We practice mindfulness of the body from the day we begin karate training. Our physical skills, sharp awareness and practical self-defense ability are built on the interpenetration and fusion of the body and mind.
The Greatest Warrior
They say that the greatest warrior masters himself. This mastery might refer to impulse control – i.e., achieving the freedom of mind and skill in technique to take appropriate action at the decisive moment, with no hesitation and no haste. To some people self-mastery means the cultivation of a clear, present-focused mind, stable in the midst of the chaos of combat.
These have been central concerns of great practitioner-theorists from Musashi Miyamoto to John Boyd.
They are lofty goals, difficult to achieve. But they are limited goals. There is more to self-mastery than this.
…“It might be assumed that we are always aware of the present, but this is a mirage. Only seldom do we become aware of the present in the precise way required by the practice of mindfulness. In ordinary consciousness the mind begins a cognitive process with some impression given in the present, but it does not stay with it. Instead it uses the immediate impression as a springboard for building blocks of mental constructs… The mind perceives its object free from conceptualization only briefly. Then, immediately after grasping the initial impression, it launches on a course of ideation by which it seeks to interpret the object to itself, to make it intelligible in terms of its own categories and assumptions. To bring this about the mind posits concepts, joins the concepts into constructs—sets of mutually corroborative concepts—then weaves the constructs together into complex interpretative schemes. In the end the original direct experience has been overrun by ideation and the presented object appears only dimly through dense layers of ideas and views, like the moon through a layer of clouds.
… To be sure, the product is not wholly illusion, not sheer fantasy. It takes what is given in immediate experience as its groundwork and raw material, but along with this it includes something else: the embellishments fabricated by the mind…”
The solution, a practical training technique we can use:
“…Mindfulness of the postures focuses full attention on the body in whatever position it assumes… when changing postures one is aware of changing postures. The contemplation of the postures …reveals that the body is …a configuration of living matter subject to the directing influence of volition…”
-Bhikkhu Bodhi, The Noble Eightfold Path (p. 64 and 68) Pariyatti Publishing
As we train in mindfulness of the body, we become a unified dynamic system in which body and mind, perception and response, will and action, coalesce.
Training in mindfulness of the body we can extend our present time awareness into every movement, moment and act of will.
A meditation instruction like “empty the mind” cannot achieve this. A mind simply devoid of content cannot achieve technical mastery or liberation.
Entry to the Realm of Deep Practice
The mindfulness approach has unlimited potential as a gateway to true liberative practice. It can include what may be omitted in Zen-budo (see “Note” below) and make full use of the fusion of body and mind and the cultivation of liberative wisdom.
The mindfulness approach functions in all dimensions of training. As we train to observe closely, we can detect and remedy deflections of attention which we did not notice or whose significance we did not recognize before we began. These deflections come as a result either of outward distractions or inner disturbances of the mind. We need not be subject to them.
We can monitor the body more subtly and use it more adeptly.
We can extend the training to all moments of life.
Inner mental disturbances lose their power as our conduct becomes more wholesome – as we make our actions of body, speech and mind accord with restraint of greed, anger and delusion. As we learn to detect and remedy negative emotions and actions our attention and our will become deeper, sharper and more stable. Our physical skills are released from the constraints of hidden tension, subtle defects in balance, and fragmentation and discontinuity in the motion of the body. You can observe these positive results in high performance athletes, warriors, performers and others. But it is not possible for an untrained observer to tell how they are achieving their level of self-mastery.
The self-aware, analytic approach is not used in the heat of kumite, or during other types of high-pressure performance. It is a tool we use as part of the spectrum of training, at the right place and the right time. We don’t use calisthenics or hojo undo in the heat of kumite either. But they are needed to achieve peak performance.
We can use this approach to refine and perfect all the postures of our kata and of all the training we do. We can also make a mental habit of practicing this body-mind awareness outside the dojo setting: when we are walking, standing, sitting and lying down.
Since we always have a posture and we always have a mind we can practice any time.
3D Training in Restraint and Action
The Japanese character for mindfulness, 念, is made of two parts: the one depicted above is “now.” The one below is “mind.”
With heightened awareness of the condition of our mind we can refrain from unwholesome actions before they manifest. As we do, our ability to maintain mindfulness and enter sustained concentration deepens. We can then use that deep attention to examine the more subtle levels of the operation of our body and mind, to cultivate liberating wisdom.
It is this dimension that has been excluded from our tradition, and which is essential for training that is practical here and now and at the same time is aimed at achieving our highest aspirations.
To achieve our goals we need to engage in a well-informed investigation of the nature of our body and mind as they really are – as changing, seeking, interconnected processes – examining our body, mind and all our experience, for these three characteristics.
Once we can see these clearly, we can perfect our training, and reach our potential.
This is not intended as a prescriptive “how-to.” It points to a classically-derived alternative approach to mind training which promotes technical mastery and liberation, using martial arts.
The supporting case for the claim is made in the series on Phase Transformation in Kata:
And in many other articles, including these:
Post Copyright © 2021 Jeffrey Brooks, author of
The Good Fight – The Virtues and Values of the Martial Arts – available on Amazon.
Photo by Thao Le Hoang via Pexels. Many thanks to him for his great work.