Lessons In the Creative Arts Via the Martial Arts – Part I: Force

It may be said that the application of any of the creative forms involves two primary aspects: force and yielding. In the Japanese martial arts there is a concept called irimi, to “go deep,” the idea being that one might move into aggressive energy with intention, to catch the arc of momentum before it reaches full power, where it can be caught and controlled.

The martial application of irimi deals, naturally, with the courage to face a violent confrontation, to deliberately assess the opposing force and move to action in order to accomplish a goal – in this case to stop an attack and redirect the energy. This intentional action, to step up and address the source of aggression, has relevance to many other things as well, not the least of which is the creative life.

Usually there is no threat of danger in the creative life, at least not at the point of gathering paint and brushes, sitting at the keyboard, or picking up the guitar. All of these actions are (arguably) non-violent. Whether or not the product is inherently violent is not the point. That one must meet opposing energy with intent (in this case a lack of motivation, doubt, or laziness) is.

Attitude is everything when it comes to accomplishing a goal. The axiom goes that “whether you think you can or can’t, you are right.” But what use is there in believing you can do something if there is no intent to follow through with it? In the split second of action required to head off a physical blow there is little time to doubt, no time to question the value of an opposing action. One acts or one suffers a painful blow. But imagine slowing the attack down to the point where deliberation was an option. “Should I step up and stop the attack?” “Should I be afraid and not try?” “Should I start but give up if it doesn’t seem to be going in my favor?” Ignoring the obvious answer to any of these questions results in the same outcome: a painful blow and little to no recourse. But by possessing the attitude of completion – that is, of seeing things through to the end without wavering – one is far more likely to experience success than failure. At the least there will be a sense of satisfaction and the confidence to go deeper the next time.

In the creative life this intention is just as important as in martial arts. Facing the tasks and goals at hand is a decision, and a commitment to completing those tasks is also a decision. This decision is, in fact, as quick a decision as that made by the martial artist when defending against an attack. One simply decides and then acts. Until the decision is made there is no real action. Giving things a try, without committing to completion, is not the same thing. To quote Yoda, there is no try. Until the decision is made there is no action yet worthy of taking. Without such a commitment there is an inherent diffusing of energy. The half-committed artist is always watching the clock. There is forever something else to be done first, something more important during the hour of creative work than the project itself. The mind is distracted, the energy is low, there is no commitment to progress even though there may be some commitment to muddling through. The success, however, comes in the commitment, and the decision must be bold, final, and resolute.

Living the creative life is a choice. While it’s possible to find oneself deeply engaged in the creative life quite by accident, once there it is a rare thing to leave. But it is not enough to exist within the creative life and eschew the power of living-with-intent. Making the decision to go forward is akin to facing into a headwind the moment before beginning a challenging journey. The wind is brisk, forewarning of the potential cold and discomfort ahead. But the trail awaits, and the journey is worth it. Decide in an instant. Meet the force of the challenge before it can overwhelm you. Embrace accomplishment and do not waiver, but persevere until the goal is complete.

[Next week: Part II: Yielding]