In this article we will cover a variety of different topics that are relevant to your training and growth as a martial artist. These topics are presented in no particular order. Each warrants your consideration.
Martial Arts in Everyday Life
As you gain experience you will likely start to consider the overlap in martial arts concepts and other common activities. How you move, walk, interact with others, lift objects, and shift your weight will all be influenced by your martial arts training. Your improving eye-hand coordination will enable you to better deal with sudden occurrences such as a dropped spoon or unexpected door movement. But these are merely the simplest and most easily recognized benefits of martial arts in your daily activities. There are many others.
How you position your body when you need to apply force to something should be based largely on the principles you have learned while training in the martial arts. Being well centered and structurally aligned with your intended task are important to ensure minimal effort is required, to reduce the risk of injury, and to ensure a safe outcome. Whenever you are about to saw a board, push a car, lift a heavy object, or pull a cart you will want to consider how to properly position your body. This should not be difficult for you, but you will want to adopt the discipline of thinking about it before you engage in a strenuous action. This simple step will allow you to reduce your risk of muscle or skeletal system injuries.
But if something does go wrong you can rely on your developing skills to bail you out. For example, if a cart you’ve been guiding downhill gets away from you and will overrun your position then your martial arts reflexes and understanding of escape maneuvers may serve you well. This leads us to the consideration of risks. Everything you do in your daily life has some associated risk. The more dramatic and powerful movements will have increased associated risks. Just as you would if you were confronted by an angry individual, you should consider as many alternatives as possible before attempting something that has increased risks. You don’t want to be one of those people depicted in a video suffering untold pain as the result of an ill-conceived plan that went horribly awry. Consider what might go wrong, and how you will want to deal with these situations before you are confronted with them. Just as you would not want to walk down a dark alley at night, you would do well to avoid things like pushing a car downhill, pushing snow off your roof, or lifting a heavy object into your second story window without having thought through the various things that could go wrong with your plan. Keep in mind that you are much more likely to be seriously injured at home than at the Dojo.
Other aspects of your training should also begin to intrude in your daily activities. Having patience, considering the possibility of unintended risks, noting and appropriately addressing unexpected sounds or movements, and above all simply thinking will likely be direct benefits you can attribute to your training. You should look for these things as they occur and consider what training may have influenced your reactions.
Sometimes your reactions will be bad. Hey, nothing is perfect. By way of example let me mention a situation that occurred to me. I was driving in the middle lane of a freeway, probably doing about 65 MPH or so as a small white car passed me in the left lane. The white car was not doing anything unusual so I barely noticed it as it passed my driver’s side window. Just at that moment the small white car backfired loudly. I did not really notice the backfire. What I noticed was that my hands were no longer on the steering wheel but had evolved into double Shuto strikes that pressed into my driver’s side window. I had, without any thought at all, reacted to the noise in a sudden and aggressive manner. Good instincts, excellent reaction times, but bad nonetheless. Naturally, I returned my hands to the steering wheel and sheepishly drove on as if nothing had happened.
As you move into the middle ranks in your training you may notice similar things occurring to yourself. A popped balloon may induce you to spontaneously drop into Sochin Dachi and raise your hands to a guard position. It can be embarrassing at a party. Any loud noise or sudden movement could elicit such a reaction. Unfortunately, these reactions can occur without any conscious thought. One moment you are standing there doing some normal activity, the next moment you find yourself charging in the direction of a blaring smoke detector. You are not sure how you got from point A to point B. These are good reflexes to have, but they come with side effects. Not everyone experiences these symptoms in the same way. Some people do not experience this phenomenon to any appreciable extent. If you are particularly susceptible to these reflexes you may wish to warn others who are close to you that you have a tendency to overreact to sudden noises or events. Naturally you will want to convey this sentiment in a manner so that you do not appear to be pompous
Meditation can be a beneficial practice for martial artists. There are a great many different approaches to meditation and numerous different meditation styles. Meditation practices evolved largely in Japan, China, and India and most formal styles of meditation have their roots in teachings from these countries (but they are not the only countries with a meditation tradition). If you practice, or have practiced a particular type of meditation in the past feel free to practice it in the Dojo (as long as it does not disrupt the activities of others).
