Meditation and Martial Arts.

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.     awareness

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.

Training Silat

Training Silat

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No Church For Me On Sunday, And It’s Great

I can sleep late, or not, watch the morning news shows, go to any sort of gathering I want, or have sex.  I can do it all happily, with no guilt, or shame.

I’m an Atheist.

Not a “He must be angry at god cause he didn’t get something” atheist, though most of us probably start out like that.

No, I’m an “I really started to study without fear, and think and analyze, and came to a different and satisfying conclusion” atheist. Atheism Symbol

I’ve read many of the world’s sacred writings, including those said to be from god himself, heard the thoughts and counsels of many devout people, contemplated, listened, probed as deeply as I could for the answer to my questions;  Is there a supreme creator being, who is it, does it care, and does it matter?  On all counts, the answer for me was; No!

You can be a deeply devout person to something you call god, without there being such a thing on the other end of your devotion.  I’ve known deeply devout people of various followings, and don’t doubt their sincerity of devotion.  I have been a deeply devout person.  So much so, that it pains me to see Christians, for example, who are satisfied parroting biblical sound bites, acting the part on the public stage with gestures and props, and claiming a higher standing in life over those who don’t do the same.  At least the devout person is not pretending that they’re deluded.

If they were sincere, these followers who pretend to be devout would acknowledge the emptiness of their claims (that there’s no really verifiable god), but also live strong, righteously, and honestly on the merits of their act: devotion.  That could be called faith, faith in devotion.  “Faith without works is dead” the first work in spirituality is being honest and sincere with yourself and others.

Some non-theistic Asian religions accept the fact that there are several different acceptable paths to the personal fulfillment and salvation that practice of a religion offers.  The path of devotion is one path.  However, not everyone is of a devotional character, so studiousness is another path.  You may not be of devotional character, and perhaps not studious, or even illiterate, then the path of works, or, just being nice to people is another.  You may be introverted; therefore, the contemplative path may be yours, and so on.  The god religions, theisms, only acknowledge one path, devotion, regardless of your innate type or characteristics.

Then there’s the matter of belief.  While some espouse the idea of just belief “saving” you, it stands in opposition to the easily verifiable fact that belief will not save you in anything else in our existence.  You can honestly and devoutly believe you can float and fly in mid air, but any who try plummet to the earth in unsatisfactory ways.  Carry that over to anything else, even to scriptural assurances that if you drink poison, handle snakes, etc; and it’s easily apparent that belief doesn’t work enough to bet your life on.

Some religions claim that belief in a particular personality is the requirement for communion with god or a salvation, but that concept is usually tied to obedience, and obedience is usually connected to a spokesman for the religion.  That’s a sticky situation because several spokesmen for the same god often disagree on some essential added particulars.  With all that come the edicts of exclusivity.  Someone put it best by saying (my paraphrase):  “Many teachers will invite you to come, they will show you the light, and when you come they pluck out your eyes of reason.”

These are the god believing religions that demand you put blinders on and not look to the left or the right, upon any other possible source of knowledge, wisdom, or salvation, but to put your stock in what they tell you is there that you cannot see, though that’s all you’re looking for.

These religions will also claim to make you “better.”  That runs the gamut from making you healthier, wealthier, and wise, because you are one of them, to making you morally superior.  Some claim you cannot be moral at all, or that your morality has no value, unless you are one of them.  They suggest that all of your righteous acts are “like filthy rags” according to one of their scripts.  Yet few live any higher a morality than the average Joe.

They have the talk, but can’t walk the walk any better than anyone else.  Ah, but wait, there’s an out for that.  Christians say “I’m not perfect, just forgiven” as if that were a really good god authorized excuse for being selfish, inconsiderate, or harmful to others.  Or they’ll say “I’m a work in progress” with a “ha, ha, I get away with it and you don’t” attitude for being indistinguishable from any jerk anywhere.  So much for being religious or “in a relationship” with god making you a better person.

But, that’s for another post.

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Solo Martial Art Training

You can’t always train at the gym. 

Training in a state of the art gym or dojo is a great thing.  There you’ll likely have space, time, equipment, partners at different levels, and coaching.  But not being able to get to one for whatever reason (money, responsibilities, time, distance) should not stop you from training and even making progress on your own, at home.

