Succeeding with even the most despicable-seeming opponents through sticking, keeping within arms length, the joy of intelligence, non-duality, and equanimity
When I started taijiquan pushing hands/sparring seven years ago, one much more experienced practitioner in particular found a way to put his forearm or hand on me through finding my point of imbalance or non-softness in a way that no matter what I did to try to neutralize or reverse the situation, he stuck to me and ultimately was able to reach the push hands goal of knocking one of my feet out of position. He was patient in doing so, like a boa constrictor taking its time in coiling itself around its prey before going for the devastating squeezing of the air out of its coming meal.
I asked this sparring partner one day what I needed to do to do better at push hands with him and others, beyond applying the t’ai chi form, practicing push hands/sensing hands more, and relaxing and sinking. He replied:” You already gave me the correct answer, so why are you asking me for the same answer?”
One of the two prosecutors whom I am least fond of recently had a case with me. I reminded myself that he and all other opponents are no worse than my t’ai chi sparring partners. That means the importance of keeping proverbial physical contact with them, because maintaining physical contact with an opponent gives us the best chance not only to listen to and anticipate where they are coming from now and next, but also to neutralize and overcome their attacks much better than when they are at a distance. An akin concept, repeated by Don Corleone and possibly originating from Sun Tzu or Machiavelli is to keep your friends close and your enemies closer.
Whether or not it drives my opponents crazy when their insults, backstabbing efforts, and heartless approaches are met with continued sparring with equanimity from me rather than any anger, my goal is just that — continued sparring on the road to harmonizing my client’s disharmonious situation.
When I remember that everyone has Buddha nature, although sometimes not ready to manifest before any countless reincarnations, and when I remember the importance of approaching others with non-dualistic recognition that we all are connected, I need not be concerned whether my opponent misreads my compassion towards them as not standing up more firmly to their past transgressions. Their past transgressions are a distraction. The now is the now, and the only place to battle.
Back to one of my least favorite prosecutors, one day recently I gave him a diplomatic hello, neither cold nor back-slapping, just diplomatic, not long after a recent courtroom battle. The next day, I learned he was assigned to prosecute another client in court that day. I deflected his first mild insult with a clever joke that even disarmed him and gave me much enjoyment. I later went for the common denominator of discussing his workload for the day with him. In between I was collecting new and important intelligence from him about my case. Had I instead approached the prosecutor with an angry “you are despicable” attitude, he would have gotten defensive and not given me the time to try to talk out and resolve my client’s case, and to get the intelligence to strengthen my client’s side for battle. As my teacher Steve Rench so convincingly shared with me early in my criminal defense career: People will not rise to any higher potential than you expect from them; clear your mind of expectations that they will perform at a low level.
While recently with the above-referenced prosecutor, I felt like my above-referenced t’ai chi sparring partner in my earliest sparring times, whereby I felt I was sticking with the prosecutor in a way to bring me closer to victory, even though the victory was not achieved on that particular day as this case waits to go forward on another day.
Not long after this recent experience with this particular prosecutor, I bumped into one of my favorite criminal defense colleagues, now past seventy, and asked if he, like I, plans to practice law well past that age. He replied: “I’ll keep doing it so long as I keep having fun.” Exactly! For me, criminal defense is tremendous fun, with much work, of course, and frequently dealing with judges, prosecutors and cops acting very unlikably, to say the least. Of course, when their unlikable actions are but exercises of First Amendment-protected free expression, their words and tone of voice are but harmless wind. When their actions are more sinister than mere words, I am honored that my client has me by their side to pursue neutralizing and reversing the potential harmfulness of their actions.
My answers to effectively defending my clients all lie in t’ai chi ch’uan, where the t’ai chi symbol is part of my above-depicted law firm logo to remind me always to follow that path. Therefore, I already have the answers, starting with relax and sink, and practice and apply the taijiquan principles at all times.