Thursday, February 16, 2012

Train The Mind ------ Make Martial Arts Training Fun And Fruitful With Mindfulness

What is the highest level of Martial Arts? Is there a technique or a move that I have to master in order to be at the highest level of martial art? Or do I have to be faster, stronger than I am and everybody else in order to be at that level?

I am sure we have all been impressed by the way professional prize fighters move during the championship bout; or the 80 year old grand master easily sweeping some 180-pound macho dude off his feet. We think that if we can do what they do, we will be at their level. The only way to get there is by religiously training our bodies for years and decades. 

The martial arts training, no matter what style the training comes from, can be fun at times but mostly tedious and tough. Have you ever been bored out of your mind while repeating a simple punching technique, then you start thinking about the cute girl in a tight yoga pants 10 feet from you? Have you ever gotten frustrated because you don't see any improvement after months of training? Have you ever wanted the 'break time' when you really should be pushing harder? Have you ever been afraid to make mistakes while in front of your juniors? If you are like me, then this has happened to you, a lot. Not fully committing our mind into martial arts training is one of the main reason we don't get the most out of our training and we don't fight at our full potential. 

The concept of mindfulness comes from eastern religion such as Hinduism and Buddhism. To put it in the simplest fashion, it is about focusing our minds at the present moment, be aware of everything that is happening NOW. Meditation is one of the best ways to cultivate such attribute. In fact, throughout the history, meditation had been practiced daily by the martial artists of China, Samurais of feudal Japan and Nak Muays of Thailand.  

During the 6 years of training and competing in Muay Thai, the most overwhelming feeling I had wasn't the joy and thrill of the experience of Muay Thai, but it was the dreading, tiring and pressuring needs to compete, to prove myself. Muay Thai wasn't just my interest like it was when I started. It became a way for me to prove my existence. The training was great as usual, however I couldn't enjoy. I was rarely being mindful during the training. My mind kept wandering off to the near future when I had to fight so and so. My mind also wandered off to thinking whether I was better than the guy next to me or not. In fact, I was hardly paying attention to the techniques we were supposed to do. Although I had pretty good records in my fight career, I was not good at sparring at all. I thought too much. In other words, I couldn't truly let go of not wanting to get hit until I actually stepped in the ring. Therefore, training became something I had to do, rather than something I loved to do.

When I got into Brazilian JiuJitsu as a total beginner, I really enjoyed it because everybody was better than me and therefore I had no egos and no concerns of losing. That was the period I was able to put all my attention on the training itself and be totally free from my thoughts. Going to each training session for me was like a kid going to the amusement park, I looked forward to it. However, as I got better and the belt I wore changed its color, everything felt different from the inside. I started to dislike losing. My ego kicked in every time we rolled with partners. Losing to someone smaller, or worse, someone junior to me by rank was like a disaster. Training was no longer like going to amusement park, it was more like going to a trial ------ Please don't lose.

These are some of the experiences I share in my martial arts journey. Looking back, it has made more sense to me that everything was about my mind. The world I lived in, martial art being just a small part of it, was totally created by my mind. Therefore, I always had total control of it. Meditation has helped me a lot in letting go of my ego. It wasn't until then I could see a change within me, from there onward, everything about martial arts training changes, for the better.

So what is the highest level of martial art? I don't claim to know the answer, but I will say this that if we can truly let go of our ego, we will be able to fight with an open heart that is completely ego-less. There is no winning or losing, because winning or losing are merely the product of ego. If we can reach this level, we are truly powerful. 

So how does being mindful help us becoming better fighters and martial artists?

In my previous article where I talked about level of relaxation, I have stated that any techniques need to come from a relaxed state in order for it to be effective. There is one level of relaxation call mental relaxation, which allows us to be mentally relaxed regardless who we are fighting and what situation we are fighting in. Mindfulness when incorporated in martial art training will allow us to cultivate this relaxation.

Imagine that our bodies appear to be relaxed, but our minds are speeding a thousand miles per second, filled with worries, the should haves and would haves, and worse of all, the fears, how would we be able to flow with our body movements? This is why a lot of fighters look very tensed during the fight even if they seem relaxed. Remember how Bruce Lee easily defeated O'Hara in 'Enter The Dragon'?

In Thailand, all of the Thai fighters know how to relax, therefore they fight with complete relaxation. They started fighting at such young ages that winning and losing become a natural part of their career that they don't attach their egos to it anymore. When they no longer let the desire of winning take control, they are able to fight for the purpose of fully enjoying the art of Muay Thai. Sure they still get knocked out sometimes, but it doesn't matter anymore. The world that they are living in as created by their relaxed mind is very different from the world created by the mind driven by egos. Only if we can completely let go of our thoughts, we can focus ourselves for every minutes of our training. Only when our mind is not filled with worries, fears and ego-driven thoughts, we will have the space for learning new techniques, new knowledge and be relaxed. 

Therefore, next time before you enter the Dojo, if you catch yourself getting tensed up because there are a lot of intimidating guys in there, take 3 deep breathes and say to yourself : 'Interesting, my mind is getting worried. Thank you for the reminder, let's have some fun with these guys.' When you realize that your attention is on something else during the training, simply acknowledge the thought and focus back on whatever you should be doing. When practicing with a partner, if you notice that you want to look good and show better skills than your partner, simply take a deep breathe and bring your focus back to the very moment. Let your training guide you.

Practice the cultivation of mindfulness will help our martial arts training considerably. Let's make very training session fun, fruitful and free from ego, then we can never lose. In fact, each defeat only makes us stronger because we are always stronger within.
Thank you
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