5 Ways to Bring Mindfulness into our Martial Arts Practice

By Chloe Harris

Regardless of your circumstances and situation practicing mindfulness can help your everyday way of life.

Mindfulness is intensely paying attention and establishing a connection to the present moment. You’re feeling the moment, without judgement or any interpretation. Learning from the past and aware of the future but not controlled by it. This type of thinking and meditation allows you to control your attention, actions, and attitude—which is essential, not only for martial artists but also for everyone.

“Mindfulness is incredibly helpful in improving quality of life. However, it’s not easy to achieve because our minds are filled with thoughts and biases that distract from the present moment. It has become tough to focus in an age filled with distractions completely. But with practice, it can be done.”, explains David Taylor, a holistic health coach at Monkeyfoodz.

Here are five ways to bring mindfulness into your life as a martial artist:

1. Warm up your mind

Pay close attention to each part of your body when warming up. Observe how your muscles stretch. Let go of negative thoughts and focus on the exercise itself, enjoying each movement.  Aches and pains are like medals of honour earned and lost in the stretch.

It’s normal to feel tense if you haven’t worked out for a long time or feel sore after consecutive days at the dojo. Warming up is essential to condition your body. But if you do it with mindfulness, your mind will also be prepared, and the results will be better.

2. Observe your breathing

Focus on the air that comes in and out of your body. Feel the sensations in your nose and as the air travels down your chest, like a continuous stream of renewing energy flowing into your body.  Also, observe the movement of your lungs and belly. Taking several pauses to indulge your senses elongating the moment allowing oxygen to enrich your blood and detoxify your body and mind.

It would help if you also observe your breathing when moving, especially how you force the air out of your lungs during intense movements.

3. Move with your mind

When our minds are focused on our movement, we tend to make every kick, every punch, and every jump with accuracy and precision.  We are adaptable to change and aware of our surroundings.

When performing any martial arts movement, follow the sensations of your muscles. Focus on how your joints and muscles move as your change chance to execute the next move.

4. Be cautious of your thoughts

We live in an age that is flooded with information. All of these ideas and attachments clouds our minds and increase our propensity to making wrong decisions. Moreover, a lot of the information around us is designed to make us feel insufficient. This is why many people have thoughts like “I’m can never get the right stance.” or “I am not fit enough for this martial art”.

It’s crucial to watch our thoughts because these are translated into movements. To prevent any negative thinking, start by being aware of your state of mind. Do you feel insecure because you’re not tall or lean enough? Do you think you won’t succeed in this sport because you didn’t succeed with your other endeavours? Then, reflect how you can overcome each negative idea one by one.  Let them go by like the clouds in the sky.  Somethings are out of your control.  The only thing you have in control is how you feel about it. 

5. Participate fully

Once we’ve let go of distractions, we can be present and give our best to anything we do.

If you pay attention to each moment, you’ll be able to enjoy everything that it offers. In martial arts and in life, it provides the gift of time, strength, camaraderie, discipline, etc. Being present allows you to channel your energy to every moment and enjoy training much more. Over time, it will improve your form.


Mindfulness requires practice. And where is better to learn self-control and self-awareness but in a non-competitive training environment?

Aikido Odyssey fosters friendship and community spirit through peaceful resolution. This means that our techniques can be performed by men and women of all ages and sizes. Trying something or seeing something anew is the first step to understanding inner peace.

Frenemy

Friend or enemy or both or neither. I find this term quite an interesting one. I have a great many people I would call friends. Many of those friends I would also deem so close I would call family. “Framily”?

Some people I have encountered in my life I would also consider them hostile towards me. Those people may consider me their enemy but I choose not to see them that way.

Their words are barbed and their sentences are usually followed by something like “I’m just joking”. Their toxic personalities spew venom at those around them reflecting their own self inadequacies.

To find balance with these type of people in your friendship group can be quite difficult. Engaging with them in an discord or debate can feel almost futile as they are so blinded by their distorted truth.

Letting go of what they say and how they make you feel when they say it is the first step. Look at each emotional jab individually and contextually and see it as a reflection of the person saying it. Feel empathy for them.

Do you need them in your life? Do they need you more? Allow them to over balance themselves and let them find new people to be frenemies with while you focus your positive energies on your real friends.

