Lessons In the Creative Arts Via the Martial Arts – Part II: Yielding

Accepting that force is one aspect of the creative process it follows to reason that the opposite must also exist. As we discussed last time, force in the martial arts can be met with a counter force via irimi, or the intent to meet a challenge head on and redirect the energy for a favorable outcome.

If there is a science to the humanities it is, similar to irimi, in the practical application of the theories discovered in inspiration (the ideas which we write, or paint, or play) toward the hopeful outcome of a successful creation. This again is intent. The clear-headed, intellectual agreement with ourselves to go forward according to plan with the goal of a certain outcome.

But what of the counterbalance to this heavy-handed directive? What might be said of the opposite of force – yielding?

In the martial arts there is a second concept known in Japanese as awase. In aikido this is an especially central concept. It has to do with blending with one’s opponent, embracing their energy and creating a whirling vortex that quite literally sends the adversary sailing through the air. To experience awase on the mat is an exhilarating thing. The energy is profound, the sense of motion invigorating. There is a touch of magic in awase.

In the creative process I believe we experience this blending in an even more intensely metaphysical sense. (This is not to discount the metaphysical in the martial arts, for they contain a deeply mystical and spiritual aspect in their own right – hence the “art” in “martial arts.”) While the force of our intention drives us to the work studio, and causes us to engage in the physical process of writing, or painting, or playing an instrument, it is the initial mental awareness of, and deliberation on, the idea that first inspires us to create. It is therefor important for the creative individual to think in terms of the ethereal.

No doubt the search for the ethereal is the reason for the excess of drug and alcohol abuse by so many artists. The effects of these substances are a fast track to the secrets hidden from the coldly conscious mind. In the clear light of the day, after a good night’s sleep and a brisk walk around the block, the dreamy ghosts of an other-world are hidden from sight. All there is for the brightly conscious mind to grasp is what it sees before it. It takes a letting go of what can be readily seen in order to attain the things that are hidden. Not unlike the ecstasy of the uber-religious, the meditative creative can invoke the portal to this mystical place, yielding as it were to the forces unseen which lend to greater creative vision. This is a state that is possible to reach naturally, in fact occurs naturally, which must only be embraced in order to be accessed. This is the balance to force, and is the first step in discovering the very ideas of what will become the final product of the creative effort.

The artist is called to be engaged in two primary worlds. There needs to be a time of yielding, of blending light and shadow to get at the underlying truth of our physical, force-driven world. Like a treasure hunter gathering baubles, the creative in this phase is light of mind, intoxicated by the way sounds filter through the spaces between other sounds, the way light falls at certain angles, the way lost love informs new love, despair creates a great need to live, or that hope manifests into unexpected beauty. Yielding is emotional, ecstatic, and whole.

What must be understood is the balance between force and yielding. Although one cannot be fully effective by relying on inspiration alone (yielding), there needs to be frequent time spent meditating on the subtle realms in order to provide the materials that will later be applied (force). It is the responsibility of the artist, however, to determine the nature of the outcome and the stage at which the influence must be applied.