By Chris Davis | 7 July 2018
Jet Li's film, The One, is one of the most underrated martial arts flicks in recent history. This is for no lack of effort or star power from the cast.
The film stars martial arts legend Jet Li as Gabe Law, Gabe Yulaw, and other versions of himself throughout the movie. He is flanked by seminal American action staple Jason Statham and other excellent actors and martial artists.
The Columbia Pictures movie was by no means a flop. Given a $30 million budget, it grossed over $72.7 million at the box office. However, was not a commercial hit. The film, The One, contains many hidden philosophical gems for martial artists, and it deserves a certain place in the lexicon.
And Then There Was..."The One"
The movie begins in a world in which people have mastered multiverse travel, which means they can meet different versions of themselves if allowed to do so freely. They are not. Travel through universes is policed for one major reason - killing other versions of oneselfin different universes allows the culprit to absorb their life energy, and eventually, become superhuman. If a person goes through all 124 universes and kills every other version of self, he becomes a mythical godlike creature known as "The One."
One of Jet Li's dopplegangers is, of course, a power mad murderer known as Gabriel Yulaw. He is actively trying to become The One by killing every other Jet Li he can get his hands on. He succeeds in doing so up to his last universal twin, Gabriel Law. Law is an LAPD officer, and he quickly becomes the center of Yulaw's attention.
Long story short, Yulaw and Law run each other through a variety of universes until they have a final battle that Law wins. He does not kill Yulaw, so he does not become The One. The police capture Yulaw and take him to prison, and Law gains a reprieve to begin a normal life once again in one of the quieter universes. A less than ideal ending to a super charged film.
Neatly bowtied Hollywood endings aside, the concept of The One has many implications for how we practice martial arts. Honestly, if the movie didn't have to appeal to some idealistic American apple pie notion of perfect-endings-full-of-justice, we could have gotten even more from this movie.
Becoming The One
Theoretical physicists believe that a possible explanation of our universe is that it is a multiverse. We cannot move through this multiverse physically - we are stuck in the timeline of what our 3D senses can perceive. Our minds, however, can travel through this multiverse. We can think of many things at once, back track those thoughts, erase them, reinvent them, and theoretically, dream ourselves in any situation we please.
The situation we most practice becomes our reality. Our minds can make us lawyers and doctors and baseball players all in the same day. When we follow one of these paths, our reality becomes one of those things, but not all. This is the phenomenon that both frees and limits us - choice.
We give ourselves added abilities as martial artists as we reduce our choices. Less is more.
Less is More
Less is more when it comes to martial arts, and this is why. Babies come into the world as students of all languages. At birth, we can all pronounce and hear the more than 150 phonemes that make up the 6,500 languages in the world.
As we age, we "learn" the language of those around us. In reality, we are losing our ability to speak other languages. Learning a language is really culling away the phonems we don't need. English only uses 44 of the full 150. Over time, we may even lose the ability to hear those phonems we don't need.
A so-called "master" of language, the normal English speaking adult person is actually less capable than she was as a newborn. Theoretically, babies could be introduced to all 6,500 languages of the world while still able to absorb all of them, and it would be a fascinating experiment to see if they ultimately learned and understood all 150 phonemes by adulthood.
Future experiments aside, for now, limiting the number of choices we allow ourselves means we learn to speak the one or few languages that we need to function in our world. This is similar to the idea of choosing only one move that gets practiced a thousand times makes a fighter more formidable than practicing a thousand moves only a few times.
The Lesson of Jet Li's film, The One
Yulaw began diminishing the number of other Gabriels in the multiverse, and as he did, those who still survived became stronger. Choosing the techniques that best fit us in martial arts makes us more proficient in a particular style. Mastery in one style beats a working knowledge of many, as most fighters will tell you.
Training to be The One
Try rededicating yourself to the lessons of The One every time you train. When learning a new technique, give it some time to sink in. Then make a decision about the technique.
Decide if it fits into your overall philosophy and language as a fighter, and if this technique makes you stronger, or spreads you too thin?
The point here is that many fighters try to be ‘universal,’ to the detriment of their fighting ability. Mastering the multiverse does not require knowledge of allthings. It requires a fighter strong enough to filter the multiverse through him or herself, and then apply that knowledge to martial arts.