Martial Arts Body Mechanics & Structures Vs Fitness & Strength

Some martial art schools/associations/franchises put a lot of emphasis on fitness and strength training.  A good work out gets the endorphins going and people come out feeling good and happy, stress levels reduced and a general feeling of well-being.  Being fit always feels good.  Sometimes the fitness may consist of doing a lot of circuit type training and/or doing everything fast all the time.

Whilst I am definitely in favour of being fit and strong, I am not in favour of emphasising these aspects over good body mechanics and body structures (which I have seen in some places).

There is a general assumption amongst many people that to defend yourself effectively, you have to be really super fit as fighting is very physically demanding and intense. Whilst there are obviously definite advantages in being really fit, it is far better to be able to hit somebody once and be sure that they’ll go down then gear your self defence training to having to hit them 10 to 20 times before they go down. Continue reading “Martial Arts Body Mechanics & Structures Vs Fitness & Strength” »

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” »

Is Stretching Important For Martial Arts?

There has been some debate over the years about stretching before training in martial arts and also for exercise in general.
I’ve heard some martial artists say that they don’t stretch before training as they’d rather train with the body that they have than the body they’d like to have!  Meaning, if you were to get involved in a physical altercation, you won’t have chance to warm up and stretch; so your body will not be in the same state for that altercation as it is when you’re training and you’ve had chance to conveniently warm up and stretch out!  They continue that if you want to stretch to improve your flexibility, do it when you get up in the morning, so that your body gets used to being like it all day.

To quote the UK National Health Service website: Continue reading “Is Stretching Important For Martial Arts?” »

If You Happen To Be Caught Up In A Terrorist Attack

As most people will know, there have been several terrorist attacks here in the UK over recent months, two of them involving vehicles running people over and following up with knife attacks.  Now the chances of actually being caught up in such an incident, I would say are very unlikely.  However, you never know!

On Facebook, several people have shared some well thought out advice from London based martial artist, Gavin Mulholland, for anybody who is unfortunate enough to be involved in such an incident.  I thought it was very good advice and worth sharing here too, so here are Gavin’s words re-produced below:-
Continue reading “If You Happen To Be Caught Up In A Terrorist Attack” »

The Rise Of The McDojo

For anybody not familiar with the phrase, a McDojo is a school that teaches a watered-down and impractical form of martial arts in the name of making money.  The “Mc” is taken from “McDonald’s”, as in mass produced – low quality!  They usually have all the expensive designer gear too, which you have to buy from them of course.

Many real martial artists complain about the rise of the McDojo (myself included). Many martial artists complain that those who train with McDojo’s do so because they want to get easy belts without working hard! I don’t think that’s the case as those people don’t know any better, many of them haven’t seen proper martial arts before so don’t have anything to compare with!  In fairness, many of McDojo’s give a good physical workout and are fairly strict on the discipline; it’s just the martial content that is lacking.  And I’m not even talking about sport martial art here, as serious sport martial artists can really move with speed, accuracy and good technique.

Continue reading “The Rise Of The McDojo” »

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.

 

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.

Developing And Using Intuition For Self Protection

“The brain processes 400 billion bits of information a second but we’re only aware of 2,000 of those.  That means that reality is happening in the brain all the time”.
Joseph Dispenza from the DVD: What The Bleep Do We Know?!

If you were to look at a tree, you could probably see every leaf on that tree (depending on angle etc).  But would you know how many leaves were on that tree?

No!

If you tried to recall in great detail let’s say your 5th birthday, could you do it?

No!

Yet under hypnosis people have been taken back to events in their early life (such as early birthdays) and they can recall the events of the day in great detail.  The brain is a phenomenal computer with massive retention of detail, be it the number of leaves on a tree or what present your Aunt Gertrude gave you on your 5th birthday, how it was wrapped and that fact that you already had one of them from the previous Christmas!  But do you need that much recall?  If you went through your whole life with all these facts, figures and memories bouncing around, it would be hard to function due to the overload of information.  That is why our brains have filters, which cuts out some of the information that we perceive we simply don’t need.  They serve to keep our conscious mind only fed with the amount of information it can cope with and primarily focused on the most important things.  For example, you become aware of the car coming down the road as you cross over, rather than how many petals there are on the tulips in the garden on the other side.  One piece of information could save your life, so it prioritised over the other which will generally be filtered out.

Sometimes these filters malfunction a bit.  Have you ever had the experience where you’ve lost something, looked all over for it and been unable to find it, then some clever bugger comes in as says “here it is”, in a place that you looked closely at several times.  You wonder how on Earth you could possibly have missed it!

