Training the Martial Arts Mind
By James Shyun, O.M.D. and Mark Cole

Marital Arts Mind

In training there is a physical exchange between Master and student, there is a mental exchange and finally a spiritual exchange. The process of teaching and learning goes beyond simply passing on movements, forms or techniques. The Master passes on his experience and core truth of the whole of the Way. Externally people can see the movements but on a deeper level the student's mind is focused on the philosophy of the Martial Art Way.

Martial Arts Mind

Martial arts philosophy incorporates physical as well as intellectual understanding and because of this it is not possible to convey the entire truth found within this philosophy by words alone. Words, sentences, or even characters in Chinese can give a direction for the mind to follow but they cannot give a complete understanding of the reality of the Way. To be fully grasped the philosophy must be felt. Words are limited and can only point toward the Way. For example, how cold is the

water falling from a glacial lake? It is not possible to feel the impact on the body of near freezing water merely through reading or listening. To fully understand, such an act has to be experienced. To say cold, very cold, and extremely cold does not bestow a tangible body experience onto the reader. Language alone cannot give a complete understanding of the deep meaning nor reality of actual life experience. Words can only provide a suggestion. Martial arts is a physical life process. It is not an intellectual process. To fully comprehend the process, one must actually jump into the water. Only through personal involvement will the philosophy take root in the deep structure of the body and finally bear fruit in the student's understanding. The Master can teach, but the student must turn the lessons into action.

Physical reality; plants, trees, animals, the sky above, the sun, people, wind, weather, all of these things are tangible and real. They can be touched. They can be said to have a basic essential nature of physical truth within them. The practice of martial arts is based upon the same kind of natural truth as all of physical reality. Within any human being there is a basic body feeling. It is this aliveness, this essential nature of the body that is cultivated in the practice of the martial arts. Excellence in the martial arts is obtained through the development of an awareness of the full feeling of life and movement in the body. From grade one beginner to the level of the Master this natural life force and feeling is available at any level of development within the martial arts. It is an engagement in movement grounded in the essential nature of the body performed within full awareness of the truth of the body. The effectiveness of a martial artist is based on the utilization of a natural ability possessed by every ordinary person.

Although martial arts utilize a natural body process available to everyone, everyone is not a martial artist because most people are not in deep contact with their bodies or themselves. Their minds are caught up in worries, stresses, plans and considerations of the past or future. "They" are somewhere else and not in full contact with what is real in the present moment. Martial arts training truly begins when a student brings his full attention and body presence to the practice studio.

Achieving Clarity of Mind
The mind of a student first coming to the martial arts for training is not the mind of a student who has achieved an advanced level. And, the mind of an instructor who is working toward the perfection of his craft is not the mind of a Master of the art. Nor are the emotions or body of the beginning student that of the Master. Although it seems an obvious statement, the Master of the Art was not born a master and was himself at one time a beginning student. What is the process by which one can transform the raw talent and energy of a hopeful student into the studied perfection and sublime execution found in the form of a Master? It is a long road filled with challenges to more than just the student's grit and determination to mold his body into a fine tuned instrument of speed, agility and power. It is a road requiring a transformation of more than just fat into muscle. It is a path of the spirit and the emotions as well as the mind. But what is this mind?

Although philosophers have tried for centuries to define the mind, a common definition has proven to be quite elusive. More often than not when people speak of mind they are actually referring to a state the mind is in. When one person says mind he might be referring to a process of thought as in to have something on one's mind such as, "I can't concentrate because I have too much on my mind." In this case that which we are calling the mind is filled with associating thoughts. This state of mind is one of being caught in a process common among every ordinary person, i.e., to have a continuous dialogue of incoherent and unrestrained thought wandering through the mind. This mental state is obviously not of the sort conducive either to a study of martial arts or execution of any form or technique within the art. A student must learn how to empty his mind of extraneous thoughts, calm his emotions and concentrate in the present moment on what is at hand.

From the very beginning of his training a student must be able to listen with complete attention. His mind should be still and open. In order to fully comprehend the deep meaning of the Master's teaching the student must find a way to be completely empty and silent. When a student has quieted his mind the sound of the teaching will ring clear in his understanding. Many students have trouble learning the higher forms of martial arts because they do not understand this very simple but essential

Martial Arts Mind
point. Their minds are too caught up in thinking about what they know and about how good they are or about what they are going to say or do next. Perhaps they are not even listening at all and are thinking about what they had for dinner the night before or about what they are planning to do the next day. Their minds are not empty. They cannot hear the Master and they cannot understand his lessons because their minds are too distracted with superfluous thought.

In contrast, the mind of a martial artist is empty. It is silent. But empty does not mean that the mind is completely blank. The Master's mind is empty, yet full of the awareness of all that is around him. When the mind is empty of needless thought it can easily discern reality. From within a silent and empty state of mind the martial artist is prepared, relaxed and open. This state of mind is similar to a pool of still water. A pool of still water is clear, fish can be seen swimming through it and the rocks on the bottom are completely visible. From an empty and clear state of mind the Master is able to absorb all of the information around himself and can react with precision.

Martial Arts Mind

In addition to realizing how thoughts affect his state of mind, a student must also be aware of how emotions affect performance in the martial arts. Emotions influence the student's state of mind as well as body reactions. Very little reflection is required to realize that a student seized by the violence of anger is at a disadvantage to one who is calmly assessing a situation. The effects of emotion can be thought of as being similar to that of wind and water. Still water does nothing to harm anyone. Anger is like a storm. A wave can be

soft but a tidal wave is very dangerous. Calm air or a gentle wind will do no harm while a tornado can be ultimately destructive. The strength available from strong emotion must be under control. A student lost in anger will lash out at an opponent. In such a case there is no state of mind directing the movement. Instead there is only a rage of emotion orchestrating the body. Outside of control by the mind the body will blindly strike out and likely miss its mark. There is great power in anger but that power must be harnessed by the mind. A state of mind capable of directing the power of emotion is a different state of mind than one which is in the grip of an overwhelming emotion.

Not only must a student find a way to still his mind and organize his emotions, he must also search for just the right kind of focus of attention within this inner stillness. Since the state of mind and emotions will influence tension in the muscles, the focus must be light and open rather then intense and forced. The student who grasps and wants desperately to succeed will find himself constantly falling short of the mark. The natural reaction of such a student is to try even harder, bringing the emotions to bear and pushing the body further only to find, in the end, that he has failed again. This kind of student must give up the wish to succeed. The intensity of the wish hinders progress because the body tightens up and his form becomes forced and unnatural.

It is hard for such a student to understand how to let go of his desire to succeed. In fact, it would seem to him to be a contradiction. In martial arts one must have determination and focus of will. "How," such a student would ask, "can you give up your desire to succeed and still be a successful martial artist?" How indeed? How to explain to such a student that there is a higher mental/emotional state of awareness which transcends that of the grasping ego wishing to prove itself. Such a student will have to find a way to let go of his ego and be at peace within himself.

There is no place for egoism in a practice studio. It will only hinder the full development of concentration and execution of the art's form. This does not mean that one should be without confidence or belief in what one can do. Confidence arises out of emotional stability. Many times a student of apparent lesser skill can overcome one of superior physical ability only because his strength of conviction gives rise to greater personal power. But this is not ego. This is something else.

The body of the student is not as well trained, not as well coordinated, not as strong, not as agile, not as intelligent as that of the Master. The body/mind/emotional state of the student is not the body/mind/emotional state of the Master. What is the difference? What is the martial arts mind? What are its attributes? How is it developed? The process of learning requires a re-education toward a natural state free of bad habits acquired through undisciplined thinking and living.