Meditation is often promoted as a way to lessen the effects of stress, worry, degenerative health conditions, and anxiety. It is also offered as a way to improve overall health, increase social connectivity, improve mental focus, and promote a positive state of mind. There are hundreds of studies that claim these results, but one must be somewhat careful to not rely on meditation as a cure for every potential ailment or mental condition.
Nonetheless, those who practice meditation often feel a sense of relaxation and subtle euphoria during and after a meditative session. As a Black Belt you will eventually study many different ways in which you might meditate, including meditation while sitting (the most common form), standing, and even moving.
Meditation is not a specific part of your current belt curriculum and you are not required to explore or practice meditation in any form. But many people inquire about the benefits of meditation and whether it will help with martial arts practices. While the answer to this last question is yes, mediation is more beneficial for general life and longevity than it is for honing or perfecting any specific martial arts skill. One of the primary benefits of meditation is to understand what it is like to be relaxed. This may be of benefit should you find yourself of a particularly stressful situation.
Many people believe it is necessary to hire or attend classes offered by a trained or licensed meditation instructor. While we do not discourage you from following that course if you desire, we find it is often not necessary, at least when you first wish to explore meditative practices. But, if you want the full experience, then you may be well advised to seek some professional consultation.
For those of you who want to explore meditative benefits without undergoing formal training here are some steps you might follow as a way of introducing yourself to meditative practices.
- Find a generally quiet and comfortable place to practice. A bedroom or living room is often a good choice, but any place where you feel comfortable, safe, and can relax is suitable. You should select a location that does not have a lot of disruptive noise whenever possible.
- Sit on the floor (you may elect to sit in a chair as well). Bend your knees and cross your legs then rest your relaxed and open hands, palms facing upward, on your thighs. There are other hand positions, such as forming a small triangle with the thumbs and fingers of the two hands and placing the hands near your lower abdomen. The location of the hands varies between different styles of meditation. Go with the simple hands on the thighs version if you are just beginning as it is simply easier to accomplish.
- Close your eyes and begin to breathe slowly and fully (don’t overdo the “fully” part). Focus on how you feel while breathing. Relax all the muscles and your internal organs, particularly those in the abdomen, back, shoulders, neck, jaw, and face. If you feel a muscle becoming tense (it will happen often) immediately seek to relax it again. Periodically scan your body to detect and relax any muscles that are taught or energized in some manner. Of course the muscles that keep you in an upright posture will need to remain active, but these should be as relaxed as possible.
- As you begin to gain a sense of overall relaxation you will notice that your mind remains quite active. These thoughts will often cause muscles in your body to become tense again. You will want to reduce the amount of stimulus provided by your conscious mind. As thoughts enter your mind seek to dismiss them as soon as possible. Thoughts will constantly enter you mind (at least initially) and you will discover that you are thinking about something when you thought you were not. Don’t let it bother you much, that is part of the practice and everyone experiences this process. The important thing is to notice when you have begun thinking about something and to then allow the thoughts to simply dissipate. It should be a relaxing and gentle process. A few seconds after you have dismissed one thought you will find your mind has found another to contemplate. Allow that one to slowly dissolve away as well. Over time you will become practiced and skilled at this, but initially do not become too concerned if you have trouble with this process. It is definitely a learned skill that simply takes practice. Eventually you will be able to have periods during which your mind is essentially blank and your body is profoundly relaxed.
- Spend a good period of time in this meditative state. Perhaps count one hundred slow breaths as an initial level. Later increase the count. Then try to practice long enough to reach a totally relaxed state without counting (after all, counting requires some level of conscious thought). Some people simply practice until they feel they are done, while others set a discrete timer to gently nudge them out of their meditation. Do whatever works for you and your time constraints for meditating.
- Now slowly allow conscious thoughts to reenter your mind. Become aware again of what you plan to do next and how you feel overall. After a period slowly open your eyes and prepare to rise. There is no hurry. Rise when you feel comfortable and motivated to get to your feet.