If you don’t have a lot of stuff you can do calisthenics and bodyweight exercises (pushups situps, pull-ups, etc.) anywhere.  There’s your cardio and strength straining.

You can shadow box in front of your shadow or a mirror.  When you do, do several rounds, start slow and easy, and progressively add realism and intensity.  I consider this a really important part of martial training; rehearsing your moves with intent and energy will bring them up with intent and energy.  Practice at three speeds:  1. slow and mechanical, 2. Half speed and smoothly flowing, 3. Twitchy, super fast or “red line” speed.

Hit something regularly, a punching bag, a makiwara, a makeshift Item you can hang or post to practice both intentional hitting, and casual hitting, I mean hitting without preparation, no stance, no telegraph. Why?  Because you may not always be in a position to do a perfect hit, but should do a hit anyway.

Visualize the techniques and try them with your eyes closed (in a safe space of course).  Practice from different positions, standing, sitting, lying down.  Try to train both under duress, when tired from cardio and strength, and when very relaxed.

 Rest.Training under too much continual stress may burn you out, and actually make the practice less beneficial.

Train and practice under less than optimal conditions.  I wear glasses.   I train with and without glasses.  A shooting instructor brought this home when he asked; if in the middle of the night I hear a break in at home and a rush to the bedroom door, can I just grab my gun, point, and shoot to 15 feet in the dark  without bothering to look for my glasses?  I can now, thanks to dry fire practice and taking off the prescriptions at the range.  Sometimes, I may be sluggish from a cold/flu and medication.  Yes, I’ve looked to see how effective I am in those conditions, what I can and can’t do, and how fast.

Research other methods beyond what you are taught at the local school.  Some places just teach one thing, say Mesopotamian Kung Fu, that doesn’t mean you can’t train Jiu Jitsu for yourself on your own time, or a spin kick, or a particular kata.  Who are you doing this for, the school/instructor, or yourself and your family?

Speaking of family, is there someone that might help you out A LITTLE BIT at home,  If they’re not training for themselves they probably won’t want to be your training partner, but “help me work out this  move for 5 minutes” might be feasible.  Don’t hurt or aggravate them, and they might help you again.

I tell my students over and over, that they are taught in the gym but learn at home, and that everything is homework.  This is what makes a martial art yours, and part of your lifestyle not just a “class” you take.

What’s with the personal development stuff??

It’s a part of me, my life and practice as a martial artist, where I come from, and where I want to lead others to. 

Almost everyone with a belt , certificate, or a little experience, can teach a martial art.  Traditions provide a template for what to teach, in what order, and a baseline for achievement, mostly having to do with memorization. Get a snazzy logo, set up a shingle.

Personally, I am not interested in being a regular martial arts instructor.  For me, martial arts from the beginning, were not about the awesome power, skills, and physicality obviously visible.  It was about the self control, self perfectionism, and expanding consciousness that I saw, that some of those things represent.

I remember one of my karate instructors, Sensei, now Shihan, Charles “La Pantera” Bonet.

photo by Rick Vargas

Charles “La Pantera” Bonet.  photo by Rick Vargas

He  would occasionally shout at us when we were under performing “You think that punching and kicking is what makes you a black belt?  I can teach a monkey to punch and kick, but that won’t make him a black belt!”   I understood that to mean that he was looking beyond the surface, to the consciousness which animates the body, and to see there developing intelligence, sensitivity, the progress of evolution in relation to knowing ourselves and others, and values, not just how solid our front stance was.  Many instructors can only look at your front stance. That reduces the potential richness of martial arts training to an activity like gymnastics or boxing…

Well, it’s true.  Some instructors can only teach the physical aspects of a martial art. The other aspects require having been instructed in such things to begin with.  For example, not many instructors have much if any instruction or experience in the arts and practices of meditation, and may consider it trivial in spite of scientific evidence of it’s benefits to the brain, consciousness, and body.