Lee

#Fake News and the “Truth”

https://thedailymind.com/7-things-star-wars-can-teach-you-about-life-and-politics/

“Many of the truths that we cling to depend on our point of view.” Obi-Wan Kenobi STARWARS Episode IV Return of the Jedi

What is the nature of Truth? The spectacle happening in the USA at the moment is testament to this quote. Our understanding of ourselves shapes our reality.

My name is Lee. When I was young my cousin was unable to pronounce his Ls and call me Wee. I didn’t understand this at the time and I found it insulting that he should call me that. My other older cousins though this was funny and teased me about it.

Conflict is the nature and limits of our understanding of ourselves and the empathy and compassion we show each other.

I was upset. I told mother who talked to my cousin’s mother. He spent hours practicing his Ls in the Mirror until he mastered them. We became best of friends after that. I now find the nickname quite funny.

What is someone else’s truth and how does that interact with mine is key to understanding any conflict situation.

The ability to lie adds complexity to this story and there are many types of lies we can tell and tell to ourselves and each other.

https://www.quickbase.com/blog/know-when-someone-is-lying-7-types-of-lies

Again understanding ourselves and the nature of Truth and Lies can cause us to wonder about the character of someone who would tell us a bold face lie and for us to believe that in that lie.

Who is at fault? Does the Liar believe it to be the truth? Because then it is their truth. Or are they selling the “Truth” for some gain or misdirection?

The person that doesn’t question someone else’s truth and blindly follows is also someone who doesn’t look inward for the answer that is right in front of them.

Lies and truth are like Yin and Yang and exist entirely on your point of view.

Lee

Mindfulness and Martial Arts

By Chloe Harris

Training in martial arts requires a tremendous amount of focus. Combat sports training and our response to life in general can also depend on our internal mental state. The goal of a martial artists is to developed this skill of being fully present in the every moment and not just in training.

Mindfulness is being fully aware of what’s happening in the present moment. May it be your thoughts, actions, or circumstances or whatever is happening to you in that moment. Calm and Mindful and not being overwhelmed or passing judgment on anything/anyone. This ability is embedded in human nature. People do not need to change themselves to accomplish mindfulness; it just needs to be accessed and utilised consistently.

How Does Mindfulness Help the Martial Arts Student in everyday life?

The ability to be mindful reaps many benefits, especially in the long run. Research from Dr Daphne M. Davis and Jeffrey A. Hayes, authorities in counselling psychology, showed findings of cognitive and physical improvements among clients who had undergone mindfulness exercise in their psychotherapy. Some are as follows:

Stress alleviation

-Reduced rumination

-Strengthened focus

-Improved memory retention

-Less emotional reactivity

-Overall life satisfaction

The benefits are already rewarding in the big picture. How about in the world of martial arts? The answer is complementary to each other. Mindfulness is a path to martial arts just as martial arts is a path to mindfulness. No one can master any form of combat athletics without being fully in control of his own mental tendencies. Here are some foreseeable outcomes if one has implemented mindfulness in his training regimen:

Easier learning

Neurotic thoughts are lessened

-Relieved nerves during sparring or actual combat

-Quick reflexes

-Controlled reaction to physical or mental adversity

-Training becomes a spiritual experience

How to apply Mindfulness

Karina Wolfin, founder of Direct Appliance Rentals, firmly believes that small habits improve our physical and mental faculties one day at a time and contribute to our ability to focus over the long term. She says, “Concentration is a skill that has to be developed and maintained for a long period. If we are not cultivating healthy eating and sleeping habits, the effects are detrimental. Mindfulness will never be fully achieved.”

A student can achieve mindfulness in different ways. Here are some habits you can immediately implement in your next training sessions:

1.Meditate – Lots of different ways have sprung up since influencers have hyped meditation. Although this is ideal, some are having choice paralysis from having too many options. Before training, start with the simple practice of sitting down quietly, in a silent room without any form of distractions. It’s best to close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Do this consistently for a designated amount of time; you could start with 10 to 20 minutes of meditation.

2.Control your breathing – Before, during, and after training, be conscious of how you breathe. There are right ways to breath during combat and general exercise. Implement those and don’t let it slip away from your mind. You will feel the proper breathing is second nature once you do this consistently.  When confronted with any situation, be it verbal or physical attacks breath deeply first and then choose to respond.

