The Conscious And Subconscious Minds In Martial Arts

This is a very big topic which you could probably write a whole book about, so I will attempt to do justice to this topic but please accept that I can’t cover it all in just a single post.  There is much written about the subconscious and conscious minds, but this post will mainly focus on how the 2 parts of the mind relate in a martial arts context.

The role of the conscious and subconscious mind has been likened to the captain and crew of a ship.  The captain (conscious mind) makes the decisions and decides on the direction of the ship, and the crew (sub conscious mind) makes it happen.


Basics Techniques

So lets start with simply practising the basic movements.  Your conscious mind decides that you will perform a giventechnique.  As we repeat this technique over and over again, specific cells in our brains called neurons join other neurons which control this movement.  This creates Continue reading “The Conscious And Subconscious Minds In Martial Arts” »

Violence Never Solves Anything . . . . Really?

How many times have you heard well-meaning people say something like, “violence never solves anything”.

The idea that violence never solves anything has been has been around for a while in world of ever growing political correctness.  As a society, it’s a laudable goal to try and eradicate violence so that nobody has to be unnecessarily hurt and it is something that we should all work towards.  We’ll never achieve it of course as violence is part of the human condition and we are all capable of it given the right circumstances!  It’s only social training and conditioning that makes it unpalatable to us today.  With different conditioning, you can end up with the excesses of the Roman Games, where they’d take their children to watch a day’s sport!  The social conditioning (political correctness) goes so far in some cases, Continue reading “Violence Never Solves Anything . . . . Really?” »

How Important Is Discipline In Martial Arts?

This post was actually stimulated by a conversation with one of my former instructors, Sensei Graham Mead, a man from whom I learnt a great deal and who I hold in very high regard. Unfortunately Sensei Mead no longer teaches due to health issues, but an older tiger is still a tiger!

Since I started teaching regularly in 2012, Sensei Mead has honoured me with a few visits to my Dojo to see how my school is getting on.  During the recent conversation, discussing the deeper meanings of martial arts philosophy over a few beers (as one does) it became apparent that he was happy with the standards of my school and with what I was teaching; the only thing he had some doubt about was that he felt that the discipline was not strict enough.

This got me thinking, as any such comment from Sensei Mead should be taken seriously.

So here are my thoughts which I’ll share with you: Continue reading “How Important Is Discipline In Martial Arts?” »

Mind, Body & Spirit! What Does That Actually Mean?

The inspiration for this post was actually a page on my website for my own martial art classes in Midsomer Norton.  I have a “Why Karate?” page.  Admittedly this page is a bit biased towards Karate, but then it is my school that I’m trying to promote, not anybody else’s.  However, much of what I wrote on that page applies to all traditional martial arts, so I thought I’d expand upon it and share my thoughts here with the wider martial arts community!

Apart from the obvious need for self protection throughout history, there are many good reasons why martial arts have been around for thousands of years and are now practised by millions of people all over the world today.  They’re a great tool for development of mind, body and spirit!  But what does that actually mean.  “Mind, body and spirit” is a phrase that we often hear associated with martial arts, but it is not often defined in any depth.  It’s often a throw away line on promotional material, then seldom talked about again after somebody actually joins up! Continue reading “Mind, Body & Spirit! What Does That Actually Mean?” »

The Art Of Not Giving A S***! (Or . . . Accept As Is)

Many Oriental philosophies talk about mind, body and spirit; as they recognise that the 3 are all intrinsically connected.  For the sake of this post, I’ll be mainly focussing on the mind and body.

If one tenses, the other tenses.  You tighten your mind, your body will start to tense; you tighten your body, your mind will start to tense.  Conversely, you relax one, the other will relax.

So when you make a mistake, or don’t perform a technique/kata/pattern the way you want to, or you get corrected by your instructor; don’t get upset about it.  If you do get upset (even if its just with yourself), your mind will tense, then your body will tighten and the whole thing gets progressively more and more difficult.  I have one student in particular who gets exasperated with himself every time I correct him.  It’s not that he resents the correction in any way, he very desperately wants to get it right and his frustration is aimed at himself (rather than me)!  Then it becomes even more difficult.

