There’s a famous scene in Enter the Dragon where Bruce Lee’s teacher asks him his thoughts when facing an opponent. Bruce Lee responds that “there is no opponent.” When his teacher asks him why that is, Lee responds, “because the word “I” does not exist.”
I’ve seen this exchange interpreted again and again to mean that one’s only true opponent is oneself. That if you can defeat yourself, you can defeat anyone. Even Conor McGregor interprets it this way, which may be why this interpretation has become so prevalent.
In my watching of the scene, my watching of the movie, and my lived experience, I have come to a different interpretation. I have found that there is no opponent, especially not myself.
When I get caught up in my own ambitions, my goals, the ever elusive feeling of being productive, it becomes impossible for me to be in the present moment. Which is all there is. If I’m attached to the struggle of striving to beat myself, I never reach the point where I transcend the struggle.
If I’m trying to beat myself, I’m attached to being myself. I’m not in the moment. I’m pretending that the word “I” does exist.
When I played ultimate, I used to get very angry at myself every single time I made a mistake. That’s kind of the norm in our sport, in sports generally, and in western culture. We largely seem to get very angry at ourselves when we make mistakes. We’re attached to our struggles.
Recently, I’ve started approaching ultimate more similarly to the way I approach playing an instrument. I’m not striving to beat my opponent. I’m not striving to beat myself.
When I’m at my best, I’m present. I’m listening for opportunities to assert myself into the space, and when opportunities present themselves, I flow into them with 100% of my being. I’m not trying to beat anyone, I’m just deeply attuned to the rhythm of everyone on the field.
That’s easier said than done of course.
I do continue to make mistakes and that challenges me to not waste my energy getting angry at myself.
There is in fact a scoreboard in ultimate. It seems kind of insane to say that I play my best ultimate when I let go of the idea that the points matter in the grand scheme of things…I’m sure I have teammates on my club team who won’t be too happy to hear that.
But to me, results are just a byproduct of preparing for the moment and letting go of both the fight against the opponent on the field and the fight against our self in our head.