In yesterday’s blog post (Alan Watts on Self-Discipline and Self-Acceptance), I discussed the duality of yielding flow and unyielding willpower. Today, I want you to consider the real-life consequences of a philosophy that underestimates the forceful power of will:
I understand that my introduction to this video was unfair and misleading. Taoism, which inspired Tai Chi, is more a matter of mindset and intention than of outward behavior.
A Taoist might well train MMA and win a fight by non-doing. Once his reflexes, techniques, and combinations have become his second nature, he may be able to fight in a perfect state of flow—without effortful action, and without getting his head smashed in. (That he would be unlikely to get provoked into a fight in the first place is yet another story.)
Practically, however, we may doubt that non-action is a useful way to approach training as a whole. As a jiu-jitsu practitioner, I am aware of the power of going with the flow and effortless action (not using forced muscle strength etc.), but there is more to it than that.
For example, it seems naive to assume that the fighting skills that allow me to enter a flow state would come without any force of will. Showing up for regular training and getting in thousands of repetitions is not something that always happens naturally without internal struggle.
Then again, wouldn’t it be ideal if it did happen like that—with ease, with a cool mind: not thinking about doing, just doing; not thinking about training, just training? Maybe. And wouldn’t that ideal be wu wei after all? Maybe.