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If you repeat something often enough it becomes unconscious. Unconscious behaviour is known as 'habit'. We all develop habits throughout our lives.
Some help us to avoid making mistakes and forgetting things. Other habits are not so useful. They can actually hamper your health.

Shedding bad habits

Change requires us to stop doing what we are used to doing, and do something unfamiliar instead. This sounds easy enough. In reality, people are reluctant to let-go of habits.
There is much comfort to be found in the familiar. In order to respond spontaneously to what is occurring, we must shed certain habits. The first step is to simply become aware of their existence.

Change is the only constant in life.


Making changes

Although it is not easy to make changes, we all can do it. There are some simple steps to follow:

  1. Become aware of what you are doing (habit)

  2. Inhibit (stop) the urge/habit

  3. Consider your options

  4. Consciously act

In the field of martial arts practice, this 4 step process is too slow for combat but it can be trained in partner practice. Over time, old habits are shed and new/more effective habits replace them.
The ideal situation is where the student can respond spontaneously and appropriately to whatever is happening (as it is happening) without the need to consciously think at all.

Book of Changes

The Book of Changes (I Ching) teaches a person how to change and adapt to the immediate circumstances facing them. This is essential in combat and in life.
An attitude of fluidity and change enables a person to move without pause, to feel rather than think, and to find the path of least resistance.

The easy route

Finding the easiest route relies upon intuition and sensitivity rather than thought. Internal martial arts always seek to avoid conflict and resistance, so it is important to understand this skill.
When your way is blocked, change - and be prepared to change and change again. Become like water, moving instinctively around obstacles.


The only constant in life is change. Nothing remains the same, not even the universe itself. We must let go of certainty and fixity, and embrace change.
In combat, we do not formulate plans or anticipate the opponent. We wait. What will happen will happen. If we are open and receptive, we can move with the events as they occur.
Can you grip water with your hand?

You cannot change others

Anthony De Mello illustrates the nature of change beautifully. He demonstrates how people seek to change the world to suit their own desires, rather than change themselves.
In the internal martial arts we must change ourselves.

Move your body

Fundamental to the internal martial arts is the idea that you must move your body around the opponent rather than seek to move them.
This ties-in with using only 4 ounces of pressure and not resisting force. Rather than resist, you move. Rather than struggle, you change.


If Taoism is the art of adjusting to life, then internal martial arts are about adjusting to the opponent. This process of adjustment is what yielding is about. Balancing, sensitivity, change.

When the hands are clapped, the sound issues without hesitation. When flint is struck with steel, the spark comes out at once.

(Alan Watts)

The predominance of the small

Smaller movements are harder to see and difficult to avoid in time. The smaller the action, the less apparent it is, and therefore the more surprising. Make your changes hard to see.


When you are accomplished with adjustment, a very small movement can be used to immediately affect the attacker's centre. This imperceptible touch instantly renders the attacker subtly off-balance.
As the attacker seeks to re-gain the advantage, the student must continue to adjust themselves in order to maintain the uproot. Presence, sensitivity and a lack of self-consciousness are all required.
The subtle changes of angle taught throughout the form now come into play.

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Page created 31 July 1994
Last updated 04 May 2023