It seems that this is the way I will have to do it. Many of these videos will be brief, to compensate for them not being terribly concise.
Also, they might be quirkier than usual.
Consider it a side effect of my being alone a lot, and separated from family for the duration of the pandemic.
Episode 1: What is Tai chi?
Episode 2: What is Tai chi Made Of?
What John Cleese and other Klingon warriors can tell us?
Episode 3: What does “Tai chi” Mean?
Episode 4: What is Qi?
Also spelled, chi. But either way, say “Chee”.
Episode 5: What Kind of Martial Art is Tai chi?
Granted, to many people, tai chi is not a martial art. But when it is, what kind is it?
Episode 6: The Magic of Alignment in Tai chi?
Alignment is physical, mental, emotional, intentional, energetic, structural, and dynamic…among other things. It is also social, and tai chi can teach us a lot about our place in the world and how we can all get along.
This next video took two weeks to write and produce. It could have been ten shorter videos. But with the current socioeconomic situation, it seemed appropriate to present it in this format.
I will be adding a complete transcript of this video in the near future.
(Self Defeating Class Three Lever Syndrome) SDCTLS
When I am teaching tai chi, or any other martial art class, my students will often ask me, “How is racism like a Class 3 lever?” I would have thought that to be self-evident. But we do need to cover the basics.
So, first, let’s review the three classes of lever.
- A class one lever has the fulcrum in the middle, like a see-saw, or a pair of scissors, or pliers.
- A class two lever has the load in the middle, like a crowbar or a wheelbarrow.
- A class three lever has the effort in the middle, like an idiot.
TRANSCRIPT (click here to open)
Whenever I am teaching Tai Chi, or any other martial art, students often ask me, “Why is racism like a class-3 lever?”
Now, I would have thought this to be self-evident.
But let’s review the basics. Shall we?
A lever involves a load (the thing you want to move), a fulcrum (the thing that you move it around), and the effort (the thing you move it with).
If you remember from grade three, there are three classes of lever:
- class one lever has the fulcrum in the middle, like a seesaw or a pair of scissors.
- A class two lever has the load in the middle, like a crowbar or a wheelbarrow.
- A class-3 lever has the effort in the middle, like like an idiot.
With a class one and class two lever, the mechanical advantage increases the closer the load is to the fulcrum.
A class-3 lever always has a mechanical advantage of less than one.
So, why do we have class three levers at all if they don’t provide a mechanical advantage.
The human body has many of them class-3 levers. The arms act like class three levers whether you’re moving the elbow around the shoulder, or moving
the forearm around the elbow, or moving the hand around the wrist. All of these levers have the effort between the load and the fulcrum. The bicep pulls the forearm up, causing the radius an ulna to pivot around elbow. This is a class three lever. When you move the elbow relative to the torso, you use the pect., clav. del., and subscap. muscles here to pull the elbow around the shoulder. And when you pull the elbow backward, you use several muscles on the back to pull the elbow around the shoulder. And likewise if you use your deltoids and trapezius muscles for shoulder abduction.
So, the arms are usually class three levers.
In Tai chi, we learn to stabilize those class three levers and to integrate them into the tensegrity structure.
Remember tensegrity structures from episode six?
We align the tensegrity structure and stabilize the class three levers so that they become integrated with the rest of the body. Then the arms can become a contact point for class one levers or class two levers. So, if I put the fulcrum on the axial line (an anatomical reference to an imaginary line between the hip and the shoulder), and I pivot the pelvis around the hip, then the whole body will, instead of turning like a wheel, swing like a door. This way I can put my arm against something and push it using my whole body as a class one lever.
I connect the arm and stabilize it, and then I pivot around the right axial line allowing gravity do almost all of the work.
It doesn’t even take a lot of effort. And if I use the clever Tai Chi tricks of alignment and centripetal engagement,and focusing the vectors, and so on, then I can use this class one lever to move the target. I don’t have to use any effort. I just have to relax the hip like that.
So, this is a very easy way of transferring momentum into the target and sending it horizontally using the force of gravity.
If I use class three levers to interrupt that, for example, pushing with my upper arm, and/or my forearm, and/or my hand, the what I end up doing is adding a bunch of diffuse force vectors. Instead of sending the thing that I want to move that way, with little effort, I end up using a lot of effort. The target will not as far and it will end up going off in the wrong direction.
So, the class three levers interfere with the result that I’m trying to achieve.
If I want to punch something, then I can use class three levers, like a beginner, or I can use my body weight and core power (we’ll get into that stuff in another video), and proper alignment and let the tensegrity structure relax and just let gravity do the punch.
Let us see that again. I’m gonna do it very gently.
I stabilize than levers…. this one and this one and this one, and that requires very little effort.
Look at this tensegrity structure. See how loose all of the stabilizers are. These wires are very loose, and yet they are holding this very precisely in alignment. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to hold it in one place.
But if I want it to move, then I have to tighten this up, and it takes a lot of force. And the amount of force required increases the more I want to move it and the more quickly I want to move it.
Consider a movement like Ward off. If I want to use a class 1 lever, I pivot around the axial line and I just let my whole body swing open like a door.
It requires little or no effort to punch.
If I want to move the other way, I can tuck the elbow in and this can become a class-2 lever, because the power is connected to my torso, medial to the axial line. So, if I do that, this is a class 2 lever.
In one of the forms that I teach, I include a sequence that is rarely taught these days. It is called the “five punches sequence.”
The punches are all class-one and class-two levers. The sequence follows a movement called “casting fist.”
The five punches are punch down, punch up, back fist, etc. “Punch up is a class two lever, and all of the others are class one levers. All of these punches are pivoting around the same axial line.
