Hello, and welcome to Mind in the Martial Arts, the blog (and book series) aimed at helping you become a better martial artist and a more effective human being.
These are lofty claims, of course. Can I deliver?
Read on to find out!
I’ve been training and teaching martial arts for over a decade. During that time I’ve coached fighters in the cage and on the grappling mat, and I’ve worked with cops and soldiers, stressed-out moms and troubled teens. I have a degree in philosophy and a black belt in mixed martial arts, but ultimately I consider myself a white belt at life.
Just like you, I’m earning my stripes, and learning as I go. I’m building my martial artist’s mind for life.
To that end, for this inaugural post, I am including a free chapter from my first book,
The Martial Artist’s Mindset: Mental Practices for Fighters, Students, Teachers, Coaches, and Artists of All Kinds
This chapter covers the crucial concept of being in the moment, and touches on ideas of mindfulness and Zen meditation.
(And if you like the post, pick up the ebook – only $0.99 on Amazon Kindle and Kobo.)
Wherever You Are, Be There
Before class begins, my students may see me sitting at the edge of the mat with my legs folded and my eyes half-closed. I often do slow stretches at this time, as well, or light, slow-motion shadowboxing.
I use all of these activities as forms of meditation.
Whatever I’m doing to meditate, my focus is on one thing: my breath. Not the problems I had at work; not the bills I have to pay; not even the curriculum I’m about to teach. Yes, all of those thoughts may run through my head, but when I’m in the right state, I don’t latch onto them. My awareness continually returns to my breathing and the feel of my body in the present moment.
I breathe slowly in through my nostrils and slowly out through my mouth. This breathing happens not high in my chest, but deep down in my diaphragm, in my core. To help me concentrate I may count each breath, trying to get to ten without being distracted, then start my count over again. The whole time I never lose my consciousness of where I am, what I am doing, and the thoughts that pass through my mind.
All of this helps me to commit myself to the moment.
To ‘commit yourself to the moment’ means to be aware of the immediate present, to forget regrets about the past and worries about the future, to concentrate on the here and now. Taoists and Zen Buddhists call this practicing mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a state of pure awareness, of clear understanding without the complexity of thought. It means noticing and giving your full attention to what is within and around you.
To live in mindfulness is to focus on what you’re doing and feeling and seeing and hearing in this instant.
Practicing martial arts serves as a catalyst for mindfulness. Working to improve my skills forces me to be fully present and engaged in my current activity. I have to be aware of what is happening around me, of my training partner in front of me, and of every action I take. It’s life or death. I can’t think about my problems, about what I did yesterday or what I have to do tomorrow. My concentration must be 100% in the present moment, or I won’t benefit from my training.
And the demands of training intensify when teaching is involved.
If I want to help my students grow, I must be mindful for all of them. If I am not fully present in class, it will be harder for them to be fully present, as well. And nothing hampers training more than a distracted mind. A distracted mind leads to carelessness, sloppy technique, inability to follow instruction, and potential injury.
This is why I meditate for a few minutes before class, and I suggest that all martial artists – or artists of any sort – do the same.
Take some time to clear your mind.
Sit, fold your legs, straighten your spine, relax your shoulders, and narrow your eyes.
Count your breaths. Is your breathing deep or shallow? Slow it down. Breathe in. Let the oxygen and energy flow into your core. Feel it spread from there to the rest of your body, to your toes, your fingertips, the top of your head. Breathe out. Release the tension from your body as you slowly exhale. Empty your lungs entirely, and let them start their next inhale automatically.
Concentrate on the input of your senses.
Your eyes should be semi-unfocused, looking into the middle distance. Without moving your gaze around or zooming in on any one thing, what do you see?
Open up your ears, without trying to hear anything in particular. What sounds come to you? Don’t think about them or try to interpret them – just hear them.
As you breathe, what do you smell? What do you taste? Again, just experience it, don’t try to judge it.
Move your awareness across each area of your body. How do your feet feel? Your stomach? Your hands? The tips of your ears? Now broaden that awareness. What do you feel in your body as a whole? What does the air feel like on your skin?
Once you’ve learned to exercise your concentration while sitting, you can expand it to keeping mindfulness through your stretches and your solo warm-up. Ideally you’ll soon be able to stay present and associated in everything you do… but don’t worry about that. Worry about now.
Because, ultimately, now is the only time there is. The past is over; the future hasn’t happened. We should remember the past and plan for the future, but we must live in the now. Mindfulness meditation will help you do this.
Try a meditation technique like this before your next practice, and notice the difference it makes. You may find that you can concentrate better, absorb knowledge faster, even keep your energy longer.
Once you become fully immersed in the present moment, you’ll be ready to make the most of your training. Just remember that this result is not the point of the practice. The practice is its own point. Living in the now is an end in itself.
Do it. You’ll see.
Thank you for joining me on this journey. See you next time!
- Luke Morris
P.S. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org! I’d love to hear from you.