3.Do not judge – Remove your inhibitions, prejudices, and discernment about anyone or anything on the mat or in the real world. Don’t label anything as good or bad understand what is and choose a response. A true Martial artist does not want to hurt anyone. Resolve disputes before it gets physical. If you are judging someone too harshly because of their present actions, you are not being mindful. 

4.Take care of yourself, physically and mentally – Concentrating is a burden if the body and mind are not adequately nourished. Get enough rest and practice a mindful diet.

Mindfulness is a powerful tool for everyday life. Aikido, the Way of Peace is aligned with the idea of being truly present in every moment. To fully realise the present moment without judgment and cultivate a calm relaxed nature in any situation.

Respect

A Dictionary definition of Respect is; “Due regard for the feelings, wishes, or rights of others.”

In less “civilised” times and cultures, being rude to people could mean your death. Very simple and small slights could end in a duel or murder by the person who feels they were wronged.

I have worked in a hospital for a number of years and meet people on one of the worst days of their lives. Sometimes people are quite rude, violent and aggressive towards me. This is a rare occurrence but can often overshadow all of the wonderful people I have helped over the years.

How I choose to respond in these situations are the only thing entirely within my control. Empathy is always the best path. Words are easily the best and worst weapons. Easily misunderstood. Quick to cut. They can be bent and have double meanings.

A quick wit and a jovial nature can turn someone who is verbally aggressive into your best friend. Particularly if you don’t offend easily and have a self deprecating response. Self reflection on what it is to be offended and the situation you find yourself in allows you to rise above the pettiness of others and not be brought down by small slights.

Responding in a way that someone does not expect and humanising yourself and the situation. Waiting for a response from the other person and being polite in the face of their arrogance can throw the disagreements into a very pleasant situation.

Violence can also be thought of in this regard. It does require a certain mindset and some martial training but if someone attacks you with full force and you are unprepared for that battle who is really at fault?

Every time I am within arms reach of anybody I have chosen to be there. They have every chance of attacking me if they so choose. My job requires that I be in close proximity to someone who is injured and like any wounded animal may attack. I choose how to enter that space.

This “Covid” pandemic requires that I wear plastic armour which protects me from an unseen threat that may or may not exist on this particular interaction but given the nature of the virus I have a higher probability of contracting it. I choose to enter that space too.

Through luck, empathy and training all situations and interactions can be seen in similar regards.

As a space to find empathy and respect for those around you.

Lee

To Wear a Mask or Not.

I’m a front line health worker in a Country and a state that hasn’t been hit too badly by the Covid pandemic. Even before this I have been wearing surgical masks and protective equipment (PPE) for over twelve years now. I’m also a martial arts instructor.

I work with patients who are immune compromised and sometimes I wear a mask and PPE to protect them from me. Other times I’ll wear the equipment to protect myself and my family from them.

Two sides of the same coin.  Different cultures also can have different experiences.  My first trip to Japan over ten years ago I was interested in the people that wore masks on the train and I asked them why.  My first thought was they didn’t want to catch something, but the most common answer was that they themselves were a little sick (Flu) and they did not want to pass it on.  Being Japanese they also apologised.

Coming from an Australian perspective and reading some of the material coming out of the United States I find it interesting that people are refusing to wear a mask citing personal freedoms. I almost feel like quoting Star Trek and the needs of the many versus the needs of the one. Spock and Kirk.

This duality of thought is the very nature of Aikido practice. Sometimes my patients will refuse to wear a mask. They are having trouble breathing so I can understand and I’ll wear one for them. Protecting both myself and them. Other times my patients will demand that I wear a mask before entering a room. Sometimes patients cough and breathe in my face when I’m trying to help them and I wish I was wearing a mask and eye protection.

Mind and body.  Personal freedoms vs social good.  Two sides of the same coin.  If you stand that coin on it’s side and spin it really fast it becomes a sphere in perfect balance.  

Lee

How to Make all new Mistakes

Everyday to myself I think I would like to make all new mistakes. Learn from the past and be mindful of the future but not let either take over the present moment.

It is easy to dwell on the past and be afraid to move forward. Especially after big events in your life like a divorce or a relationship breakup.

It is natural to feel angry or sad and is not something that can be avoided. Let these feelings in but don’t let them be in control of you. Give yourself time to respond and recover. Don’t make things worse by reacting and lashing out at the world and those around you. Or closing yourself off to it because you might get hurt. It can become easy to see the demons of the past arise in the new people you meet.

