Combat in a Marketplace

Combat in a Marketplace

A Backpack and Sword, that is all I brought with me to Nepal. I packed up everything I owned including my entire Martial Arts School and put it in storage while I headed out here to take a walk. Even though it has only been ten days I have been in Asia already I have taught classes of martial arts to hundreds of students, private lessons to the advanced players of WUMA (World United Martial Arts Association) Nepal and already had the chance to use my gong fu in the marketplace.

It was interesting yesterday when the beggar grabbed me, asking for handout. He was obviously out of his mind and reeked of the local whiskey. Grabbing my arm and pulling me towards him I could feel the intention he had to try and affect my mind with his actions. No violence took place of course, I slowly swatted his hand off of me and looked into his eyes while I told him not to touch me again. My intent clear. He backed off reluctantly and it reminded me of the pickpocket in Rome last year. A great moment for training, to meet mind to mind with him and be in the moment together.

There are of course legends and fictional stories about Masters and Warriors meeting in mind to mind combat, locking in battle together only mentally and determining the winner. This is usually played up as a fight scene in movies or stories that takes place in a mysterious way where both opponents can see the outcome in their minds. The reality of course is much more mundane as it always is with legends, but it does not mean it is any less real. He and I both had a moment in time where together we measured the intent and possible outcome of a conflict. So what really happened? What is the mind to mind combat in real life, without the fantasy?

Meeting eyes with someone for the first time, at a party let us say, is no different. If there is a strong attraction that feeling is palpable to you and your body language, physical response (pheromones) and movements send a message to the other person. Communication without words is a part of being human and we all do it without thinking about it. A great deal of our first impressions of one another come from this kind of gathering of information. Martial Artists who are training to really break through the barriers of mediocrity should be studying this. The art is about the study of the self and humanity itself on a larger scale. We are more similar than different and experiences like this are found in everyone’s life. The differences between the external fighter and the internal cultivator are many but looking more deeply at the non verbal interactions we all have as human beings is one of the more profound in my opinion and can result in not only a great deal of self improvement but higher levels of skill when it comes back to martial use and application.

Communication is the key here, talking without words can be very powerful. More so than words in many cases. In Chinese martial arts and medicine we could use the classical language stating that the Zhi (mind intent or willpower) can affect the reactions of your body to your thoughts. The classical saying “Yi Ling Qi” or the Mind leads the Qi is basically saying this and in the case of interactions with others we can say that my qi (relationships within my body due to the affect my thoughts have upon it) can affect others and their reactions and relationship to me. Some people appear to be approachable and others do not. Some people can be seen or felt to be in a bad mood while others give us the impression they are approachable and friendly, these are examples of this. In the case of potential violence the tension we feel is also an example of this and that moment and feeling can be trained as a skill in itself. Are we afraid of the outcome of the next moment or not? What are our intentions for the next moment? These affect heavily the outcome of the next moment for our opponent and ourselves.

To train our ability in that moment in between thought and action we need to look at how we define qigong and neigong first of all. The following are the way I and my gongfu brothers see those terms and are by no means universal, but many perspectives give a person a wide range of options and opportunities to train. Qigong we will define as the work of studying relationships which can mean anything form the relationships in the muscularity around the joints of the body to your relationship as a human being to the world around you. Neigong meaning inner or inside work is the work of studying the relationships within yourself. Your relationship to fear or anger, your relationship to the concept of death (the existential crisis) or your relationship to stimuli from outside the body and ho it affects your emotions. To quote my gongfu brother Kevin “Qigong corrects flaws in your structure, Neigong is to correct flaws in your character.”

An example of an exercise here would be Deer Neigong which physically is called a qigong in the Five Animal Frolics and involves turning the head and spine and opening the neck while looking behind but the Neigong portion of the exercise is our concern here. The Deer is a prey animal and as such needs to be aware of predators at all times. The neigong portion of the exercise is to stop moving and straighten the spine looking forwards while listening backwards. Essentially invoking the feeling that you are walking in the forest and hear something behind you, something that could be a predator stalking you, ready to end your life. This invokes a feeling of aliveness, caution and fear, invigorating the kidneys and nervous system alike. The slow and deliberate turn to look behind allows you to stay in the moment and experience the feeling of the flight or fight response about to take place. Once you have looked over your shoulder behind yourself and are convinced nothing is there a conscious and complete reaction takes place disengaging the response and returning you to normal. Taking a moment in time usually completely overlooked and instinctive and slowing it down and studying it, feeling it and your reaction to it both mentally and emotionally. The moment before impending violence is no different than this, we can all feel it but few study it.

Looking into the mans eyes after I removed his hand we both experienced this moment of fight or flight. I could feel his intent was predatory not prey and as such my instincts were in the moment before fight or flight as well. To act as prey would probably invite violence in this case and instead I chose to be a predator as well, ideally the bigger one. Without fear or remorse I softened my joints and opened my back and neck and told him firmly to not touch me again. That moment was the “combat of the minds” where our body language and mind intent clashed and decisions were made. He backed away and I relaxed and carried on through the market. No one the wiser among the people around us what took place.

Every single moment is an opportunity to train. It is up to us to recognize them and take advantage of them. Do not waste them.

Neil Ripski


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