Category Archives: Martial arts

What are martial arts really about?

Martial Arts is about the power of the mind, body and spirit

Martial Arts is about the power of the mind, body and spirit

What is your impression of martial arts and martial artists? In your mind are they tough fighters? Do you think of MAA (mixed martial arts) competitions, violence and aggression? Are martial artists thugs in your opinion?

Would you shy away from martial arts because of this perspective? Would you be drawn to something that sounded more spiritual, graceful and elegant? Would you consider martial arts if it was more artistic, about self expression and personal development?

If so, then please read on. This blog is designed to dispel some myths about martial arts in general and to high light some of the central and fundamental precepts behind martial arts.

And if you still like the idea of the aggression and competition of martial arts then I invite to read on too. You may not always enjoy this aspect of martial arts, nor may you be aware of its awesome power and potential which opens to you when you train with a different perspective and understanding.

The Great Masters have always been men of Peace

Bruce Lee, Morihei Ueshiba, Myomoto Musashi and Master Tesshu were all violent men in their youth. It was only when they contemplated their mortality that they realised the futility of violence and they began the quest for greater and deeper understanding of The Way or The Tao. Nelson Mandela was essentially a terrorist as a young man and Gandhi used to beat his wife and children before fear and hatred gave way to love and compassion.

Martial arts can show the way to compassion and love if we choose to use the body and mind to explore the connection to self and others and the world at large. It is the cultivation of the spirit, or intuitive energy of our being, that brings this connection and the peace that comes with it. Not all martial arts styles teach this way of peace. I believe it was always the true way it was taught in the past. In the modern world some have discarded these principles in favour of the physical aspects only. In my experience a person needs the mind, body and spirit to be healthy and strong and able to work together to mutually enhance the life experience so a person can live a meaningful and fulfilling existence.

Martial arts is unique I think in offering the potential to cultivate all three aspects of the being. It is not an easy path, yet it offers the chance for true freedom, creativity and self expression, keeping the energy flowing on many levels of the being and creating the opportunity to find real peace.

This is why I have continued martial arts for over a quarter of a century. It was not why I started. It is why I stayed and why I continue to teach-so that others may find their own path to peace and harmony.

Over to you

What is your experience of martial arts? Has it changed with time? Has it changed with teacher or style? What has martial arts taught you about peace and connection….. and about violence? We’d love to hear from you and enter further into this wonderful subject of energy, peace and connection.

 

Life Engagement

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Life Engagement, Personal Intention, and Passion are all important. I see people today engaging in life through their mobile phones and their tablets. In a coffee shop the other day there were four separate couples with their heads in their phones and they never once spoke to their partners. I understand it is a generational thing, but I do hope that they engage with life and feel the excitement and thrill of living more fully, so that they are drawn into the joy of being alive. We deepen relationships with others through interaction. We can communicate at a distance but the more we focus on a task or a person the more fully we will connect.

Mechanical force
I understand that life is about engagement and connection. Business meetings, public speaking, dates, performing arts and sports are most successful when there is engagement, the feeling of presence and charisma that is undeniable and powerful. I teach and practise martial arts. When you perform a block or punch you may think that you are blocking or punching with your hand or your arm. This only diminishes your power and potential. In fact you are blocking and punching with so much more- your whole body is connected to that arm, and with good technique you can amplify the mechanical force of that movement. Good stance and posture, relaxation of the body, fluid motion, accuracy, timing and rhythm all contribute to the power of the movement.

Intention
There is more. There is intention behind that block or punch, the coherence of the mind and body working together to create a powerful movement. There is commitment. In “Feel the Fear and do it Anyway” Susan Jeffers describes an exercise to demonstrate the influence of thoughts on the body. Thinking in a positive mind frame palpably makes the body stronger than a negative mind frame, but she states that this affect is most profound the more the participant commits and feels what they are saying. I have tried this many times, and people are always surprised at the power their thoughts have on their physical being. A block or a punch will be far more powerful when there is commitment and focus on doing the technique. Focussing on fear weakens the body. In martial arts you practice technique to perfect union of mind, body and spirit in a positive and empowered state of being.

