Lessons in Mindfulness 1.10

When Are You A Martial Artist?

Lessons in Mindfulness

  The study of martial arts is a path of personal

growth, encompassing body, mind and spirit.

The Lessons in Mindfulness program is designed

to support and supplement your physical practice,

to motivate you and inspire you on ever deeper levels.

The difference

between sport and

art, is primarily in

motivation, attitude

and understanding.


More than a belt

    Once you begin to study martial arts, when are you a

martial artist? Do you qualify after your first introductory

class? Or are you a martial artist after you enroll in a school

and become an active student? Maybe you are not a

martial artist until you learn a few techniques well. Do you

have to take your first test? Are you a martial artist when

you reach green belt? And, of course, all black belts are

martial artists, aren’t they?

    This is a difficult question. An easier question is,

 “When do you think that you are a martial artist?” To

answer the question, we must examine the true meaning of

being a real martial artist. Frankly, most people believe the

moment is when they put on the uniform. Becoming a

martial artist, however, requires much more than wearing a

uniform. Participating in exercise fitness classes, throwing

punches and kicks to the latest pop music doesn’t make

you a martial artist either. Neither will you become a martial

artist by training with bouncers and bodyguards, cage

match bullies, and bad-tempered tough guys capable of

pounding someone into dust.

Are you collecting techniques or perfecting the details?

         The aim in this topic is not to give a definitive

answer to the question of when you become a real martial

artist. Instead, the intent is to offer ideas that encourage

you to think about your practice. After years of serious

study, you will begin to profoundly understand what it

means to be a martial artist.

    In the beginning of your practice, no matter the style or

discipline, you learn basic techniques. Basic techniques

are the building blocks or foundation of the system.

Through continuous repetition of the basics, you will

become a technician. Adding intermediate or even

advanced techniques to your repertoire does not make

you an artist. You simply become a technician with more

tools. Many people develop habits of consciously or

unconsciously collecting new techniques. Indeed, learning

new techniques is exciting…new punches, new kicks, and

new forms. But, you must learn to enjoy the basics. In

order to develop the essence of the art, you must learn to

concentrate on the details. As you practice, ask yourself,

“Is my hand right? Am I striking with the right surface? Am

I relaxed until the moment of focus? Did I drive through my

target? Did I recover quickly? Is my stance right?”

    Perfecting all the details is an important aspect of the

art. After all, a student who has practiced more than five

years should know, not only more techniques, but his basic

skills should be better than one who has practiced for only a

year. A student of ten years should have even better basics

than one who has practiced for five years…after twenty

years, better still.

Calmness and

execution are both

important parts of

the process we call

martial arts.

A fighter is not an artist, and an artist doesn’t have to

be a fighter. But, to be a martial artist, you have to be

both a fighter and an artist.

Martial arts…not martial arts

Other artists

begin with a blank

canvas, or a piece

of paper, but the

martial artist begins

with himself.

     Two words describe our practice: ‘Martial’ and ‘arts’.

The definition of the first word, ‘martial’, is certain. The

meaning is, “of, pertaining to, or suggesting war,” and

unfortunately describes the prevalent view of martial arts.

Today, most people relate martial arts to violence of some

sort. We usually ignore or forget the second word, ‘art,’

in the context of martial arts. Art suggests spontaneous

creativity, a changing of consciousness, beauty and

elegance. Art inspires us and adds to our life.

Martial arts or fighting?

     So what distinguishes martial arts from any other

violence and fighting techniques performed since the

beginning of time? Martial arts began in the sixth century

with Tamo Bodidharma, a Shaolin monk. In a simple

monastery in Hunan Province, China, Tamo realized that

martial techniques, if practiced with the correct mindset,

could be used for much more than just self-defense.

     Tamo pushed the monks to challenge themselves to

greater heights, forcing them to break through limitations

and develop their bodies in remarkable ways. By concen-

trating to master difficult physical moves, students learned

to better focus their minds. More importantly, they

cultivated powerful discipline and will, which changed their

self-image. The earlier picture of simple monks, overweight

and lethargic, transformed to one of acutely focused

individuals, living up to their personal convictions and

beliefs. Under the guidance of Tamo Bodidharma, these

first practitioners integrated deep introspection, meditation

and physical techniques to create a complete practice that

is now known as martial arts.

Bringing ancient principles into modern life

        By practicing martial arts, as those monks did so

long ago, you also begin to realize your own power in life.

Diligently practicing the art, you change your self-image,

becoming more confident in all situations. You see yourself

as strong willed and focused. You know that you are

mentally tough, and able to overcome obstacles and

achieve goals. A real martial artist is a martial artist in and

outside of the dojo. You do not become a superman or

superwoman, never hesitating or fearing anything, but

rather a person of discipline, fully conscious and aware of

all thoughts, feelings, emotions, moods and actions. In all

moments, you maintain control, or at the very least, you are

able to regain control of yourself quickly.

