24/7 365… Our thoughts loom large in our heads, never stopping, insistently rolling like waves on the beach. The correct thoughts can make us feel happy, elated, glad to be a life, negative thoughts however can lead us down a darker road, to sadness, guilt, misery or depression. Correct karate training with the correct mental attitude and instruction will lead to “control” over our thought process, allowing us to control our emotions and thoughts leading to calmer, less stressed lives.
Think of your thoughts (mind waves) like ripples in a pond. You want to get ready of the ripples (lets say stress). By throwing a pebble into the pond we get more ripples, so we throw a larger stone and get more ripples, which collide and bounce off each other creating chaos. The way to get the ripples to stop, is to leave the pond alone. Let the ripples fade of their own accord. So too it is with the mind. Aimlessly sitting in front of the TV, does nothing to reduce stress or benefit the mind.
Karate or meditation, and they are two sides to the same coin focuses your mind, giving it something to concentrate on, to allow our thoughts to settle and stress to melt away. The purpose of training is to develop Zanshin (awareness) or mindfulness and later to develop Mushin (No Mind). See other articles in this series for explanations of these terms. Your practice the correct mind set in class. Calm, focused, alert, positive, proactive. At first your practice is limited to moments within a class, then filling an entire class, then becoming a sustaining habit your entire waking life and in the fullness of time sleep life. Leading to calm, controlled stress life, where you learn to respond, not to react to the world around you. As your studies progress you gain insight into your negative triggers and purposely condition more positive responses.
The secret to this mind set… is practice. Correct physical and mental practice. Goal setting is important but do not be concerned with your destination. Just practice. Initially on the dojo floor, and then later in your life outside the dojo. Practice for practice sake. One step at a time, one class at a time, one thought at a time. We all have a unconscious tape playing over and over in our minds. It is with our whole lives that many are unaware that they are listening to it. But this tape may be holding your back not making you happy and your dreams come true. How do you know what the tape is saying in your head. Listen to your feelings. Ask at any moment of the day how your feeling? The answer is what your head is saying to you. If your feeling sad your having sad thoughts. If you are happy you are listening to happy thoughts etc.
Proper training will lead to greater mental abilities, like those shown by master in martial arts movies throughout the years. once this great power has been achieved it becomes nothing, commonplace, like child birth. Ask any expecting mother in the glow of pregnancy and they will tell you it is a wonderful thing. But once the child is born it giving birth becomes more common place. So it is a special thing and a ordinary thing at the same time. So too are the mental stress relieve abilities of a high grade karateka, a special thing to taking years of practice, that becomes everyday ordinary once it is achieved.
When we stand in the dojo (training hall) we have some rules. But the purpose of these rules is not to make everyone the same, but to allow each to express their own self more freely.
We must own our own physical bodies… We must exist right here, right now… When we have our body and mind in order, everything else will exist in the right place, in the right way.
But usually, without being aware of it, we try to change something other than ourselves, we try to order things outside us. But it is impossible to organise things if you yourself are not in order.
Studying books on karate is a kind of food for your brain. Of course it is necessary to take some food for your brain, but it is more important to be yourself by practicing the right way of life (karate).
Referring back to the story of the hole in the ground (majority of people will say the hole is too deep, never their arm is too short) you must practice coming back to ourselves. Not blaming the external world without 1st looking at the internal. Time spent training is time away from your everyday life, what happens before you train is forgotten, what will happen after you finish training is forgotten. This time is your time, to focus on the now, to focus on you now. A timeout from the worries of your world. Train the correct mind set, to be focused, to be strong, to be determined, to be confident, to be self aware, to be present in the here and now. Practice the correct form, practice the correct mindset. Practice become habit and habit become a way of life, if the practice is right…
We train both sides
We train both sides in Karate, in order to have both sides strong. You don’t know from which side an attack may come from and if you are going to be able to defend yourself, you need to be able to counter from any position, not just your favoured side.
We all know that the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body and vice verse. And as every beginner knows, they may have a strong or weak side. By training both sides we become ambidextrous, favouring neither left nor right.
If one side of the body gets stronger, what of the part of the brain that controls it? Does it under go changes? Does it get stronger? Body and mind are two separate parts of you. But they are also one. They can simultaneous be two and one. Both are dependent and independent of the other at the same time. This is not a contradiction but a very Zen point. We can talk about one and exclude the other, or we can talk about how both work together. They are two sides of the same coin.
Body controls mind and the mind controls the body. If you get tired physically your mind should urge you on. If you are tired mentally, physical exercise will allows make you feel better. A Sensei’s role is to push you beyond your physical limits, allowing you to discover new limits, or realise there are no limits if the mind is willing.
