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” »

Moksu: Does It Actually Have A Martial Application?

For those not familiar with the term, Moksu it is Japanese for the kneeling meditation at the beginning and end of a martial arts class.  It is often seen as just clearing the mind from the day’s ups and downs to prepare you for training.  It does of course do that, but it can actually represent a lot more in the long term.  Apart from just clearing the mind, when practiced regularly it can over time help to completely silence the mind.  Silencing the minds usual internal chatter has a feeling of peace and tranquillity (a bit like the sudden quietness of turning off a factory air conditioning system).

This can sometimes be achieved quite quickly, but sometimes it can take years.  How often have you knelt there thinking “my knees hurt”, “how long is this going on for”, “I hope we do sparring tonight” or “I hope we don’t do sparring tonight”, whatever! Continue reading “Moksu: Does It Actually Have A Martial Application?” »

Moksu: Does It Actually Have A Martial Application?

For those not familiar with the term, Moksu it is Japanese for the kneeling meditation at the beginning and end of a martial arts class.  It is often seen as just clearing the mind from the day’s ups and downs to prepare you for training.  It does of course do that, but it can actually represent a lot more in the long term.  Apart from just clearing the mind, when practiced regularly it can over time help to completely silence the mind.  Silencing the minds usual internal chatter has a feeling of peace and tranquillity (a bit like the sudden quietness of turning off a factory air conditioning system).

moksuThis can sometimes be achieved quite quickly, but sometimes it can take years.  How often have you knelt there thinking “my knees hurt”, “how long is this going on for”, “I hope we do sparring tonight” or “I hope we don’t do sparring tonight”, whatever!

Moksu is as much an exercise for the mind as a reverse punch is for the body, but it is often underrated and its potential overlooked.  We are not simply looking for peace and tranquillity (though this is a worthy achievement in itself), we are also looking to directly take back control of our own minds so that it does not undermine us at crucial times.  It is about being able to silence at will that voice in our head which undermines us.  The voice that says “I can’t do this”, “he’s bigger than me”, “I’m going to get killed here”, “he’s always picking on me”, whatever.  Gradually, bit by bit, we take this quietening of the mind more and more into the rest of our training.  It is often said that combat is more mental than physical, well Moksu is actually a practice for the mental side.

When we can free the mind of it’s internal clutter, then we can use our mind more efficiently.  We become more conscious and more aware of whatever our present situation is.

It is almost like we have 2 minds; one which is a powerful tool that we deliberately think with and one which almost acts independently of us and usually undermines us.  This undermining part of our mind is often referred to in many self development/spiritual texts as the “ego”.   It relies on past experience rather than original thought, therefore it keeps us where we are rather than allowing us to move forward.  It acts to cover up weaknesses with a false show, rather than face and conquer the weaknesses.

Unfortunately both “minds” do not work well at the same time.  When the ego is in full flow giving us negative thoughts, we find it very difficult to access the power of the deliberately thinking part of our brain or our intuition.

When facing an opponent (whether sparring or for real) we need to be able to think tactically, yet at the moment of action we need to let our intuition take over and react according to how our opponents moves (or doesn’t move).

This can of course apply to almost any part of our lives, whether it is our job, driving, relationships, school or whatever.  We always function better when we can silence the ego, think more logically and engage our intuition.  The ego left unchecked can rob us of access to these facilities, which is why people with low self esteem or those who worry a lot seem to be unable to find a way out of their situations; whether in training, street attacks, or in any other aspect of life.  You are more capable of finding solutions to problems within any area of your life when you can think clearly.  You always think more clearly when you can silence the ego.

Just to clarify, I refer to people of low self esteem above, which might on the surface at least appear to be the opposite of what we normally consider to be a person with a “big ego”.  We tend to see what we consider an egotistical person to be somebody who brags, boasts and puts on a show.  However, this kind of egotist putting on a show is in actuality usually a person of low esteem, but is putting more effort into hiding their own perceived weakness rather than facing and conquering them.  A person of low self esteem (whether they are depressive or showy) is usually focusing a large part of their conscious thought on their past experiences which they cannot escape.  They are in many respects living in the past as they measure all new experiences/challenges in terms of their previous experiences.

Now this is a very human thing to do and is very common.  But silencing that inner voice, accessing your intuition and higher intellect are the best ways to escape that cycle of living in the past and to become more conscious of your present situation (living in “the now” as some people say).  Solutions to problems (both in self protection and everyday life) appear much more readily when you are focused in the present then when you’re being held captive to your past experiences by the ego.  Moksu (or any form of meditation) is a great tool to help with that and ideally should really be practiced more often than just at the beginning and of the Karate class.

Do you practice your kicks and punches at home?  Then why not practice Moksu at home.  It may take time to produce noticeable results, but it will in time allow you to access higher martial skills by engaging intuitive responses as you stop your own ego getting in the way!

Anticipating How Your Opponent Will Attack!

I was recently asked about how to anticipate what move somebody is about to attack you with.  The guy was very much looking for a way to be able to stay ahead of the game.

I think that he was a bit disappointed in my initial answer, until I explained in more depth.  The initial answer is that you DON’T try to anticipate the opponents actual attack.

Just to clarify, anticipate whether or not they are actually going to attack you by all means, but don’t try to anticipate that they will kick or they punch, or they will . . . . . whatever!

If you are trying to think too hard about what he/she/they are going to do next, the thought process will actually slow you down.  Assuming that you are in a pre-fight situation where somebody is threatening you, shouting and swearing, psyching themself up for an attack; then you should really be looking to engage their mind by talking in order to distract them whilst lining them up for a pre-emptive strike.

However, for the sake of argument lets assume that for whatever reason you do not get the chance to perform a pre-emptive strike.  Maybe the attacker did not get close enough, maybe he knew that you are a capable adversary so kept his distance . . . . . whatever.  But you are now in the position where he is about to attack from a fraction out of your pre-emptive striking range.  You know it’s coming, but you don’t know what form the attack will take.

Should you try to anticipate what the actual attack will be?

If you anticipate a punch and prepare for it, then he kicks instead you could be in trouble.  If you anticipate a kick and prepare for it, then he just rushes in and grabs you, again you could be in trouble.

It is always best to be taking the lead rather than responding (action rather than reaction), but this may not always possible.  So how do you react when you haven’t got a clue what the actual form the attack about to launched at you will actually take?

Well there are several things that you need.

Firstly, you need an automatic deeply drilled response that comes out automatically without you having to think about it.  That is why we practice basics over and over and over and over again.  So when you need them, you can respond automatically without having to be slowed down by “thinking” about what you should be doing or how you should be doing it.

Some form of reality based training or pressure training is good too, so that you don’t “freeze” under the effects of adrenalin.  However, if you have experience in real altercations this may not always be necessary.

However, the calmer you can keep your mind, the more likely you are to find an instinctive response to whatever comes at you. If your mind is running away with “oh my god, he’s bigger than me”, (or similar thoughts); you are likely to hesitate.  This is something I’ve discussed before in more depth before.

Moksu

There are a number of elements to our training which assist in calming the mind in these situations.  Most obviously, a number of martial arts include some form of meditation (moksu) during the class, where you breathe deeply and clear the mind.

Physical technique done properly should be performed with a relaxed body.  The more you relax your body in training, the more your mind will follow and relax too (as body and mind are linked).  This is probably more important in many ways than the meditation (just my humble opinion).

Many martial arts also put an emphasis on diaphragmatic breathing (especially if they meditate).  This type of breathing is central to Yoga, Tai Chi and any discipline that is about relaxation, so there’s another clue.  Diaphragmatic breathing can be used to calm the mind and body in any situation from meditation, traffic jams, problems with work/relationships, through to a physical confrontation.  As it relaxes both the mind and body, you can see why it is an integral part in the execution of technique within many traditional martial arts.

So if you can keep your mind calm, relaxed and free from the distraction of having to actually think, then instincts and intuition take over.  Your ability to deal with any random attack and counter with a well-drilled response will be greatly increased.  An instinctive response will always be faster than a calculated thought out response.

That is why we do not try try to anticipate what the actual attack will be, as by doing so we limit our response options to what we expect will come at us; and by-pass our intuitive nature.