I have been teaching medieval rapier combat (fencing) for more than 20 years now. One thing I see again and again in new fencers is an urge to hold the sword with a death-grip.
There are multiple reasons why this is problematic. First, it interferes with your overall endurance because your forearm gets sore really fast. Second, it slows your reaction time because you take more “shock damage” of a sort when an opponent strikes your blade. Third, you open yourself up to allowing your opponent to predict your movement because of the over-tightness of your grip.
A light touch allows you to move with better flow, gives you more control rather than less, and doesn’t tire out your muscles. When your opponent strikes your blade you can make use of the energy to move to your advantage. A light touch is a total win-win.
This also applies to other sports. Archery, for example. Hold your bow too tight and grip the string when drawing and firing with your whole hand and see if you can shoot with any accuracy at all. Death-grip a golf club or baseball bat and see if you can get optimum distance from your swing.
Using a light touch is often counter-intuitive. But in reality, it’s the key to generating proper force or maximizing movement efficiency.
This is not only true of these physical arts, but also life itself. Grip onto anything too tightly and you will overcomplicate the situation.
Nothing is static
The Universe is in a constant state of motion. Change is inevitable and ongoing. No matter how hard you try to hold onto any given moment it WILL pass.
Yoda covers this pretty well:
“Always in motion is the future.”
An object in motion tends to stay in motion. An object at rest tends to stay at rest. That’s Newton’s First Law of physics. Life is always in motion, and you can only grab ahold of matters for a relatively short time.
Yet we human beings have a tendency to form attachments. These can be to anything and everything you can think of. People, places, things, tangibles, and intangibles. When you get attached you find it hard to let go, and the tendency is to grip tighter and tighter.
Princess (General) Leia covered this idea rather well:
“The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.”
Yes, I recognize this is a quote from a sci-fi movie, but that doesn’t lessen the truth of it. The tighter you grip things the more they will slip through or from your fingers.
If you have a death-grip in your sword in fencing, every time I deliberately strike your blade I am weakening you. The shock of the strike as it runs up your arm is going to get increasingly painful until you either drop your sword, cramp up, or open yourself to the attack after the distracting beat.
This is as applicable to intangibles in life as it is to the tangible.
A light touch is more effective
There are several reasons why intangibles should also be held with a light touch.
Your thoughts, feelings, and actions are not set in stone and unchangeable. In fact, they can be changed on a whim or with deep consideration.
The ideas of others are the same. What you hold to be true now you might learn is untrue later. Gripping to a truth too tightly can be problematic in the face of proof to the counter.
For example, several centuries ago people thought the Earth was flat. Satellite imagery and trips outside the atmosphere are just a couple of pieces of proof that it is, in fact, round. Yet even today there are people who hold onto this utterly untrue belief that the Earth is flat.
How do the people who hold onto a belief with death-grip make other people feel? It tends to go poorly or even cause conflict. Flat-Earthers are relatively benign. White supremacists, racists, anti-vaxxers, misogynists, nationalists, rape apologists, and the like, on the other hand, are more malignant and troublesome on multiple levels.
A death-grip on an outmoded, disproven, or even harmful belief causes inflexibility, disagreement, conflict, and trouble. You see it on the large-scale all the time. Don’t get me started on current American politics.
You have a choice, however. Anything and everything you cling to you get to choose how tight you grip it. You get to decide if you will have a death-grip or a light touch. I think it’s pretty clear that death-gripping anything at all tends to be a poor choice.
How do you loosen your grip?
In fencing, I can show you how the light touch totally changes your game. I can recognize a death-grip just by watching how another fighter reacts to a beat against their blade. It’s always gratifying, when I explain this, to see the relief when the pain of holding the blade too tightly abates with the light touch.
Physically this is pretty simple. Mentally and emotionally it takes a bit more effort.
The first step is recognition. You have to see for yourself that you have a death grip on the person, place, thing, idea, opinion, or what-have-you. Then you need to become aware of how your death grip is not helping you but hurting you.
Once you recognize and acknowledge this you can change it. How? With mindfulness.
Mindfulness is awareness of your thoughts, feelings, and actions in the now. Many of the intangibles you tend to hold onto with a death grip are subconscious. Mindfulness makes you conscious, which in turn allows you to recognize and change your grip.
This is not a quick fix. Sometimes you have to lift one finger at a time to lessen your grip. And it’s also important to acknowledge that you may have to let go of something entirely.
Loosen up or let go
Many of the things you hold tightly to are things you do not desire to let go of. Material or immaterial, that thing you are gripping might mean a great deal to you. Letting go could feel like a betrayal, a loss, admitting failure, or any number of negatives.
Because life is in a constant state of change and motion nothing is permanent. Everyone and everything in this world is transient. Seas rise and fall, oceans become deserts, mountains climb to the clouds and tumble to the earth, people live and die.
This can be disconcerting, unnerving, and even frightening to acknowledge. Tightening your grip will not cease the movement but could make it slip through even faster.
For example, when a relationship ends if someone is holding onto it too tightly they grow bitter, resentful, and inflict pain and suffering upon themselves far beyond the mere ending of the relationship. Letting go will hurt, but for a lesser amount of both time and suffering.
The choice is yours. You have all the power to decide to grip as tight as you can, keep a light touch, or let go. Tangible or intangible, you get to choose if you death-grip or use a light touch to hold onto it.
You are worthy and deserving of using your mindfulness to find and/or create the reality in which you desire to live. When all is said and done you matter and you can control the tightness of your grip on anything and everything.