Prepare to Win


You will fight like you train.


If we have trained well, we will respond well. If we have not we cannot expect that we will rise to the demands of the moment just because we want to, because our cause is just, or because we are courageous.


Of course it’s good to get along.


Over the last few million years we learned that collaboration is a key survival skill, and a key to happiness. Sharing difficulties and rewards, seeing things from another’s point of view, being concerned with their interests as well as your own, is essential for maturity and for a successful life.


But not every encounter can be resolved nicely. Some people are unreasonable, unfair, aggressive, selfish and violent. If we let them have their way, appease them or compromise with them, we jeopardize our own lives, reward their predatory behavior, and subject the people around us who need our help, to oppression.


Under violent threat we will fight like we trained. So as martial artists, if we are aspiring to defend our lives and the lives of others, we need to train sincerely while we have the chance.


Complacency is a deadly mistake.


Masters of training and practice have spoken to this issue for millennia.


In the 8th century Shantideva, professor at Nalanda University in India, instructed his disciples on the urgency of practice,


Suppose a person handed you

A bowl completely full of oil,

Then stood before you with a sword,

Threatening to take your life

Should you spill a drop…


You practitioners

Must concentrate like this.


This is from section 7 verse 70 of his “Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life,” the Bodhisattvacharyavattara.


This instruction has been repeated in numerous stories, parables and advice:


Those who practice should be as attentive
As a condemned man carrying a jar full of oil

Who is being told by an executioner with a sword:


That he will be killed if he spills just one drop,

Or set free if he does not spill any.



We may have been urged to “Practice like your hair is on fire!” Where does that come from?


Buddha: “…Just as one whose clothes or head had caught fire would put forth extraordinary desire, effort, zeal, enthusiasm, indefatigability, mindfulness, and clear comprehension to extinguish {the fire on} his clothes or head, so that person should put forth extraordinary desire, effort, zeal, enthusiasm, indefatigability, mindfulness, and clear comprehension…” in practice…


From the “Anguttara Nikaya” Book of Fours II93 verse 3 pg, 474, Bhikkhu Bodhi, editor. (If you want to look deeper, the reference also occurs on pages 879, 1222, 1405 & 1498.)



Karate practitioner Gichin Funakoshi, leader of Japanese karate in the 20th century, taught:


In a fight your hands and feet should move just as if they were blades to cut your enemy. Your techniques should be sharp and powerful.”
Technically we can understand this teaching best in light of the fact that Funakoshi’s style of karate morphed from the practical Okinawan karate he originally learned, karate that relied on empty hands for self-defense, becoming instead a combative sport, an approach more appealing to the Japanese martial culture of his time.


But technical emphasis aside, the intention in his statement, its seriousness and urgency, is clear.



Okinawan Karate practitioner Shoshin Nagamine recast this idea in a way that is more suited to our Okinawan karate:


“Regard the opponent’s hands and feet as real blades.”


This is useful. A skilled opponent does not need a sharp or powerful thrust to be effective. He may use that kind of technique but, as you may have learned from experience: sometimes just a touch – like the quick, light contact of a knife or a sword – can be decisive.


When you regard any contact of your opponent as “like that of a blade” you move with urgency at the outer limit of your ability – you are more effective and your training is urgent, far deeper than if you are moderate or easy going.



Head Coach Bear Bryant of the University of Alabama was the most successful football coach ever.


He told his players this:


The will to win is nothing. Everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters.



That is why we train sincerely and train hard, with our whole body and mind united in form and spirit.

Not just to meet the – for most – remote contigency of needing to prevail in a violent confrontation, not only to defeat a violent opponent, but to reach our potential, to deepen our habit of commitment to the moment, to completely integrate our body and mind and purpose, to feel calm and clear and strong.  Some of the masters quoted above were masters of martial arts, all were masters of heart and mind.

Prepare to win.



Post by Jeff Brooks

3 thoughts on “Prepare to Win

Add yours

  1. A disarming smile.

    Thank you Sensei Brooks for this scholarly and motivational posting.

    Another positive result of training is, for me, is a heightened sense of awareness. One example I can site was when, deep into my training, I visited my daughter in Philadelphia who was attending The University of the Arts. We had lunch and were happily strolling back to campus when I became aware of an approaching man who at first had a normal walking gate. As he came nearer his actions became erratic; muttering and arms flailing. There wasn’t enough time to cross the street to avoid him instead I placed myself in front of my daughter to protect her and greeted his approach with a broad smile and a pleasant “Hello”. He looked quizzically at me, paused, stood still and then moved on. I was prepared to do whatever I could at that moment but my counter attack of smiling did the trick.


    Jeff Moriber


  2. another really good read and today’s Zen Mirror post “train sincerely and train hard, with our whole body and mind united in form and spirit”. Thank you Jeff, danny.


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