Effortless engagement with life
There is also passion that comes from the freedom of doing something effortlessly that is well practised and the subconscious trust and belief that the block or punch will work to defend the body. All these energies coalescing and focussing on the point of the punch or the block mean that you are punching and blocking with your entire being, not just with your arm. To do something with your whole being is to be fully connected and engaged with life. This is an expansive, liberating experience leading to freedom of expression and one’s uniqueness.

Passion
I passionately believe that martial arts are a mirror of life. When you look deeply enough you can take the lessons out of the training hall and apply them to life. And so it is with this…… it is a life- time’s practice to engage and remain engaged with life. To be truly present is to experience the moment entirely, to listen fully, to see clearly and to feel deeply.
In the movie Avatar there is a greeting the Na’ vi people make that I love. They say “I see you”, implying that there is more about you than the physical form I am looking at. There is something deeper.
We can all glimpse the deeper inner beauty of others and when that is sensed there is a realisation of how exciting that inner beauty can be.
Deep engagement with life and others will “Nourish the Flame Within”. When you feel the power of your connection with life it truly nourishes and sustains you. It amplifies passion of all sorts, and that is something worth living for!

Finding Peace

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Whatever you wish to achieve in life, it requires intention, focus, effort and perseverance.  Without these elements, you will not create a reason to do something or put in the work, time and dedication needed to make it happen.  There is a process of investment that leads to your desired outcome.

If there is a process of striving, how can you ever be at peace?

Once you reach your goal, do you not run the risk of stagnation?

These are the questions that bring the deeper meanings of martial arts out of the training hall and into the arena of daily living.  There are many schools of martial arts.  I can only talk of my own experience.  For many, martial arts are about fitness, for others about self defence.  Some do them for the competitive element and others enjoy the combative edge.  There is also the aspect of facing the fear of being hurt and the opportunity of dominating another through skill or even brute force.  Even the violence of the fight appeals to some people.

These are not what martial arts are about for me!!!!

I admit, fitness and self defence were the reasons I started and there was the element of conquering my fear every time I did my training- the unknown and the unexpected are powerful forces that can disturb the mind.  But very early on I realised there was a deeper element to martial arts that intrigued and fascinated me.  It went beyond the physical training and touched my mind, heart and spirit.  The greatest conflicts of life are of the mind.  Yes, the body can become injured, ill and diseased and thankfully there is an in- build repair and maintenance system at hand to take care of these situations.  The mind is an altogether different proposition and martial arts can give you the means to harness its power in a positive and life affirming way.

There are many centres to the mind- memory, visual, emotional, auditory, fear to name a few.  My study of psychology, no more than an amateur’s reading, and life experience helps me realise the power and intricacy of the human mind.  My professional research in neuroscience and nerve regeneration gives me some idea of the complexity of the human brain.  The details are staggering and I work much better with metaphors to illustrate complex ideas………  please join me on my current working analogies of the mind and brain.

You become what you focus on- if you are in the throes of new romance you feel consumed with love and all is well with the world; when you are about to do something you really don’t like, you might be filled with fear, apathy, worry or indifference.  Where your attention lies defines you in that moment.  I liken it to a flash light- your attention casts a focussed spot of light on the part of the mind it is aware of.  MRI scans of people’s brains taken while they perform certain activities demonstrates how specific centres of the brain light up (indicating increased local blood flow) inferring greater neurological (nerve cell) activity in that area.

In martial arts you learn how to control the awareness of the mind.  Do you think ahead or in the moment?  Do you allow yourself to be consumed with fear and self- doubt, or do you remain calm and alert?  Will you allow tiredness to lead to mistakes or remain focussed on the task at hand?  When learning techniques, will you allow yourself to be overwhelmed or will you break it down and learn it step by step?  These are all important questions that can be applied to a wider life context.

