I’ve had young guys come in the gym trying to exert their physical dominance or display their machismo. You might say they are looking for a fight.
One day, you realize the muscles weaken, the speed slows, and the hairline recedes. You can’t be the young lion forever. But, if you train correctly and focus on what matters, you can learn to fight without fighting.
Sun Tzu wrote in his Art of War, “Therefore, those who win every battle are not really skilled––those who render others’ armies helpless without fighting are the best of all.”
This “fighting without fighting” is considerably more of a mental game than a physical confrontation.
A modern application of it is called coercive psychological warfare. This type of fighting is “aimed at causing an opponent to surrender or otherwise abandon a fight by leveraging his thinking, emotions, and/or will and persuading him that resistance is futile.” It involves manipulating circumstances and locations, time and efforts, in tandem to get your opponent to act in a manner that benefits you without risking harm to either person.
A martial artist may be tempted to try and match a meathead strength for strength in a fight, thinking his training has prepared him for just such an occasion. But to use an old analogy, if you get in the mud with a pig, you both get dirty and he likes it. Not to mention that your pride and belief about your skills may get you beaten or killed. How much better would it be to fight without fighting?
How can you become a master of this mysterious martial arts tactic?
Fighting without fighting means letting go of your ego.
Fighting without fighting doesn’t offer you a glorious victory or a chance to boast about smashing your opponents. The upside is you often get to keep your teeth in your mouth. Even when you win a fight, it usually costs you something. For reference, see Shel Silverstein’s song, “The Winner,” to see the price of pride.
Fighting without fighting means fighting on your terms, not theirs.
You need a plan to render your opponents helpless without engaging in their idea of the battle. It takes both planning and resolve to ensure you don’t sink to your opponent’s level. If you haven’t already mapped out your strategy and set your mind to make it work, you may find yourself getting emotional and engaging carelessly.
Fighting without fighting means knowing your opponent’s weaknesses.
To win without fighting, capitalize on your opponent’s goals and desires. If he wants to stroke his ego by winning, rob him of that opportunity. By not engaging, you might infuriate him and weaken his armor. A man blinded by rage will often blindly wander where you lead him. Use his drive against him.
Fighting without fighting is a subtle art, but it is an art and needs to be studied and perfected. Keep your composure and your teeth. Engage only when you must. The warrior doesn’t reach old age by fighting every battle that comes his way. You can walk away or learn to fight without fighting.
For a great visual of the concept, check out how Bruce Lee applies it here: