The Essential Energies: Lu

For more context about the essential energies, start with this introductory post.

July 7, 2011 update: I have been informed since publishing this article that the Chinese word for this energy is correctly spelled “lu” rather than “liu,” and I have edited appropriately. Apologies for the error.

The second essential energy is called lu (pronounced “lee-YOU” with a very short initial syllable, the two sounds run together). If you know the saying “you’ve gotta roll with the punches,” then the basics of this one should be familiar.

To describe lu, let’s return to the metaphor of an inflated rubber ball, one with enough internal pressure to make it bouncy and resilient (in other words, a ball that is peng). Imagine setting this ball on the floor, and then pressing down on it with one hand — if you have such a ball handy, try it for real. As you press harder and harder on the ball, it starts wobbling under your hand, trying to roll out from under the pressure you are putting on it. If you press on it off-center, it will roll you off. This energy of rolling away from an advancing force is lu. In my school, taiji movements which engage lu are thus called “roll back.” They depend on first assuming peng, that sense of relaxed fullness and expansion that enables the body to be resilient and strong. Then when an opponent attacks, one responds by staying relaxed and turning the body, channeling the force of the attack away by rolling with it, redirecting it to the side and past.

Lu is a type of yin energy, it is responsive rather than assertive. It is a receptive energy, but not a passive one. Lu responds to force by motion, it receives energy in order to deflect it, so as not to be bowled over by it. It is yin with a kernel of yang, a reaction that creates opportunity.

As with the other essential energies, lu shows up throughout life, not just in martial arts. There’s a reason “roll with the punches” is a familiar saying, because it’s a valuable life skill. Bluntly stated, stuff happens: things break, plans go wrong, people argue, luck runs out. Life creates challenges, and we choose how to respond — by becoming tense and stressed, by blowing up with anger, by trying to force our own way through, by giving up and becoming despondent … or by rolling with it.

When the electricity goes off, lu may build a campfire and roast hot dogs. When a little league game is rained out, lu brings the team home for pizza, games, and movies. If a car breaks down in the middle of a long road trip, lu means exploring the town you’ve washed up in while it gets fixed, rather than pining for the destination you didn’t reach. Good customer service agents (bless them) become masters of lu, accepting whatever problems and moods come at them without taking anything personally, refocusing on what they can do to resolve problems and make their clients happy. Lu never engages in a shouting match, it sidesteps manipulation, it shunts aside negativity. It prevents one from wasting energy on what cannot be changed. It is utterly practical, requires one to stay engaged with the realities of the moment, and is intentional about seeking out new possibilities when old ones close. Powerful stuff, lu.

The thing I’m realizing about lu that I didn’t see before is that, just as in taiji movement, you can’t engage lu as a practical life skill unless you first have peng. Until you develop that sense of relaxed fullness, it’s practically impossible to respond well to life’s casual disasters. For most of my life, I’ve been too deflated, too insecure, too timid to bounce back quickly from difficulties; I had no internal fullness, no assurance and confidence in myself, and so I’ve been prone to depression and passivity, letting life sweep me along and sometimes knock me over, rather than choosing my own course and responses. The more I learn how to express the fullness of peng in my daily life, the more I become able to look for new opportunities, to let go of perceived slights and misunderstandings, to roll with hardship and experience life as it is, with the help of lu.


4 comments so far

  1. wushupa on

    Ah, Young Cris. You make me proud with your insights :)

  2. sarah on

    Chris, that’s lovely. Really nicely written, useful insights.

  3. Alison on

    I am speechless! I love this; really, really love it. In fact, I’ve loved all your ‘essential energies’ posts so far. Thanks!

  4. Mardi on

    You and me both. thanks for the insight and inspiration.

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