Basically, your own brain sometimes gets a block and filters out information that you need, but fortunately this is not that common.

These filters are of course largely based on our upbringing and life experiences telling us what is and isn’t important.  However, we can often get things wrong and we can easily be filtering out important pieces of information!

Our social conditioning too can affect us.  Is that guy offering to help carry a ladies groceries just being an old fashioned gentleman or is he trying to find an excuse to get closer to her and perhaps attack her later?  Sometimes social conditioning and education causes our logic to over-ride a gut feeling.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that any guy who offers to help is a potential rapist, but you can see how if somebody is raised to expect good manners, they may overlook some other warning sign!

“Your mind has a spam filter on it, just like your email.  There are literally billions of calculations going on every second just in your body alone”.
“Your spam filter is blocking out everything that is not important to you.  Until you tell your brain that something is important, then it will keep it filtered out”.
Andy Shaw, author of Creating A Bug Free Mind.

Bearing in mind that we are capable of taking in vastly more information than we are consciously aware of; sometimes our unconscious mind will notice something that our conscious mind has missed.

Maybe that friendly looking guy who is being so helpful was in the newspaper last year as a rape suspect or mugger.  Your conscious mind doesn’t have a chance of remembering, but your unconscious mind does.  The unconscious mind cannot communicate this directly to the conscious mind, but it can communicate by emotions.  It can give you that gut-feeling we call intuition!

I know this is a simplistic example, but it can take many forms.  Let’s say for example that you’re walking home late at night and you have 2 options of which route to take.  For no apparent reason, one of them just doesn’t feel comfortable.  Your logical mind tells that this route is shorter, reasonably well lit and you can’t find a good reason why you don’t feel safe.  Perhaps your conscious mind has forgotten that you saw some shady looking character walking down that way earlier and your unconscious is concerned that they might still be lurking around.  It sends you an uncomfortable “feeling” to warn you.

I’ve always believed that women tend to be more intuitive than men, as men rely on logic more.  Sometimes logic is good, but sometimes it can be our undoing as there is a time and place for both.  Women for example, often know when they are being lied to, yet if you ask them how they know; very often they don’t have a clue.  They just know, their intuition tells them.  The giveaway signs of a tiny shift in a person’s body language, maybe lack of eye contact, some almost undetectable change in tonality; the unconscious mind receives it all and process it even if the conscious mind can’t.

So intuition can be a useful life skill in relationships, work, whilst driving, just about any facet of life including of course your self-protection.  As with the examples above, it can save us getting into a dangerous situation in the first place by listening to the gut feeling which defies our logic and social conditioning.

Assuming that you gone somewhere and everything is fine, no warning signals and everybody is happy; then suddenly out of the blue without any warning, somebody starts to pick a fight.  When somebody is picking a fight there are certain clues as to when they are actually going to stop talking and threatening and actually physically attack.  That is not the subject of this post as to cover it properly would take too long.  However, if you want to pursue this subject in depth then I recommend Geoff Thompson’s book, Dead Or Alive.

If you asked most people to list the signs that a physical attack is imminent, most people wouldn’t really be able to give an in depth answer.  However, your unconscious mind will pick up every sign and feed it back to you, if only you are able to be aware able to notice these signals.

Even in a more friendly setting like a competition or just club sparring, some people seem to have the uncanny ability to automatically know just when their opponent is about to move no matter how much the opponent tries not to telegraph their technique.  It is almost as if some people can “read” their opponents.  This is basically intuition.  Their years of training have taught them to read every sign, even the slightest of change of breath, the slightest change in facial expression or bodily tension before an before the opponent attacks, which gives away their intention.  Again, the defender may not actually consciously realise that they know these signs or what these signs actually are, but their unconscious has long since learnt to recognise them.  And if their conscious mind is calm and quiet, it is able to receive this warning information from the unconscious mind.

Developing your intuition is almost a side effect of Mushin (calming the mind and silencing the inner voice).  The silenced conscious mind can receive ideas from the unconscious mind.  It can receive, acknowledge and respond to the emotions sent by the unconscious mind in the form of a gut feeling or intuition.  You could call it an instinctive knowing.  I say “almost” a side effect of Mushin, because when we start to feel these intuitions, even if we have become good at Mushin, we still have to take the leap of faith and actually trust these messages that we have started to receive.  Even if we can think very clearly in a crisis, we still have to learn to trust that sometimes we don’t need to think, we just need to allow ourselves to respond automatically without any thought at all.

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.