“The art of the sword consists of never being concerned with victory or defeat, with strength or weakness, of not moving one step forward, nor one step backward, or the enemy not seeing me and my not seeing the enemy. Penetrating to that which is fundamental before the separation of heaven and earth where even yin and yang cannot reach, one instantly attains proficiency in the art.”
The first time I met Sifu, I remember him spending a good bit of time discussing being “in the moment” during training. At the time, my mind was already spinning from the sheer amount of knowledge being taught and demonstrated; adding discussions of mindfulness, the ability to “change with the change,” and perceiving the conditions of the moment only made my head hurt even more. I had a vague understanding that the attaining true skill in the art was less about physical skill and more about mental clarity. It would be a while (and the many repeated exposures to the concepts) before I could truly appreciate that first lesson.
A martial art is more than just a collection of fighting techniques. Anyone can be taught movements mimicking the techniques, but the movements themselves do not form the basis of martial skill. The skill begins to arise from understanding the conditions and interplay of forces which allow the technique to work. Performing technical movements without the recognizing the conditions of the present moment is only habit or reflex; the technique may (or may not) work, and will not be under conscious control. Skill manifests when you can perceive the moment and consciously execute a technique to flow with the conditions of the moment. The physical ability to execute a movement is necessary, but not sufficient for actual skill; the skill fully manifests when the physical ability merges with the mental clarity to perceive the context in which the physical skill applies.
Ultimately, the martial art practitioner seeks to transcend technique–to become formless. Techniques are only expressions of principles and a physical manifestation of interacting with the conditions of the moment. As long as you can be present (in the moment), then you can flow with the conditions of the moment. The exact movements used to interact with the moment are inconsequential. The foundation for attaining high level skill comes from the ability to immerse yourself into the moment and perceive the present conditions–to achieve awareness. The mental part of the training, the mindfulness training, is the tool used to expand your awareness. Focusing the mind into the moment and dropping the random mental distractions allow you to pay attention to your senses and perceive the conditions “as they are.” It is the ability to perceive the true nature of the moment that allows you dissolve technique and just flow.