An odd title for a post coming from Black Belt Guide, I know. I first heard this put into context at about the age of 23. A young black belt, I was physically confident and slightly full of myself (at least I thought my attitude was slight). I was attending a seminar on multiple brick breaking techniques. The teacher I was working with was a relatively young man, and a student of a well known local martial arts master our dojo trained with periodically. The master was an ex Vietnam war veteran. He had seen a lot of combat action and he had killed people in hand to hand combat. You could say he had “street cred” in spades. All of us were pretty scared of him. He and his students knew how to break stuff.
On a technical level brick breaking is really not about generating massive force. Or even hitting through the object that is in the way of your punch/kick/strike. It is much more subtle. It is about having confidence in yourself and not worrying about the outcome. You simply need to be yourself and just understand the end state you want. Try to break the brick and you will fail. By fail, I mean you will break your hand or foot. It’s not about hitting the brick as hard as you can as that never works. You just need to focus on the end state which stated simply is for your hand or foot to move to the underside of the brick.
So there I was, staring at a pile of 6 bricks with spacers between each brick (they are harder to break than when stacked directly on each other). My adrenaline was pumping. I walked around the pile of bricks, eyeing them as the enemy. I started breathing heavily figuring that my physical pronouncement would make a difference. I wasn’t concentrating at all. My mind raced as I thought about how much force I needed to generate, would I break the brick, would I fail – I wasn’t in a state of centered harmony, one of the 6 Elements black belts train to achieve in the classical martial sense. I gathered up all my breath, tensed my body and slammed my hand on to the top break with a big “slap” which everyone else hard (and winced because it was so loud). My hand was throbbing. I looked at the stack of bricks and they stared right back – nothing had broken. The young master stood in the corner, a slight smile on his face. He was about 6’3” and weighed about 250 lbs. He was all muscle. I was waiting for his judgment on how weak I must have been for not breaking the breaks, and how I must have screwed up the palm heel technique hitting the stone like a sissy.
Then he said “you won’t be able to do this until you get in touch with your feminine side”… I was floored.
Femine side? We are talking about breaking bricks. Man stuff. What warriors are supposed to be made of I thought to myself.
He walked up to the bricks and gently caressed the stone with his hand, slowly running his fingers over edges. “You see, right now you are making this all about you. But it’s not about you. It’s about them. You are seeking all the attention. But they want the attention from you.” I calmed myself down, focused on the end state, and focused on the entire situation. I ended up breaking all six bricks on the second try.
So, why am I writing about this? Because far too often we try and force something to occur when it shouldn’t or doesn’t have to. Definitely a masculine trait. A more feminine approach is to seek understanding first and then potentially act. Often times men are seeking a solution or a “fix” to a problem. But sometimes there is no immediate or obvious fix. Or sometimes we think the fix is needed when it is really not. We are not focused on the proper end state, whatever that may be. We are just focused with fixing the immediate problem in our way. Hit the brick, break it (hopefully) and move on.
I am not for a moment saying that a feminine trait is not to problem solve. But there is a level of understanding women place more of a value on then men do in terms of relationships and interactions with others. You have to actually care about what the other person or party is concerned with to play a productive role in a mutual relationship whether that be with a friend, a loved one or a colleague. You can only achieve this through a state of active listening. In short, there is no way to effectively reach an end state, either your own, or helping someone else reach theirs if you only focus on what is right in front of you.
Since that day I have regularly asked myself what is the end state I want. Am I listening or just acting, going right into problem solving mode? Asking these questions helps to slow myself down. It doesn’t matter what I am doing when I do this. Negotiating a business deal. Doing a physical work out. Whatever the situation is I try to consciously put myself in a state of receptivity to what others are seeking, just like a mother that knows how to listen to a child. Taking care of the issue at hand but keeping an eye on the ultimate goal.
So I ask both male and female readers: are you in touch with your feminine side?
Thanks for training with me.