In 2011, I got my ass kicked. Publicly.
I had decided to try out Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ).
It was my second class, and I had been rolling (sparring) with other newbies and first-timers. I had no wrestling or BJJ experience, and although I’m definitely no Hafthór Júlíus Björnsson, I was able to overpower most of my opponents using superior muscular strength.
I felt like Cosmo Kramer dominating his dojo.
By the end of the class, many had commented on how difficult it was to spar with me. I proudly basked in the glory, thinking this martial arts stuff was easy.
The legend of the amazin’ Asian quickly reached the ears of my instructor, who, being the alpha male of the dojo, decided it was time to give a short demonstration — that is, to pummel me.
I sat down on the mat with my instructor, wondering what would happen if I won. Would I get to take over the business?
The class gathered around us and watched.
We started rolling.
Immediately, I tried to grab onto his lapel in order to gain control of his balance. But in a flash, I was on my back with my arm being bent the wrong way at the elbow (an arm bar).
Seven seconds – not bad. Must be his lucky day.
We sparred again.
His attacks came from everywhere. If I tried to pry his fingers off of my lapel, he’d throw me off balance; push him away, he’d threaten an arm bar; pull my arm back, he’d have me in a choke. He did all of this while gazing peacefully around at the stunned class.
Five or six submissions later, as I sat on the mat panting for breath and feeling my aching limbs, my instructor turned calmly toward the class:
“Strong technique always beats strong physique. The more you try to use force, the faster you get tapped out.”
This lesson is a cornerstone of all martial arts, and is the premise of the book Power vs. Force, by Dr. David Hawkins.
Hawkins’ book is based around kinesiology, psychology, and spirituality.
Although I didn’t quite buy all of his ideas, I could still see the merit in some of his teachings.
Power makes you strong; force makes you weak.
Force is that which stems from shame, anger, jealousy, guilt, or fear; power is rooted in courage, reason, joy, love, and peace.
Force is critical, arrogant, cynical, vengeful, and self-seeking. Power is approving, confident, experienced, constructive, and unselfish.
It follows that the strength of your actions depends on the strength of your thoughts – whether you focus on power or force.
For example – an athlete who is focused only on winning and humiliating his opponent (force) will be weaker than one who is focused on honoring his country, sport, a loved one, or simply on pursuing excellence (power).
Most people try to use force.
Hawkins illustrates the use of force in several important areas:
Business: companies that use glamour, superficiality, or false data to sell products, that do not prioritize employees or customers, or that sacrifice their integrity to gain market share.
Health: consuming sugar, caffeine, alcohol, or other foods designed to release dopamine in our brains and stimulate us in the short term, but that form addictions, deplete our energy, and damage our organs.
Politics: the demagogue who uses fear, anger, and hatred to appeal to man’s lower nature, and whose illusion of strength draws the loyalty of those who feel weak about themselves.
Relationships: the controlling partner whose jealous and possessive behavior aims to protect the relationship but instead pushes the other person away.
Society: establishing laws to restrict behavior – i.e. banning drugs – that only serve to drive the behavior underground, increase violence, and raise crime rates.
The gun and the nightstick are evidence of weakness; the need to control others stems from lack of power, just as vanity stems from lack of self-esteem.
Learn to use power instead of force.
Most people keep their same perspectives, beliefs, and behaviors for their entire lives, even if their way of life is damaging, painful, or otherwise insufficient.
In order to change, one has to be open to change, and this means overcoming the pride that we all have that causes us to resist it.
Here are some ways to move from force to power:
Read. Expose yourself to new ideas, especially when they contradict your current beliefs. Learn about yourself and your psychology. If you can understand yourself, you can start to understand others, and from understanding comes compassion, empathy, and self-confidence.
Meditate. I spend ten minutes each day staring at the wall, moving my awareness progressively through my body. If you practice becoming aware of your mind and body, you can manage your nerves, emotions, thoughts, and behaviors during tense situations.
Focus. What you focus on affects how you perform. Choose a powerful image, idea, or phrase and repeat it to yourself. As corny as it sounds, I used to pump myself up before giving speeches by sitting in my car and emphatically telling myself, “I can do it!” Mark Divine, a Navy Seal, tells himself when training, “Lookin’ good, feelin’ good, oughta be in Hollywood.” Others may choose to focus on patriotism, love, or religious icons.
Consume conscientiously. This refers to both food and information. Track what you eat and take small steps to improve your diet. Monitor where you get information – friends, coworkers, family, magazines, television, etc. Don’t let someone else poison your mind with negativity, cynicism, or self-doubt.
Laugh. Beware the humorless. Those who try to repress humor are trying to control and dominate, even if they say they want equality and peace. If you can find the humor in something, suddenly it becomes less frightening.
Power is characterized by self-discipline, self-esteem, and compassion for others. To become self-righteous, preachy, or impressed with yourself in striving to ascend the ladder of consciousness would be backwards and self-defeating. So practice with patience, persistence, and humility.
Strong technique always beats strong physique. The more you try to use force, the faster you get tapped out.
— Jeff, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt
***To learn more about how to use Power instead of Force, check out Power vs. Force, by David Hawkins.***
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