Achieving Peace and Contentment with Martial Arts
Combat sports such as Mixed Martial Arts aside, the traditional Asian martial arts have been popular in the United States and Europe for decades. Apart from the obvious benefits of physical fitness achieved through these arts, there are other benefits as well.
Although there are many instructional books about how to apply martial arts techniques, there are also several about the mental and spiritual benefits to disciplining yourself through Karate, Tai Chi Chuan and other forms. Works such as Zen in the Martial Arts by Joe Hyams and The Zen Way to the Martial Arts by Taisen Deshimaru hint that there are other lessons to be learned. Even action movie icon Chuck Norris wrote The Secret Power Within: Zen Solutions to Real Problems.
Benefits of Martial Arts
Gichin Funakoski, in his book Karate-Do: My Way of Life, gives examples of what he feels are the benefits of Karate practice beyond self-defense and physical fitness. He calls his art “not merely a sport that teaches how to strike and kick — it is also a defense against illness and disease.” He discusses how the exercises associated with Karate can reduce fevers to a normal body temperature through sweating and alleviate gastric problems through enhanced blood circulation. He contends that even the physical injuries related to martial arts practice can be avoided with caution and conditioning; an attitude that can trickle into a variety of recreational and professional activities.
The Zen Approach
Deshimaru, who achieved a high ranking in Kendo (Japanese swordsmanship) writes in his book about how a person’s inner self is as important to their success in the martial arts as their physical abilities. When asked by an interviewer why he considered development of the mind and spirit in martial arts training through Zazen (sitting meditation), he replied “because in the end, it is what decides. To illustrate his point, he discussed how life-and-death disputes between Japanese martial artists were sometimes decided with a single sword stroke.
“It all happens in a flash,” he wrote. “And in that flash the mind decides, technique and body follow.”
The use of traditional martial arts as a tool of focus, living in the moment and letting distractions flow out of your mind, is rooted in the Zen approach. When Buddhism spread out of India and into other parts of Asia, it was compressed to retain a purer vision of its original intent — to contemplate yourself, live ethically and gradually relinquish the concept of self. Some of those that were spreading the message blended it with elements of Chinese Taoism and it became generally known by its Japanese name — Zen. Although meditation is linked to Buddhism and Hinduism, what is collectively known as the New Age Movement has also embraced its techniques while stripping away some of its more specific religious aspects.
Peter Occhiogrosso, in his book The Joy of Sects: A Spirited Guide to the World’s Religious Traditions, discusses how elements of meditation can be found to varying degrees in the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Traditional martial arts can not only promote physical fitness and self-confidence, but can provide an anchor for changing your mindset toward focus.