Blue Belt Mental Skills

Keep an Open Mind

I have taught many students who have come from other disciplines or systems who wish to explore what I might offer them. Many of these students do extremely well. Some do not. The primary determining factor is how open these individuals are to different ideas and approaches to the martial arts.

If I teach someone and they consistently mention that they learned a particular skill differently or would never move like that in their prior training then the odds are they will not succeed in their studies in Tensoku Ryu. They have established a closed mind. To them the only way to perform any skill is the way they have previously learned. These individuals are not seeking to learn something new. They are seeking to verify that they have already become an exceptional martial artist and that their existing skills are quite advanced. I cannot teach them until or unless they can overcome this mental hurdle.

The same thing can happen within the Tensoku Ryu system. Students learn a particular methodology and approach to the martial arts and then become resistant when new ideas and strategies are suggested. Sometimes students feel comfortable doing what they already know how to do and are not mentally ready to consider putting aside what they already know to learn something new. In Tensoku Ryu you must always keep an open mind. Anything and everything you learn can and will be subject to modification and will likely be supplanted by a new conceptual model at some time in the future. If you do not keep an open mind you will eventually stagnate. If you maintain an open mind you will continually learn new ideas and concepts.

But this also applies to studies outside of Tensoku Ryu. If you come to believe that the only way to move or behave is what you have learned in Tensoku Ryu then you are selling yourself short. There are always other ways to consider or analyze anything. You must always remind yourself to maintain an open mind and be willing to explore alternate ways of doing everything. It does not matter if that knowledge is derived through Tensoku Ryu or from an outside source. All knowledge will benefit an open mind.

Look for Similarities and Differences

When you compare what you do as a martial artist with others you will, if you look closely, see many similarities and differences. This will be true whether you compare yourself with others in your school or martial arts system, or if you compare and contrast your system with other martial arts styles.

If you notice a difference between how you move and how others move this should raise a question in your mind. Why is there a difference? Does this other person (or system) have an insight I do not yet possess? Are they missing something? Is the difference truly relevant, does it reflect two different ways of doing exactly the same thing, or is it simply window dressing? If you notice a difference you should have questions and you should seek the answers to those questions. The answers will almost always be insightful.

If you detect similarities in movement then this also offers you an opportunity for profound insight. Similar movements suggest an underlying fundamental of human anatomical or psychological movement. Common movement methodologies indicate an intrinsic behavior pattern that may be common to nearly everyone. You will want to be able to mimic these movements and be able to anticipate when they will occur in others. You will also want to explore ways in which these types of movements can be readily interrupted or circumvented.

Far too many martial artists get involved in martial arts style prejudices. They naturally hope that their martial arts style is the best available and may actively look for weaknesses in other styles. Once they find a weakness they dismiss the other style as useless and woefully inferior.

This is most unfortunate. Every style, including Tensoku Ryu has its strengths and weaknesses. No style is perfect, infallible, or all encompassing. What is fortunate is that every style will incorporate the most essential movements exhibited by the human body. In studying the practices of another style you can notice and benefit from understanding these similarities.

Where you find differences they may offer a refreshingly different perspective, additional Bunkai, or a nugget of truth you have not previously encountered. Every style you examine will offer you new insights. Tensoku Ryu is a style that is full of these insights, but many other styles are as well. You can learn something new and positive from any style you examine. Treat other martial artists and martial art styles as a learning opportunity and not as a foreign and inferior entity to be dismissed with disdain.

The Mental Side of the Martial Arts

If you have not begun to appreciate this yet, it is time to reveal that the martial arts are much more mental than physical. If you really look at it there may be a few hundred different physical skills that are learned on the journey to black belt. But there are virtually an unlimited number of ways in which you can think about and apply these skills in varying combinations.

There are also just as many ways in which you might consider not using those same skills. Knowing what not to do is every bit as important as knowing what you might possibly do.

To be good at the martial arts you must also contemplate physics, chemistry, biology, anatomy, human psychology, and innumerable other fundamental laws of nature. You must appreciate how these natural elements affect your every behavior and physical movement, and more importantly, why these natural elements may necessitate certain of these behaviors and movements.

Over time it will become impossible for you to separate martial arts and every day activities. They become one in the same because the martial arts become who you are and how you think, behave, and learn. You will ultimately see all aspects of life as applying to the martial arts. You will also see how the martial arts can apply to nearly all aspects of life. Life experiences will aid your martial arts training. The martial arts will aid your life experiences training.

As you train to learn a new skill notice that most of what you are learning is actually a mental skill and not so much a physical skill. Learn to appreciate the mental side of the martial arts. It is where the real learning begins.


When you think of willpower your initial thoughts are probably generally positive. Willpower is seen as a sign of determination, tenacity, and achievement. Much of this of course applies to the martial arts.

Willpower is what enables you to stay in a strong stance even though your legs have begun to shake. It is what pushes you forward to do that one additional push up or to increase the intensity of your movements in the final ten seconds of a shadow boxing exercise. Willpower enables you to do and accomplish more than you initially thought was possible.

These are all quite positive. But willpower has a distinctly negative aspect as well. This happens in situations where a student is practicing a hold, Nage, or some other manipulative activity. These activities often do not work (at all) if your technique is not sound. Unfortunately there is a tendency in most students initially to simply ignore the technique and to resort to pure force and willpower to make something work. The student will contort their body, misalign their center, and extend their arms to unwieldy positions, all in an effort to dictate an outcome through sheer force of will. The technique will still not work, and the student has placed himself or herself in rather severe jeopardy. If the maneuver is not working then something is wrong with the fundamental techniques being used. It is critical to focus on improving these technical aspects of the maneuver and not on trying to use willpower in an attempt to force an unlikely outcome.

Here is another time when willpower is quite detrimental. If you attempt to do something to an opponent you may find that it is ineffectual. Here you have a choice. You can try something different, or you can try to force the outcome you originally had in mind. As you might surmise, forcing the outcome will not work. If someone is able to resist your movement it means they are strong in opposition to that movement. This naturally means they are weak somewhere else. What you need to do rather than trying to force your will on someone, is to immediately abandon the initial maneuver and search for where they are weak. That will pay untold dividends.

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