Few have spent significant time in profound thought or study about the human condition, therefore, in discussion can only offer uninformed or unthoughtful opinions on matters of life in general.  Ego, elsewhere considered an obstacle, is paramount in many aspects of martial arts life and instruction.  Humility is often replaced by ritualistic, cultural acts of respect (nice bow!)

About my group under Sensei Bonet, we did learn to punch and kick, and quite well 🙂 and my classmates from 30+ years ago are renowned masters with great skills. But even the least among us, skill and credential wise, were being taught to become potential “masters” of ourselves. That’s where I’m headed, and the journey I invite others to join me on.

In my training group, your self awareness is important, and the physical actions, a tool for developing that self awareness.  I have two pet peeves: your breath, and your gaze, vital to the functioning of your body and mind, and coach you accordingly.  Helping you to manage your tensions, fears, and emotions is an ongoing goal.  The expansion of your consciousness, intellectually, academically, socially, etc. are important to me.

In the process, you might learn to punch and kick real good too!

That said, I am not a suitable instructor for everyone.  I don’t give belts or certificates.  I’m not really training anyone for a fight sport.  I don’t even follow the structured progression of a particular style.  I scrutinize character.  I prefer adults with full lives over youths with nothing better to do.  I like the freedom of greeting the group, and starting with something that feels like the right vibe at the time.

I have a degree of skills that qualify me, and though certified, I feel the terms “Master” and “Guro” are overused. I understand that in the Filipino Martial Arts it refers to a teacher, but, I have studied under people with whom the term Guru meant a “dispeller of darkness”  a rather serious metaphysical matter.  I’ll use the term with teachers I have trained under, but am not too quick too call anyone that off the cuff.  My friends call me Rick and if they want to use another appellation I suggest “Coach.”

HEY!

Im giving a talk Saturday, February 23, 6:30pm at:

Half Off Books
2641 Enterprise rd.
Orange City FL 32763  Phone: 386-917-0100

Personal Protection For Everyone
The New Self Defense Paradigm

A fun and illuminating short lecture and demonstration on the matter of self defense for everyone, not just young athletes, professional responders, or martial arts experts.
Coach Rick specializes in short term self defense training for regular people, with average physical attributes, and little to no interest in “martial arts.”  If that
sounds like you at all, come enjoy this one of a kind seminar.

//

Kali Silat in Campbell Park, Deltona FL on Sunday

At 1pm under the shade trees or in the shelter.

There are variations on the 64 attacks and the abecedarios.  Here’s a friend and instructor, Dennis Ocampo, doing the version I train and teach, then showing his sinawalis.  SinaTirsiaWali Kali Silat.

Meditation Technique: So Hum

 

On Meditation 

Too much meditation practice, without physical activity is not good for you; it can leave you unbalanced and spacey. Many people today meditate using one form of it or another, but; martial arts practice makes you “put your money where your mouth is” by physically challenging your meditation to demonstrate its effect on your whole self.

Meditation

Meditation (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn)

When you can still the mind, you can control the mind. At the highest levels, the martial artist’s mind must be quiet, but aware, and active.  Some call this level “the unified field of consciousness,”, others call it “the gap between thoughts,” still others call it “the zone.”

Self Awareness

Sometimes if you watch the boxing documentaries you’ll see the coach and fighter watching video of an upcoming opponent.  They’ll watch and study his stances, his balance, his favorite punches, his footwork, how he covers and defends.  They want to “know” him, to reduce him to a predictable quantity for which they can develop skills and strategies to defeat him.

In spite of that, sometimes the fighter looses, because they didn’t know how he himself would respond or react to certain changes or stimuli.  They knew the opponent but didn’t know themselves.  I like for my students to know their skill levels and abilities, and their limitations.  I also like them to consider the possibilities for transcendence. To know yourself and achieve this transcendence, you need time and space.  Meditation will afford you that, and it’s why I teach and encourage it, not only in relation to martial arts, but to personal growth as well.

A little review.

The term meditation is used to describe both the activity and the state of being.  Context will easily tell you which is which. The most mystical part of meditation for most people is not the act itself or the technique, but the lingering after effects: mental and emotional calmness, clarity of thought, diversity of views and approaches to situations, self confidence, and more.  The more you practice, the deeper and more consistent the benefits.