The options available are many, but simply break down into two categories: calmness and confusion.  The mind either focuses on the calm, still centre or its attention lies on the maelstrom of activity, emotion and confusion that spins around that centre.  If you think of it like a tornado, the destructive part is the violent wind of emotion (doubt and fear), confusion (a lack of perspective due to being tossed around beyond your control) and activity (trying to sort things out while you are in the storm).  The calm centre is more grounded and controlled, allowing you to see the emotional response for what it is, gaining better perspectives of the situation at hand and acting from a still place to sort out the situation.

Very often you find your attention or awareness in the outer, spinning wall of air and the resulting confusion.  What if you could shine your light of awareness on the still centre while the storms of life rage around you, allowing you to see with more clarity, make decisions with a better understanding of the broader perspectives and feel calm as you make your life choices and move your life forward in your desired direction?  If so, peace would always be yours.

It is simply a question of focussing the mind on peace.  To strive is to move forward, not to be in turmoil.  Peace is to remain centred in control of your attention, expanding your awareness and strengthening your power.  This column of peace in the centre of the tornado draws energy from the environment around it- up from the ground beneath it; down from the universe above and; in from the spinning world surrounding it.  This is how stagnation is avoided- the growing energy in the centre seeks outlets of creativity, enquiry, curiosity and endeavour ensuring that life becomes a journey of adventure, growing wisdom and endless learning- the true meaning and purpose of martial arts.

The Mind- Body Connection

We are aware of the mind- body connection- the idea that the thoughts of the mind influence the body and that the actions of the body influence the mind.  This manifests itself in the mental alertness we feel after a great workout or the calm wakefulness we may experience during and after meditation.

I came to martial arts seeking the adrenaline high and physical conditioning that comes from hard physical effort.  As a teenager it was a fantastic way to release pent- up energy and stay in shape.  I loved it and would walk away from a session full of enthusiasm and excitement.  As the years of training passed, the physical workouts began to fill me with a feeling of calm power- there was the same physical intensity, but there was an additional dimension I became aware of that really began to shift the way I experienced and perceived martial arts and the manner in which it affected me.

I believe that martial arts offer a unique combination of mind- body training that seeks to bring these two elements into balance.  Once this equilibrium is achieved tranquillity begins to emerge that allows us to become aware of a connection to Self- a spiritual quality that is beyond the mental and the physical.  It manifests itself in calmness and power, in directness, agility and stillness that is both physical and mental at the same time.  A connection to Self emerges that brings us into connection to all things.

The Masters of Japan, India and China spoke about this dimension of martial arts at length as if it was the true purpose of the training- a far cry from the macho mixed martial arts that we see today so prevalently across the world.  I will talk about this in a later blog.  They believed that the body housed the spiritual energy of the person and that the body had to be in good condition to be able to allow that energy the freedom it required to express and manifest itself in the world.  I will discuss that in a later blog also.

For now, we are discussing how martial arts do not simply excite the body and the mind.  They also stimulate the spiritual energy of the person.  As a student’s technical ability increases their body follows the natural energy lines that promote greater relaxation, power and accuracy.  Projection of spiritual energy begins to become greater and more focussed as their awareness becomes more honed.  They become more connected to the environment and people around them and their health benefits not just from physical excerption but also from the healthy flow of energy.  Martial arts can simply be a vehicle for greater spiritual connection (by which I mean to feel and understand the energy that flows within and around us all and connects us to everyone and everything).  Martial arts are unique because of the training format and the surface level benefits such as physical fitness, ability to defend oneself and others and the resultant confidence that comes from that.  Hidden behind that veil lies the true power of the life arts of a warrior.

Please do not be put off by this image as life is full of joy and hardship.  Only through this spiritual connection can we hope to remain centred and whole.  Martial arts teach us that we have the power to harness spiritual energy and direct it to do good in the world.  It also teaches us how to protect ourselves and others and to be able to live lives of peace and compassion.  Connection comes through awareness of the energy that links us to all which means we have the strength to walk through life with peaceful steps.  Compassion has many faces- to be tough when we need to be, to be soft when required but always with a sense of compassion and love.  Our actions emerge from spiritual energy that we hone and cultivate from the minute we begin our martial arts training.  Whether we realise it or not, we are after all is said and done, spiritual beings.