There are a lot of ways to improve your martial arts practice without spending more time practicing. Let’s think about ‘how’ you practice rather than ‘how much’ you practice. In a previous post I discussed a little about ‘the mind’ and presented some thoughts about learning and practicing in a step by step manner vs. learning while going by feel or intuition. In this post I’ll discuss some other ways of thinking that might be helpful to you.
Some things are obvious when learning martial arts and there are other things that are not so obvious. Often, the things that don’t meet the eye are immensely useful and supportive of your learning and performance. Let’s further consider how you use your mind and how it can affect your progress. Because ‘how’ you think, influences ‘what’ you think, which influences what you do.
When we begin learning martial arts we simply approach the learning process in much the same way we approach learning anything else. Of course. What else would we do? But think of the complexity of a self-defense situation and all of the work our brain must do in order to respond. We need to have awareness of our own bodies as we evaluate the capabilities of our adversary. We need situational awareness and to recognize threats and opportunities in our environment. We need to asses our predicament and decide upon an appropriate response. As the situation unfolds we must constantly evaluate and adjust. And all of this may have to happen in a split second and while we may be surprised, scared, and disoriented. That is a lot to ask for.
The necessity of training the body and learning the physical movements of any martial art is obvious, but sometimes the work of developing how we think gets overlooked or pushed down the road because it is easier and natural for us to just do things the way we always have. Or we may choose to work on the obvious. But you cannot even trust ‘working on the obvious’. What is obvious to an experienced martial artist may not be obvious to a beginner. For instance, a beginner may feel that their reactions are too slow and so they may attempt to do their technique faster. But when I watch, it may be obvious that the flaw is not in the speed of the technique but in the speed of the decision making that initiates the technique. The mind, not the body, needs work in this case.
We have all heard the idea of ‘mind, body and spirit’ in traditional martial arts training, but developing these three essential concepts requires work on each of them. It doesn’t just happen. Everything that you want your body to do and to not do will only be achieved through disciplined thoughtful work. And the same applies to your mind. What you want your mind to do and what you don’t want it to do requires training. You aren’t developing your mind, body and spirit if you are only working on your body.
Thankfully, some ways that we can best use our mind in our practice have been passed down to us. In fact, the whole idea of ‘mind, body and spirit’ in martial arts exists because the concept has historically been an inseparable part of development as a martial artist.
I will present these different mindsets in separate blog posts. It will be best if you digest these idea’s one at a time and insert them into your practice and daily life. There is no particular order for presenting these. I am providing only basic explanations but as you contemplate each of these you will see that a discussion could include volumes of information. Like any of my blog posts, feel free to ask questions or challenge my opinions in class. If you are not a student of Kodokai Dojo talk to your own sensei to further your understanding of these concepts in relation to the particular style that you are studying. These concepts are particular to traditional Japanese and Okinawan martial arts and may not be taught in some other styles but anyone can benefit by putting some thought into them.
The first one I will address is Fudoshin.
Fudoshin refers to maintaining ones calm and composure, ones determination and steadfastness, no matter what is happening. It is about facing difficulties, discomfort, criticism, loss, gain, hurtful words and praise without being shaken or emotional.
You can see where this can be important for martial arts training. Fudoshin is a practice of will. It is about showing up even when you don’t want to. It’s about accepting criticism without having an emotional reaction. It’s about remaining focused and determined even when you can’t perform the way you would like or in the face of defeat. It is about fighting back and not panicking even if you are hurt.
It isn’t simply a matter of being stubborn, it is about being calmly determined, unflappable and in control of your reactions to events or the opinions of others. For instance, let’s say you are trying to learn something that is difficult but keep you keep failing. You might be determined to succeed but at the same time you may feel frustrated, angry or disappointed. This is not Fudoshin. Fudoshin is about being determined but without the negative influences of unhelpful emotions. It is more about understanding and accepting the difficult task you are facing and calmly, and with discipline, persevering.
Fudoshin is not just about being stoic when circumstances are difficult. It is also about remaining unchanged when praise, victory or some other success might cause you to be influenced. I think that the easiest way to think of Fudoshin is to think of having will power along with the mental discipline to remain unfazed by circumstances.
Here is an example of how you might practice Fudoshin. Suppose you want to practice your martial arts for twenty minutes every day. You might pick a time, before work perhaps, and set your alarm a little bit early. With Fudoshin you would simply roll out bed and execute your plan. Without Fudoshin you might grumble to yourself, eventually roll out of bed and generally be unhappy about your situation while executing your plan. The negative thoughts certainly wouldn’t be helpful and probably would likely lead to eventual failure of your plan. With Fudoshin you just follow through- no regrets, no bragging, no negativity. You may actually feel pretty good about how things are going but even these good feelings can affect you. They may not affect you in the moment but they may affect you when they disappear as they certainly will from time to time. The idea would be to do your twenty minutes of practice wether or not it makes you feel good.
This is particularly important as many people pursue interests, such as martial arts training, learning a musical instrument, or learning another language, for instance, but soon quit because they get discouraged. And, in our culture where immediate gratification can be realized in many places, it can easily be frustrating when rewards do not come quickly. But, if you think about anything that requires long-term commitment, discipline and sacrifice, there is no other way. If you want something that requires extensive knowledge, advanced physical skills, or years of experience you simply have to persevere. Think about the challenges faced by your favorite musicians as they were learning and trying to break into the business, think about high level athletes like figure skaters, gymnasts, dancers, and all of the injuries, losses, sacrifices, auditions, diets, and constant training they have endured to achieve great skill. Simply put, work hard, don’t expect results that you aren’t seriously working to achieve, develop resilience, don’t be easily swayed by the positive or negative opinions of others.