"To fight and conquer one hundred times is not the perfection of attainment, for the supreme art is to subdue the enemy without fighting." ~Sun Tzu
One of the most quoted pieces of dialogue in Enter the Dragon happens when Bruce Lee's character is asked about his style. He replies that his style could be called the art of fighting without fighting. The film isn't generally renowned for its dialogue, and yet this exchange stands out.
You can imagine the effect of Bruce's reply on audiences who first saw the film in 1973. They had paid to see a kung fu spectacular, man pitted against man in a fight to the death. By today's standards, Enter the Dragon is not a particularly violent film, but there are numerous fights and a considerable body count. Strange then, that such a sentiment should be expressed in a film which portrays martial artists as otherwise cruel and morally corrupt.
A number of things have led to me writing this post. During a relatively subdued wing chun class, with a smaller than usual attendance, the instructor touched on the subject of a student's motivation for learning wing chun. If we want to become a fighter, he said, how far down that road do we want to go? Eventually, we would become desensitised to violence and may even feel the need to hurt people, to get that rush of adrenaline. He has seen many people, maybe even close friends, go that way.
Added to the thoughts of the instructor are my own recent thoughts about wing chun, and combat arts in general, both ancient and modern. If we look at the law on reasonable force, at least as it stands in the United Kingdom, our response to an attack is limited, and some of the responses which are trained, especially in the older combat arts, can not be judged as reasonable under any circumstances.
I always held the view that I was training in skills I hoped I would never have to use. Now, I realise that at least some of what I am training can never be used. As Ip Man is quoted as saying, it doesn't go out the door. The question must be asked again. Why are we training? If we are taking part in competitions, our reasons are clear. If we're training to keep ourselves safe, then our reasons are clear. In both cases, however, we find that the older arts are incompatible with the modern world.
I happen to think that the older combat arts will adapt to the modern world, to the laws of reasonable force, just as they have adapted to the environment in which they have found themselves many times before. Again, it falls on the practitioner to be responsible. If a situation arises where we must act out an improvised version of those trained responses, we must simply do what is necessary and nothing more.
I've been in situations where I've felt threatened, where the possibility of a violent assault was very real, and no one, ultimately, was hurt. I honestly can't remember when I last had to fight. I've drawn a picture in my mind of what I could do to the other person, how much damage I could inflict, and it's not something I really want to do. Fighting is horrific, bloody, and usually senseless. After a while, it also gets boring.
Fighting without fighting? Let's just not fight. Someone is bound to get hurt. I find fighting tedious. If you want to take away my choice in the matter, I'll try to dispose of you as a threat as quickly as possible. That's why I train in wing chun. Like I said, I find the whole thing tedious.