Lessons in Mindfulness 2.3


frees the heart


opens the heart


  fills the heart


Conscious Relaxation

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

peaceful during

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.

     Man’s desires

 are like the small

   metal coins that

he carries around

 in his pocket. The

  more he has, the

  more they weigh

         him down.

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

your body.

A good day

is not a day

without chaos,

but rather a

day in which

we remain

calm within the


    The only true

        voyage of

 discovery is not

     to go to new

    places, but to

have other eyes.

Marcel Proust

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

to become

who you think

you should be.

Relaxation is

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

      What primarily

separates you from

    your true self is

restlessness. To be

 still is to tune in to

           the infinite.

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


tranquility of

heart is his

who cares for

neither praise

or blame.

Thomas a


 Think and act

   from inner

     trust and


  rather than

   from fears

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.”


Conscious Relaxation

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

say, “7”.

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

does things

makes many

mistakes, but

he never makes

the biggest

mistake of all

– doing nothing.



  Happiness is

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.


Conscious Relaxation

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,

even when

crushed giving


Recommended Reading

Mans Search for Meaning

Viktor E. Frankl

Benjamin Franklin’s the Art of Virtue:

His formula for Successful Living

Benjamin Franklin