This is based on a session by Pasquale Esposito – “The Spell of Our Body’s Point of View” – at a conference called: The Mindfulness Turn in Martial, Healing and Performance Arts at the University of Huddersfield on Saturday 19 November 2016. This free event was jointly hosted by the AHRC-funded Martial Arts Studies Research Network and by the Centre for Psychophysical Performance Research and the Mindfulness and Performance project at University of Huddersfield.
We all know that Bruce Lee talked about using no way as the Way.
And many of us feel like we have a pretty good idea of what he meant, even if we’re nowhere near achieving it in our practice yet.
Enoch Tan & Lak Loi write:
“Using No Way As Way” means do not presuppose a way. Be in the moment. Be present. Be open to the best way to meet the moment in which you find yourself, rather than planning beforehand what way will be best.
It’s related to the concept of shuhari (守破離). Aikido master Endō Seishirō shihan said:
It is known that, when we learn or train in something, we pass through the stages of shu, ha, and ri. These stages are explained as follows:
In shu, we repeat the forms and discipline ourselves so that our bodies absorb the forms that our forebears created. We remain faithful to these forms with no deviation.
Next, in the stage of ha, once we have disciplined ourselves to acquire the forms and movements, we make innovations. In this process the forms may be broken and discarded.
Finally, in ri, we completely depart from the forms, open the door to creative technique, and arrive in a place where we act in accordance with what our heart/mind desires, unhindered while not overstepping laws. (Source: Wikipedia)
This third stage is also sometimes called the Void, or “Formless Appropriateness”
An image people often use to explain the idea of “no way as way” goes something like this:
Well, it’s like driving a car. At first you have to learn all the movements and think about them and it’s hard. But eventually you just get in the car and drive without even thinking about it.
On one level this is great. It explains a difficult concept in easy language, by linking it to something that’s familiar to most of us. It also signposts the journey ahead.
But at the same time, like the other words above, it doesn’t get us very far. I absolutely understand how it feels to drive a car on “automatic pilot”. But I don’t understand yet at all how it feels to attack or defend from the void, or with “no technique”; and comparing this to the much easier task of driving a car doesn’t help.
So how can this idea of “no way as way” be explained? Words are probably not enough.
As we know: The Tao / 道 / Dō / Way that can be spoken about is not the real Tao.
If this is true, we’re never going to be able to capture the true essence of Jeet Kune Dō or Aikidō or Karatedō in words. Bruce Lee said: Don’t think, feel! It is like a finger pointing away to the moon. Don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory.
In other words, some aspects of the martial arts can’t be explained or analysed in words alone – they need to be physically experienced.
But how? Is it possible to gain some early access into the “feeling” of being in the Void?
Well, I was fortunate to attend a stunning workshop last weekend by Italian actor, director, amateur boxer and Soto Zen monk Pasquale Esposito, which opened up this concept in a totally new way.
Pasquale started by explaining that as an actor, he had always tried hard to master the art of being “real”. To shed “real” tears on demand; to express “real” joy or anger or fear for the camera. But the more he tried to be “real”, the more fake and manipulative he felt.
Then he became a Zen monk, and everything flipped upside down. Pasquale suddenly understood that it wasn’t all about him.
I always thought that who I was, was behind my eyes. It isn’t! I can only be “real” myself if everything around me is real. There’s a misperception about who I think am, which has to be stripped out.
The heart of acting is mindfulness.
You don’t need to “do” anything – it’s all already there. You just need to become available to it . . .
Pasquale quoted a Facebook meme he’d seen:
There are two types of people. Most will say: Here I am!
Then there are the rare people who say . . . Ah! There you are!
He encouraged us to explore this difference in pairs and see how it felt to express and hear both phrases. It was incredible (you probably have to try it to really get it). We also experimented with the warm phrase: Here we are!
Becoming aware of the expression of these three different words opened my eyes. Before that, I felt like I was just a random little jigsaw piece. But once I switched to saying “There YOU are!” – and ultimately “Here WE are” – suddenly the whole picture was present.
From a Zen point of view, I only exist in relation to someone else. So to truly exist, I need to give reality to YOU.
Pasquale then picked up a staff and waved it around while dancing to some music. He said: you see; if I hold it tightly I can control it easily. He looked strange and comical and everyone laughed.
He then balanced it loosely, upright on his fingers, and suddenly his movements started to flow, as he moved around trying to keep up with the staff, and keep it upright. He actually looked as if he were dancing with it. Pasquale said:
If I just balance it on my fingers, I can’t plan the movement – it’s out of my control. There’s no intention – just find yourself in the movement.
This exercise is difficult to do if you’re stiff.
In Zen, the actor becomes invisible in a sense – he or she becomes a window through which the audience can see things. The other is always the key – in acting, training, fighting . . .
Now, Pasquale linked it all into Bruce Lee’s teachings.
Bruce Lee said:
The highest technique is to have no technique. My technique is a result of your technique; my movement is a result of your movement. [note from Pasquale: the real practice is responsiveness.]
A good JKD man does not oppose force or give way completely. He is pliable as a spring; he is the complement and not the opposition to his opponent’s strength. He has no technique; he makes his opponent’s technique his technique. He has no design; he makes opportunity his design.
One should not respond to circumstance with artificial and “wooden” prearrangement. Your action should be like the immediacy of a shadow adapting to its moving object. Your task is simply to complete the other half of the oneness spontaneously.
Some of the participants tried out the exercise. One woman started off feeling nervous and finding it hard to balance the staff. Pasquale changed the music, and said: Imagine that this stick is the woman singing this song. It was a magical moment; her movement suddenly became very self-assured, beautiful and mesmerising, and the staff never fell once.
Pasquale concluded the session by saying:
In the Japanese Soto tradition, Zen is never a “technique”. It exists within the arts – chadō (tea ceremony), aikidō, shodō (calligraphy) and so on. All these are arts to get you back to who you are. But it could be anything – ironing, washing dishes, whatever.
Creativity requires us to sweep out the identification with our own ego and rely on others. It can only emerge as cooperation and in community.
Pasquale (Shuten) Esposito is an actor and works professionally in the film industry. His acting has been profoundly influenced and guided by his passion to explore the nature of what is real. Being an actor forces him to research „expression and communication“ in depth. He was officially ordained at the Fudenji Zen Temple in Italy by the Zen master Fausto Taiten Guareschi.
He founded and is the artistic director of the Research Company Art and Awareness – a frame work in which he inquires and pioneers how expression and communication is shaping the phenomena that we call reality – the company offers projects and workshops.