Lengthen Your Line

Photo: Stephen Lesavich

There is a chapter in the book, Zen in the Martial Arts, by Joe Hyams, called “Lengthen Your Line.”

In this chapter, Joe Hyams tells a story about when he was a new student of martial arts master, Ed Parker

Ed Parker is a famous Kempo Karate instructor who students included Elvis Presley and many other celebrities.

According to the story, Hyams was a new student and was sparring with an experienced student and could not score any points.  Hyams became very frustrated.

Ed Parker took Hyams aside and drew 2 lines on the floor with chalk.  The first line was longer and represented the more experienced student.  The second line was shorter and represented Hyams.

Master Parker asked Hyams how he could make the first line representing the more experienced shorter?  Hyams gave several solutions attacking the skills of the more experienced student including one in which he proposed cutting the longer line into shorter pieces.

Master Parker then responded, “It’s always better to improve and strengthen your own line or knowledge than to try to cut your opponent’s line.”

Master Parker suggested Hyams spend time developing his own knowledge, skills and ability to “lengthen his own line” to match that of the more experienced students.

Joe Hyams situation is a very common situation for students of all levels in the martial arts and in life.

I have not mentioned this before on this podcast, but I am a Master Instructor in the Korean Art of Tae Kwon Do.  I have 5th degree black belt, awarded by the Kukkiwon in association with the World Tae Kwon Do Federation in Seoul, South Korea. 

I have been a student of Grandmaster Kim, Koang Woong, a 9th degree black belt and his son Grandmaster Jonathon Kim, a 7th degree black belt for many decades.

Many times over the years there are students who are ready to test for their 1st degree black belt and I ask the students to come out before the class and demonstrate their self-defense techniques on me personally. These students come out confident and ready to show me what they have learned.

However, just about every student fails this exercise.  When they try to execute their self-defense techniques on me, nothing works.  I just stand there and these students cannot move me or throw me.  They become very frustrated just like Joe Hyams did.  They quickly lose their confidence and are unable to perform.

Why?  These prospective black belt students did not fully lengthen their own lines enough to match my line, which is much longer.  My line got very long with decades of learned knowledge and experience.

The mistake ALL of these students make is try to use brute force strength instead of properly executing the self-defense techniques they were taught and should have learned and mastered. 

I am 6’3” tall and weigh about 220 pounds, so I am not easy to move or throw. 

In a self-defense situation, the key is not use brute force strength, but to use the physics of the human body, especially on the joints, to overcome a size, weight and height advantage your opponent may have and to change the center of gravity of the opponent to make them unstable and easier to throw and bring to the ground. 

After these students fail this exercise, I always take the time to teach these students how to lengthen their own lines. I teach each of the self-defense techniques over again from the beginning and have the students execute each step of the self-defense techniques so they are not only able to understand them intellectually, but also have their bodies feel the changes of the physics of the joints and the change in center of gravity. 

All of the students come away from that class with new personal knowledge and experience to lengthen their own lines.

You do not have to be student of the martial arts to use the wisdom of this lesson.

Get additional insights on lengthen their own lines from the Out There on the Edge of Everything® Podcast.

How can you apply the lesson of “lengthening your line” in your own life?

  1. Determine how long your own lines are.  You actually do not have a single line as was discussed in the story about the martial arts student.  Instead you have a series of lines of various lengths, one for each of many different areas representing you as a person.  To lengthen your own lines, you need to determine a starting point, a baseline of exactly where you are right now.  Take a moment to do a personal inventory.  Write down a list of your educational achievements, your personal skills, your relationship skills, your family skills, your professional skills, etc. that represent each of the many different areas representing you as a person.  Ask yourself, “how long is my line?” for all of these different areas representing you.  Then physically draw a line of an appropriate length for each of these different areas.
  2. Determine which of your lines you desire to lengthen.  To lengthen your own lines, you need to first stop being a “victim,” stop criticizing and cutting down others and stop projecting any of your own shortcomings onto others.  Step out of such energy permanently.  Use the “clarity through contrasts technique.  Contrast is a necessary component of personal growth and way to lengthen your own lines.  You actually live your life based on the contrasts you experience in it. You can’t know what you DO want unless you know what you DON’T want. Contrast causes you to clarify your own preferences very precisely, so you get to decide what you do prefer and you can act on those preferences.  Create a contrast list with two columns.  Label the first column, a negative column, “What I do NOT want.”  Label the second column, a positive column, “What I DO want” for each of the lines that represent you.
  3. Create an action plan to lengthen your own lines.  Use the second column from your contrast list labeled, “What I Do want,” to create a plan of action that focuses on taking achievable steps towards the end goal of changing your education, skill sets, feelings, emotions, reactions, etc. to lengthen your own lines in the different areas of your life that you desire. Take direct solution-oriented, empowering actions based on the plan of action you created to lengthen your desired lines. Taking direct solution-oriented empowering actions are way to exercise personal control and personal growth in your own life. When you are empowered, you decide how you will proceed to co-create the life you truly desire. When you are empowered, you make important decisions and take actions with courage, positive energy and enthusiasm to lengthen your own lines. As you lengthen your own lines, physically draw extensions to the lines you drew during your personal inventory in Step 1 to illustrate the progress you are making lengthening your own lines.

Even as a Master Instructor with decades of experience in the martial arts, I continually strive to lengthen my lines in the martial arts and other areas of my life.  How about you?

Lengthening your own line is a good way to make a positive impact in your own life.

Out There on the Edge of Everything® …

Stephen Lesavich, PhD

Copyright © 2021, by Stephen Lesavich, PhD.  All rights reserved.

Certified solution-focused life coach and experienced business coach.

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