is going on. We could call it going within in order to better understand the situation without. In its lowest most degenerated form, the water element shows up in a personality as a tendency to push away others and regard them with a sense of hostility. In its highest form, the water element influence is a tendency towards scientific knowing, subjective knowledge of truth that rises from the depth of the heart.

As a way of dealing with conflict, the water element shows up as reliance on tactical positioning to render useless the power of others. With skillful movement into unexpected angles, water strategy leaves an aggressor in a position where his strengths are pointless and he is wide open to counterattack. The water element fighter is known as a tactical fighter, a scientific combatant.

Nonetheless, every now and then, I’ll find a tough male student who resists the water element aspect of our martial arts training. The usual explanation goes something like, “I’m just not a guy who backs off when someone gets in my face. If someone comes at me, I charge in and take him out. I never back down.”

The water element strategy is not backing down. The water element is tactically placing yourself where you can with utmost efficiency and effect stop an aggressor’s advance. As true as that is though, a tough “always charge the hill” sort of guy can still out of habit dismiss as a retreat or a hesitation any tactic that is not a fire blast forward. He has trained himself to take pride in seeing himself as tough and ready, and he just will not let himself angle out instead of charging in.

For years I have searched for the right wording to allow the tough guy to see taijutsu water tactical angling as one more tool of the successful combatant. In the world of sport or tavern fighting, “never back up” has become his proud credo, his badge of self recognized courage. Yes, but that is a consensual fight with one other person. What about the world of war, unexpected assault, or the overwhelming confusion of a gang attack?

“How about this,” I now offer. “You’re on a surfboard in the ocean and the largest shark imaginable cruises toward you. Do you want to charge those gaping jaws full of razor teeth, or do you want to slip the attack and stab in from the side where you can batter the gills with your board and fists and fingers? Are you ‘backing down’ or are you using tactical movement to better win with less wear and tear?”

I’m going to try that explanation next time. You can be tough and determined, and be smart at the same time. Maybe that view will help one more person give up resisting a very valid aspect of fully empowered human capacity.

4 comments to “What You Resist May Save You”

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  1. Reminds me of the saying, as we encounter great challenge / danger, let us not jump to conclusions (or actions) or conclusions will jump on us (get us). Instead like the ocean wave, tapping our knowledge-wisdom, using timing with distancing, act at the moment most advantageous.

    One could say, use our knowledge, and resources, to make the wisest decision instead of going in half cocked. Like the shark example, not long ago faced a similar challenge on land.

    While riding my motorcycle (my wife was with me) a car did an abrupt turn, not looking, he then sped up and came straight at us in our lane. With traffic around us, instead of directly challenging the car with my motorcycle or play “chicken” with it, used the water principle to access the best angle to avoid getting hit from not only that driver, but others around too. The result was we did not charge, or back-down, but wisely acted for the best outcome (especially for our safety).

    Thank you An-shu for wonderfully bringing to life the elements in meaningful ways we can apply to our lives too.

    Continue to find your lessons coming alive in new meaningful ways…..Ah the joy of learning, the experience of that “Aha!!” moment…so many….So wondrous too!

    William Honaker

  2. While reading this, one very poignant example came to mind. It was a discussion I was having with a group of Buddhists concerning the nature of violence. My point went something like this:

    If someone chooses to hit me, I can’t really do much to change that decision. I can only respond to the attack. I do, however, have a decision in how I respond. I can take the hit. I can charge forward and strike, probably taking a hit. I can argue about the impossibility of the fist having an impact on my karmic reality, and probably take a hit. Or I can freakin’ move out of the way of that hit.

    When we allow for tactical thinking, we can usually give ourselves more options not only for avoiding harm, but for defusing the situation entirely without needless pain. I like that thought.

  3. I enjoy this reflection of how people can get stuck. I too have encountered the tough guy who can’t understand the tactical water perspective.

    Where I live, however, I encounter more of the opposite – those who feel uncomfortable with any form of direct confrontation. Although I appreciate their attempt at a compassionate and embracing view of others, it is not a sound universal policy. I struggle to help them see that pre-emptive take-charge action is not always based in rage or hate, but is sometimes the most compassionate form of leadership and conflict-resolution.

  4. Kyro Lantsberger says: -#1

    I like this example and the larger insight. Those were some very well chosen words. Ever since I read the Ninja 1-4 volumes back in the 80s, my thinking has been influenced by the idea of the “elements” and how they manifest both in martial arts and in the emotions and trajectory of events in general. I think that one of the old books (vol 2?) had a description of the positive and negative manifestations of the different centers. Is there anything An-Shu Hayes has written since that really breaks these down. The description on this blog of water was fantastic.

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