It should be noted that this is a simple and generic form of meditation. It does not involve a mantra nor any spiritual or ceremonial aspects that are often associated with meditation. It is not meant to expose you to fundamental truths about the human condition or to provide a way of achieving renewed purpose or self-actualization. What is discussed above is simply a relaxation and mental discipline that will help you achieve a heightened sense of awareness of your surroundings and your current physical and mental state. It’s a good place to start. You are of course free to explore other forms of meditation if you desire.
Zanshin is the concept of relaxed awareness. In practice Zanshin can be utilized in various ways and how one thinks of Zanshin can vary from one martial arts style to another. In Tensoku Ryu we believe all of these conditions are relevant and should be employed whenever possible.
In many styles Zanshin is considered to be a state of awareness that is invoked when one has finished dealing with an opponent. One adopts a relaxed but alert posture and then soaks in the surrounding sights, sounds, and feelings that might indicate an additional movement by the opponent or an attack from a different opponent. It is an intentional moment of forced awareness. Without this awareness one might continue focusing on the first opponent and not detect another evolving event that requires attention. Aikido commonly uses Zanshin in this context. It is also found in many forms of Iaido.
In other styles Zanshin is intended to represent constant and total awareness. This generally refers to awareness of not only the opponent, but everything else that is occurring in the vicinity. One should be constantly relaxed and able to respond appropriately at any moment to any new development. Various Karate styles use this definition of Zanshin as do more highly controlled and mentally disciplined martial arts such as Kyudo (Japanese archery).
Within Tensoku Ryu we believe these are both relevant. Being aware and relaxed are key elements for success in any situation. We would also offer another situation where forced awareness is quite beneficial. One could argue it is part of either of the two previous definitions, but we see it a little differently.
If someone is attacking it is often quite easy to step aside using a neutral stepping pattern. You maintain distance from the opponent while also moving so a subsequent attack is more difficult for the opponent. When the opponent attempts to strike a second time, you again move to another neutral position. But you do all of this movement in a conscious Zanshin state. Being relaxed helps you move effortlessly from one position to another. Being aware allows you to logically assess the skills and capabilities of your opponent. It also allows you to notice if someone else is suddenly moving in your general direction. Now, after a couple of brief interchanges you have some idea of how you might best proceed with your escape or potential offensive actions. This level of reasoned assessment will only be possible if you consciously adopt a Zanshin state of relaxed awareness.
See Without Looking
I am often asked how I can see what is going on when I’m in close contact with another practitioner. The person asking the question has correctly observed that when you are this close to another person your vision is limited by visual obstructions (faces, arms, etc.) and by the short distances which may impact focus and field of view. This question is good because it suggests the person asking it is paying attention and entertaining a more detailed view of a dynamic situation.
The answer is that I don’t really pay much attention to my eyesight at close range. I don’t ignore anything I see, but I don’t seek to use vision as my primary sense. The thing I rely on most when in close contact is the sense of touch. Since I am in close contact with someone I have innumerable points of contact with the other person and use these contact points as movement and tension sensors. I do not need to look to see if the other person is moving his or her right arm, I can tell just by how his or her body feels against my various contact points. This enables me to “see” without looking. I can tell something very specific is happening without having to look at it. I simply know it immediately from how my entire body perceives it.
This is not a simple skill to develop. Like many other skills including moving to weakness and pressure point utilization, contact point analysis takes a long time to fully develop. You will not be required to demonstrate a blindfold test to see if you can identify what part of a body is moving without looking at it. In reality you want to use every available sense, vision included, to understand and monitor what is happening. But you will want to start paying particular attention when someone moves while in close contact so that you can begin to accurately perceive these movements without having to look for them. This is definitely a learned skill; one that takes a very long time to develop but that is of immeasurable benefit when manipulating and controlling an opponent.
If you find you are suddenly involved in a conflict you did not invite then you will want to do whatever is necessary to escape the situation, thwart your opponent’s actions and intent, or effectively destroy the opponent’s ability or willingness to continue. Each of these goals can be aided by the use of unexpected actions on your part. Many of these would be considered gross or impolite, but hey, you are in a conflict and must ensure you are not victimized.
