Lessons in Mindfulness 2.9

You may begin the

study of martial

arts and you may

quit the study of

martial arts, but

you can never

complete the study

of martial arts.


The Never-Ending Path of Martial Arts

Our culture puts a great deal of emphasis on

accomplishment. From a very young age, we are conditioned

to set goals and see them through. It begins in school, from

kindergarten on up. We’re taught to attain goals, then we’re

tested and given another goal. This pattern continues all

through our education, and follows us into our careers and

professions. Some of the most successful business people

around are champions at setting goals and completing them.

Picking a direction and seeing it through to a successful end.

Being able to reach the finish line thus becomes one of the

key qualities of a successful person.

While the ability to follow through and stay the course

is admirable, there is a problem with trying to relate this

attitude toward our practice of martial arts. In most activities,

once you have completed something, the natural question is

“What’s next?” What’s the next accomplishment? But martial

arts is not something that you’re trying to complete. There

is no finish line; you’re never really done. It’s not something

that you do for a little while. It’s not something you do until

you get it right and then move on. Practice is a path from

which there is no turning back! Becoming a martial artist

is a way of life. As you begin to understand the benefits of

practice, it becomes an integral part of your life. Martial

arts is not just another activity, not just a form of excercise

or a sport or a game. Real martial arts is a philosophy, a

discipline and a lifestyle. It provides direction and strength. It

becomes a code that you choose to live by, and it helps your

life to have meaning and purpose. A martial artist is a special

kind of person; not better than everyone else, but focused,

disciplined and with more responsibilities. As a martial artist,

you are expected to use your physical abilities responsibly,

but you’re also expected to use the art to make choices

that will positively impact everyone you meet, choices that

enhance your life rather than hinder it. This leads to better

relationships at home and at work, better financial discipline,

a more well-rounded and successful life. As a martial artist,

you learn to live with discipline of mind, body and spirit.

What’s In You?

It’s common these days to hear people talk about what

they’re “into.” You’ll hear, “I’m into running, or weight-

lifting,” or “She’s into golf,” in much the same way as you’ll

hear “He’s into martial arts.” Please remember, this practice

is called martial arts for a reason. This is an art. Not a game,

not a competition, not a race to some finish line. In much

the same way as Picasso didn’t view each painting as his last

one, the final product, but just another expression of his

ongoing art, so is our practice ultimately measured only as an

expression of our ongoing journey. You don’t get into martial

arts, martial arts gets into you. Miles Davis wasn’t into jazz;

jazz was inside him, and he expressed it throughout his life.

After all, the art doesn’t need to change — we do.

Never confuse


exercise fads

with real

martial arts.

One gets your

body in shape

while the other

helps you to

discover your

true self.

It is not enough

to practice

martial arts but

to really learn it

you must study

the art.

You’ll often hear martial arts students remark that they are

“just about finished” at their school. Once they get their

black belt, they will move on to other activities. It seems

they’ve missed the point. It doesn’t matter how physically

accomplished you are, or how many forms you know. It

doesn’t matter how well you fight or how many trophies

you’ve have won or even what rank you’ve attained. Martial

arts is more than just setting goals and completing them. A

true martial artist recognizes that mastery — on any level

— is not the goal. You never finish doing the form; you

just learn to perform all the moves with greater power and

grace so that you can continue doing them. You have never

meditated enough, and you never graduate! There is no

end to practice and there is no “off-season.” The ability to

practice is the end. If that seems disappointing, then you’re

probably not yet a martial artist. This never-ending path of

self-discovery is the art; the ongoing creative expression of

our spirit through physical and mental discipline is martial

arts. It’s what makes the whole endeavor exciting. Practice is

like food or drink, like sleep, love, excercise or even prayer.

Do you think that once you’ve loved all that is necessary,

you’re done? That, once you’ve worked out enough, you’re

done, you’re healthy enough for this lifetime? That, after the

perfect meal, you’re finished, you’re done eating? Do you

think, “OK, I know how to pray, I’ve done it for a few years,

I’m into other stuff now!”

Measuring Your Progress

So how do you maintain such a high level of training and

stay so passionate about the art? It can’t be based on mere

accomplishment. Progress must be measured by more than

just rank or how well you perform in class. You need to take

an honest look at yourself. Are you healthier and stronger,

do you have less stress and feel more confident to make the

hard decisions in your life?