You have to try to the best of your ability to do it right, but when you don’t, you have to learn how not to Continue reading “The Art Of Not Giving A S***! (Or . . . Accept As Is)” »

Techniques Will Occur When A Void Is Found: Gichin Funakoshi

There are many quotes attributed to Gichin Funakoshi, but I come across this one the other day in his book, Karate Do Kyohan: The Master Text.  Near the back on page 248 (if you already have it), he says;

“Techniques will occur when a void is found”.

This is not often quoted, yet has very deep philosophical undertones.  A void is defined as, “completely empty” or “a completely empty space”.

Master Gichin Funakoshi

Master Funakoshi was an educated man and clever with his choice of words.  He was the one who initiated the change Continue reading “Techniques Will Occur When A Void Is Found: Gichin Funakoshi” »

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?

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.

Being “Present” (In The Now) And Martial Arts Training

Many self development/spiritual teachers’ today talk about “being present” or “living in the now” (which is the same thing really).  It’s also part of Zen, which is often goes hand in hand with martial arts.  But what does this actually mean, how can martial arts training help you achieve it and what benefits are there for you from both a self protection and everyday life point of view?

Let’s start with what is meant by “being present” or “living in the now”?  This is a big subject which many books have been written about, so this is just a short overview.  Many people spend most of their time living in regret over things they’ve done wrong, things they should have done but didn’t, things that other people have done to them, missed opportunities; whatever!  They are spending a lot time focusing on their past and generally feeling bad and unhappy with it.

Others spend their time daydreaming about the future (long or short term).  They feel that they’ll be happy when they get home from work, finish that course they’re doing, get a better job, leave a job, when they’re married, when their divorce comes through, when they go on holiday, when they get back home and can relax; whatever.  These people are postponing being happy until sometime in the future so again they are feeling bad or unhappy in the present moment.  This is not to say that we don’t make plans for the future or set goals; it is to say that stay present while do actually plan and goal-set and that we don’t postpone being happy until our plans and goals are achieved!

In both cases, those concerned are focusing their attention on being somewhere other than where they are now.  Either they feel that they can’t be happy because of their past or they feel they can’t be happy until some future events happen.  In the meantime they are physically in the present moment though mentally they are not.  As many Eastern and holistic philosophies tell us, we cannot really be content until mind and body are one (in this case, mind focusing on the present where the body is).  The more you put of being happy where you are now, the more you will never be properly happy and at peace with yourself at all.  This is one of the key components to the Eastern ideal of reaching enlightenment.  There is of course much to it than that and this is a very simplified overview.

Being able to actually focus our attention in the present moment most of the time is actually not very easy for most people.  Usually most people only manage it for short periods of time.

Martial arts are great for bringing you into the present moment!  If for example you are doing pre-arranged sparring and you facing somebody of a high standard, you know that if you don’t block/parry/evade, they’ll probably take your head off.  That tends to focus the mind and shut out any thoughts of that row you had with your spouse, that stressful drive home after work or how you’d like to practice you most dangerous techniques on that illegitimate son of a . . . . . . female dog . . . . . . boss of yours at work.  You are purely focused on this guy in front of you with a sinister expression on face, his eyes locked into your eyes and he moves like a bull on steroids (or at least it seems that way).

John Johnson shotokan karate2
Sensei John Johnson focuses his students attention on the present moment!

Everything else in the world, the past and future is shut out whilst you face this imminent threat, which you have to block and counter.  The little bit of adrenalin generated helps you to move faster and the exertion helps you to produce endorphins (the brains “happy” chemicals).  You are very present in the NOW and you feel good about it!

Any other form of exercise also generates endorphins which will help the feel-good factor.  However, losing a goal/point/match etc simply does not have the same urgency as facing Mr Bull-On-Steroids trying to take your head off.  By contrast, many people say that they enjoy jogging long distance as it allows them to get lost in their thoughts.  Whilst this can have benefits too, it is not the same being forced into now (or lose your head).

Even with the basics and kata, you are required to maintain considerable concentration on both the accuracy of the movement and the intent of the technique being performed.  There can be no getting lost in your thoughts here.  You can get a bit distracted worrying about whether you are keeping up with your classmates or not, though you really shouldn’t bother about this.  It is often said in martial arts that your main opponent is yourself, meaning you challenge yourself every time you train to continually improve.  If you do this then you should be very focused in the present, examining your own techniques as you perform them and putting your full intention into every movement.  Comparing yourself to others occasionally is alright as a way to measure your progress, but is not an end in itself.