If you have ever taught kickboxing or boxing, then you will be quite familiar with what I call “Self-Defeating Class Three Lever Syndrome”, or “SDCTLS” or just CTLS “Class 3 Lever Syndrome”… “Cuddles”
If you’ve taught somebody to punch and you teach them the proper form and the correct alignment, and then you put them in front of a heavy bag for the first time, then all of their form goes out the window.
People start using the muscles here and the muscles there, and the muscles here, and they tighten up, and they separate the limb from the rest of
the body. They break up that tensegrity and they end up throwing their fists by using their arm muscles. You can tell them to “Please! Trust the technique. Quit trying to force it.” Yet they keep adding tension in a counter-productive manner.
You might get them to do it correctly. But they don’t get the emotional satisfaction that they get from tensing and feeling the resistance. They feel like they should be doing more. The correct way is too easy.
So, they start adding more machismo to their punch. They start using more muscle. And of course, the punch is not as effective. The vectors are diffuse. It just doesn’t work well.
When you teach them how to relax then the punch is really effective. But it doesn’t feel right. They don’t feel like they are doing anything. It is too easy.
And that’s the same with Tai Chi and push hands. People get into mid-range and then they start resisting. They start engaging all of these class three levers that interfere with the function of the whole.
The body starts fighting against itself. The different parts start bracing and arguing with each other about who should be doing what and then the vectors all go off in different directions.
When you do a technique properly it should be effortless. In fact, it should look fake. That’s the problem, of course. Because when it’s done right it looks fake and you often can’t tell the difference between the fake stuff and the real stuff.
If you are familiar with martial arts, you will see that often the finishing technique, or the technique that really turns the tide, is effortless. It is just an incidental thing.
Many times you will see a boxer get knocked out and it really doesn’t look like much of a punch. But in fact it was just good biomechanics. The person who threw the punch did it at the right place, at the right time, and had just enough mechanical advantage to transfer the appropriate momentum into the target.
Suppose you are going to swing a sword. Beginners will swing a sword using class three levers. They will use this, and this, and they will swing like that. If you align the body and think of it as a tensegrity structure, and you move the fulcrum over the hip or the waist…then, instead of using class
three levers like this, you use a class one lever, like that.
So, the hand and the arm don’t do anything. The momentum is generated by the mass of the body. The fulcrum is here on the axial line, so that it moves the sword without using any effort in the arm at all.
Isn’t that cool?
I think so so.
From here, all I need to do is move my hip just a little bit and that moves the sword. And the hand merely has to keep up with it.
“Wherefore art Thou, Class Three Lever?”
Well, then. Why do we have class three levers? There must be a reason for them.
Many machines have them. And the human body certainly has many class three levers.
Is that because sometimes strength is important? Yes, sometimes physical strength is a mechanical advantage in itself.
So, building physical strength allows us to stabilize those levers better, perhaps.
Okay. Consider the difference between momentum and kinetic energy.
Momentum is mass times velocity.
So, mass is important for momentum.The more mass you have, the more momentum you have.
Also, the more velocity you have, the more momentum you have.
With momentum, mass and velocity carry equal weight.
In contrast, the formula for kinetic energy is half of the mass times the square of the velocity. So, mass could be said to be half as important, and velocity is exponentially more important.
Think of momentum when a heavy truck, moving at a moderate speed, hits a basketball. When the momentum gets transferred from the truck into the basketball, the basketball will go a lot faster than the truck did. If you have a lot of momentum, when a heavy mass hit the lighter target, the target goes quickly.
Think of kinetic energy if the basketball hits the truck fairly quickly. It will not going to move the truck very much. But if the ball is going extremely quickly, it might damage the bumper or the grille or smash the windshield.
How does this apply in martial arts? Well, there is a difference between throwing somebody and hitting them. If you punch somebody, your main concern is going to be kinetic energy at the point of impact. The velocity of your fist when it hits the target will be a major contributing factor. But the amount of mass that you have behind the fist is also relevant. That is why heavyweights hit harder than lightweights.
So you try to move very quickly, and the faster you can throw the punch, the more of an impact the punch is going to have. However, mass is still important. And with the levers inside the body, if you want to punch very fast, you can us compound levers inside the body, and really good internal power, to generate effortless speed in the fist. So, the punch can go quickly in spite of not having to use a lot of class three levers.
You can punch with a class three lever, and if you are very strong and very fast then you might be able to get enough velocity in your fist to have an impact on your opponent. But if you can get more mass behind it, and use compound levers, then you can actually make your fist go faster than if you use the third class levers.
What the third class levers in the arms are good for is lateral power…sideways energy.
If I want to have a singular vector, then I will use internal power and the centripetal engagement. I will use my core strength and I will use class 1 and class 2 levers to generate the kind of momentum and kinetic energy that I need in my punch. And I will release the punch instead of holding onto it. At the moment of impact, the mass of the
whole body contributes to both the kinetic energy and the momentum.
If I use a class 1 lever to punch, like that, or I use a class 2 leader to punch… either way I have my body weight behind it so that when I make an impact I have a lot of velocity. But I also have a lot of momentum. The mass of the body is large and it hits the target very quickly. I need those muscles to stabilize me in order to keep my arm from going out of alignment. But that has to be relaxed.
There may be a little bit of extra tension and lateral energy at the end, depending on my level of skill and the the kind of structure that I’ve cultivated over time. But generally speaking, it is still going to be class 1 or class 2 levers.
Class three levers are, in combat, largely proprioceptive. I apply tension this way and tension this way. That enables me to feel where I am. And it can have a certain effect on helping to stabilize the rest of the tensegrity structure.
