Hold tightly, let go lightly: this maxim for life is found in various forms all over the East. It can be exemplified in judo in a concrete form. Suppose my right hand (palm up) holds my opponent’s left wrist.
He struggles a bit to make me instinctively hold tighter. Then he joins his hands, and walks round me in a quarter circle, on my right. This brings the force of his whole body movement in a lever action against the grip of my fingers, the fulcrum being my right hand.
As I continue to hold, I get a severe pain in the hand, and am drawn off balance. He easily frees his hand, leaving me hopelessly out of position. But if I can act consciously, and not instinctively, the result is quite different. As soon as I feel the leverage and realise that I cannot keep my hold, I instantly give it up. He continues the movement, but now there is not the expected resistance. So he tends to lose balance a bit. I can use my now free hand to give a little extra push, which unbalances him further; so now it is I who have the advantage.
(If he is a trained man, of course, he will cease his own movement when he feels my hold has gone. Then we both retain balance: we are well matched.)
The application to life is easy to see from this example. If I hold something tightly – money, reputation, someone’s affection, a position of advantage, or even personal individual life itself – the course of events will one day irresistibly wrest it from me. When I realise that this is going to happen, I should not desperately try to hold on, but give it up at once, completely and without any lingering regret.
People say: ‘How could it ever be done?’ It can be done on the same basis as the judo example. When one grips something, the instinct is to grip harder and harder if the thing begins to be pulled away. Attention and purpose become focused on this small thing. I must keep it, I must keep it, I must prevent its going away. I instinctively restrict its freedom, by taking it as my possession. But as a matter of fact this restricts my own freedom also; I do not want to let it move away from me, but I also cannot move away from it. I cannot let it go, so I am equally imprisoned by it.
The point of judo is to retain freedom of movement; to hang on to the opponent’s wrist is to be fixed there. Then as it moves, my balance is disturbed. The solution, in life as in judo, is to let it go and give a little final push at it.
We see this in all the truly free, in the West as in the East. When the audience was laughing at the mocking representation of Socrates on the stage in the play by Aristophanes, in the interval Socrates stood up from his seat and called out: ‘And now here is the real thing to laugh at.’
In Japan, when the general Nobunaga was trapped in Honno-ji, he set fire to the ground floor so that no one could enter. Then he appeared on a balcony, and danced one of the solemn Noh dances, until the flames consumed him. His profession was life-and-death, and he showed freedom from both of them.
Most of us are not required to demonstrate it so dramatically, but the principle of ‘hold tightly, let go lightly’ can be applied at every level. If it can be done even partially, it will enlighten and invigorate everyday life, and perhaps give a glimpse of something beyond, hidden in the everyday.