Tough physical training strengthens the mind. Regular correct training builds spirit. Built up over time this spirit endures. When the body gives up, the mind pushes on. When the mind starts to fail, this habit, the spirit, lifts you up to continue. Train physically to be strong in your technique, to strengthen the mind and forge an indomitable spirit. Then on the mats and in life you will be unbeatable, unbreakable and a success in whatever you do.
‘Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Much of our lives is spent in reaction to others and to events around us. The problem is that these reactions might not always be the best course of action, and as a result, they can make others unhappy, make things worse for us, make the situation worse.
Why would we want to make things worse?
The truth is, we often react without thinking. It’s a gut reaction, often based on fear and insecurities, and it’s not the most rational or appropriate way to act. Responding, on the other hand, is taking the situation in, and deciding the best course of action based on values such as reason, compassion, cooperation, etc.
Let’s take a quick example:
- React: Your child breaks something. You immediately react by getting angry, perhaps yelling, upsetting the child and yourself, worsening your relationship, not making anything better.
- Respond: Your child breaks something. You notice your anger reaction, but pause, take a breath, and consider the situation. First response is to see if your child is OK — is she hurt, scared? Second, realize that the object that is broken, in the larger view, is not that important. Let it go, adjust to a world without it. Third, help her clean up, make a game of it, show her that mistakes happen and that it’s not something to dwell on. Fourth, calmly talk about how to avoid mistakes like that in the future, and give her a hug.
This choice presents itself to us all the time, whether it’s our mother nagging us, our co-worker being rude, our husband not being kind enough, and so on. There will always be external events that bother us, but if we learn to respond and not just react, we can make things better and not worse.
How to Learn to Respond
The main thing to learn is mindfulness and the pause.
Mindfulness means watching ourselves when something happens that might normally upset us or trigger some kind of emotional reaction. Pay close attention to how our minds react.
Then pause. We don’t have to act immediately, just because we have an internal reaction. We can pause, not act, breathe. We can watch this urge to act irrationally arise, then let it go away. Sometimes that takes a few seconds, other times it means we should remove ourselves politely from the situation and let ourselves cool down before we respond.
Watch the reaction go away.
Now consider what the most intelligent, compassionate response might be. What can we do that will help our relationship, teach, build a better team or partnership, make the situation better, calm everyone down, including ourselves?
At first, you might mess up. But in time, you’ll learn to watch this reaction, and you’ll get better at the pause. Don’t fret if you mess up — just resolve to be more mindful when it happens next time. Take note of what happened to trigger your reaction, and pay attention when something like that happens again.
Be mindful, pause, then consider a thoughtful, compassionate response.
Our Elite Mental Training Programme teaches our Adult or High Ranked Junior students about the mental/spiritual side of the martial arts.
Lesson one teaches the first rule of all karate: KARATE NI SENTE NASHI, there is no 1st attack in Karate, either mentally, physically or spiritually. Karate is for self defence only, to be used to protect yourself or others but in daily life as an aid to improve ourselves and the world around us.
Students of karate grow to become better balanced and higher functioning versions of themselves. The goal to become the most authentic versions of themselves, free from delusions like fear, ego, doubt, greed etc. By becoming better, we do better, and we can influence the world around us by modelling better social interactions and inspiring others.
When we train in our dojo we have some rules. But the purpose of these rules is not to make everyone the same, but to allow each student to express their own self more freely.
Take Yoi or ready stance as an example. Standing feet shoulder width apart, hands clenched loosely, unmoving looking straight ahead. This ready stance allows movement in all direction and all poosibilities exsist. A shy person is able to stand and learn confidence in this posture, while a loud or arrogant person can stand and express humility. Both students training the same thing from different ends of the spectrum.
Other traditions like wearing the traditional suits, allows students to feel a part of a club, which they associate with the emblem on the chest. It also makes everyone the same, not male or female, rich or poor, only their belt around their waist gives them any rank.
The japanese system is based on a junior – senior relationship. With the Sensei (Instructor) as the head of the family, with senior (Sempai) members acting as older brothers/sisters to their junior (Kohai) lower graded members. Senior students instuct junior students under the watchful eye of their Sensei. Senesi should always be referred to as such, never by their birth name, this is a matter of humility, courtesy and respect.. Respect is paramount in the martial arts and your Sensei has travelled further down the path you’re on. He is there to guide you over the obstacles they have already conquered.
Bowing is a act of humility and respect. It is not religious but an act of humility. Does your ego refuse to allow you to show respect to yourself or others. Bowing is showing respect to your dojo, thank a training partner for allowing you the chance to improve, or bowing to your own potential to reach your authentic self, and sometimes recognising the difference in rank between yourself and who you’re bowing too.