Here is a list of unexpected actions that you might consider if you find someone is unexpectedly attacking you. These should not be considered trivial trickery. These actions will likely cause the opponent to undergo some form of reflex action that you will then want to use to your advantage. Any item on this list should be immediately followed by an escaping, thwarting, or attacking action of some sort that will depend on the circumstances of the encounter.
- Spit into the opponent’s face. Even someone in the midst of an attack may react by attempting to avoid the spray. This also works very well if you are in direct contact with the opponent in a situation such as you will find in a close quarters conflict.
- Throw a hot or cold liquid onto the attacker. If you happen to be holding a cup of coffee or some soda use the contents to affect the structure and resolve of your attacker. If you have targeted the face then the opponent may employ his or her hands to wipe away the liquid. This provides you with an excellent opportunity.
- If you are holding an object (shopping bag, purse, tool, gym bag, etc.) then throw this in the direction of the opponent. He or she will likely block the bag in an attempt to avoid contact. That blocking movement represents your opportunity.
- Make sudden exaggerated body and facial motions. Adding a bit of crazy laughter is of added benefit. I think of this in terms of what an insane or hysterical cartoon character might do. Making these movements as someone initiates an attack may give them the momentary pause you desire. Just be sure your unexpected movements do not root or otherwise prevent you from moving should your opponent continue with his or her attack despite your efforts.
- If you have time you might elect to pick your nose and present the resulting treasure as an obstacle the opponent would need to overcome should they elect to attack. If they attack, follow through with your threat, placing the jewel in a most unpleasant location. Take advantage of any reflex action.
- You might also simply spit or blow your nose into your open hand and present that as a guaranteed gift ointment that the attacker will receive should he or she attack. Smear the result all over the face should the attack ensue and then use the same hand to take advantage of any discovered evolving weakness on the part of the opponent.
- Begin behaving strangely. Move in what appear to be random and spontaneous movements. Dip, twist, stand, sway, weave, or otherwise perform a series of what seem to be uncoordinated and sporadic movements. This is part of the basis for Monkey Kung Fu. These seemingly random movements may take your opponent by surprise and cause him or her to pause momentarily to decide how to handle the situation. Don’t let them have long to think. You should not attempt this particular methodology unless you have spent some time learning how to perform such movements without rooting or immobilizing yourself such that you present a striking opportunity for your opponent.
- A sudden sneeze, hiccup, Kiai, or other abrupt sound may cause a momentary hesitation on the part of the opponent. These, like the other examples above, are not guaranteed to be effective, but as a devise of last resort they are worth a try. Naturally you will not want to give the opponent time to consider how to move following the pause.
- Look just to the side and beyond the opponent with a knowing but artificially subdued facial expression. This is an old trick intended to make the opponent think someone may be behind them. Because it’s an old trick many people will not fall for it, especially someone who is street wise. But, you may not know the level of sophistication of your opponent and it doesn’t hurt to try such a simple maneuver. Even someone who is an experienced street fighter might find it hard to resist taking a quick look toward the rear. You might be sufficiently convincing at that moment in time and initiate a bit of paranoia on the part of your opponent. That would afford you a moment of opportunity.
- Quickly look beyond your opponent in a nervous manner and yell, “Cops!” Take advantage of your escape opportunity.
This is hardly a complete set of unexpected actions you could employ. The purpose of this list is to suggest a variety of ways in which you could momentarily distract an opponent and thereby provide yourself an opportunistic advantage. You can, and should, consider many other methods you might utilize to distract a potential adversary. Then perfect the use of a small subset of these that you could readily employ at a moment’s notice.
You may find that some of these actions would be of benefit in some sparring activities. Obviously you will not want to spit on your sparring partner, but other less grotesque actions could be of use at various times during a sparring match. Some of these actions might be better classified as feints, but some might more accurately fall into the general realm of trickery or unexpected actions.
Take “Grand Masters” With a Grain of Salt
If you look around it will not take you long to find someone who is calling himself or herself the Grand Master of some martial art. Perhaps they have others who refer to them by some other equally reverent title. When I hear someone has taken such a title I am immediately suspicious. It does not mean the person does not deserve such a title, but it is my view that there are many people who adopt the title inappropriately.
