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February 25, 2015

Discussing Stance and Physical Practice with Norma Wong

What we collectively call 60/40 Stance is an integral practice for Move to End Violence, and a signature element of our movement strategy.

But what exactly is 60/40 Stance? In the videos below, we talk to Norma Wong, MEV faculty member who created and teaches 60/40 Stance, about what potential Movement Makers can expect to learn and experience as a part of the MEV program.

You can watch the full video here:


Hi my name is Norma Wong, and I’m one of the faculty members for Move to End Violence. One of the key parts of the program is this practice called 60/40 Stance.

The 60/40 Stance is a way for us to see our movement building not only from an ideology perspective, but from actual movement. If we’re going to believe something and think about it, that’s different than whether or not we’re going to embody it.

And movements, any large social change movements (which is what is going to be required for this big task ahead of us) require us to actually deal with the hearts, bodies, and mind of everyone concerned: the general population, the people that we care about, and ourselves.

  • How do we bring about that BIG sense?
  • How do we have the energy for it?
  • How do we have the stance for it?
  • How can we be more on the offense and not on the defense?
  • How can we bring our awareness into it so that it’s not just about our beliefs?
  • What does our own rhythm tell us that we are capable of, or not?
  • How do we build a more sustainable rhythm that will allow us to take on what very well may be generational work?

All of these are questions that we deal with. But more importantly, we have certain practices and certain ways in which we can actually increase our capacity as individuals, as organizations, and as a movement.

QUESTION #1: We refer 60/40 stance to a mind-body technology. What does that mean?

Fundamental to the mind-body technology is how separate we are right now from our actual body. For example, most people are not conscious of their breath. It’s just that very notion: we think that breath is automatic. In many ways, it is. But our lack of consciousness around the breath means that we are unable to tell when it is that we are getting anxious. Not from our mind, but from our body.

When we’re anxious, when we’re stressed, when we can’t think properly – you can guarantee our breath is going to be high up on our chest and very shallow. In that state, we won’t be grounded enough to take on whatever the crisis happens be. So just returning to the breath, just being able to return to that, is a very strong, powerful leadership benefit, if you know how to return to your breath. That’s just one example.

We also use physical practice. Physical practice for example would include this 10-step tai ji form.

This 10-Step tai ji form is intended to help everyone together return to the body, but also:

  • learn how to develop core,
  • what does it mean to move together,
  • how to be aware of each other,
  • what is rhythm like, and
  • how important rhythm is to strategy, important to organizational work.

The lessons that are brought in this are lessons that we can translate. It is NOT a physical practice that is intended to be exercise. This is not about us getting up in the morning and going to the gym, this is not that type of physical practice.

This is practice to bring us into our own bodies and learn from that. Learn in ways that would inform our strategies and our work.

QUESTION #2: How might 60/40 Stance also affect people in their personal development?


The most important assets we have in our work is ourselves. If we think that we can just learn new things and apply those things – become better strategists and therefore go on the field and better work or become better leaders, then we are coming right up against the limits of what might be possible.

Grace Lee Boggs, the great activist, is fond of wearing a particular t-shirt that says (R)EVOLUTION. What she’s talking about is not only the fact of what revolution does, that it helps society to evolve—but in order to carry out revolution, you yourself, we ourselves, need to change.

We need to understand, that in order to change the world, WE need to change. It requires us to do that, because the job is just simply too big for us to be able to handle in our current state of being.

That whole notion of grasping that, and tackling it, and embracing it: the notion that we can transform the world if we transform ourselves by:

  • Looking at our habits;
  • Questioning the purpose that we have (not just the purpose of work, but the purpose in life);
  • Dealing with the insecurities that we may be facing;
  • Coming up against the possible, not only the impossible;
  • Doing work that is tremendously outside of the box.

All of these things require us to take up our own transformation.

QUESTION #3: In terms of physical practice, can you talk more about the form of tai ji that MEV does?

One of the practices that we do as a cohort is called (as a short-form we call it) tai ji – but it is not the traditional tai ji that has been practiced for thousands of years and that originated in China.  

This is a 10-step tai ji form developed by Stephen Kow. He is a tai ji master and spiritual teacher. He created this 10-step form as a way for the benefits of the tai ji to be accessible for people for whom the traditional tai ji is not going to be something that they’re going to do.

Stephen Kow and I collaborated on the use of this 10-Step tai ji in secular applications. In workshops, in seminars, for groups that:

  • want to improve their coordination with each other,
  • that are trying to do problem solving together,
  • that are literally figuring out if they can literally move together or not,
  • that are deciding how it is they’re going to move.

This 10-step practice can help to teach us from a mind-body perspective. It is also a very useful individual practice for people who chose to do it.

QUESTION #4: Can you give a few examples of how the 10-step tai ji form applies to 60/40 Stance?

Let’s give you an example. So the first move would be that I reach up, and bring my arms down. Oh, and I would breath at the same time. (Norma does the first tai ji move.) Inhale, and exhale.

Anything that you do with the body will have habits.

Let’s say that you overextend. For example: (Norma does first tai ji move with an exaggerated overextension at the end) as you’re overextending with your body, I can guarantee you that you’re also overextending in your work. You’re overextending in terms of your personal life, you’re over extending just last week, and right now.

