Moving Meditation: Kata/Forms/Patterns

It’s often been said that performing Kata/Forms/Patterns (Kata for convenience) is like moving meditation; but what exactly does that mean?

Well first let’s look at meditation then see how performing Kata can be similar. Meditation is a practice which (amongst other things) aims to silence the mind and help focus the intention. There are many variations, but (put very simply) one of the most common methods of meditation is simply to sit and focus all your minds attention on the breath so as to “distract” the mind from other thoughts. With time and practice, you get used to distracting the mind till it gets used to becoming quiet and absent of thought.

Generally speaking, many of our reactions to given situations (including what we would call “thoughts”) are just conditioned responses based on our upbringing and previous life experiences. We often respond to many situations with automatic responses, which have little or nothing to do with actual logical or rational thought or informed choice. Yet the self talk we hear in our heads makes us feel that we are actually thinking rationally and choosing our responses when we’re not really.

A Neil Genge1busy mind with a lot of internal “self talk” can be distracting, cause stress (as self talk is usually negative) and often has difficulty thinking straight. Quieting the internal self talk with meditation can be useful for attaining calmness (cutting out negativity) and helping with the clarity of actual rational thought (cutting out distracting thoughts which don’t help).

There are also spiritual connotations as many people believe that you can connect to higher spiritual parts of yourself (usually called higher self or inner being). Now I know some people will believe in this and others won’t and it is beyond the remit of this post to argue that case either way.

However, without doubt, it is known that we only consciously use a small percentage of our brain, most people say about 10%. By silencing that 10% that we do have direct access too, we slowly learn to access some of the other 90% (our subconscious). This part does not usually speak to us directly with words or thoughts; but with feelings and intuition which guide us. This can be in a self defence situation, our job, relationships or any part of our life.

Furthermore the human brain takes in enormous amounts of information, most of which our conscious mind filters out (as it would be a burden to be aware of so much insignificant detail every second). However, when we have a problem or seek an answer, the subconscious which has absorbed this vast amount of information can sometimes give us an answer from this vast amount of information, which the conscious mind has filtered out. But we need to quieten our conscious minds long enough to become aware of it.

Now whatever your paradigm (higher self, inner being, subconscious mind); it all works basically the same way. Therefore it’s not worth arguing over which is right or wrong, all that is important is that by silencing the conscious mind we can access a higher level of intelligence/intuition.

SoFunikoshiooooo, back to Kata! Try observing your mind for a while (without meditating). High grade martial artists should have fairly quiet minds already as it is a side effect of our training, so this may not work too well with experienced martial artists. However, you can get your students to try this. Normally, after a while you will notice a certain amount of self talk inside your mind, this is natural.

Then choose a Kata that you know well and can perform without having to think or concentrate on. As you perform that Kata, put just a small part of your attention into observing your own mind. If you know the Kata well, you should notice that your mind falls silent as you flow from one movement to another to another, without the need for thought. The use of breath in meditation for distracting unwanted thought is replaced by the well rehearsed dynamic, fluid and powerful movements of the Kata. Instead of conscious thought there is intension, focus and a sureness of purpose. Ironically, some Kata movements can be quite complex, detailed and demanding; yet rather than thinking about them, we shut of thought to perform them!

The same is true of course of basics, but they are generally shorter, giving less time to gain the benefit.

If we can perform complex movements and turns; with power, grace, speed, balance, accuracy and poise better without conscious thought than with thought, surely that’s a lesson for other areas of our life. I’m not suggesting that we stop thinking altogether, but silencing the mind can bring benefits to many other areas of our life. It does actually help us to think more clearly and to an extent helps us overcome our automatic responses to situations where we respond from conditioning rather than from any rational thought.