If someone is twenty-three years old and has adopted the title of Grand Master I begin to wonder how much training, experience, and wisdom a person needs in order to make claim to such a title. If a person has only studied one single style of martial arts in their entire career how magnificent is the title of grand master? When I hear someone has the title of Grand Master then I’d like to know more about his or her background.
None of this suggests you should treat someone who has taken or been given the title Grand Master with disrespect. But it also suggests you do not need to provide the person with undue respect. It is only in your dealings with or observations of such a person that you can assess for yourself if the person warrants their title. There is never cause to be rude or disparaging to such a person, but you can hold your accolades in check until you have a better appreciation for the person underlying the title. Some will certainly deserve your respect. Others may not.
In no way do I want to disparage the accomplishments of anyone who has attained such a title. There are many people who I think deserve such a title. But there are many whose claim to such a title might best be referred to as tenuous. It should also be noted that the level of knowledge and experience between any two grand masters can vary greatly.
As for myself I would be most displeased to be called Grand Master, Hanshi, or any similar title. I do not feel I would ever know enough to warrant such a title. I am the founder of Tensoku Ryu and Sensei, nothing more.
Light Offers Advantages
When you are confronted by a potential assailant there are many things you might wish to consider. The local environment, other people nearby, the demeanor of the assailant, and the presence of any potential weapons are but a few. It is unlikely that in fast moving situation you will have time to properly assess all of these considerations. But buying some time to address these may be advantageous.
Another area of consideration is the availability of light. You might want ample light so that you can properly assess some of the other considerations, such as whether or not the other person is attempting to hide a weapon. Moving so that your opponent must follow you into more revealing light might be a wise course of action. Having ample light will also allow you to better monitor your assailant’s expressions so you have a better sense of what they might be planning or when they may be initiating some type of movement.
But light can be more than a passive benefit. If there is a source of focused light such as the sun or a bright spotlight then establishing a relative position such that your opponent must stare into the light will provide you with advantages. Now your opponent will find it difficult to monitor subtle changes in your body posture or orientation.
If you are confronted on the street some dark evening then light may be hard to come by and any light you do find is unlikely to be sufficient to either aid the more subtle aspects of your vision or to effectively blind your opponent. Nonetheless light can be beneficial here as well. Naturally having additional light provides you with better vision in a dark environment. But more importantly it allows others to see what is transpiring, allowing them to either provide assistance or summon help. Neither is guaranteed of course, but moving so that you and the potential assailant are visible even in soft light could be advantageous.
When you are confronted by someone try to buy enough time to assess the available lighting conditions and then move to position yourself and the assailant so that the existing light benefits you the most. No doubt this can be difficult if you are suddenly confronted, but any advantage you can derive from the ambient lighting will of benefit.
Another possible use of light is by employing a bright tactical flashlight. These lights provide a powerful beam that disrupts a person’s vision, providing you with an opportunity to escape. These lights have several advantages. Firstly the bright light is quite disturbing and can actually be painful on the recipient’s eyes as they struggle to compensate with the sudden flood of light. Secondly, the light makes it difficult for the assailant to see anything in any detail other than the bright column of light streaming into his or her eyes. Thirdly, the assailant is suddenly forced into a defensive posture as they attempt to recoil from the light.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the assailant’s pupils will close suddenly and dramatically in response to the bright light. As we have previously studied, it will now take several minutes for the pupils to return to a condition that will allow normal vision in the ambient lighting conditions. This should provide you with adequate time to extract yourself from the situation. Some of these lights have the ability to pulse or strobe the light beam which makes these lights even more disruptive to an opponent’s vision.
If you find that you must frequently walk in locations that are dark and potentially dangerous then you may wish to acquire a tactical flashlight. You should check to ensure local laws do not prohibit or limit your use of these lights and of course obey the laws in your jurisdiction. But if the lights are allowed then you may wish to acquire one and practice deploying it repeatedly until this is second nature. You would not want to grab the light in haste and shine it into your own eyes.