Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon & the meaning of Wu Wu Wei
The movie, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, provides an excellent example of the meaning of one of my favorite expressions: "Wu Wu Wei."
The older woman, played by Michelle Yeoh, is comfortable using heavy weapons because her body has the strength and experience to handle a broad sword, a metal club, and so on. The younger woman, Zhang Ziyi, did not have the same strength but fortunately for her in the scene embedded at the top of the post, she had the magical Green Destiny sword which Ang Lee described as a being called green to emphasize the yin or feminine element. It is one of the best fight scenes ever so worth watching even though the main point of the post is illustrated by another sequence earlier in the film.
The third style, performed by Li Mu Bai in the fight sequence, embedded below, is to hold the sword behind you, still and unused. George Falcon used these fight scenes to explain what Wu Wu Wei was all about. Like the sword hand of Li Mu Bai, can you be still until the moment of action?
We know the moment of action is at hand when inspiration, intuition strikes. When it moves you. Your body is moving but it is being moved by inspiration and intuition, not emotions, not thoughts. As the moments unfold, you are neither doing nor not doing. The doing is not being done by you. You are a vehicle for the expression of the perfection of the universe. There is an absence of you doing any of the doing. Some would call it flow. Wu wu wei, not not doing.
The hierarchy begins with the intention of perfection flowing down from the divine, then to the spirit, the mental, the astral, and finally it manifests in the physical plane. If it is at the physical plane it too late to do much about it. The action began several steps before, higher up in the hierarchy. It is at the mental and astral (aka emotional) planes that the perfection can become corrupted.
With practice, you can train yourself to see the film before you see the manifestation and avoid getting in the way of the original intent. If you are a martial artist, we could say that your opponent is in front of you and you have already seen the battle. And when you see the end of the film that is the moment of action. And you don’t have to worry if you are in flow, if you are wu wu wei. In that state, you are looking at the whole film so you will know when your opponent will strike. An excellent example of that is recounted by the training experience of chess grandmaster turned Tai Chi Chuan world champion, Josh Waitzkin, in his book "The Art of Learning."
The complaint of Li Mu Bai in clip above from "Crouching Tiger" was that Zhang Ziyi's character doesn’t know how to hold the sword in stillness. Why could the Li Mu Bai character afford to put his sword behind his back? Because he had already seen the film. What does Jesus say? ‘Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.’ (Matthew 13:13)
The great masters tell us that if we do the training, you are going to grow into that state where you will see, not just look. Hear, not just listen. See the whole film. But if you do not cleanse out the physical body and the astral (emotional) body and the mental body you are not going to get there. You are too wrapped up in history or the future, in your thoughts and emotions to see what is in front of you. To see the film. These are the principles of Wu Wu Wei.