When the concern

for victory and

defeat completely

falls away, all that

is left is you.

What you then

express is art.

Don’t think so much

   Artists use the term “blocked,” to describe periods when

they are unable to move forward. Writers can’t write,

painters can’t paint, and musicians cannot compose. This

block usually comes from an overwhelming or nagging

pressure originating in the mind. Uncontrolled thoughts

manifest as self-talk such as, “I used to be creative, but I

fear that I’ll never have another good idea. I don’t feel

inspired-what if people don’t like what I do? What if I fail?”

    As a martial artist executing a form, you might tell your-

self, “Everyone is watching, don’t screw up. Here comes the

hard part. Wow, I did that really well!” During sparring, your

inner dialogue might consist of anticipating your partner’s

moves and planning how you will respond. “A back fist is

coming next…he always throws a back fist after this

technique. Here comes a roundhouse kick…as soon as he

moves, I’ll hit him,” and so on and so on. The inner chatter

constantly flows, so we must deliberately train our minds to

slow down and stay in the moment.

Surrender to your practice

   Art flows when

    your breath is

slow, your mind is

clear, and you are

    out of the way.

     Our desire to perform or produce excellence is precisely

what inhibits our art. If you are concerned with ‘it’ coming

from you, then you are not able to get out of the way and

let ‘it’ happen. For ‘it’ to come, you must become a

spectator of your performance, rather than merely focusing

on the outcome. How does one reach the state of being and

not doing? Ueshiba Sensei said, “Let spirit flow through

you.” You must learn to meditate deeply, clearing the mind

of all thought, and remain still. Only then are you able to

bring a calm peaceful state into your practice. By keeping

the mind calmly active and actively calm, the artistresponds,

rather than anticipates. The artist harmonizes and does not

force. Art comes without effort. Surrender to the practice,

without judgment, and just be.

Changing consciousness

    A Zendo (a place where the philosophy of Zen is shared)

inspires change of consciousness, but does not teach

martial application. Self-defense teaches martial application,

but does not change consciousness. Real martial arts

taught in a dojo (a place of enlightenment) uses martially

effective techniques to teach self-defense and to change

consciousness. The Japanese tea ceremony, performed

correctly, produces a fine cup of tea in the end, but the

primary aim is to inspire one to be more mindful…to

experience life fully, moment by moment.

In that moment when you are a martial artist,

spirit is flowing through you, raising your

consciousness. Strive to stay in that state,

consciously and consistently, throughout life.

The art comes through you…not from you

    A martial artist understands and consistently uses the

principles, both physical and mental, of his art to raise

consciousness and increase mindfulness in every act. With

great compassion and humility, a martial artist recognizes

that the art comes through him but not from him. Being a

hindrance, he has but one job: To remove himself. Bruce

Lee said, “Let it happen.”

    So, can one simply proclaim that he is a martial artist

and thus become one? Or are we only martial artists, when

we learn to get out of the way and allow the practice to

transform us?

    A student asked a great master, “Sir, do you know

martial arts? The master responded, “No, I study martial

arts, and when I am still, it flows through me.”

    Remember that you cannot skip steps. All great artists

of any discipline were first great technicians. After years of

dedication, unceasingly perfecting their skill, and learning

to still their mind, art found them.

The aim of art is to

represent not the

outward appearance

of things, but the

inward significance.


  Greg had practiced martial arts for many years.

He was in his early thirties and was a corporate

executive for a large company. His position required him to

relocate every few years. In some cases, his appointments

were only temporary. In other instances, he remained in the

new area for years. His family was accustomed to his life style

and took the moves in stride. Yet again, the day came when a

superior informed him that he would be moving to another

area of the country…this time, thousands of miles away.

The true work of art

   is but a shadow of

the divine perfection.


 As always, within the first week of the move, Greg looked for

a new dojo. He really enjoyed the workout and discipline in

martial arts. Because of his relocations, he had experienced

different styles of martial arts. He had practiced Chinese

styles, Japanese, Korean, Indonesian and Okinawan styles.

After researching schools in the new area, he found one close

to his office and joined.

     Each time, Greg began again as a white belt. Rank

wasn’t important. In fact, he just enjoyed practicing for

himself. He was a white belt with great etiquette and

discipline. Adapting to and embracing his new environment,

Greg fit in very quickly.

     Six months later, several co-workers who had transferred

with him asked, “Greg, what are you doing differently? You

are so calm and never appear stressed. You are more

pleasant to work with and more productive than ever.”

Another commented, “We have known you for years. You

are just not the same person. What are you doing?”

     Greg answered, “I have been practicing martial arts.”

     One of his friends said, “You’ve been practicing martial

arts for years. That can’t be it.”

     Greg responded, “My new instructor teaches the

philosophical and mental aspects of the art.”

     One of the men said, “So, you’re learning history of

martial arts? How does that help you?”

     Greg sat down and started to quietly explain, “No,

actually it is much more than history. My instructor

teaches how to take practice into everyday life. I am

learning breathing techniques, and meditation techniques.

These techniques help me control my thoughts and

emotions, and have taught me not to separate my life from

my practice. For many years, I thought I was practicing mar-

tial arts. But, I was really just learning self-defense and getting

in shape.

    I realize that studying true martial arts causes physical and

mental changes. I could be transferred to another job location

at any time. But I can always take this knowledge with me, no

matter what style I practice. Punching, kicking, throwing and

grappling are just tools to help me discipline my body and

mind, so I can live a healthier and happier life. Before I

learned this, I was healthy, but not as happy. Learning to dis-

cipline my mind and control my thoughts has made all the dif-

ference in the world. Only now, do I really feel like a martial


Some people say

that art is an

escape from

reality, but

actually, it is

reality inspired.

Learn to meditate deeply. Be able to clear the mind of

all thought and remain still. Carry this calm peaceful

state into your practice. The artist responds and

does not anticipate. The artist harmonizes and does

not force. He allows the art to flow without effort.

The artist is too busy

     looking within to

     notice the score

  or hear the praise.


Reflect on your practice

     Write a two-page paper on why you practice martial arts.

What does it mean to you and what exactly are you getting

from it?

     Write down your thoughts from your heart and not your

head. There are no right or wrong reasons. Take your time

and write with passion and honesty. Very rarely will your

first draft be the final version. Enjoy this opportunity to

reflect and examine your practice.

     Make a copy to turn in to your instructor and keep one

for yourself.

 Once the fight begins

anything else that can

 be done is not worth

    the consideration.

The artist’s world is limitless. It can be found

anywhere, far from where he lives or a few feet

away. It is always with him.


Analyze Your Activities

   In this lesson, the technique is to analyze your activities

every day for at least one month. Spend ten minutes at the

end of each day to analyze your day—primarily your

thoughts and behavior. Ask yourself, “How did I faire


No great artist ever

sees things as the

masses. If he did,

he would cease to

be an artist.

Create a good list

On one side of a piece of paper list all of your good

thoughts, behaviors and intentions.

Create a bad list

On the other side list your negative shortcomings for the

day. These could be things that you said, thought or did that

cause you to feel sad, embarrassed, or ashamed. Also list

anything you wish you could do over or do differently.

Using the lists

After completing your lists, look for areas that you want to

improve. Analyze your positive column, as well as your neg-

ative. Vow to repeat your strengths, while you work on



• Don’t be too self-congratulatory or too hard on yourself.

• Use the technique to truly assess your thoughts and


• Reserve time each day to complete the exercise.

• For one month be very disciplined, not missing a day.

  In the end, the exercise develops your will and your follow-

  through ‘muscles’. Most people don’t stick with things long

  enough to see them through. Everyone has good

  intentions, but success or failure is often determined by

  the level of perseverance.

The artist belongs

to his work, not the

work to the artist.


Key Points

• Only spend about ten minutes a day on this technique.

  Longer periods of time make it a chore and increase the

  likelihood of skipping.

• As you are making your list, write down whatever comes

  to mind. Do not be concerned with its significance. Don’t

  struggle to remember things. If it matters, it will come to

  you easily.

• When you are finished, take a few minutes to recognize

  your strengths and weaknesses. Do not just toss out a list

  and be done with it.

• Perform the technique alone in a quiet relaxed place,

  free from distractions. Turn off the television, radio, or

  telephone. Contemplate deeply about your day.

• You can perform this technique before or after meditating.

  Some like to use this technique to empty the mind before

  meditation. Others meditate first to relax and calm the

  mind. Then, in the relaxed state, they do the technique.

• Be careful not to think about your list while you are



    Shining a spotlight on your thoughts and behaviors

encourages change. You’ll notice areas, which need

improvement, and you will reinforce positive thoughts and

tendencies. It also helps you to become a master over your

actions rather prisoner of your reactions.

Recommended Reading

*One Day One Lifetime—Kaicho T. Nakamura

The Way of a Warrior—Robert W. Smith

Aikido and Chinese Martial Arts—It’s Fundamental

Relations—Tetsutaka Sugawara

*Highly recommended

True art cannot be

measured, only

witnessed and


All art is simply an

expression of oneness

uniquely revealed.

No matter how great the artist, he is still just a tool

in the hands of the cosmic artist.