As a person is pushing on my arm, if I feel this deformed, then I use that class-3 lever, not to push them away from me, but to move me back into position.
If the person is pushing sideways on my arm, that is lateral pressure. That is a warning to me that I’m not engaging properly and I am in danger of pushing against it and knocking myself off-balance. It tells me that I need to let myself relax, engage with the tensegrity structure, and restore that connection to the ground. And that enables me to go back to that singular vector that I’m trying to maintain. I want to have one line of force connecting my feet to my opponent.
As soon as these class three levers get involved then I’m starting to push sideways like that. And this will help to give me an idea of where the tension is.
But the only reason I really want to know that in a fight is so that I can let go of it before the other person notices it. So, these class three levers are really a way of pushing sideways, not a way of moving a fist forward, not a way of moving the opponent. My class three levers are really best as a way of moving me. And they move me back into a position where I’m using class 1 and class 2 levers.
The purpose of a class 3 lever in the arms is to restore the class 1 and class 2 levers of the entire body, and not just levers, all of the other simple machines within the body as
So, class 3 levers are important. They are useful for certain things. But in the case of combat, they’re not really meant for punching or throwing. They are meant for improving the structure so that you can use class 1 and class 2 levers for throwing and punching.
The problem is, of course, that people get confused. And when we start to lose our awareness and our understanding of what’s happening, we become less concerned with the effective function and the actions that we’re taking.
We become more concerned with the proprioception. We need to redefine ourselves and our boundaries and to understand our position in the world, relative to all of the forces that are being applied to us.
So, when a person is attacking us and we don’t really know what’s going on, we tense up, and we apply all of these class 3 levers in order to try to find where we are.
And then, if we are good, if we are very skilled, then we use those, once we are aware of what is happening, to move back into a position where we are integrated again and can start applying the class one in the class two levers again.
So the problem is that people get trapped and they use class three levers as if they’re going to do something, instead of using the class three levers as a way of feeling their way back out of that class three lever situation.
When we get trapped and we get stuck then we get stuck in this pathology. It becomes a mental illness of sorts, where we hold onto this tension. And when we come out of it, it is like a sort of a post-traumatic stress disorder where we carry this tension around with us… where we are at odds with our lives and with the situation that we’ve gotten ourselves into. People walk around like this with tension because they are still fighting a fight that happened yesterday or last year or a long time ago or with our ancestors.
So, letting go of this, allowing it to integrate, allowing it to relax, and allowing us to breathe, and allowing us to function properly.
It is not easy.
You need to do it. You need to practice it. That’s why we have to have daily practice.
That is why we have to do things like scenario training.
DO NOT FIGHT YOURSELF.
If the tensegrity structure is aligned properly, then every part of the body is contributing to the power. If a third class lever gets in there and thinks that it’s better than the rest of it, then it interferes with the whole thing, and the body starts to fight against itself.
So, rule number one in martial arts is, “DO NOT BEAT YOURSELF UP.” Do not fight yourself. So, that’s why we need to relax.
All martial arts teach this.
You need to relax and you need to align. You need to trust the technique. You need to condition yourself to trust the technique.
That is why we do scenario training. Lots of people have great technique. They have great form when they are practicing in class, against no opponent at all. But, in fact, they end up resisting a lot and using a lot of tension. As soon as they get into a realistic situation, all of that training goes out the window.
So, if you have never actually done scenario training…. and I don’t just mean sport fighting…I don’t just mean going into the boxing ring, or the Octagon, or the sanshou, or the Lei Tai platform. I mean actual scenario training. And every once in a while, throw a monkey wrench into the machinery to test your ability to adapt and to maintain those principles.
You need to do this.
This applies not only to martial arts, but to life in general, and to how we interact with other people. We train to let all of the different parts of the body communicate with each other. And when they communicate and when they work together, then we can create a machine that is much more useful and much more powerful than the sum of its parts. And all of the different functions, and all of those differences, contribute to creative solutions.
MAKING THE OPPONENTS FIGHT AGAINST THEMSELVES.
With taichi, we do a small movement that gets the other person off their base of support and gets them fighting themselves.
So, a little movement with a little bit of leverage can cause the other person to tighten up and start using those class three levers. And then we can continue effortlessly with it another machine and knock the person out or put them on the ground.
Class one and class two levers provide a mechanical advantage. They also demonstrate intelligence and require a lot less effort to move the target. And with them, we can overpower bigger and stronger opponents. Used properly with the tensegrity structures of the human body, they allow us to maximize pressure per square inch and use force much more effectively.
So, we can focus the vectors more effectively with class one and two levers working with tensegrity than we can when we start to isolate different parts of the body using class three levers.
In combat, they depend on a great deal of effort. And as such, they are an affirmation of strength. We use class three levers because they are inefficient. We can feel it. They allow us to feel the resistance, which reassures us of our involvement in the fight.
Use of class three levers explores the limits of our physical strength and the extent of our proprioception. It gives us a feeling of where the boundaries are. When you tighten up the arms and you tighten up the shoulders and you you apply active resistance in one direction or another. This helps you define where you are. That is why, when people lose control in a fight… when they are afraid and they lose their awareness. Then they tighten up because they know “Something is coming. But I don’t know where.” Or, they lash out..
People tense up and they use these class three levers as if they are tentacles or proprioceptive tools for feeling which way the vectors are coming from. And when they don’t know where the vectors are coming from, they tense up everything in all directions. They either contract and withdraw or they lash out, sacrificing their own balance, in either case, in order to try to defeat the opponent wherever it is. They don’t know where. They are fishing around in the dark for something to fight against.
