While most types of meditation have overall benefits for any individual’s body and mind, practicing martial artists can require something more.
There are meditation practices that want you to “be absorbed” in the object of the meditation. It may be an image, a mantra, a sound, a thought, etc. That absorption may be counterproductive in the context of a personal life and death episode. Fighting is not an activity in which to be absorbed in “your self” or any irrelevant external, because of the little matter of the other self: your opponent or attacker, who is trying to hurt you.
Other types of meditation are “Guided.” I’m not a big fan of guided meditation. Generally meditation is about going within and listening to the silence within yourself and that’s hard to do while having to listen to someone “without.”
There are trance styles of meditation. Again, you’re attacker is not in your trance, he’s outside of it looking for every little opportunity to hurt you.
Vipassana is a mindfulness meditation where you exercise awareness, but you start at a very superficial level with a sort of verbal awareness of your body, then progress to awareness of your environment, and of your mind. It may take some time to get to the level of awareness useful in a fight.
So which meditation types are better for a martial artist to practice? The ones that emphasize immediate, 360 degree, internal and external awareness.
I found that most in Zen meditation. I have a friend who is a former Tibetan Buddhist Monk and martial arts master. He says Tibetan Buddhist meditation is about awareness as well. I don’t know, but I’ll take his word for it, I’ve trained martial arts with him.
Here is the essence of Zen meditation as taught to me by a Zen Master “Shut up. Don’t move muscle, don’t move mind.” I’ll add to that; don’t fall asleep!
In the Zen meditation hall you sit up straight with good posture. Your eyes are half closed gazing at a spot on the ground a few feet in front of you. You breathe naturally. Your mind may wander but you let it wander back to awareness of the breath or an anchor point called a Koan. You do not space out, go into trance, get lost in bliss, or fall asleep. That’s cause there’s a monk who paces around the meditators with a flat piece of wood, whose job is to help keep you wake by smacking you on your traps if you nod out.
You are, you have to be, aware. Aware of the point you’re focusing your gaze on, aware of the thoughts passing through your head, aware of distractions being distracting, aware of the monk silently pacing around you, aware of the other meditators in the room, all while maintaining a stable center. That stable center is your posture, your breath, your gaze, your koan. That stable center is your spirit.
Prior to Zen, I trained with a Jain Guru. I was taught silent and out loud mantras. I was taught breathing methods, I was taught gazing and visualization, I was taught prayers and invocations, I was taught how to direct my imagination. Valuable stuff no doubt, but in the immediacy and chaos of a fight, less useful.
Do you need to know meditation to know how to fight? No. But this is not merely about being a fighter, it’s about being a martial artist. Soldiers of all sorts fight. Boxers fight. Wrestlers fight. MMA’ers fight. No problem.
But being an artist of any sort is beyond mere craft.
Artistry calls forth the Spiritual. It calls for inspiration, reflection, flow, an aesthetic perspective. It calls for harmony with something greater than us, for a desire to communicate and share. These intangibles are little to no part of the rock’em sock’em fight culture. Yes, anyone and everyone can fight, but not every fighter is a martial artist.
To go from being a fighter to being a martial artist in any of the fighting “arts” requires going into the Spiritual. That’s where meditation comes in. And, perhaps all meditation methods converge at some point, so that in the end they’re all good. But for the martial artist’s immediate needs and particular goals, meditations which emphasize awareness from the outset may be the best.
That way in a fight you will easily and naturally factor in your opponent, their strengths and weaknesses, your own strengths and weaknesses, the environment, the swirl of energy and emotions, the flux of openings and closings, your own fears and pains, the skill levels of both.
Your body can act, your mind will think without being stuck in thoughts, your plans are continually evolving and even disregarded, your attention is not shaken, you have confidence because you are in the moment, you have acceptance without abandonment, you have 360 degree focus of all these things simultaneously to help with your judgments.
Someone has said “everybody has a plan till the get punched in the nose.” That’s because it’s their center that has been knocked out of whack. With awareness meditation training, your center (your self), will not be the thing knocked out of whack.
Training in awareness you will realize, as the Bhagavad Gita says, that the self “Cannot be pierced by a sword, burnt by fire, drowned in water, or withered by the wind” my off the top paraphrase. That gives you tremendous freedom to fight skillfully, intelligently, in flow and in harmony with all existence and creation.
You are not just a fighter, you are a martial artist.