Martial Arts Zen In Everyday Life

Darren Higgs with some thoughts on mindfulness and martial arts inside the dojo and outside in life.

Forest Road

“Zen aims to simplify the mind. To exclude any concepts. The beginner’s mind has too many options. The master’s mind just knows” – Veronika Shoebridge

Martial arts is more than knowing how to defend yourself, or being able to do some terrific techniques. I must admit, I find that part of martial arts to be fun. However, that is not the real essence of martial arts. Martial arts is also meant to train the mind. If you really want to master martial arts, you must be able to clear your mind and overcome your ego. This will allow your moves to flow naturally, which will allow you to adapt to the needs of any situation (not just in the dojo, but in life).

Martial arts is but one activity where you can practice mindfulness. Zen can be practiced at work or in any activity that you wish to pursue. In order to do your best, you should always relax, focus on the important things and discard anything that does not relate to the present task. This is how you will get the most out of yourself.

So how do you practice Zen in life? It starts with awareness. There used to be an old joke that men could not do more than one thing at a time. In hindsight, you could argue that this is a perfect state of Zen. We are now raised to multi-task. Do you surf the internet while eating? Take calls while driving? Thinking about work while training (and vice versa)? Do you look at personal emails in work time (and vice versa)? The spirit behind technology is to help us, however it also distracts our attention with constant information coming at us. You never give yourself a chance to relax and enjoy the moment.

At the end of the day, the human brain is a muscle. We know that if we go to the gym to exercise, you need to allow sufficient recovery between workouts for the muscles to grow. How many of us give our mind sufficient recovery? Simple meditation and focussing on your breath is allowing your mind to recover. Here are a few “Zen” tips for you:

  • Your most important tasks should be complete by 11:00 am. Your “awareness” drops away after this time. For your martial arts training, consider training in the morning before “life’s information” takes your focus away.
  • Practice uninterrupted activity 60-90 minutes. This correlates perfectly with your martial arts class.
  • After class / task at work / whatever, slow down your breathing and relax. Focus on each move you make. Observe how your body feels. You will be amazed at how your mind will re-energise before you take on your next big task.

Remove all “unimportant things” while you are focussing on a particular task. Does the TV, phone or internet need to be on when you need to concentrate on important tasks? This also applies to your martial arts training. I know that it is easy for your mind to drift off to think about work or family. Bring your awareness back to the class. Feel the gi on your skin, the mats under your feet, hear all of the noise in the dojo (without necessarily attaching to that noise), while concentrating on each move.

Practice 10 minute meditation sessions. If you have not meditated before, just focus on your breathing. When you sleep, you have been practicing 6-8 hours of deep breathing. Short meditation sessions where you concentrate on your breathing will allow your “awareness” to return to beginning-of-the-day levels.

Also ensure that you take regular “you time”. You need time where you can forget about the world for a little bit and just enjoy being you. Martial arts is my outlet for this. Everybody is different, so you need to find something that will help you relax, re-energise and come back to the day with renewed purpose.

The aim is not to be a black belt in the dojo, but rather a black belt in life. Real black belts know that their ultimate goal is not just to do their moves better. The ultimate goal is to focus on the present moment. The “here and now” is the only thing that you can control…the only thing that matters. This is where you can make a difference. Let your martial arts Zen unite with your everyday life. The result will be a better and more efficient you.

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