Real martial arts changes you, changes the way you deal

with all aspects of your life. The hours spent in grueling

classes do more than teach you how to fight — they

strengthen your will. Living through the bumps and bruises

of practice helps teach you that you will live through the

bumps and bruises of life. You learn that you don’t have to

quit something just because it is hard. You learn that, with

patience, perseverance and hard work, anything is possible.

The hours in meditation teach you to stay calm and centered

in the drama of your day-to-day life. Finally, there is an

overwhelming conviction that stems from accomplishing

something that you never thought you could, that allows

you to say “I can.” “I can do anything that I set my mind

to do.” No, you’re not a superhero, you can’t leap tall

buildings in a single bound, nor are you an emotionless

drone that is steeled against the world and unaffected by

problems. Martial artists are still just people; Moms and dads,

employees and employers, sons and daughters and neighbors

and students. The difference is that martial artists know how

to focus their energy, and they possess a calm strength that

comes from knowing that anything is possible with sufficient

strength of will.

Since we all

have different

backgrounds and

different levels

of fitness; since

some of us are

athletic and others


and some are

flexible while most

are stiff; since

some concentrate

intensely while

others minds

drift; since some

practice hard and

come regular, while

others struggle

with attendance;

since there are so

many differences

between us —

it is ridiculous to

compare your self

to anyone else, and

to do so will only

enhance your ego

or jeopardize your


It is impossible

to be a martial

artist only on the

mats. So, if you

are thinking of

your practice only

as techniques you

perform, you are

just training to be a

fighter, and not yet

a martial artist.

If you still view Martial Arts as just one option

among the many things that you do, then you are

not yet a martial artist

It is this process of practice that, for generations, has

transformed ordinary people into extraordinary people.

This is not a new phenomena. It can be traced back over a

thousand years, through many cultures, to Hunan province

in China. A monastary of lackadaisical and ordinary monks

embraced this discipline of mind and body and were

transformed into the legendary Shaolin monks. They

practiced this discipline privately, secretly for many years and,

as word of their abilities spread, so too did the art. It slowly

made its way throughout China, to Okinawa, Korea and

Japan. Along the way, many great masters influenced the art

and contributed much to it’s continuing development.

Martial arts practice has taken on many faces as it has circled

the globe. Many cultures have embraced the art, expanding,

adapting or specializing in specific aspects of practice. At

the same time, the art has been widely misunderstood

and perceived in a variety of ways. Today, kid’s programs

aimed at 3-5 year olds; exercise fads and cardio-aerobics to

get in shape; ultimate fighting competitions; Hollywood

entertainment — all of these activities have mistakenly come

to be accepted as legitimate forms of martial art. In truth,

real martial arts has always been the same, and its universal

truths remain intact. This art has a history; it has meaning

and depth. It’s more than flashy MTV choreography and it’s

more than special forces commando training and it’s certainly

more than ninja night sleepover parties for the kids. The

art was not designed as an amusing and entertaining little

activity, it was designed as a spiritual path, as a way of life.

Life is not made up of winners and losers. There are only

trained people and untrained people. Regardless of your

style or discipline, if you practice consistently and hard, if you

train yourself with the proper motivation, and focus on the

original intent of the art, you too can transform yourself and

your life through martial arts.

You should

carry practice

with you


Mr. Garner was leaving class one night after

an incredibly hard workout. It was a class

that he never could have even imagined

himself doing when he joined the school two years ago.

Today he was in great shape and really enjoyed practice.

The master approached him and asked, “Mr. Garner, are

you reading the books that I suggested to you? Mr. Garner

responded, “Yes sir, but they do bring up some questions.”

The master looked at the clock and said, “This is the last

class of the night, do you have time to talk?” Mr. Garner

responded immediately, “Yes sir, Thank you.”

The two men entered the small office and sat down. The

master spoke first, “What are your questions?”

Mr. Garner paused and took a breath and appeared to be

weighing his words very carefully. He was a sincere man who

never wanted to be misunderstood. The master recognized

A martial artist

does not place

emphasis on

belts, ranks and

titles, but rather

on completely


and internalizing

his or her art.

the hesitation and said, “Mr. Garner, you are a good student,

please speak freely.”

Mr. Garner began, “Well sir, the books that you have

recommended to me over the years have given me a lot of

insight to my practice. I have always been a active person,

of course never in as good of shape as I am now, but I have

been involved with clubs and gyms for years. I must admit

that when I started practicing martial arts, I saw it as just

another gym; a place to get in shape, meet people and

learn some skills. I honestly never could have imagined the

profound impact that it has given my life. To be very honest

sir; it is kind of scary.”