Class three levers have a use. But, the use of class three levers limits our awareness and interferes with the cultivation of higher-level skill and higher levels of consciousness.
The reliance on physical strength is usually a bigger problem for bigger students.
It is usually more of a syndrome when you have a student who is very strong and who is accustomed to their strength working for them. When a student relies on the strength, and they never learn how to transcend that that attachment to those class three levers, then they are at quite a loss when they come up against a higher level of skill. They never reach that higher level of skill themselves.
As an example, several years ago I had a couple of students who used to train together a lot. One was a ballerina about five feet tall, and the other was a welder/geologist/pipe fitter. He was “Strong like a bull” and “smart like a tractor.” A big, strong, handsome fellow. Very strong. So, when he was doing tuishou, or doing any other exercises with the other students, when it came down to it, he could always recruit his muscular strength and he could overpower the other students. The ballerina
learned very quickly that class three lever syndrome did not work for her. So, she had to develop higher level of skill.
At first, her level of skill was much less than his strength. But gradually her level of skill improved. However, he was not getting that much stronger, and his skill was improving much more slowly than hers was. Also, he would reach these plateaus and get stuck there because his strength kept working for him.
Now, as a teacher, it would have been my job to show him that the strength wasn’t working for him. Unfortunately, at the time my skill level wasn’t great enough to demonstrate properly, either as a teacher or as a martial artist. But she improved until one day he fell on the ground. And during the next class, he did it twice… he fell on the ground. And then, one day, he fell 3 times in succession and looked over at me and pleaded, saying “Iaaannn?”
I said, “Well, remember when I talked about relaxing? I think it has something to do with that.”
So, your strengths can be your weakness. Likewise, your weaknesses can be your strengths. That is a fundamental principle in life as well as in martial arts.
Class one and class two levers allow us to relax and balance the alignment of the body. They maintain the tensegrity that allows us to make changes instantaneously… by improving both function and awareness. Class three levers require us to send efferent neurons that tell the body what to do, whereas, if you can stabilize it and stabilize that tensegrity, then you can relax and you have more useful afferent neurons telling you what’s going on. But you also have the connection. All of th connective tissue works together, and every part of the body listens to every other part of the body. With class 3 lever tension, you have the brain trying to communicate to all of the different parts of the body. They don’t get to work together and then you end up requiring this sort of vertical hierarchy. So, you have this authority in your brain trying to tell all the different parts of the body what to do. And it has to because all the different parts are fighting against each other.
mm-hmm? Anyway… When you relax and you let go of that brain power, you let the mind become calm and empty and you relax the body, then the body communicates with itself. Then that tensegrity structure.. the fascia… becomes a sense organ in itself. Then you have this more horizontal command structure where every part is listening and every part is responding. It becomes this one big coherent mind that works much more effectively and is much easier to balance than having a whole bunch of different parts being commanded from the top.
Often, people have a sense of balance that is determined when they are young and they have to train to get better at balancing. So your sense of balance is pretty much worked out by the time you’re six or seven years old. But your ability to improve your balancing skill…. that can be worked on at any age.
I’m much better at balancing now than I was when I was a teenager. …strangely enough… which isn’t that impressive. But I am still better than I was.
Tensegrity can allow all of the different machines in the body… all the levers and screws and pulleys and wheels and incline planes and so on, to work together and to transfer momentum and kinetic energy in really surprising and very counterintuitive ways. But the use of them in combat requires a high level of self-awareness, technical conditioning, and scenario training in order to avoid Self-Defeating Class Three Lever Syndrome. This happens to everybody. It happens in all kinds of martial arts and all kinds of sports.
It happens all over the place. I have students who are involved in a lot of different martial arts a lot of different sports and we see it in the biomechanics and the way that people move all the time. And we make a little change, and a different way of thinking about the body, and, all-of-a-sudden the person can hit the ball farther, run faster, change direction faster, generate more power with less effort, and so on.
MUSCLE IS NOT THE PROBLEM.
I have a student who is a very very strong guy. He spent a lot of time and energy working on his strength. He is literally a strongman and also a soldier and a jujitsu instructor.
He was mentioning that when he is rolling with his students and his classmates in his jiu-jitsu class, that one of the comments that he often gets is, “Oh! You are so strong! Everyone says, “You are just so strong!” Then he would have to point out to them that he wasn’t using strength. But, because he was so strong, they assumed that it was his muscular strength that gave him the advantage. In fact, he was quite relaxed and he wasn’t using that muscular strength. He was using the other skills… the more advanced skills that exist in Tai Chi and in jiu-jitsu and in many other martial arts. In Tai Chi we make a big deal of it because that’s kind of our thing. But other martial arts have it as well. I would go so far as to say that many other martial artists are much better at the so-called “Tai Chi stuff” than a lot of tai chi people are.
It is just sort of the way it goes, isn’t it?
But, if you have ever taught martial arts, then you will know that people are quite capable of being stupid. I’m not just speaking about stupid people, or beginners, or people with some kind of unusual deficiency. I’m talking about experts, martial art masters, geniuses, and professional people at the top of their professions.
They are all quite capable of being stupid. In fact, I often find that it is the smart people they’re really educated people that are sometimes the most susceptible to Self-Defeating Class Three Lever Syndrome. They are sometimes very very difficult to teach. You can teach a person the correct way to punch. But it takes a long time and a lot of practice, with a lot of constant reminders to get the student to actually trust the technique instead of always adding more tension. They keep adding more weight and adding more tension. You hope that they get it sooner than later, so that they don’t dislocate their shoulders when they hit a heavy bag. But as soon as you turn
your back on them, they will often go back to just creating that interference with their own power.