Consider all the things that lead to this moment and ask yourself could it be half your fault? And it is very important to only accept half of the fault. Accepting half the fault in any relationship is also very difficult. We all like to think of ourselves as heros or victims of our own stories but we can also be villains in other people’s own story.

Could the mistakes of the past be repeating themselves. Does the story you tell yourself start to sound like a repeat just with different actors? Then maybe it is half your fault.

Choose to make all new mistakes. Children make mistakes all the time and learn from them. Why is it difficult for an adult to accept fault and be able to laugh at their own failings. To learn from them and grow.

Lee

Thirteen Rules for Disciplinants

Ki in Daily life by Koichi Tohei p135-136

  1. Ki training reveals to us the path to oneness with the universal.  To coordinate mind and body and become one with nature itself is the chief purpose of Ki training.
  2. As nature loves and protects all creation and helps all things grow and develop, so we must teach every student with sincerity and without discrimination or partiality.
  3. There is no discord in the absolute truth of the universal, but there is discord in the realm of relative truth.  To contend with others and win brings only a relative victory.  Not to contend and yet win brings absolute victory.  To gain only a relative victory sooner or later leads to inevitable defeat.  While you are practicing to become strong, learn how you can avoid fighting.  By learning to throw your opponent and enjoy it and to be thrown and enjoy that too and by helping one another in learning the correct techniques you will progress very rapidly.
  4. Do not criticise any of the other martial arts or artists.  The mountain does not laugh at the river because it is lowly, nor does the river speak ill of the mountain because it cannot move about.  Everyone has his own characteristics and gains his own position in life.  Speak ill of others and it will surely come back to you.
  5. The martial arts begin and ends with courtesy, not in form alone, be in heart and mind as well.  Respect the teacher who teaches you and do not cease to be grateful especially to the founder who shows the way.  He who neglects this should not be surprised if his students make light of him.
  6. Be warned against conceit.  Conceit not only halts your progress, it causes you to regress.  Nature is boundless, its principles are profound.  What brings conceit?  It is brought on my shallow thinking and a cheaply-bought compromise with your ideals.
  7. Cultivate the calm mind that comes from making the universal a part of the body by concentration your thoughts on the one point in the lower abdomen.  You must know that it is a shame to be narrow-minded.  Do not dispute with others merely to defend your own views.  Right is right, wrong is wrong.  Judge calmly what is right and what is wrong.  If you are convinced that you are wrong, manfully make amends.  If you meet one who is your superior, joyfully accept his teachings.  If any man is in error, quietly explain to him the truth, and strive to make him understand.
  8. Even a one inch worm has a half inch of spirit.  Every man respects his own ego.  Do not, therefore, slight anyone, nor hurt his self respect.  Treat a man with respect, and he will respect you.  Make light of him and he will make light of you.  Respect his personality and listen to his views and he will gladly follow you.
  1. Do not become angry.  If you become angry it shows that your mind has wandered from the one point in the lower abdomen.  Anger is something to be ashamed of in ki training.  Do not become angry on your own account.  Be angry only when the rights of nature or of your country are endangered.   Concentrate on the one point and become angry all over.  Know that he who is easily angered loses courage at important moments.
  2. Spare no effort when you teach.  You advance as your students advance.  Do not be impatient when you teach.  No one can learn everything well at one time.  Perseverance is important in teaching, as is patience, kindness and the ability to put yourself in your students’ place.
  3. Do not be a haughty instructor.  The students grow in knowledge as they obey their teacher.  It is the special characteristic of training in Ki that the teacher also advances by teaching his students.  Training requires an atmosphere of mutual respect between teacher and students.  If you see a haughty man, you see a shallow thinker.
  4. In practicing do not show your strength without some good purpose lest you awaken distance in the minds of those who are watching you.  Do not argue about strength, but teach the right way.  Words alone cannot explain.  Sometimes by being the one to be thrown, you can teach more effectively.  Do not halt your student’s throw at mid point or stop his ki before he can complete a movement or you will give him bad habits.
  5. Do whatever you do with conviction.  We study thoroughly there principles of the universal and practice it and the universal protects us.  We have nothing to be doubtful or to fear.  Real conviction comes from the belief that we are one with the universal.  We must have the courage today with Confucius:  If I have an easy conscience, I dare to face an enemy of the thousand men.