Imagine a situation for example where one person picks a fight with another. Often the person being picked on (especially young men) will respond with a conditioned response such as, “who’s he think he’s talking to” or similar and actual clear rational thought has nothing to do with it. Being able to clear away the “who’s he think he’s talking to” self talk actually allows us to take the ego out of the situation, think more clearly and find a way out without having to resort to a pointless fight. With rational thought rather than conditioned response, we would usually observe a fool trying to intimidate us and why on Earth would we value the opinion of a fool? If we do not value the opinion of the fool, then it is easy to walk away and NOT be provoked by it! Why would a fools opinion be provocative? Isn’t that very rational and logical?

This is not an overnight thing, but slowly over long periods of time, we gain access to the deeper parts of our mind and intuition.

There is of course a lot more to it than what is covered here, but this is just a blog post and this subject could take a book. Please leave your comments below and let me know what you think?

Be Sociable, Share!
Posted in Philosophy / Spiritual | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Spirituality In Traditional Martial Arts

Many traditional martial arts talk about Mind, Body and Spirit; or that training develops you spiritually. But what does this spirituality actually mean, how do martial arts help develop it and (probably of most interest to many readers) what use is spirituality in a martial context?

First of all, it could take a whole book to cover this big topic, so I’m not going to be able to cover it all in a blog post. All I’m aiming to do here is to give a brief overview of how I see it.

To quote Deepak Chopra, who is widely revered as one of the World’s greatest spiritual leaders, “if we understand spirituality not as some kind of religious dogma or ideology but as the domain of awareness where we experience values like truth, goodness, beauty, love and compassion, and also intuition, creativity, insight and focused attention”.

So is spirituality a higher level of awareness than most people experience?

Yes it is.

Most of us have conditioned responses and reactions to whatever happens in our environment. For example, let’s consider 2 people on a bus going to work in the same office for the same boss. The bus is stuck in a traffic jam and both people will be late for work. Let’s call them Peter and Paul for convenience. Peter gets stressed and upset, worrying about how late he’ll be and what the boss with say, whilst Paul just decides that there’s nothing he can do about it so just looks out the window and enjoys the view, the trees and the birds.

Which of them will get to work first?

They’ll both get there the same time as they’re on the same bus, so Peter’s worrying will make no difference at all.

Both Peter and Paul are subject to the same circumstances, but they have a very different experience of those circumstances!

Assuming that there is no favouritism from the boss, it is fair to say that Peter is acting out of a conditioned response. He probably reacts like that to most adverse situations. Now at this point I could write a lot about neural pathways and peptides, but let’s just call it as a conditioned response for now.

Paul on the other hand was able to rationalise that there was nothing he could do about it, so he was actually able to choose his response. That is a higher level of awareness! He would have been able to experience of the truth of the situation and the beauty of his surroundings as Deepak alludes to above.

Now try and think how many conditioned responses you have which lead you to being upset and unhappy? No sane person would actually choose to be unhappy. Given the choice, we’d all rather by happy and/or in a state of peace. So why do we allow so many things to upset us, which if we are brutally honest with ourselves, we don’t really need to be upset about!

Part of spirituality is about being able to mentally stand back from a situation, weigh it up, make the best impartial decision for the given situation and to be at peace with the circumstance, your decision and the outcome. Now there is an awful lot more to it this; many will talk about being connected to source/higher self, accessing intuition/divine guidance etc; but like I said above, this is a blog post, not a book. So for now, I’d suggest that this clarity of mind is one of the most practical applications of heightened awareness/spirituality!

So how does martial art training help us to achieve this?

It works on a number of levels. In many styles of Karate we have the Heian/Pinan katas which mean “Peaceful Mind”. As we learn to defend ourselves we feel more confident and with this confidence comes peace of mind.

Most martial arts exercises requires us to be very present in the moment such as focusing on getting basic movements rights. Anxiety is caused by focusing on where we want to be which is different to where we are now (living in the future). Regret is caused by focusing on bad things that have happened to us or mistakes that we’ve made (living in the past). Only by having our attention focussed in the present moment can we be in a peaceful state of mind, which is the most effective place to be when dealing with whatever issue faces us in that moment. But that is a subject for a whole book as well!