A friend of mine was competing in a tuishou competition. That is Tai chi push hands. It is a sort of mid-range grappling skill. Sometimes it is a little bit like sumo wrestling. The idea is to use your skill, and as little force as possible, to toss the other person to the ground, or move their feet, or push them off the platform.
So, my friend was in the tuishou competition… and he advanced so far in the standings as to get pitted against one of his own teachers… a woman about half his size. They were at a high enough level where they combined the weight classes. She told him not to take it easy on her. She insisted that he be truly competitive and to do his best. She did not want him to defer to her because of either her rank or her size. So, he did his best.
At one point, thinking that he could overpower her, (and to look at them you would assume that he should be able to overpower her). But, assuming that he could overpower her he used the class 3 lever and he ripped his distal bicep tendon at the elbow. We heard it across the auditorium. It rolled right up into a ball below his shoulder.
Fortunately, we were in Canada and not the USA. He is a Canadian and he was able to get it fixed without mortgaging his house. But he did learn his lesson.
There is a core principle in tai chi that is often translated as, “Use the mind and not force.” Now, since the Star Wars movies came out, that kind of talk evokes images of Jedi Mind Tricks and telekinesis. Butt the real meaning of that saying “use the mind and not force” is probably better translated as “Use your brain. Don’t force it.” or “Let everything follow your intention. Don’t fight against yourself.”
This seems like a clear enough idea. But people are stupid. And I mean that all people are stupid. If you are a smart person and you look down on stupid people, I have
news for you. You are not that smart. If you are the smartest person on the planet, that is not saying much. You are still only comparing yourself to other humans. That is not really very impressive. I have taught some real geniuses, and when it comes to self defeating lever syndrome, smart people can be real idiots.
Believe me. I am one of the smartest people I know, and I am a moron. Just ask anybody I’ve ever dated.
It usually takes a long time for me to realize when I am being stupid. Stupid things seldom seem stupid when you are doing them.
There are frequent exceptions. However, we won’t get into them. That’s not the point of this talk.
Now, I can assure you that I am NOT one of those people who deliberately tries to be stupid. In fact, I try to be as smart as possible.
But the human being is, by nature, a complex system which, if not constantly managed and maintained absolutely precisely, is prone to automatically behaving stupidly. We suffer from systemic stupidity. The system generates stupidity all by itself if we don’t work really hard to make ourselves and the system itself smarter. We can’t just know what is right and assume that the right things are going to happen. We have to constantly work to make the actual system work in a smarter way.
Lots of people learn about Tai Chi. They learn about levers .They learn about Self-Defeating Class Three Lever Syndrome. Yet, in practice, it all falls apart. This is
because we don’t maintain the system properly. This is why we must rehearse various situations. Martial artists need to do scenario training so that we can condition ourselves to do the smart thing automatically, instead of leaving it to chance and trusting that we will do the smart things automatically just because we want to be smart.
Pilots and astronauts do scenario training.. Doctors do it. Nurses do it. Paramedics do it. Anywhere that it is important, you would think they should be doing scenario training. In some places, the police do it. We need to rehearse standard operating procedure. It is not enough to merely read about them and assume we will do the right thing.
THE HUMAN SWISS ARMY KNIFE
Martial arts teach us to acquire mechanical and psychological advantage over a bigger and stronger opponent. I have been tossed across the room by little old ladies half my size … nearly breaking my many martial arts trophies. They can do this because the human body has a remarkable design. It is like a Swiss Army knife, capable of providing any number of simple machines. As I said: levers, wedges, screws, pulleys, gears, wheel-and-axle, inclined planes, bows, and Springs. Also, compound machines, kinematic chains, self-locking machines, and one of my favourites, of course, the Galilean cannon.
The efficiency of these machines depends on the harmony of the mind and body, and and on the proper use of tensegrity structures. But when that tensegrity is compromised or perturbed by internal tensions or mental distractions, then all of these different levers work against each other in a way that corrupts the intent. Physical tension and emotional turmoil turn that single structure into a bunch of class-3 levers and send vectors of force off in all directions. It destabilizes the whole body and makes it really easy for opponents to destabilize us even more.
Martial arts, especially the so-called “internal martial arts” teach us to take advantage of tensegrity structures to apply the most efficient versions of those machines. But ego and insecurity cause us to compromise our own power and make us fight against the best interests of ourselves and our group. Fear and insecurity caused us to tense up… dividing ourselves into sorts of conflicting parts. We contract and we lash out. We either weaken ourselves by retreating within ourselves or completely destabilizing ourselves by lashing out at the perceived enemy.
BALANCE DEFENDS BALANCE.
But, when we train our mind and body to seek balance and harmony within ourselves and become more powerful and efficient, then it becomes increasingly difficult for other people to destabilize us.
THERE IS NO ENEMY.
Then we can extend own sense of balance and harmony into the sphere of the enemy, disrupting their aggression and allowing them to find their own balance and harmony so that they won’t want to fight us anymore. Sometimes that manifests as negotiation and conflict resolution, and sometimes, as a last resort, it results in a short-term solution whereby the enemy finds their balance and harmony while lying unconscious on the ground.
One of my students knocked me off my feet one day, and she said, “Well, that was easy. I was just looking for the part of your mind that wanted to get
pushed over.” She would not have been able to do that if she had been fighting herself.
