I was sparring a guy in 1980 and he was taking it to me. He was fast, with a great reverse punch that had nailed me a couple of times as I moved in on him. I was tensing up, trying to figure out how to beat him.
Then I connected. I relaxed and got my head out of the match. I waited with a relaxed state of readiness for him to move.
When he attacked, I was already moving. When he arrived, I was already there and planted a hook kick on the side of his face.
When I took my black sash test in 1997, among the many tasks I had to perform was a sparring match with wooden broadswords to show strategy, technique, and skill. My "opponent" was another black sash with a wooden broadsword. He was cocky and considered himself a lot better.
I relaxed and calmed my mind. I centered, and connected with him. We assumed the on guard stance.
The instant he moved toward me with his sword, the tip of my broadsword was already touching his shirt at the heart. It would have been a clean kill. One cut, fight over.
Have you ever sparred with a martial artist whose reactions to your techniques were sluggish and seemed to lag behind yours?
You throw a technique and it gets through, or he deflects it, but his counter comes after a beat, giving you plenty of time to throw another attack or prepare for the counter. It's as if he has no idea you are going to attack until the attack has landed.
He is not connected.
When you are not connected, you will always work a step or two behind your opponent or your partner. Being connected allows you to respond like an echo, or as the Tai Chi classic says, "When my opponent moves, I move faster. When my opponent arrives, I am already there."
The same is true in Hsing-I and Bagua.
Look at this video. It shows a Hsing-I fighter who thinks that if he just has a good San Ti stance, he is doing Hsing-I. He is not connected to his partner and the result -- he gets knocked out.
Maybe this isn't fair. This is a poorly trained fighter. He has no business being in a full contact match. I hate seeing someone suffer a concussion for such a stupid reason as this. A concussion can change your life. But this post isn't about that sort of stupidity -- it's about the lack of a connection with your opponent, which he displays.
The art of connecting to your opponent is the number one skill in the internal arts and there are plenty of ways to practice. Here is one.
Connecting Drill #1
Your partner should stand with his hands at his sides. You will stand in front of him with your hands in a "prayer" posture (palms together) held out at a range where he can reach them.
Your partner is not allowed to fake. His goal is to slap your hands before you can pull them away.
This drill requires you to relax -- remain in a relaxed state of readiness -- and be hyper-sensitive to your partner's intent and his physical movement. You must pull your hands out of the way before your partner can slap them.
After a couple of minutes, switch sides. You will hold your hands at your sides and your partner will hold his hands out, giving you a chance to slap them. He will need to connect with you and pull his hands out of the way before you can slap them.
This is also a good reaction drill and a speed drill, too. If you are trying to slap your partner's hands and you telegraph your movement, he will easily be able to avoid being slapped.
This is just one of many connecting drills. The concept can be carried forward into sparring. Become your opponent. Relax and be ready. Anticipate his movement. When his attack begins, you should already be moving. When his technique arrives, you are already there.
Connecting is not just a concept for fighting. This is a skill that also carries into your daily life. Are you connected to the people at work? Can you anticipate when your boss or a co-worker has a need for your skills?
At home, are you connected with your spouse and your children, or do you mentally detach yourself? Do you listen? Do you become "one" with your partner?
When you interact with the world, are you connected? Are you doing more damage than good to our planet and to the creatures that inhabit it? Can you do better?
Do you have empathy for other people who feel wronged, abused, or disrespected by society or by authority? Can you connect with them and see the world through their eyes?
A lot of good things happen when you learn to connect.