When practicing kata/patterns/forms we focus not only on the pattern of movements, but our balance, posture, body structures and mechanics, efficient generation of power, breathing and knowing where ever part of our body is at any given time. With practice we develop a great degree of body awareness. As mind and body are linked, body awareness helps to develop mental awareness.

Partner activities also make us stay very focused, even the pre-arranged activities. When we have a well trained martial artist coming in full speed and power, and we have to either block/evade or have our head knocked of our shoulders, we are usually very present in that moment.

This part varies a lot from school to school, but pressure testing our techniques against a non compliant training partner also leads to higher level of self honesty as to what actually works and what doesn’t. Sport martial art can do this too as long as we are honest that it is sport fighting as opposed to real life combat; you still find what does and doesn’t work under pressure. This knowledge gives an extra layer of self awareness.

Many martial arts, particularly Chinese and Japanese, include meditation which is good for silencing the internal voice in our head (which is usually negative), hence help us to stay focused in the present moment.

There are of course other examples of how martial arts teach us to be present, calm our mind and even silence the voice in head, but again, that could take a book to explain thoroughly. Together these aspects develop our self awareness and spirituality.

So is this just a nice side effect of training, or does it actually help us in a practical way with self protection?

This could be a subject of great debate, but I would say a definite yes. Just considering the advantages of having a greater clarity of thought:

• Do you actually need to fight some jerk that is provoking you, or can you stand back and decide that your ego is secure enough that you don’t need to fight him over his insults/provocation. You could even apologise to him if your ego will let you!
• Do you respond to provocation out of a conditioned response (be it fear, anger, whatever); or do you actually consciously choose your response?
• Does your tongue freeze, or do you find the right words to calm the situation and de-escalate it?
• Should things actually get physical, do you panic, does the “red mist” come down and you lose control; or can you keep calm enough to let your training do the work and exploit openings in the attackers guard?

There is a story of a Zen master whose students confronted him one day. They had been talking to the students of another Zen master who apparently could walk on water and they asked their master, what can you do? He replied, “I can eat when I’m hungry and I can sleep when I’m tired”.
Spiritual development is not just about being able to do special things. It has more to do with simply being more aware of your own mind and body and having clarity of thought without the ego adding filters to how you see your world and circumstances.

 

I am not suggesting for one second that being a spiritual person is enough on its own for you to be able to defend yourself. However, it is an extra level that works with the physical training and psychology of combat to help you survive a confrontation. Unlike reality based martial arts which gets results very quickly, spiritual development will generally take a long time to learn. However, it is important for self protection and it can also help you lead a much more happy, peaceful and productive life. Many people see self development and spirituality as the nice and fluffy side of martial arts; but they do have very practical applications, not only in self defence but in every aspect of your life.

And finally, just for fun, for those old enough to remember it, here are some relevant clips from the old Kung Fu series with David Carradine.  Whilst the actual Kung Fu may be lacking (it had only just been introduced to the West back then), it is still to this day probably the best TV show of all time for covering the spiritual aspects of the martial arts.

Be Sociable, Share!
Posted in Philosophy / Spiritual | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Karate Kime (Focus) & Tension At The End Of The Technique

“Kime” is a Japanese word, roughly translated as “focus”.  It is where Karate derives it’s power from at the point of impact of a punching or striking technique.  But how well is it understood?

Most people loosely describe achieving Kime as moving with relaxation, then tensing the whole body very rapidly at the completion of the technique with a heavy exhalation.  But tension stops movement and do we really want to tense (hence not be moving or hardly moving) even be it for a moment?

Does it really add anything to the technique?

Is there another way?

Master Kousaku Yokota speculates in his book, Shotokan Myths, that as Kata (patterns/forms) competition become popular, the tension at the end of the technique became more and more exaggerated so that competitors could emphasis to the judges that they were actually focusing at the right places.

There is a story (which I’m not able validate) that Gichin Funakoshi’s son visited the Japan Karate Association (for many years the main driving force behind promoting Shotokan throughout the World).  Apparently one of his comments was, “where did all this tension come from”?