It’s that the body will do what the mind does. The mind will actually direct what the body does. They’re hardwired together, they’re connected. The good news about the connection is that when you become aware of your own overextension, that you can actually do something about it.

The place that you can do something about it, the first is actually in the body. So you take a look, have your partner take a look, look in the mirror when you’re doing the move, and don’t overextend. That consciousness of not overextending will begin to influence the other parts of your life. You will know in your body when you are overextending now. Overextension will not seem like a regular course of things, like that is the norm. It becomes the norm that doesn’t work for you and you begin to build a new norm.

Overextension happens to be one of the key reasons why movements are unable to have a big impact. The energy of the movement is dissipated because everybody is overextended, and therefore can only do things in small increments, take small risks, or go all out in an overextended way and then can’t follow up.

QUESTION #5: What is the relationship between physical practice and self-care for sustainability & impact?

So one of the concepts that we begin to learn (and then internalize, and then practice, and then question, and then figure out) is how we put ourselves in a situation day-in, day-out, that we fill it up with things to do.

And in filling it up with things to do, that that begins to actually narrows the scope of our own possibilities. It narrows the scope of our own possibilities because creativity requires space. When we’re tired, when we’re overextended, when we’re doing 40 things at the same time, when whatever it is we’re doing is not the only thing we’re doing because we’re thinking about the things we haven’t done yet, or we’re thinking about the things that we did that we have to backtrack on—all of this essentially crowds out our capacity.

And in crowding our capacity, it puts us at risk. It puts us at risk in terms of our health, and in terms of being able to see opportunities as they arise. We certainly don’t have the energy to take up one more thing.

Of course I’m talking hypothetically, I know that that’s not a situation that you ever come across. It’s certainly a situation that I’ve come across in my own life. In order to actually do bigger things, I have to make more space. I have to make more space in my own life, in the life of my organization, in the life of my community, in the life of my movement, in order to do bigger things.

Something that could stand in the way is our guilt. When we think of self-care as a luxury, or something that we do when we’re NOT working, then we put ourselves in a cycle. That is a cycle in which we are in a drought and drown situation.

There’s a method of irrigation where a farmer just opens a gate and floods the field. Then he closes the gate, and all the water dissipates. That is what it might feel like to us. That now we’re going to take time off, so we open the gate and we flood the field. And then every other time, we’re starving ourselves. We’re not taking the drinks that we need, literally. When we do that, we not only put ourselves at risk, but we’re working very inefficiently—extremely inefficiently. And we’re crowding out the creativity in our lives.

QUESTION #6: What is the relationship between physical practice and strategic thinking?

Let’s take a situation that we actually do quite a bit of: we backtrack. We’re in a tight spot, and we start to backtrack. We start to literally walk backwards. We do it in a way that feels awkward. One of the reasons it feels awkward is because we do not practice actually literally walking backwards.

We’re all going to get into situations where at some point, the circumstances require that, but can we do it in a way in which walking backwards is going to put us into a better position? That we’re going to be aware of how it is that we’re doing it? That we don’t feel defensive when we are forced to do that? That we walk backwards and we can pivot, and we can turn and begin to go on the offense with whatever it is that we’re doing?

Here is a circumstance where there is an actual strategy around what it is we need to do. But there are actual ways in which physical practice or physical exercises can show us how to do it in a much stronger way. So that we’re not caught in a corner, that we’re caught off-guard, that we feel defensive — all of those kinds of things.

QUESTION #7: What if I’m an applicant and I have physical disabilities?

If you have a physical disability, that is something that you would have a conversation with me about, and we would tailor the physical work for whatever that ability is.

60/40 Stance has been used in other settings by people who have a myriad of abilities. You don’t have to have a disability for your body to not perform the way that you want it to, so you might have had a sport injury in the past, or you might just be a couch potato and don’t even know which is your left leg or right leg. Or you might have an injury that needs to be dealt with. We’ve done 60/40 Stance work with people who are in wheelchairs, with people who are blind, who don’t have the use of one limb or the other, who are dyslexic from a physical viewpoint. (Where if I say, please raise your left hand, they immediate raise their right hand.)

All kinds of physical circumstances can be embodied. In fact, there is so much that you can become able in, if you become more aware of your body.

QUESTION #8: For folks who have heard of Forward Stance, how is that related to 60/40 Stance?

One of the things that I would recommend for people who want to get a picture of Forward Stance is that they could view the website for Forward Together. Forward Together was the first organization that used this particular methodology.

It is an aspect of the 60/40 Stance. What it does is take the mind-body work, that particular method/approach, and it uses it in mostly external facing manner.

What do I mean by external facing manner? It doesn’t require anyone to say, “What kind of changes do I need to make in order to bring about external change?” It says, “What kind of external changes should we go for and therefore, how should we embody those external changes?”

The individual transformation is not a prerequisite within Forward Stance. In 60/40 Stance, this is very fundamental.

In the 60/40 Stance work, we essentially say to ourselves, we’re doing damn good work now, but what would it take for us to really break through and do the kind of work that’s going to change society as whole? And to do that, we really have to tackle the kinds of impediments that we ourselves are putting out that don’t allow us to be the great people that we can be.

Art by lizar_tistry