All aspects of martial arts training, (whether focussing on perfecting technique or being partnered with somebody about to try to take your head off) will help you to focus in the moment.  There will be times when you think, “oh no, he’s going to take my head off”, which is again looking into the future (albeit a few seconds into the future) rather than being in the precise moment.  Some people will be consumed by such negative thoughts on a very regular basis.  As discussed in a previous post, practicing Moksu and Mushin will help to silence these thoughts.  However, training in an environment where we are constantly forced to focus on the present moment will also help us to silence those self doubting thoughts as well.

When you need to be very intensely in the present moment then it is very important to be able to silence any thoughts which by their very nature take you out of that moment.  When faced by somebody about to take your head off, the precise present moment is where your attention needs to be.  This is true both in training and when defending yourself from a real life assault.  When you partner up with somebody who is experienced, they just seem to have an air of certainty about them.  A black belt will usually only be very fractionally faster than say a brown belt.  However, the black belt will usually have a far greater air of confidence and self assuredness when compared to lower grades.  This is often referred to as fighting spirit, the focus of ones will and clarity of purpose with no (or at least, very few) mental distractions or doubts.

Jamie Clubb2People who have achieved this level of spirit in training and/or in real life altercations will very often be a force to be reckoned with in other areas of their lives too.  If they can be very present under the intensity of combat (even simulated) then they will be able to some extent to transfer this presence and focus to other areas of their lives.

I read years ago that soldiers who have been in actual combat reported afterwards that they have never felt “so alive”.  That is not because they actually enjoyed the combat, but the fact they could die any second is a great incentive to intensely focus themselves in the present moment.  I’m not suggesting that we all rush of and join the force and seek real combat, but our martial arts training does have some overlap with this phenomenon!

Striving For Perfection: Combat Effectiveness And Spiritual Development

How often have you heard the phrase “before you can overcome others, you must first overcome yourself”, or “your main opponent is yourself”.  If you’ve never heard these phrases, then take a long look at who’s teaching you!  You should have heard these phrases before as this really is one of the most central core philosophies of doing any traditional martial art.

Whether you are looking for effective self defence, sport or simply aesthetic mastery of the art you practice you must first develop co-ordination, agility, speed, power, poise, balance and grace.  From a combative point of view, the need for speed, power, co-ordination and balance are obvious; but grace?  Do we need to be graceful in a fight?  Many consider the very act of fighting to be very disgraceful.

However, if you execute a technique and for whatever reason the opponent deals with it and counters, you have to react exceedingly fast to defend against his counter.  This kind of speed requires an instinctive reaction rather than a thought or reasoned one.  If we are focusing on strength, we become rigid (the more you tense a muscle the less it can move).  If we are rigid, then we cannot react very fast to an abrupt reversal in the fight and we have to hope we can absorb the punishment long enough for us to recover the initiative.

John was renown for his fantastic leg sweeps

Whilst we would all no doubt agree that the ability to absorb punishment is useful, I’m sure that we would also all agree that it is not something that we should rely on as a fighting strategy.  If we can move out of the way with ease and fluidity, we don’t have to absorb so much punishment and can regain the initiative much more quickly by simply not being where our opponent expects us to be.  To move very quickly like this requires a high level of fluidity, and fluidity requires graceful movement!  Don’t be fooled into thinking that grace lacks power, as it is quite the opposite.  Grace comes from perfection of technique and perfection of technique comes from mastering the self.  This brings us back to our opening paragraph about overcoming yourself before you can overcome anybody else.

This is why so many traditional martial arts place so much emphasis on drilling basics and kata, and why these are very often done before any partner activity.  In the modern world where there is an upsurge in what has become known as “reality based martial arts” and the pressure testing of mixed martial arts cage fighting; traditional martial arts have become seen by many as obsolete, too stylised and more for sport or self development than for real world self protection.