For many years, Karate (Shotokan in particular) has been criticised by other styles for being tense, stiff and wooden; because of this heavy emphasis on tension at the end of a technique.  It is called a “hard” style, despite it’s Okinawan roots being more akin to the “soft” Chinese styles from which Karate evolved!

Anyway, here are my thoughts on the subject.  Please let me know what you think and leave your comments below.

 

Be Sociable, Share!
Posted in Karate, Technique-natural movement | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Taegeuk Poomsae: Childrens Taekwondo?

Although the post below (writen by guest author Ørjan Nilsen, 2nd Dan WTF Taekwondo), relates to WTF Taekwondo, much of can equally apply to other martial arts especially Karate.  In Taekwondo, Karate and even Kung Fu, many original applications have been dumbed down and misunderstood by the mainstream practitioners.  In this interesting and informative article, Ørjan answers many of the criticism levelled at WTF Taekwondo’s early Poomsae (patterns/forms/kata).

The Taegeuk series of Poomsae are the basic patterns used to grade through the coloured belts and as Ørjan points out are often referred to as “children’s Taekwondo”.  To any Karateka reading this, doesn’t that sound familiar?  The same has often been said of our Heian/Pinan series of Kata.

I will confess that I have been guilty in the past of some of making some of the criticism that Ørjan addresses, but his article below has made me think again.  I hope you all enjoy this article and that it changes your outlook as it has mine.

So . . . . . . over th Ørjan:

 

When asked about the charachteristics of Taegeuk poomsae, most WTF exponents or people with passing knowledge of the forms will probably describe them as: “simple”, “frequent use of high stances”, “boring”, and many will perhaps even say that they are for children.

The Taegeuk forms were made in the early to mid seventies. According to “The Taegeuk Cipher” (by Simon John O`Neill) they were introduced in 1972 to replace the earlier Palgwe forms. The motivation for making the Taegeuk patterns is stated to be part politically motivated (since not all the original School/Kwan was represented by the forms comittee that were responsible for the Palgwe and WTF black belt forms), and partially because the Palgwe had too obvious Karate influences. No matter what their motivations were, they were designed specifically for color belts training and they have a very clear progress of difficulty.

Maybe the clear progress of difficulty and that they were designed for color belts (as stated in most official WTF/Kukki Taekwondo writings) coupled with the three first patterns great use of short/high walking stance is the reasons why many people will say they are for children.

This article will hopefully show the readers that the Taegeuk are more than merely “childrens Taekwondo” and that the techniques they contain can be used as effective self defence once they are fully understood.

The high/short walking stance (Ap seogi in Korean):

The first three patterns favor the use of Ap seogi. Ap seogi is excecuted by moving one foot one walking step distance in front of the other. The front foot is pointing directly forward, the back foot is pointing about 30 degrees outward. The legs are straightned and the weight distributuion is 50% on each leg. Your whole body is facing the front (ap seogi means front stance in English).

This stance is often ridiculed by other stylists because it lacks power and beacuse it is too unstable to be used in a fight. They are somewhat correct if you look at the stance just as a single unit and not as a part of the whole picture. The Ap seogi stance is perhaps the most natural stance used in the martial arts since this is the stance we use everyday for moving (walking). In patterns training we are told that the legs should be straight (at least in the end-portion of the stance) but if you bend your knees just a little and keep your hands high (boxing guard) tuck in your chin, you will be in a typical “Boxing stance”. Actually because of the stances naturality; variations on the Ap seogi is used by most combat sports in one way or another all around the world. It is hard not to use it since as previous stated it is the stance humans use most often to move around. Where it lacks in stability and power it makes up for speed and mobility.

