In his martial art notes, Bruce Lee talked about maintaining what he referred to as a “playfully serious” attitude during sparring, writing, “Turn your sparring into play -- but play seriously.” My teacher, Dan Inosanto, used to relate the same idea to me, telling me that when it came to sparring, and even training for that matter, one should “train seriously, but not seriously train.” He didn’t mean by this that we should take a “who cares” approach to training, but rather that there should be no long, serious faces while training, and that even though it might be challenging and frustrating at times, we should enjoy ourselves while engaging in it.
Rickson Gracie, the legendary jiu jitsu master reiterated the same idea in an interview, stating, “You cannot learn when you are fighting, bringing in all sorts of tension and emotions. You learn when you are having fun, training in a smart and gentle way.”
In the book about Western fencing entitled, “Foil” by Charles A. Selberg, the author relates the same concept, “Fencing is the epitome of serious playfulness. The intensity of concentration, the creativity, the pouring out of yourself experienced in sparring resembles the seriousness of a child at play. Play is an attitude, not an activity; it is a freedom and creativity that comes from the courage of complete commitment. There is no calculation in play, only a richness of experience.”
When we are too serious, we can become rigidly attached to a particular way of doing things, a particular technique, particular perspective, etc. Sparring should be a time for experimentation and exploration with certain parameters, rather than simply a win at all costs, beat-the-opponent type of mentality.
Like Yin/Yang being “playfully serious” is the harmonious combination and integration of two opposites: seriousness and playfulness, as opposed to running to one extreme or the other. Utilizing the idea of “playfully serious” will offer you the opportunity to find new perspectives, be creative, and maintain fluidity. It can allow you to “get out of the box,” keep you loose and pliable and create space for new possibilities. Furthermore, it will allow you to “ease the burden of your mind” by helping you from becoming overly self-conscious with regard to all your actions. See if you can apply the idea of “serious playfulness” in your own training.