Note:  Reality based martial arts are often scenario based.  It may include shouting, swearing, abuse and verbal threats to psychologically prepare the defender as this is obviously more real to a street confrontation.  Sometimes even high grade martial artists do not know how to deal with this raw aggression and psychological pressure.

It is often pointed out that many traditional martial arts applications only work when the attacker is co-operative and conveniently attacks with a single straight punch (or kick) then freezes whilst the defender practices his counter.

These charges do hold a lot of merit.  However, reality based martial arts can easily be included into traditional martial arts (and in my view, should be) and there are many people researching practical applications to replace the pre-arranged stylised attacks and counters that are still very widely taught.

Traditional martial arts however, are more technique based than scenario based and goes deeply into perfection of movement.  Is this waste of time compared with learning the psychological aspects of scenario based training?

To draw an analogy, many professional dancers in the big shows, backing the world’s most famous pop stars have a foundation in ballet.  Ballet is such a precise and co-ordinated art form that once the dancer is adept in it, he/she can apply that high level of control and co-ordination to almost any other form of dance.

Some of the most charismatic actors have a background in Shakespeare.  Look at the authority and commanding screen presence of actors like Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen.  The classical background in most cases (dancing, acting, martial arts and others) gives the practitioner a deep foundation on which almost anything can be built.

Kevin O’Hagan, internationally renowned teacher of reality based martial arts and author of many books has said that traditional martial artists always pick up the reality based teachings more quickly than those who have not.

Seeking perfection of technique is not only developing us physically and mentally, but is actually very practical in the long term for building a foundation for self defence skills.  Over the years I have visited many martial arts clubs.  In one particular Kung Fu club, the instructor was proud to tell me that he made all his classes different every time.  He did not bore his students with endless repetition.  One of students agreed enthusiastically, telling me how he used to do Shotokan Karate and got bored drilling the same old basics every single class.  However, this student who had done the Shotokan drilling stuck out amongst the rest and was clearly better than the other students.  The repeated drilling had given him a foundation and an advantage that he had not appreciated.

I want to make clear that this is not a criticism of Kung Fu, only the way that this particular instructor taught it.

Striving for perfection, even though we know that we’ll never actually reach it, does in itself also develop a certain mindset.  A mindset of wanting to make something the best it possibly can be.  This has many connotations for other areas of our lives, be it school, work, relationships, driving, other hobbies, whatever!

The Japanese have the concept of delayed gratification.  This is also known in the West, but is not emphasised as much.  The idea is that we work at something over a period of time and delay our feeling of gratification until we have achieved it.  Like a grading for example.  Even going through the Kyu gradings (coloured belts) we have to wait 3 months in between each one.  But when we do pass it, we have a feeling of gratification which lasts.  When we get our 1st Dan the feeling of gratification is much stronger and lasts much longer.  We still have a feeling of pride years afterwards as we know that we have achieved a benchmark in our training.  For many of us, it even becomes part of how we identify ourselves, which along as it is not accompanied by arrogance is a good thing.

charlie wildish, Martial Arts ExpertToo many people, especially in the West are very much into instant gratification, be it drink, drugs, sex, smoking, or just watching a good movie.  I’m not saying that these things are necessarily bad (being a normal healthy guy myself who . . . . err . . . . likes a good movie); but if they are our only sources of gratification in life, then they will be short lived as there is not much to sustain us and maintain a feeling of fulfilment from one source/event of gratification to the next.   We are therefore not really at peace with ourselves.

Having a long term goal, a long term project or training regime does give us that something to sustain us and help us maintain a feeling of fulfilment in between the other more instant sources of gratification.

There are countless things that people can work on, train for, set goals about; but few can inspire for a lifetime like martial arts.  In most sports or physical pursuits people reach a peak then tend to move on as they age.  Martial arts (when taught properly) can be adapted as we age and we can work on other aspects.  In our youth it is good to make the most of our raw athleticism of, but as we get older we may focus on for example our timing and deception.  No matter how much we know, how much we’ve trained, how much we’ve taught; there is still something else we can work on and improve however old we get.

The fact that we will never reach perfection means that we can spend our whole lifetime looking for it and rather than feeling bored we feel fulfilled the closer we get to it.  This is part of where spiritual development comes into martial arts, something often referred to but seldom explained.