Taekwondo Ap Seogi

Figure 1 Ap seogi used in Gumdo. (Source: masterjosetorres.com)

Taekwondo Ap Seogi 1

Figure 2: Ap sogi used in boxing (Source: James E Homans, New American Encyclopedia of Social and Commercial Information)

In the last five forms in the Taegeuk pattern set the Ap seogi is almost not used at all. They use more “long forward front stance” (Ap Koobi), back stance (Dwit koobi), Cat stance (Beom seogi) in stead. So to make the assumption that the whole set uses short front stance (Ap seogi) and that the stance is impractical, and so the whole pattern set is impractical is in the writers own view flawed.

The pulling hand (“Ben son” in Korean, “Hiki te” in Japanese).

The pulling hand is the hand not obviously doing anything in the form and is retracted to the hip while the other hand is excecuting “blocks”, “punches” or “strikes”. We share this method of moving the hands with both Japanese and Okinawan styles of Karate and some styles of Chinese Quanfa. In the Taegeuk forms set however almost all hand techniques are excecuted making use of this method. This makes the forms look simplistic and basic, and most “official” applications does not help either. Most show applications with no practial explanation for the hand on the hip. Ask most instructors and they will gladly give you empty and shallow explanations like “more power”, “tradition” etc not going into details as to why would anyone place one hand on their hip and not protect their head instead.

In modern sport Taekwondo we seem to have lost the knowledge of the purpose behind “the pulling hand” (Ben son). The easiest way to find the “original” meaning is to look at the sources of Taekwondo and how they used the technique. Unfortunatly mainstream Karate has also evolved into a long range combat sport so they to often do not know why they put their hand on their hip in a practical point of view. Fortunatly we still have the writings of the Karate pioners and we also have the Chinese styles of Quan fa who also uses the pulling hand to give us hints as to why the pulling hand motion is so frequently used in our modern patterns. In his book “Karate-Do Kyohan the master text” by Gichin Funakoshi founder of Shotokan Karate he states: “Hiki te: grasp the opponents fist and attack while pulling him inward. His balance broken, the effectiveness of his attack is lost and that of the counterattack is enhanced”. He also makes frequent remarks later in the book on the explenations of Kata to always envision that you are grasping and pulling your attackers limb when using Hiki te.

This is of course a very short explenation but he touches on many of the primary reasons as to the pulling hand:

  • Awareness and intuitive control of your opponents wherabouts.
    Grabing the opponent gives you greater control of his motions, increases your sense as to what he is doing, and makes it easier for the adrenaline filled brain to localaise the opponent and so will increase your ability to strike the opponent.
  • Breaks the opponents balance.
    By grabbing your opponent and pulling and twisting his limb at the same time breaks his balance and puts him on the defencive. The human brain is conditioned to always keeping the bodies balance a first priority, so as long as the opponent is off balance he is also not likely to attack you.
  • Tactical advantage.
    Grabbing and pulling in the opponents arm will open him up for strikes that will be difficult to defend against.
  • Increases power of your attack (or counterattack if you used it defensivly)
    A car that chrases into a parked car 30 miles an hour will make a big bang. To cars going front to front on each other, both doing 30 miles an hour will make a bigger bang. The same principle is at work with the pulling hand coupled with a punch or strike. If you drag your opponent onto the punch/strike it will hurt him more than if you punched him while he was retreating og standing relativly still. This is probably the source of the “because it gives more power” explenation so popular today.

If you look at the Chinese styles you can learn that the pulling hand is actually a very nasty  technique in its own right. Grabbing and twisting sensitive parts of your opponents body can be very effective. Grabbing and twisting your opponents hair, ear, testicles, or digging in under the collarbone are all very painfull techniques. And if you (or should I say your opponent) has not had enough yet you can also seize his throat, grabbing, pulling and twisting. This is just a few applications for the pulling hand, but as you can see there is a lot of practical reasons for including this in the patterns, and the great number of its use in the Taegeuk set does not make the Taegeuk set “basic” or for children, on the controrary it makes a greater depth to the forms instead. There is an interesting article in the newest edition of Jissen magazine that can be downloaded on www.iainabernethy.com on the other uses for the pulling hand.

