Economy of Energy



          A popular question in Martial art training classes is “when does the conflict begin." The answers can range from “when they throw the first punch” to “the first person to get angry” to even “always be on guard". Though I am a big fan of vigilance, I am also candid enough to acknowledge that being perpetually on alert has its costs. Life is too short to pretend that all I have to do with my time is anticipate the next attack.

          My answer to the question of “when does conflict begin” is “when circumstances are of a nature to produce a conflict." A person is a participant in a conflict by virtue of being in a circumstance or location likely to produce a conflict. By this I mean that we are ever in conflict – in competition-- for the same bus seats, same walking areas, same job market, etc. each and every day. I do not, however, walk through public places such as a bar, bus station or workplace with my hands up in a guard position (along with everybody else) because generally society acknowledges that we are all at a significantly low level of conflict.  For people to conduct themselves as though they were on “red alert”, 24 hours a day, takes way too much energy. So, a conflict begins when we are exposed to a situation which may produce conflict and we are asked to resolve this conflict in a way that honors the integrity of one’s boundaries. The choice each individual has is less about avoiding conflicts in one’s life than in what method a person will use for dealing with conflicts as they arise. Hapkido stresses this by not only providing a broad range of options for addressing a conflict, but also by working to use the energy we have to more efficient and effective ends. In training the goal of Hapkido is flexibility and conditioning, not strength and power. To some degree, the use of strength in Hapkido is counter-productive. The practitioner that relies on strength to muscle a technique will probably work well against lighter and equal-sized opponents using simple techniques. However, as the opponent becomes larger, the need to use technique rather than brute force becomes increasingly apparent. In addition, as techniques increase in sophistication, the use of muscle slows movement and interferes with coordination. By increasing flexibility, and stressing conditioning, the body is encouraged to work at higher levels of efficiency, making the best use of its natural abilities. Hapkido not only stresses economy of energy in its choice of options but in the actual application of those options as well.

 In the old straight-line “force-against-force” model, if a person strikes out at me hard, I would need to block hard and hit him harder. A light attack would seem to suggest a soft response. In using the principle of Conservation of Energy, however, the reverse is practiced. A hard attack in Hapkido is met with a soft response such as a redirection, a dodge or running away. A soft attack such a grab or a push might be countered with a decisive strike or kick. In either case, the defender uses the minimum effort necessary to safeguard his Dynamic Sphere. Even individual techniques are performed in a manner to suggest economy and focus. Large arcs, multiple steps, and exaggerated postures and stances have been introduced in many Martial arts with varying degrees of success and for a variety of reasons. Hapkido epitomizes “more is less."  Strikes, kicks, locks, throws, etc., are kept simple and to the point. The elegance of Hapkido lies in its utility.

          Finally, there is no support here for the idea of “over-kill." In a variety of Martial arts economy is thinly guised by the use of massive retaliation. The belief in these cases seems to be that energy is conserved with the immediate and thorough destruction of one’s opponent. I do not deny that there may be circumstances that require such a response. However, to present massive retaliation as the mainstay of one’s art does not honor the Water Principle of Hapkido upholding “adaptation”, nor the understanding of the Point and Circle principal which assures us that “what goes around comes around.”  Nothing is gained by willfully punishing an opponent, or partner, needlessly no matter how efficiently it is done, except to set into motion the wheel of revenge. Regardless of the infraction, the use of excessive force, or the willful infliction of pain for its own sake, is universally seen as punitive and worthy of reprisal. Hapkido is not about reprisal.  Hapkido is about coming out of the better part of oneself in all situations.