So, this is an ideal. But if we don’t practice it and don’t deal with it diligently, then we end up with this sort of creeping escalation of Class Three Lever Syndrome. We increase the amount of conflict within ourselves and with other people. If we are in conflict with ourselves, that will affect those around us and lead to this creeping escalation. We tense up in response to outside aggression, perceived or real, which makes us less stable, which in turn makes us tense up more, causing more misalignment and overcompensation, which then threatens our neighbours, which makes them withdraw or lash out.
Before yo know it, we are at war.
No one ever wins a war.
No, a meaningful victory only happens when all parties are actively working toward the best interests of everyone. In geopolitics, wars often continue for centuries after the last battle has been fought and after the last treaty has been signed. World War II was really a continuation of World War I. World War I was a continuation of feudal
patterns that go back to the Middle Ages. As for World War II, we are still seeing tensions that are left over from that, a century later.
Another example is a war that was supposed to have been over in 1865. Yet the tensions are clearly still there.
The war between different parts of the body doesn’t end until the whole body realizes that there is no enemy. It is all imaginary. The class three levers must relax and stabilize, and every part must be connected and communicating with every other part.
But until that horizontal communication happens, and until we cease fighting over vertical hierarchies, the body will never stable and we will never end the war.
So, when we train… When we do martial arts, we practice balancing the body aligning, the mind, and learning to avoid fighting ourselves. When we get very good at not fighting ourselves, then we can learn how to avoid fighting the other person.
In negotiation, there’s a concept called “integrative negotiation” which differs from distributive negotiation.
The way that it was explained to me was that distributive negotiation is like people arguing over a pie to see how much each person can get for themselves. Integrative negotiation, on the other hand, is when everybody works for the maximum benefit for all. It is like finding a way for everyone to get more pie. “Let us talk to the baker and see if we can work out a deal.”
That harmonious policy can be expanded until eventually everyone is working and thinking that way.
But the antagonism…, the tendency for human beings to fight against each other is really just an expression of the natural tendency for humans beings to fight against themselves.
There is something about human nature that makes us want to fight ourselves. In many ways, I think that it is actually be an unhealthy expression of an evolutionary advantage. It is the interaction of yin and yang that creates everything. As humans, diversity is our strength. Diversity is a catalyst for creation. Diverse opinions are the touchstone of invention and of creative solutions.
But we also like to belong. We have a predisposition for team sports that allow us to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We do that by clearly defining ourselves as different from something else. So, you have to wear this uniform, and this baseball cap so that we know what team you are on. We relish cheering for our own team, even if that team really has nothing really to do with us specifically, and really is only superficially different from any other team. We like to differentiate from things in order to experience singularity with one thing.
We would like to have differences, and see the differences, because that increases our creativity.
There are clearly some benefits to team sports. Tai Chi is one of those exercises that people think of as being non-competitive. But it is a martial art, and there is a very clear competitive aspect to it. That competition helps us learn how to deal with the conflict, and to understand differences between ourselves and other people. It really allows us to find harmony within ourselves. Then we expand that to include harmony with other people.
So, competition… friendly competition… definitely has its value. People say there should be no competition in Tai chi. Well, of course that’s ridiculous.
There is an ancient Daoist proverb: “甚至阿米甚人都打棒球.” which means, even the Amish people play baseball.
No one is born racist, just as no one is born a Toronto Raptors fan. But people from Toronto to Iqaluit and from St. John’s to Victoria, were all cheering for Canada’s team, which had two Canadians on it when it won the NBA championship. We were all chanting “We the North” for a team that is from a city at the same latitude as South Dakota.
But they won the NBA championship! So we own them.
It is as if we all became one team in Canada based on the colour of our jerseys and on what side of the border we lived on. (an imaginary border). So, team sports bring us together by defining us in opposition to something else.
THE ENEMY IS US.
That same psychology applies to individuals and it’s used as a tool by authoritarian regimes and by antagonistic countries. They try to sew dissent amongst their enemy and get the other country fighting itself, so that they don’t have to worry about it as a threat.
As individuals, we try to do the same thing. It is Newton’s third law applied to human identity. We want to define ourselves… to know who we are. So we look for something to fight or to push against, or to bang our heads against.
That resistance defines us. We find it reassuring. In times of stress, being able to create pressure gives us the illusion that we can control our boundaries.
It gives us the illusion that we exist.
You may have watched students hitting the heavy bag as in efficiently as possible. You have told them to trust the technique. “Don’t just muscle through it or you’ll hurt yourself more than the other guy.”
Then you turn your back for a minute and the student is doing it again. They are hitting the bag as if their goal in life is to dislocate their shoulders. This strange quirk of human nature is apparent when we use those same anatomical machines in a way that puts us at a disadvantage. We essentially use the machines backwards. We hold the wrong end of the drill. We make our work much more difficult than it should be. We put the load too far from the fulcrum. We use the wrong kind of lever, because of our ego and our ignorance, and lack of self-awareness. It causes us to fight ourselves.
We often fight ourselves even when there is no opponent. When there is an opponent, we continue to fight ourselves. But we also tend to fight the enemy in the least efficient way possible. We seem to succumb to egotism and fear and end up fighting against the strongest and most fearsome advantage that the opponent presents. Instead of getting out of the way of the fist, we brace against it and try to stop the fist. We stand in the middle of the train track and fight the train, rather than getting off the tracks and maybe even hopping on board. Basically, we weaken ourselves and then use the opponent’s strength against us.
So, the first challenge that we face as martial artists is to learn how to avoid fighting ourselves, because you cannot effectively fight the enemy and yourself at the same time. So, rule number one is, “Don’t beat yourself up.”