The master listened intently and encouraged Mr. Garner to

continue. “At first I felt a little put off by the discipline and

rituals and formal environment. As I began to understand,

I found myself embracing it. Knowing that people all over

the world have dedicated their entire life to the practice

and study of martial arts means quite a bit. This is obviously

not an exercise program or fad that is here today and gone

tomorrow. This is a philosophy that helps discipline the mind

and body. If practiced sincerely, it will encompass your whole


Mr. Garner was becoming emotional as he spoke and he

stood up as he continued to speak. “I came in here to get in

shape, lose some weight and have fun. I had no idea.” He

lowered his head and whispered, “I feel ashamed that I did

not see how sacred practice is and I question if I am worthy

of such a practice.”

Smiling the master said, “Mr. Garner, you are starting to

understand martial arts. You are not to be blamed for

anything. As a beginner you only knew what you saw on

TV or at the movies. Now, after studying martial arts, and

attending class, you can see why it has been around for

thousands of years and how powerful it is. Real martial

arts was designed to touch you on all levels — mentally,

physically, emotionally, spiritually. I’m pleased to see that

your practice is doing just that.”

If you think that

you are a martial

artist, you

probably don’t

have a deep enough

understanding of

what martial arts

is. For to really

understand it will

give you a lump in

your throat and

butterflies in your

stomach. A real

martial artist is

in such awe of his

art that he feels

humbled by it.

The strengthening

of the will is

not a pretty

sight and often



How Has Martial Arts Changed You?

The activity this month is to list the five most important

ideas, principles or concepts that you have been taught or

exposed to, because of your practice in martial arts. Take into

considerations those aspects of martial arts that have had the

greatest effect on your life outside the dojo.

Take your time and think carefully. List the lessons that you

have learned and why you chose them. It doesn’t matter if

you fully grasp the concept or not. Detail if you learned it in

a class, reading a book, from Lessons in Mindfulness, from

practicing with a partner, after a meditation, etc. Explain the

ways you are incorporating it into your life.

Some examples:

• Spending time vs wasting time

• Affirmations

• Partners not opponents

• Our deeds determine us

• Seven ways to become a martial artist

• Best block is don’t be there

• Designing your life

• Four things you can do with energy

• Primary aim


Mastering Technique – By the Numbers!

Reflecting on Lesson #5 – Do What You Can Do Perfectly,

and this Lesson on the never-ending path of martial arts, it

becomes clear that practice is a process of constant, never

ending improvement.

Frequently, beginner and intermediate students are

frustrated with their progress, even though patience has

been emphasized as one of the most important qualities that

a martial artist needs to develop.

There is an exercise that helps put into perspective what is

meant by the statement that it “takes time to be good at

this.” Any technique from any style will work for this. It could

be a punch, block, throw, lock, kick, or any basic technique,

but for this example let’s use a roundhouse kick, back leg.

Let’s assume that you have practiced for five years and

practice three times a week. In each class you have thrown

fifty roundhouse kicks with the back leg. (Obviously not all

schools throw fifty back leg kicks in each class, but many

throw much more!) Let’s assume that it takes one second for

each kick. (Most will throw it faster, but to make the math

easy, one second.)

One second per kick times 50 kicks a class, times 3 classes a

week, times 52 weeks in a year, times five years of practice

makes a whopping 39,000 seconds!

This equals 650 minutes, or 10.8 hours.

The years know

things that the

days and weeks

will never know

An advanced

technique is a

basic technique

that has been


Think of it this way; after five years of practice, with better

than average attendance you have only practiced your

roundhouse kick, back leg for less than eleven hours!

In China it is believed that to master a technique you must

throw it a million times. Using this formula, remember that

after five years, you have 961,000 more to go!! At this rate,

you will master the roundhouse kick back leg in another 123


Now it is easier to understand the saying,

“Martial arts take a lifetime, maybe a little more.”

P.S. It is a good idea to practice at home, and also to

remember that, while it might take a million reps to master a

technique, it doesn’t take that long to reap the benefits!!

Try this using your own numbers and see how long you have


Recommended Reading

Striking Thoughts – Bruce Lee’s Wisdom

for Daily Living.

Bruce Lee

The Warrior Path- Wisdom from

Contemporary Martial Arts Masters.

James Sides