The Mind and the Martial Artist

Original Research

James Brumbaugh

The Mind and the Martial Artist

Often only the physical aspects of martial arts training get any attention, especially from those who have not studied any martial art for an extended period of time. It is the punches, kicks, arm locks, and throws that are viewed as the essence of these seemingly mysterious pursuits. In truth, the dedicated martial artist trains both the body and the mind. With experience and breadth of knowledge, it becomes apparent that without training the mind and establishing a link between mind and body, there are no true martial arts.

But gaining that connection between mind and body is neither straight forward nor simple. From the Oriental perspective, we are of two minds; the intellectual mind and the emotional mind. This concept mirrors the Occidental view that we can think with our mind or our heart. Perhaps a medical professional would ascribe that notion to different parts of the brain where the thinking takes place. Regardless of the perspective, the fact is that we do respond to our surroundings generally in two ways: intellectually and/or emotionally.

How does that relate to the martial arts and what can be done to improve our responses to situations that confront us? First, it is important for the martial artist to understand both the intellectual and emotional factors and how they might be useful or counterproductive.

When a flight-or-fight situation arises, it is imperative to utilize both “brains”. The emotional mind brings the adrenaline rush that provides an extra surge of energy, increased strength, and dulls pain. All of these aspects are necessary for self-defense. However, allowed to get out of control, cognition and fine motor skills disappear along with much of the training that is required to escape from the situation. This is where the intellectual mind must keep the emotional mind in check, drawing the best parts from the emotional rage without succumbing to it.

Controlling breathing is one way to maintain control over emotional reaction and it is one way martial artists train themselves against negative physiological effects even though they cannot create the same stress levels in training that will be encountered during a real life confrontation.

Another important aspect of mental training is the concept of intent. Intent is a measure of the actual outcome the martial artist wants to occur. Hurting another person is not something that comes naturally to most people, sociopaths excluded, and so the willingness to do harm is a personal decision for each individual. That decision must be made ahead of time. Otherwise, the mind will debate the moral aspects of various options at the very moment when action is needed. If there is any hesitation then it will be too late.

Having said all that, there is another more important mental aspect to the martial arts. The best mental state during fight-or-flight situations is a blank mind, one that sees everything and allows unimpeded reactions without rational internal debate. “Mind like water” is a common saying around martial arts dojo (training hall). Water reflects everything around it without making judgments or drawing conclusions. This way the mind does not interfere with the reflex responses built up over long periods of training. It also prevents the mind from pre-planning a course of action before the situation has developed to the point where action is needed. Reacting too soon can lead to disaster. It’s almost as if you need to take the conscious mind out of the equation to maximize speed, training and efficiency. Some of the best responses result from an empty mind almost as if by magic, without conscious thought or plan. They just happen.

How can you train for mental control during times of conflict when you cannot duplicate the stress found in real life? Meditation, chi kung, breathing exercises, sanchin (breathing and tension) kata and often kumite are useful in improving mental controls. Included in this training is learning to ignore pain from the injuries that will almost certainly occur.

One standard meditation technique that is used by many martial artists is to sit quietly, and concentrate consciously on relaxing individual muscles until the entire body has released tensions. When that begins to come naturally without conscious thought, transfer the focus to the breath. In, out, breathing with the diaphragm and pulling air all the way to the bottom of the lungs. After that becomes automatic, the next phase often is to work on chi (internal energy) circulation exercises, of which there are many. Lead the chi with the mind through the body much like a stream follows a creek channel.

Ultimately, the mind and body will be in tune. The mind will become calm in all circumstances, without prejudice or conscious thought and will guide the martial artist intuitively to the best course of action even as it allows the body to react exactly as needed.

Author James Brumbaugh

J. Drew Brumbaugh lives in northeast Ohio near Cleveland. He authors sci-fi, fantasy, and suspense novels as well as short stories. A lifelong writer, he presently has eight novels in print. J. Drew has had several career experiences over his life: a crewman on a Great Lakes iron ore boat, serving in the U.S. Army Chemical Corps, being an auto mechanic, and finally becoming a part of the corporate world where he was employed in the quality control field. His avocations have included being a hockey and baseball coach, and an avid karate practitioner attaining the rank of 8th degree black belt and founding his own karate dojo, Odayaka Martial Arts. In the latest installment of his life, he enjoys landscaping and gardening and the large extended household he shares with his wife, children, and grandchildren as well as the menagerie of dogs, cats, birds, and wildlife that call the family compound their home.

Link up with him here: James

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