#1: DON’T BEAT YOURSELF UP
The second challenge is an extension of that skill, and that is to avoid fighting the enemy. Victory is never complete until you are both on the same team. That means that the body has to be in harmony with itself. Every part has to be working together to serve the same intent. The different parts cannot be in conflict with each other. With regards to the opponent, harmony should be your starting point.
Don’t use force against force. Follow their intent join with their force. Pivot around the point of engagement. Let them do what they want to do, but in a way that is not a threat to you.
If you are a beginner, this may seem like a lofty or even an impossible goal. But that is because beginners are so consumed with inner conflict that they cannot conceive of being in harmony with an attacker.
#2: DO NOT ADD ENMITY
The second principle is that you will not defeat your enemy. They must defeat themselves.
So, don’t add weight to the conflict. Discover the part of the opponent that wants to lose and then let them. So, when you move your body, don’t add weight. Do not try to find the least efficient way to move. Try to move in a way that is completely effortless. You can continually refine this and make moving easier and easier and easier.
When you’re pushing a lawn mower, do not hang on it. Do not apply third class levers. Try to engage the ground in a way that just allows the lawnmower to float along by itself.
When opening doors or closing doors, or when picking things up, try to find the most efficient ways to do these things.
Think about those class 1 and class 2 levers and try to notice if you are using class 3 levers when you shouldn’t be.
When you move your body, do not add weight. When you engage the opponent, do not add weight.
There is a misconception that martial arts are about learning to be violent. But that is like saying that medicine is about learning to be sick.
Violence is what happens when you do not practice a martial art, whether that martial art includes punching or kicking or grappling or conflict resolution or
meditation or mediation or social services.
As a martial artist, I am never truly successful until I have made peace with myself and made peace with the world. That is the whole point of martial arts. Even where perfect peace seems impossible, the quest for it is the most reliable path to victory.
#3: PEACE IS POWER
Peace is power. Beginners think that the way to achieve peace is to be powerful. But with practice you realize that the way to achieve power is to be at peace.
In the context of personal self-defence, this means that you must perpetually cultivate a healthy and relaxed body and a calm mind while you are not under in your daily life. Students sometimes asked, “How can I be expected to have a calm mind when somebody is lunging at me with an axe?”
My answer is that you should practice having a calm mind when someone is not lunging at you with an axe.
Most people do not have calm minds. They just don’t pay attention. So, it doesn’t bother them. So, they end up being pushed around and manipulated by their own minds. The do not realize how subtle their own thoughts are, or how subtle their own emotions are, and how precisely we can manipulate ourselves without even knowing it.
hmm. Yeah. Like I said, stupid. Yeah yeah. That is me.
BALANCE IS A VERB
Balance is a verb. Peace is not something that you can achieve and then forget about. A building must be constantly
maintained or else it will eventually deteriorate and collapse. The more you neglect it, the more quickly it will deteriorate. So, peace and harmony must be actively cultivated.
It is like paddling a boat upstream. If you stop paddling, you will go backwards. But the river is faster in some places than it is in others. It is also subject to the whims of nature. So, constant vigilance makes balancing easier. But too many people reach the calm water and then fall asleep. They stop paddling and completely fail to notice when they drift towards a waterfall. The water doesn’t seem all that fast until it becomes too fast to do anything about it. They are then suddenly caught in the rapids.
If we get surprised by violence, it is not enough to simply blame the river. We, the paddlers, must take responsibility. It is not about guilt and it is not about blame. It is about responsibility. We are all responsible.
Even the innocent are responsible. Perhaps, especially the innocent.
LOVE IS A SUPERNATURAL POWER.
This awareness requires an emotional state and emotional harmony and relaxation and empathy. Love is a superpower. In the classic book of military strategy, THE ART OF WAR,
Sunzi quotes a famous military maxim he says, “Know your enemy and know yourself and you will never be defeated even if you face a hundred battles.”
It is essential to remember you cannot learn anything about anyone by hating them. True mastery is love. That goes for martial arts, and that goes for everything else. But in martial arts especially, true mastery is love. This is not just some utopian dream or some idealistic fantasy. Love is a practical tool for making you a better fighter.
Empathy is a tactical advantage, in life and in warfare. In other words, if you want to be able to really effectively defeat someone in a fight, you need to start by loving them unconditionally.
Now, if you want to be able to read an opponent’s mind and manipulate their intent you must cultivate self-awareness until that awareness expands to include other people.
Martial artists speak of a state of being we call “No enemy.” That is where we cease to see ourselves as a separate entity and ego. We try to transcend that whole idea that we can be clearly defined. Where do we end? At the arm? or the hand? What if we lose those? Do we cease to exist? What about the air that we breathe? That is not us. The cells in our body are continuously replace.
Our existence is not merely defined by our physical body and our physical boundaries or the things that we do or the things that we have. These are just experiences and we are really no more than the awareness of the experience of these things.
From a combat perspective, that becomes practical when it is applied to strategy and long-term goals.
READ YOUR OWN MIND FIRST.
The students ask, “How can I be expected to read an opponent’s mind?”
Well, you first practise by reading your own mind. Regular daily practice will allow you to recognize the relationships between thought, emotion, and posture. Later, you will be able to recognize these things in other people. Then you don’t have to wait for the punch. You can intercept the punch before it is thrown. You can neutralize the intent, or the emotion behind it, or the cause of the emotion, or the source of the cause of the emotion, or the systemic issues that lead to the violence in the first place.
There are forces in the universe that seem to be beyond your control and beyond your jurisdiction. But we should assume responsibility for all of it. There should be no limit in our search for understanding of ourselves or of the universe. We need we need to expand our awareness in order to adapt to infinite change. As impossible or far-reaching as that may seem, we can do that by the simple process of paying attention to ourselves.