The Taegeuk forms consists primarely of “basic motions”.

This sentiment is true. If you compare the Taegeuk forms to older Karate Kata, Quan fa quan, Chang Hon Tul/Hyung the Taegeuk forms do seem simple and using a narrower and more basic technique base than its predecessors. But how do we grade basic and advanced tecniques today? These days most people look at techniques that are ellaborate and somewhat difficult to perform to be graded advanced not taking into account the practical application of the technique. Basic techniques are the ones we can perform with relativly little training. For example most will say that a simple front kick is a basic technique, while a tornado kick is an advanced technique. Most people are drawn to the “advanced” since we often think “advanced” means better. We grade the techniques purely on an aesthetic point of view. But should not self defence techniques be as simple as possible? From a self defence perspective the scale is turned upside down since in self defence the only focus is on applications and how well they can be applied. To them simplicity is good, because they need to keep things simple so the techniques can be performed in an adrenaline rushed state. Using the pulling hand as described earlier coupled with the strikes will also increase the effectiveness of the techniques and make the forms a lot more practical and effective for self defence. We are now far far away from what most people will say is a childrens art.

The Taegeuk forms use a great number of unrealistic “blocks” (Makki).

If you look at the motions labeled “blocks” purely as static defencive techniques just like they are most often seen in most official applications then yes, the blocks are unrealistic. In the “Kukkiwon Textbook” p. 197 (2006 edition) it says: “most Taekwondo makki techniques are designed to hurt the opponent in the course of defending oneself… Therefore, makki techniques must be trained hard so that they may function equally as offensive techniques”.

The English verb “To Block” conjures up a mental image of a defender lifting his hand to passivly hinder a strike to land. The Kukkiwon textbook`s definition gives the reader a whole new picture. The Makki techniques of Taekwondo is meant to actually hurt the attacker, and if trained hard and well they can work as well as offensive techniques to defeat an opponent? Unfortunatly most official applications do support the first scenario where the defender just hinders the attackers strike, and not the second one where the defender hinders the attack and at the same time defeats (or at least hurts) the opponent by hurting his limbs.

It is also important to bear in mind our idea of what an attack actually is. Different holds or grabs to secure and open an opponent up for a strike or barrage of strikes is equally an attack as the actual strike itself. Therefore some of the makki techniques of Taekwondo are designed to hurt the opponent and free yourself at the same time.

Some makki techniques are used for other “attacks”, such as pushes, repeated poking in the stomach/chest and the wild gesticulations often performed by an enraged person. The pushing, poking, gesturing (like shaking a fist or pointing a finger up in your face) is often seen just before the fight kicks off. Taekwondo share roots with both Okinawan Karate and Chinese Quan fa and they all focus on civillian self defence. Therefore it is logical that the techniques of Taekwondo deals with disposing of opponents/attackers before they become a real threat.

Then you have the makki techniques that actually are holds for opening up the opponents vital points. Some in forms of simple joint locks. One personal favorite is Keumgang momtong makki seen in most martial arts. This does not work well as a block but it works great as an opener for the vital points under the arm.

The simplest way to find effective applications to the forms is actually to forget the name of the technique and look at the whole motion. As previously stated the pulling hand or ben son is often just as important as what most people look at as the actual technique. Also it is important to think outside the “tournament fighting/duelling fightning” and start to think of self defence techniques instead.

Maybe the Taegeuk forms were designed for children and colored belt trainees, and most official writings from the Kukkiwon and the WTF will support this, but if you research the forms you will find so much more than just a childrens martial dance rutine.

Lee Kyu-Hyong (9th Dan) in his latest book entitled “What is Taekwondo Poomsae?” makes numerous claims that all of the Taekwondo forms (and therefore also the Taegeuk set) were indeed designed purely for fighting. Quotes like: “Poomsae training primarily aims to learn the face to face fighting in the actual field to protect oneself in an emergency”, and “Poomsae does not intend to look beautiful to others, or show off, but it is thoroughly for a  fight” shows that patterns training should indeed be more than just a shallow performance art.

