by Rien Bul

‘Human beings are soft and supple when they live,
stiff and inflexible when they are dead.
The tenthousand creatures, the grass and the trees
are gentle and vulnerable when they live,
dry and shrivelled when they are dead.
For this reason it is said: Inflexible people are a student of death;
Gentle, smooth and vulnerable people love living.
An army which is inflexible will not win concerning;
An inflexible tree will break.
The mighty and inflexable at fall it will be brought.
The gentle, smooth and flexible will rise to great hights.’

from: the ‘Tao Teh Ching’ - Lao Tze

I frequently tell my students to be ‘Formless’. But what does ‘formlessness’ mean? Formlessness must be understood at several levels, depending on the level of training the student arrived at. For a beginner who is taught to be formless it means that he shouldn't allow an antagonist to get a hold of both the situation and of the practitioner on a physical level. He should not hand the opponent anything to work with to his advantage. This also goes for the intellectual level of the fight, meaning that he shouldn't be able to anticipate or predict what you are going to do. Give him absolutely no insight in your approach or method. Mislead him. Be formless on a spiritual as well as an intellectual level, just as you are in a physical way, so that he can get no grip on your strategy.

At a more sophisticated stage of the student's development he or she learns that formlessnes also means willingly letting the circumstances dictate your actions. Even you yourself do not know exactly what the course of your actions is going to be. To this end a certain mental development is necessary in order to enable the student to let go of his ego. The only thing you hold on to is the core principles of your style and trusting in what you have been taught. This is the concept behind the style. And the concept is the actual style called Weng Shun Kuen.

In practical application this means we don't get in a recognisable fighting stance and we don't stick out our hands in front of our body for the opponent to grab and get a hold of. But it also stands for the principle ‘Dong’ (to shake off) that tells us that variation is at the core of Weng Shun Kuen. When the antagonist thwarts a movement to the right, then suddenly move to the left. If he resists a pull (lop sao), then push! In principle the movements of the antagonist are used against him. Confuse the antagonist with unexpected action. All this is ‘formlessness’. The antagonist gets no grip on you.
The fact that you seem to effortlessly absorb the strength of the attack or lead it away from its intended path will probably confuse the opponent. Like an amoeba, you ‘suck in’ his punch. 1)* What has no form can't be hit. The Tao Teh Ching say it as follows:

‘I have heard that one who knows the secret to preserving life doesn't leave his original path to avoid tigers and rhino's when he travels through the hills; He doesn't wear armor or weaponry when entering a battlefield. The rhinoceros finds no spot to bump its horn, the tiger finds no spot to stock its claws, weapons find no spot which lets in their lemmet.’

And also:
‘Nothing under the sky is more gently or weaker than water, nevertheless nothing is more suitable to attack what is hard and strong because of its immutability.

The defeat of hard against gentle, the defeat of strong against weak - this is known to all under the sky, but noone seems to know how to put it into practice.’

Bruce Lee also liked to refer to this idea in many of his interviews. I quote verbatim:

‘Water is so fine that it is impossible to grasp a handful of it; Strike it, yet it does not suffer hurt; Stab it and it is not wounded. Like water, a Gung Fu man has no shape or technique of his own, but molds or fits his movement into that of the opponent's. It is true that water is the weakest substance in the world, yet when it attacks it can go through the hardest. Be water my friend.’

Finally, the great strategist General Sun Tzu made the following comment on the subject:

‘The most important skill at taking a strategic position is not to have form. If your position is formless, even the most carefully hidden spies will be not able to get the necessary overview and the most wise consultants will be not able to essay plans. I give the troops victories, gained by essaying them strategically, but they are not able to understand them. Everyone knows the position which me has produced the victory, but nobody can overlook how I could take this winning position. For this reason victories in the fight cannot be repeated - they get their form in response to inexhaustiblely changing circumstances. The drawing up of troops can be compared to water: as the course of water avoids high grounds and flows to the lowest point, so does an army adapt its methods to gain victory to the actions of its enemy.2)*

For this reason an army has no fixed strategic advantages or an invariable position. Seizing victory by changing position in comformity with that of the enemy is what is generally called ‘being unfathomable’.’

1)*- Tun (to swallow, to take possession). Instead of working against an enemy by using muscle power, Weng Shun Kuen absorbs and nullifies hard power! This subtle method of deception withholds from the opponent any information obtained by his tactile senses and puts him into an unfavorable position.

2)*- Lao (leak). ‘To leak’ is used in situations in which contact has already been made. If the antagonist moves, the Weng Shun Kuen practitioner goes along, feels for an opening and flows in like water that leaks through a breach in a roof.

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