This is what is meant by “Be the change that you want to see in the world.”- Mahatma Gandhi
If you want to have power, you must have peace. So we must have peace.
You cultivate that peace internally. Learn to achieve harmony with yourself and then expand that and perpetuate it in the world at large…and the universe.
Again, I say that responsibility is not the same as guilt. And this is not about blame, of course. The innocent are as responsible as the guilty.
Martial arts are not concerned with revenge. Contrary to what you may have seen in any number of movies or novels, martial arts are concerned with the cultivation of peace. We train to be appropriate, righteous, and brave…But not vindictive. Vengeance does not account for balance, or harmony, or peace.
So, What does Class Three Lever Syndrome have to do with racism?
Well, racism is an example of humanity fighting with itself. It is stupid and quite literally self-defeating.
People take up sides based on the most ridiculous of criteria.
It is an emotional response to systemic problems. One should think that the idea that people could be so stupid is, in itself, ridiculous. But we are that stupid.
Politics and advertising want you to fit into an identifiable demographic. If we identify with a political party, a religion, a sports team, a fashion choice, or a hair colour.. If we fit into a category, then they can design an emotional campaign specifically targeted at us. And we invariably fall for it. It is predictable. It is inherent in the system. That is what “systemic racism” means. It means we fall for it.
If we identify with a race other than the human race then we have definitely fallen for it. It is a mental illness to think that, somehow, pigment has anything to do with any other characteristic. So, if we identify with a race, other than the human race, or if we identify with whatever political party we voted for in the last election, we have fallen for it.
If we identify as a blonde or a brunette or a redhead, or freckled, or male or female, or Christian or Buddhist or Muslim or atheist, then we have fallen for it. Even if we identify as not having any identity at all, then we have fallen for it, because we will be differentiating ourselves from people who do have an identity.
If we identify as either being a racist or as being definitely-too-smart-to-be-a-racist, then we have fallen for it. If we put ourselves into a category that can be manipulated by good storytellers, we have fallen for it.
And we can blame it on some sort of hierarchical command structure… yeah… maybe. But we must take responsibility for it, every single one of us.
In the past, the class system was an easy way to categorize people. You could categorize a person according to their wealth or education. You could identify them by their clothes, their accent, or their table manners.
But society started doing away with that idea by allowing upward mobility. You can now be rich without a posh accent, or without any kind of table manners. You can be rich and wear coveralls… or a thong. It doesn’t matter.
But skin colour is a difficult thing to change. That makes it one of those extremely convenient tools for categorizing and manipulating people. It is one of those things that doesn’t say anything about you except for what team people expect you to play on. It is like a team jersey or a baseball cap. And… we fall for it; and we expect people to behave like their category. We see a pale teenager playing NWA on his car stereo and we want to say “Hey! Earth to Caucasian! Are you trying to be black?” Or we see a dusky fellow practising kung-fu in the park and part of our brain says, “Hey! Bruce Leroy! Are you trying to be Chinese?”
Now, of course, it is more profitable to market to the largest demographic. Wo minorities always get a bad deal. One result is that we marginalize entire swaths of the population, making it harder for them to contribute to their own lives and to society as a whole. We all suffer for that.
When women are oppressed, half of the population is prevented from contributing to the best of their abilities. And that means that half of the brainpower of the world is being stifled. I do not find it surprising that so many of the countries that were most successful in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, are either countries where women are currently holding high office, or countries where the chance of having a female leader is approximately 50%.
When minorities are oppressed, the entire socio-economic system is like a car with one or two flat tires. And when we oppress some of us, we suppress all of us.
Racism is just society making life difficult for itself by clinging to ridiculous notions of identity for marketing purposes. Mostly, I blame Hollywood, advertising, education, political campaigns, and all of the people who get suckered in by them.
Martial arts are not typically team sports. But since an individual person is the basic unit of society, it makes sense to me that a single person will exhibit the same pathology that we see in society as a whole. A person trying to learn a martial art will invariably exhibit the same syndrome on a smaller scale. We are essentially racist toward different parts of our own bodies. We treat some parts as if they are more important than others. But we don’t use any consistency or logic when we do it. We will oppress or suppress different parts of our own body or our own mind that make us uncomfortable. We suppress different parts of our personality in a way that weakens us and provokes rebellion from other aspects of ourselves.
If we ignore the value and requirements of our vertebrae our knees or our ankles, then we inevitably face a revolt of some kind, and we pay for it.
As a tactic, Class Three Levers have limited value. But as strategy, provoking Class Three Lever Syndrome in the opponent is a time-honoured practice. When you can get the other person to fight themselves, you can achieve remarkable success in battle. However, unstable neighbours lead to unstable neighbourhoods. And provoking instability is inevitably disastrous for our own long-term survival. People can achieve power by getting other people to fight against each other. People can achieve
power by fighting against themselves. But power cannot be maintained that way. It is not good for long-term survival. Friendly competition is great for creativity. But the development of the species is hindered or even reversed by Self-Defeating Class 3 Lever Syndrome…and racism.
It is no wonder that the aliens have not contacted us yet. We are not ready.
Could you imagine giving warp drive to a society like ours? What would happen if we were to spread out through the galaxy the way we are right now. We must first learn how to function together and to stop picking sides for the stupidest of reasons.
It makes me sad.
But, who knows?
Perhaps we will get through this.
Wouldn’t that be great? Wouldn’t that be really really cool, if we could all-of-a-sudden, just get along?
I remain hopeful. We have certainly seen worse times. Let us give it a chance, shall we?
So…. Very good. More practice.
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