I hope you found this article informative and that you now can look at the Taegeuk pattern set (or any other pattern) and see more than just the surface. Does it matter why we ended up with the Taegeuk forms? Does it matter to whom they were designed for? What matters is that we are now training them and we should try our best to make the most of what we do have.

Recomended reading:

  • All the books by Iain Abernethy
  • Simon John O`Neill`s book The Taegeuk Cipher
  • Stuart Anslow`s book Chang Hon Taekwondo Hae Sul
  • Mathew Sylvester`s book Practical Taekwondo
  • The Kukkiwon Textbook
  • Lee Kyu-Hyong`s book What is Taekwondo Poomsae

 

Ørjan Nilsen, 2nd Dan in Kukki/WTF Taekwondo from Norway, has practised Taekwondo since January 2000. His training has taken him to Korea many times, competing in World Taekwondo Hanmadang 2006 and 2007, and World Taekwondo Culture Expo 2007. He also studied Taekwondo for one year (2007-2008) at Chosun University in Gwangju, Korea. He is currently practising and teaching tradtional Taekwondo at Bergen Vest Taekwondo Dojang in Norway. He is also the author behind the Taekwondo Blog; “Traditional Taekwondo Ramblings” which can be found at www.jungdokwan-taekwondo.blogspot.com

Be Sociable, Share!
Posted in Tae Kwon Do/Tang Soo Do/Hapkido | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Emotional Content In Martial Arts And An Interesting Experiment

This clip above is now an iconic scene from the Bruce Lee movie, Enter The Dragon, where Bruce Lee is teaching a student.

Bruce Lee:  “Kick me”.
Student looks surprised.
Bruce Lee:  “Kick me”.

The student kicks

Bruce Lee:  “What was that?  An exhibition?  We need (pointing to his temple) emotional content.  Try again”.

The student kicks again.

Bruce Lee:  “I said emotional content, not anger.  Now try again, with me”.

The student kicks again, but more sharply.

Bruce Lee (with a smile):  “That’s it”.

There is more to the scene, but this is the part that I want to cover in this post.

What emotion do we need to feel when training or even defending ourselves and/or loved ones for real?  As Bruce says above, not anger.  But what?  I’ll come back to that later.

Emotions do effect our whole body.  Those who are into spiritualism will often say that we vibrate at a higher frequency when we are in more positive emotional states (love, happy, excited) then when we are in more negative states (fear, anger, frustration).

For those that are more science based in their thinking, we have a small part of the brain known as the hypothalamus, which creates chemicals known as peptides.  Every emotional state that we experience has a separate peptide to go with it.  When we go into any given emotional state the hypothalamus will produce the corresponding peptides which circulate the body via the blood stream.  Each cell of our body has many tiny receptors on them which are designed to receive these peptides.  When these peptides enter a receptor, they actually send a signal into the cell.

I personally believe in both, but the bottom line is we are affected on an cellular level when we change our emotional state.  So which is the best emotional state to be in when we need to defend ourselves and/or our loved ones?

I decided to conduct an experiment with some of my adult students.  But first the disclaimers:

  • This experiment was only conducted with 4 students (not exactly large scale).
  • This has not been pressure tested (see, I said it first).

So I am not suggesting that the results are hard evidence, just an indicator.

I asked my students (2 men and 2 ladies) to select the kata (pattern/form) which they felt that they could perform most competently.  I told them that we were going to conduct an experiment, that some of what I was about to ask them to do might seem strange and contrary to my normal teachings, but to just go with the flow and give it a go.  And they would have to use their imaginations.

The experiment was in 2 parts.  Firstly I told them to close their eyes.  Then to imagine that somebody had hurt somebody that they loved or had wronged them in some way.  That they hated and loathed this person who was truly a nasty bit of work and who deserved no sympathy.  As they performed their kata, they were going to visualise destroying this person who completely deserved it and with no mercy at all.  There was a bit more embellishment, but you get the drift.

