‘Strike with intention’: An FMA lesson for Obama, liberals and progressives

Intention. This is a fascinating word because it conjures up a meaning that is both observable and unobservable, a process that is both external and internal.

When one is taught to fight in Filipino Martial Arts (FMA)–at least, when I was taught by my teacher–the lesson of ‘striking with intention’ is fundamental. “Strike through your target,” “strike with a clean arc,” “strike with economy of motion,” I remember being taught. These are different ways of saying the same thing, namely to value the importance of fighting with intention.

When the task is beating a bigger, stronger, and younger opponent, FMA teaches one to win in the theater of the mind. Even the most confident, formidable opponent can be taken down so long as one’s focus is to frustrate him to defeat by consistently landing clean strikes, despite his defenses. Fighting successfully requires that one is in-tune with oneself, noise and static pushed aside. What the opponent does almost does not matter, only that his efforts shall fail. Eyes, hands and mind are one, alert and able to react without thinking, relying instead on one’s personalized fighting skill, training, and to some extent, muscle-memory. Every strike flows from the one previous, and lands, if intended, where it is aimed. Naked aggression is harnessed and focused with discipline.

How does this relate to Obama? Plenty. In a hypothetical second Obama term, FMA’s lesson of ‘striking with intention’ is fundamental.

He could have won even more legislative victories for the people had he trusted and fought from and for his core beliefs. Instead, despite overwhelming evidence of intentional and malicious Republican obstructionism, he persevered on an ill-conceived, naive approach fixated on finding common ground with his detractors. He allowed Health Reform to be neutered by those who wanted no public option in it when, in fact, the safety net needs it so badly, for example. The genuine need for health reform is not simply a reform of health insurance, but more importantly, health access, i.e., the promotion of service integration and care coordination, elimination of structural barriers to care, widening access to those least able to afford it. As the economy remains weak and families remain financially insecure, one paycheck away from serious financial crisis, health access also remains vital and lacking.

In a hypothetical second term, let us hope for bold change in Obama, himself. The attacks on his leadership can be swatted away if he were to lead with intention.

Compromise where it is prudent and necessary, but not for the sake of compromising. It is simply insane–and asinine–to hope for genuine compromise from Republicans fixated on tearing you apart–and the country with it!–by any means necessary.

Lead the nation keeping in mind the welfare of everyone, even those who oppose your policies, but do so with boldness in a manner that empowers and inspires, not with the cold calculating sensibility of an academic. As a fellow community organizer in my youth, I know the fire is in you to fight boldly for the people.

It is premature to take the victory-lap with over a month left to go until election day; but if the pundits and their polls are right, the electorate has already shifted convincingly in favor of a second Obama term because of what it could represent: a working- and middle-class orientation to solution-seeking, a more genuine stance on problem-solving, and a less ideological approach to nation-building. Barring a sudden and dramatic sea-change in voter sentiment, it is very possible that these remaining five weeks til November 6 is the wind-up for a winning Obama strike.

If Obama is re-elected, he must be like a dragon; he must lead, and lead boldly. The nation needs not a crouching tiger that waits patiently for a clear opportunity to strike, but a bold, daring, audacious dragon that strikes with intention despite opposition.



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