Make time for the practice.  One teacher told me that if you meditate for 24 minutes a day you infuse 24 hours of the day with that blessing or power, and that it didn’t have to be all at once!  You can do like 12 minutes in the morning or afternoon, and 12 minutes in the evening, of course you can do more, but always remember moderation!  That said, here’s a couple of techniques for you to try out.

Meditative technique one: So Hum.

This is the very first meditative technique I ever learned and one I still use as often as I want or feel I want it.  It involves the use of a mantra.  A mantra, is a sound, often a word or even a name.  In this case it is a word, but the meaning of the word is not important with this one.

The significant aspect of this mantra is that is mimics the sound of calm, deep, breathing.   It is an “silent” or internal mantra, meaning the sound is not made with your voice.  You imagine the sound in your head, “so” as you inhale, “hum” as you exhale.  The “sound” doesn’t even have to be precise.   Do you pronounce the sound in your head with a hard O and soft U, or soft O like with “ohh”, or U as in “hum”, or “haam?”  It doesn’t matter.

The variables of language, and accents, and speech, make this one much more flexible than what is taught about some other mantras.  You are mimicking and echoing calm deep breathing. You are creating a metronome of one pointed consistency.  Thoughts will come and go, passing in around and through your inner chanting of this mantra, like when a pianist is playing a melody, and the metronome is still clicking in the background.  With practice and consistency, the melody of thoughts will turn its volume down, and even off, but the metronome of the calm deep “So Hum” continues, it can even fade away, and return.

You do this in a casual and relaxed way, with no stress even about doing this “right.”  Generally, you will be awake, aware, and alert.  This is not for going into a trance, this is for developing one pointed mental focus, whether for one fleeting second during the meditation, or the entirety of the session.  Do not grade yourself about it.  Enjoy the relaxed stillness you are practicing.  Set a timer if you can for whatever time you want.  I recommend starting with twelve minutes twice a day, but don’t stress this either, how about once a day to start? Sure.

So here it is:

  • Find a reasonably quiet time and place.
  • Sit in a relaxed posture, get comfortable but don’t slouch.
  • You can place your hands on arm rests or on your lap, one trick is to place them on your lap palms up, so if you start to drift off into sleepiness and nod, your arms flinch and keep you “up.”
  • Take a couple of deep breaths to get going and oxygenate your body and mind.
  • Feel, listen to, or pronounce the sound “So” in your head, or with your imagination as you inhale.  Sometimes there’s a pause at the end of the inhale sometimes not, don’t stress on it.
  • As your exhale begins feel, listen to, or pronounce the sound “Hum” in your head or with your imagination. There’s often a longer pause upon the exhale, but again no stress on length, sometimes you may be excited and it’s shorter breathing till you settle, just relax and let the meditation relax you as well.
  • Upon the start of the next inhale return to the sound of “So” and continue repeating the process till your timer goes off of you feel like stopping,  but I warn you, at the beginning a few seconds can seem like a long time, so I recommend setting a timer and starting to develop discipline in this.

That’s it!  This is a well known meditation technique that never looses its value.  Among the benefits of it are overall relaxation, developing one pointed focus, the ability to isolate thoughts, stabilizing of the circulatory systems, and a sense of peace and calm.  These are some important elements in how the mind works and the critical thinking process, among the reasons meditation is helpful overall to living and functioning in the world.

For martial arts purposes, in a high speed high, stress situation, like a fight or a self defense situation; the ability to function spontaneously, reflexively, with a clear head, without preconceptions, and without the confusion of the constant swirl of competing thoughts in your head may mean the difference between timely and effective action or having to endure harm.  This meditation technique sets you into a practice of calm, active, alertness that can come into play as needed.  The balance to improve on this is to actually train the physical skills as well.  As I said at the start “Too much meditation without physical practice is not good for you; it can leave you unbalanced and spacey.”  As much as possible, be rounded and balanced.

A final note on this technique:  Our teacher was once asked “I often fall asleep doing it, what should I do?’  The teacher replied, “don’t worry about it, it is a Holy Sleep!”  With regular and consistent practice you won’t often fall asleep, but if you occasionally do, enjoy it.