One of the ladies was struggling to contain a small smile.  Was she not taking the experiment seriously I wondered?

I told them to open their eyes, and “go”.

Their kata’s did not really look much different to any other time to be honest.  Towards the end, one of the men turned and bumped into the other one, and the 2 ladies had giggles.  I must admit I was a bit disappointed, as they didn’t seem to be taking it seriously.

But never mind, on with the second half.  I told them to close their eyes again.  This time, I told them to think of somebody that they loved.  It could be a boyfriend/girlfriend (non of them married), a family member, a child, maybe niece or nephew (none have their own children), or it could be a close friend that they cared about very much.  Somebody was going to hurt their loved one and they were the only one who stood between their loved one and the aggressor.  They were going to have to fight to protect their loved one from harm.  They were to focus their mind on how much they loved the person they were going to protect, how they would do anything, risk anything for their loved one.  Rather than thinking of anger and hate, they were to focus on love.

There were no smiles this time.  I had them open their eyes, and “go”.

One of the men was of like a battle tank on steroids, I’d never seen him move quite like it before.  The others did not look greatly different from before, but completed their katas with more focus, without bumping into each other and without any giggles.

I asked them afterwards, with which emotional state did they feel that their techniques were better?

Well Mr Battle-Tank-On-Steroids definitely felt better when in the love/protecting emotions than in the hate/anger emotions.  The others were a bit more hesitant and unsure at first, then one of the ladies offered that when doing the hate/anger emotion, she felt a strange tingling which didn’t feel right.  The other lady agreed that she felt the same.

Basically, they rejected these feelings because being full of hate and anger was an alien feeling for them.  We all get angry at times, but most well balanced people find it difficult to sustain a state where we have absolutely no compunction about hurting and destroying another human being.  Yes I know there are exceptions, but I’m talking about the majority of well adjusted civilised people.  I guess this explains the giggling and smiles as they could not relate to this state!

I then asked them about mental clarity.  Did it feel any different between the 2 emotional states.  They all agreed that focus and sense of purpose was much better during the love/protection emotional state.

I had to comment afterwards that isn’t it ironic that they performed better at a fighting art when in a state of “love” rather than “hate”!

OK, I know there are many limitations in this experiment and it hasn’t been pressure tested.  Arguably, none of them even really achieved the state of anger/hate, so it could be argued that the experiment was void!  It would be much easier to hate when hurt for real.

But how does this relate to defending yourself rather than others?

Well to my mind (and this could lead to an interesting debate) is that you should love yourself.  Not in an arrogant and conceited way, but by being at peace with who you are and what you stand for and live by.  Martial arts literature is full of talk about self development and being a better person.  Being able to defend yourself obviously gives you more confidence so you can stand up for what is right and for what you believe in.

But does standing up for what is right and what you believe in make you more able to actually defend yourself?

One of my former Sensei’s has admitted that he used to get into a number of fights when he was younger.  He says that when he felt he was in the right, he always won.  When he got into fights that he didn’t necessarily believe in, or perhaps others around him persuaded him to fight, he didn’t do so well.

Obviously somebody who is much bigger, stronger and better trained will nearly always beat somebody who is small, weak and untrained.  I’m not suggesting that if you just lead a good honourable life, you’ll be able to defeat anybody, you do the physical training too.  What I am suggesting however, is that with 2 people who are closely matched, the one who feels that he is fighting a just cause and who is in alignment with his/her own personal integrity will fight harder than somebody who is just out to bully!  The old masters always taught that we should live with integrity and humility.  If we live that way, then should we be forced to fight we shall do so with a clear conscience.  We can “love” (or at least feel good about) ourselves.

As I’ve said above, this little experiment is far from conclusive.  However, I’d like to invite you (especially instructors) to carry out similar experiments yourself and report the results in the comments below.  It would be nice to get a little data base of similar experiments here for others to share.

Be Sociable, Share!
Posted in Psychology | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments