frees the heart
opens the heart
ﬁlls the heart
Relax, Focus, Relax
Relaxation is a crucial component of practice. No matter
what techniques we’re practicing, no matter what drills we’re
performing, relaxation is the beginning of all technique.
Relax the breath, relax the body, relax the mind. It is, in fact,
the underlying mental state with which we must approach
our practice at all times. Look at it this way. Practicing forms,
basics, one-steps; sparring a bag, sparring with a partner
— no matter the activity, we need to be fully present to be
able to execute the art correctly. Technique can only improve,
understanding can only grow, when we are utterly mindful
of what we are doing in each moment. Otherwise, repetition
is not a learning experience, it’s just repetitive. And to be
fully present in the moment, we need to relax.
Yes, we all understand the importance of being able to
perform technique with power, with incredible explosiveness.
But you have to appreciate the interrelationship between
explosive speed, power and relaxation. To perform any strike,
kick or lock with power, you must go from 0% tension to
100% tension just before the moment of focus, the moment
of contact. You have to maintain that 100% focused tension
as you drive 2-6 inches through your target, and then go
back to 0% tension as you withdraw the strike. We also
understand that greater speed helps to create greater force.
But to really generate speed, the body has to be relaxed. You
cannot throw a punch or a kick quickly if your body is tense.
An instructor can tell you to pivot, rotate, or ﬁx your stance,
put your hand here, re-cock your leg. But how do you teach
people to relax? It’s a feeling. It’s a state of body and a state
of mind. Most students come in and they swear that they are
relaxed. But, they have at least 30% tension in their arms and
their legs and their torsos. They just don’t understand the
concept; they don’t know what 100% relaxation feels like.
If you have 30% tension in your body, then even if you throw
your technique perfectly, the best you can do is to go from
30% tension to 100% tension. The maximum power you
can achieve comes from about 70% focus. You need to be
completely relaxed until the moment of focus, then drive
through with total focus, and relax again for the next strike.
This is part of the rationale behind Bruce Lee’s famous “1
inch punch.” Relax, focus, relax.
To win all of your
battles is not the
goal, to remain
your battles is the
To relax the body, you must relax the mind
Most of our tension comes from mental stress and anxiety
that we hold in our bodies. You’re not going to relax your
body as long as your mind is active, worrying, anticipating,
and judging. We see this all the time — when a student is
studying, when they’re really trying to ﬁgure out a new
concept, when their mind is very focused on what they
are trying to learn, they tense their muscles, their posture
becomes terrible, and you can see the stress in their body.
There’s a clear mind-body connection. So, to be completely
relaxed, you not only must discipline the body, you must have
discipline of the mind.
How do we gain discipline over the mind? At this point, I’m
sure you all know the answer to that question. You simply
must meditate. When you still your mind and slow your
breath, the body starts to relax. You have to practice your
diaphragmatic breathing, because breathing deeply and
slowly from the secca tunda will lead to relaxed breathing.
are like the small
metal coins that
he carries around
in his pocket. The
more he has, the
more they weigh
This is an absolute: for the body to be relaxed, the mind must
be relaxed. When the mind is tense, the body is tense.
So what causes the mind to be tense? Anxious thoughts.
Sensory stimulation combines with memory to create
thoughts that, in turn, create anticipation, imagination and
anxiety about what happened or didn’t happen or might
happen or won’t happen. You need to remain here, in the
present, and to do that you need the ability to take control
of your thoughts. If you have discipline over your mind, you
can think about whatever you want for as long as you want.
You can focus for as long a period as you desire. If you have
control over your mind, you have the ability to experience
the senses or to unplug them. When you have control, you
can engage in pleasant memory, or fantasy, or imagination
when you want to, and still be focused here in the moment.
This is why I insist that meditation is the foundation of
martial arts — because there is such an inseparable link
between the mind and the body.
How far you go in life depends on your being tender
with the young, compassionate with the aged,
sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the
weak and strong. Because someday in life you will
have been all of these.
George Washington Carver
Find Stillness Within Motion
Say you’re practicing with another student — you’re sparring
with them and you miss a block. You get hit. Your natural
reaction is to tense up. The body has been injured, or at least
assaulted. Maybe a little fear kicks in, and your mind starts
jumping around – “Darn it, I missed that one. Geez, that was
fast. What’s he going to throw next? Quick, hit him.” As you
start to think and you start to anticipate, your body and mind
become less and less relaxed. If you recognize that you’ve
lost focus, you then start to get angry at yourself. More
distracting thoughts. Each thought infuses the body with a
little more tension, a little more stress. More tension equals
less speed and you become a little slower and you make
another error and soon, there’s no way you can function at
your skill level. You’re just throwing junk, trying not to get
Stilling the mind, relaxing the body, calming the spirit — this
is not just for silent moments sitting quietly in a darkened
room or beside a peaceful river. Yes, this is where we learn
to meditate, where conditions are optimal for stillness. But,
unless you plan to live in solitude, you need to bring these
principles into your life in general. You need to be able
to relax and remain centered during the most energetic
moments in your practice, the most frenzied moments of
your day-to-day life. When the punches and the kicks are
coming at you in full-out sparring, the degree of relaxation
and stillness you can achieve in your mind and in your
body will determine how quickly, how powerfully and how
efﬁciently you will be able to perform. When the phone
is ringing off the hook, and the client is annoyed, and the
boss wants you at a meeting in 30 minutes and they’re
calling from school because your kid scraped her leg in the
playground — your effectiveness, success and ultimately the
very quality of your entire life is determined by the degree of
relaxation and stillness you can achieve in your mind and in
A good day
is not a day
but rather a
day in which
calm within the
The only true
discovery is not
to go to new
places, but to
have other eyes.
Take control of your mind,
take control of your life
Most of us are careful about what we put into our bodies.
We understand that tobacco and alcohol can impair our
health. While we may not always eat correctly, we’re
generally aware of what constitutes a healthy or unhealthy
diet. We know we’re supposed to get enough sleep, stretch
and work out, etc. We’re far less concerned or aware of the
importance of what we put into our minds. But this is so
important. If we want our minds to function at their best and
stay relaxed, then we have to be very careful of how we treat
our minds, and what we put in there.
Most of us watch way too much television. And the nature
of television in recent years is to create loud, shocking
statements and images. What happens is that 3-4 hours a day
of bright, loud, dazzling words and images ﬁlls our minds
with anxiety and anticipation and fantasy, and our bodies
with stress and tension. To consciously relax, we must practice
clearing our minds of all this noise. It would be helpful to this
process if there weren’t quite so much noise to contend with.
Take control of what goes into your mind.
Most of us have jobs that are stressful, full of deadlines
and last minute emergencies, surprises from the boss or
the client. If martial arts is more than just punching and
kicking, more than just winning contests — then it must
be applicable off the mats, outside the dojo as well. What
does it mean that we call this the practice of martial arts?
It means that when you practice techniques in the dojo,
you are learning so much more than how to throw a punch
correctly. You’re learning how to focus, how to relax, how to
coordinate mind and body. You’re learning how to remain
calm under stress. You’re learning how to work hard with
all your concentration, yet not so hard as to hurt yourself.
You’re learning to work with a partner and you’re becoming
sensitive to motion and energy, both within yourself and in
the world around you.
These are all valuable skills outside the dojo as well, in our
everyday life. Don’t imagine that your practice begins and
ends at edge of the mat. When you remain calm in a crisis
at work and patiently solve the problem, you are practicing
martial arts. When you have a difference of opinion with
your teenager (or with your parents) and you insist on
maintaining the energy of conversation and not that of
confrontation, you are practicing martial arts. When you
can’t sleep at 3:00 a.m. because of all the hectic activity in
your life, and you patiently watch the breath and calm your
mind, you are discovering what it means to be a martial
artist, in ways far more meaningful than merely winning a
punching and kicking contest.
Tension is trying
who you think
you should be.
who you are.
Just sleeping and taking vacations is not enough
Most people believe that they are relaxed when they sleep.
This may be as relaxed as they get, but I would argue that,
for many people, sleep is not as restful as they imagine.
Dreaming is supposed to be restorative, but we all know
that what we see and hear and think during the day affects
our dreams at night. Dreaming involves a subconscious
recognition of the thoughts that are already at play in
your mind. Regardless of the state of consciousness, it’s still
your mind. Do you meditate before sleep? Do you still your
mind for 15-20 minutes before you let the dreams begin
So sleep isn’t necessarily complete rest. Now, you might
say, “Well, when I go on vacation, I can really relax — I’m
getting away from the stress of my life.” Well, there are
separates you from
your true self is
restlessness. To be
still is to tune in to
two problems with this. First, at best it’s a temporary ﬁx,
since you can’t live on vacation. Secondly, have you ever
gone somewhere that you really planned and mapped out
— you were going to be with the people you loved and it
was going to be wonderful, and then you got there and it
just was a mess? You know, the weather was bad, the food
was bad, you argued with your loved ones, it just didn’t
work out. We put a lot of energy into our getaways, we have
a lot of emotional investment in everything being perfect
and, sometimes, stuff just happens. It’s no one’s fault, but
things don’t work out. And then the vacation becomes more
stressful than day-to-day life. How many times have you
heard people say “Man, I need a vacation to recuperate from
my vacation.” So physically getting away isn’t necessarily a
means of relaxation either.
We need to be able to achieve a calm peaceful state on a
day-to-day basis, here in the present, in order to function
at complete capacity. On the mats or off. We need to truly
be able to relax our body and relax our mind at a moments
notice. It’s your body; it’s your mind. You should have the
skills to do that. Take control of your breath; the state of the
breath reﬂects the state of the mind. Take control of your
mind; the state of the mind reﬂects the state of the body.
Martial arts is based on sensitivity and awareness. It is truly a
path that encompasses your entire life.
When we are no longer able to change a situation,
we are challenged to change ourselves.
Viktor E. Frankl
Once, there was a great martial artist
that was challenged by another school.
Everyone recognized him as one of the
greatest masters alive, but his reputation
was that of a wise teacher, not that of a
ﬁghter. He was initially inclined to refuse the challenge,
but the stakes were such that whoever won would be able
to affect the perception of martial arts dramatically. The
outcome of this challenge could literally change the way a
whole generation of young people viewed the art. And so
this master decided that he would accept the challenge and
participate in the contest.
The day came when the ﬁght was to take place and the
whole town shut down and all the people gathered around
a raised platform in the main square. The young man from
the other school stepped up. He was in his mid 20’s, six feet
tall, rippling muscles. He was strong and fast, very powerful;
he had been training his whole life. He was a great ﬁghter,
a great technician. And the old master, in his mid-seventies,
walked up slowly and deliberately, leaning on his cane. His
students had to help him up onto the platform, and the
contrast was ridiculous. He looked like a little old man facing
a professional ﬁghter. If it were anyone else, the match
would have been called off — it just didn’t make any sense.
But such was the respect that the master commanded, that
no one dared suggest that he might have been mistaken in
accepting this challenge.
The master set down his cane, took a couple breaths, the
two men bowed to one another and the ﬁght began. The
heart is his
who cares for
Think and act
based on past
young man moved around a little bit, thinking, “why is he
just standing there?” The master stood relaxed, hands at his
side, head bent, seemingly resigned. Everyone in the crowd
thought, “He’s gonna get killed. He’s not even taking a
stance. He’s so relaxed.”
The young man kept dancing around the ring, and the old
man never moved.
“Oh well,” the young man thought, “I have to get this over
with. I have to just hit him.”
So he moved in quickly and threw a very powerful punch,
and the old man suddenly moved so fast that the crowd
could barely register the movement. Before the young man’s
punch landed, before he could even begin the next part of
his combination, the old master leaped up, hit the young
man once to the head, once to the body and once to the
groin, then stepped away and bent to retrieve his cane as the
young ﬁghter crumpled to the ground. The master walked to
the edge of the stage and was helped down before walking
away slowly and deliberately.
Later, when asked by his senior students how he was able to
defeat the young ﬁghter, he responded, “That young man
was very busy. He was busy considering the ﬁght with an old
man in the ring, and was busy with his movement and his
technique. His mind was very restless and his body was tense.
I just stayed relaxed, I was just waiting. A moment would
come. The point is, you must be completely relaxed — body
and mind. Only then can you achieve maximum power and
speed in an instant. Only then can you fully take advantage
of the moment when it arises.”
This month, as you practice, work on being completely
relaxed before and after each technique, between each rep
or combination. Whether you are practicing basics, forms,
partner work, bag work, no matter the activity or drill, work
on being relaxed all month. We have seen that relaxation is
more than just a physical concept, it is mental as well. As you
relax, you will notice both your speed and power increasing.
Begin the activity this month by rating your level of
relaxation in day to day life. On a scale of 1-10 — one being
frustrated, anxious, upset, tense and 10 being relaxed, calm,
peaceful — where would you rate yourself on average?
Naturally, we all oscillate up and down the scale, having
good days and bad but, generally speaking, where would
you rate yourself? Be as honest as possible, and try to stay
away from the “quick 7.” A “quick 7” describes the person
who doesn’t consider the question and gives a quick answer.
Not wanting to be too optimistic or too pessimistic, they
After you have rated yourself, ask someone that knows
you well, a friend or a loved one, how they would rate you
using the same criteria and scale. Take both numbers into
consideration as you begin the month. Commit to become
more relaxed, calm, and peaceful. Map out a strategy that
you will use this month to experience greater states of
The man who
he never makes
mistake of all
– doing nothing.
the harvest of
a quiet mind.
calmness and happiness. Your plan may include meditation,
breathing techniques, afﬁrmations such as “I am calm,
peaceful, relaxed, and centered,” harder workouts, better
time management. You can choose as many techniques as
you would like, but this month your goal is to experience and
maintain physical and mental relaxation.
At the beginning of the last week of the month reassess
yourself, using the same criteria and scale and then write
a paragraph to a page on your discoveries. Include the
techniques you used, as well as your beginning and ending
score, and any other signiﬁcant details.
The sword has to be more than a simple weapon; it
has to be an answer to life’s questions. And to draw
the sword correctly, you must be relaxed.
In the West, we view ourselves in duality; the mind and the
body. This division is not easily understood in the East, where
the attitude toward mental and physical health is much more
holistic. With this outlook, mind and body are integrated
parts of the same whole. Consequently, if body and mind
are intimately connected, the state of one always affects the
state of the other, i.e., it is impossible to be physically relaxed
while mentally tense. Mental tension manifests as stress,
anxiety, anger, etc., all of which then show up in the body.
Many people claim that they are more productive, creative,
and work better under pressure. Deadlines may often
keep us on track and remain focused, but don’t confuse
productivity and creativity with cramming the night before.
Procrastination will never lead to your best work.
It is when you relax enough to let the energy come through
you but not from you that the magic happens, and to get out
of the way you simply must be relaxed and open. But don’t
confuse relaxation with laziness. And don’t associate a high
state of mental activity with anxiety. You need to develop
greater sensitivity between body and mind.
This month, work hard at being relaxed as you go about your
life and practice. By now you should be good at practicing
the tension and relaxation exercises from lesson 3 in module
1. If this exercise is not one you use regularly, review it and
use it this month. As you concentrate deeply and tense
each individual part of the body, your mind should be so
fully engaged in the technique that no other thoughts can
interrupt. At the completion of the technique, you should
be able to experience a deep state of mental and physical
relaxation. Carrying this into your day to day life, stay calmly
active and actively calm.
You should be
like a ﬂower,
Mans Search for Meaning
Viktor E. Frankl
Benjamin Franklin’s the Art of Virtue:
His formula for Successful Living