Kohoro is spirit, the mental, physical and spiritual intent put into every technique. It is the emotional weight behind your technique, emotional but controlled emotion, never anger, negativity or despair. This is not achieved over night but takes years i of correct training to reach that level.
Maai is the distance between you and your opponent. .Those that control the distance control the encounter. The goal is to put your opponent in a weakened position while you maintain a position of strength. In Wado Ryu this is a vital aspect. We use deflection, evasion, body shifting and entering techniques to achieve this. Being in harmony with our opponent we can use their force against them, to defeat or frustrate them. If your opponent goes up, we go down, if the move left, we move right, when they attack directly, we move in circles, when they attack in circular action, we use angles to enter directly.
Maai does not only refer to your opponent but also your surroundings. Be in harmony with your surrounding, force your opponent into obstacles or uneven ground, have the sun behind you etc. Maai refers to the harmony of your surroundings when not in conflict, this needs to be studied to understand. But a simple example is, there is no bad weather, just inappropriate clothing.
Right effort – If your practice is good, you may become proud of it. What you do is good but something more is added to it. Pride is extra. Right effort is to get rid of something extra. If you do something in the spirit of non-achievement, there is good quality to it.
This kind of bad effort is called “Dharma-ridden” or “practice ridden”. You are involved in some idea of practice or attainment, and you cannot get out of it. When you are involved in some dualistic idea it means your practice is not pure. By purity we just mean things as they are. When something is added, that is impure. If you think you will get something from practice already you are involved in impure practice… When you practice, just practice.
Before we act we think, and this thinking leaves some trace. Why do we train techniques thousands of times? How does this act of thinking, betray you in a self-defence situation? What we call “attachment” is just these traces of our thoughts & activity. Like pride for something we have done.
There is a saying “To catch two birds with one stone”. That is what people usually try to do… They find it difficult to be concentrated on one activity. In order not to leave any traces, when you do something, you should do it with your whole body & mind. You should be concentrated in what you do. Think Musashi and his clean cut.
When you practice Karate you become one with karate. The rules of clubs may change but the spirit remains the same. Usually when it is so simple we say, “Oh I know that”, or “It is quite simple, everyone knows that”. But if we do not find its value, it means nothing.
Moment after moment we are creating something and this is the joy of our life. Our life can be seen as a crossing of a river. The goal of our life’s effort is to reach the other side, Nirvana. The true wisdom of life is that in each step of the way, the other shore is actually reached. Choose to be happy now.
Poor ways to practice
Usually when you practice karate, you become very idealistic, and you set up an ideal or goal which you can strive to attain and fulfil… When you are idealistic, you have some gaining idea, by the time you attain your ideal or goal, your gaining idea will create another ideal… Because your attainment is always ahead you will always be sacrificing yourself now for some ideal in the future.
When we practice, just practice and whether we find joy in our practice or not, we just do it. This is the path to black belt and beyond.
When you are tired of practice, you should recognise this as a warning signal. You become discouraged with your practice when your practice has been idealistic. Another mistake will be practice for the sake of the joy of it. This is not poor practice, but compared to the true practice it is not so good. You should enjoy training, but enjoyment should never be your only reason to train. Thousands of repetitions of the same thing over and over for years cannot always be enjoyable, and be wary of clubs that seek to entertain.
If you find some difficulty in your practice, that is the warning that you have some wrong idea, so you have to be careful. Our practice cannot be perfect, but without being discouraged by this we should continue it. THIS IS THE SECRET OF PRACTICE.
The purpose of studying karate is not to study karate but to study ourselves.
There are said to be 4 types of horses in life. Excellent ones, Good ones, Poor ones and Bad ones. The excellent horse runs fast in a race without any prompting from the whip, a good one runs faster when it hears the whip, the poor one when the whip hits it, and the bad one only after repeated strikes of the whip.
In the dojo students always want to be the excellent student, failing that they will settle for being the good one, the poor students aim to become good and no one wants to be the bad student.
However, if you train karate in the right way with the correct attitude, it does not matter whether you are the best one or the worst one. In your very imperfections, you will find the basis of your firm, way seeking mind. Those students who find the physical training easily, take more time to obtain the true way, the actual feeling, the marrow of karate. But those students who find great difficulties in practising will find more meaning in it.
As a Sensei, students who are athletic in the beginning stage can be a pleasure to teach, as the progress fast, learn techniques easily and have good form. However, the poorer students are more of a challenge, taking more time to learn sometimes even what could be seen as the simplest of movements. Roll on a year later and in many of the cases, the students who found karate easy, have long since quit and given up, where those students who found it a challenge, are still persisting, determined to improve, having developed a love of karate.
So strive to be the best you can be, but not in comparison to others. Cos in karate, as in life, maybe the bad horse is the excellent horse and the excellent horse has already quit.
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