Today I want to share with you what I consider to be one of the top five lessons I have taken from martial arts training.
This lesson relates to one aspect; experience, good and bad, and how to begin to see the things around you that you are missing without realizing it. Experience is a fantastic teacher that helps to remove both ignorance and incompetence. Avoiding new experiences is essentially losing a fight with yourself. The more you learn, the easier learning becomes and the more you grow. Maintaining that white belt attitude means acknowledging that at all times, what you don’t know vastly outweighs what you know.
Voice of the Body
I’m going to be talking specifically about what is one of the most obvious, and yet often most forgotten or abused, pieces of an individual; the body. The body has its own voice, it has its own type of wisdom that most of us ignore or have never learned to access. Many of us treat our body as just a machine, a slave to the mind. A tool to transport the mind from one place to the next and to put thought and idea into action.
Certainly this is a part of it; but idea of the master-slave relationship of the mind and the body is unhealthy. The Shaolin monks have been saying for centuries that to separate learning from the body, from the mind, and from the spirit, is detrimental to ones health and wholeness, as well as a massive waste of potential. For what is knowledge without understanding? Only both together is where wisdom is born. Therefore the EXPERIENCE of the body must have the ability to communicate back to the KNOWLEDGE of the mind.
The body has many ways of communicating back to the brain, for truly the body is an experience, not a machine. The body is how the mind and spirit perceive and experience the world around us. The easiest of these forms of communication to notice are what we call instinct and intuition. These are not messages generally born of the mind but rather from the body to be interpreted by the mind. Like any muscle or your brain however, without exercising it, practicing with it, and showing some trust in it, then it’s immense potential can never be realized.
Fitness for the brain
The “conscious” aspects of the brain are only a very small portion of its total makeup. The conscious portions of the brain tend to be narrowly focused, and often stuck almost completely in the logical. While logic and intellect are important, we lose a bit of understanding and awareness in the narrower focus of the conscious mind. Where the other parts of the brain relate to the body, and tend to notice things our mind does not. Ever had a weird feeling about a person that turned out correct? Ever got a weird feeling that made you jump out of the way just before you got hit by something you didn’t see coming? This is the body trying to communicate to the brain that your consciousness missed something that it did not.
Have you ever had trouble figuring out a problem, then stepped away and did something else only to have a new, creative way around your obstacle pop into your head? That is because that logic side of the brain began to relax with physical activity. Literally allowing the creative juices to begin flowing. Logic, numbers, and analytics are all important. In order to be able to find new ways around obstacles you also need the creative side of your brain. The creative side can take those analytics and turn it into something logic could rarely think of. How do you release this creative side? Easy, pay more attention to your body and physical activity.
To be at your most balanced thinking, you must exercise different kinds of fitness for both the brain, and the body.
Most people sacrifice the experience and wisdom the body can provide in exchange for speed and efficiency in their day to day life. We have all heard the saying “stop and smell the roses” I say don’t just smell the roses but experience them. With your senses awakened even the most mundane events can become deep emotional and spiritual moments of learning and experience. When you are in tune with the senses these experiences become moments of purity in being only in the current moment, and experiencing how a sunset looks and feels, how we feel in the arms of our loved ones, or what the vastness of the sky can arise within us. Anything that can be learned intellectually can also generally be experienced in the bodies feelings.
So how does martial arts help with this situation of sleepy senses many of us find ourselves in?
When you are deep into a hard fitness workout, or a fight, or sparring match, the brains thoughts begin to slow and drift away. In a fight things happen too fast for the brain to keep up with and so it leaves. This awakens the fight, flight, or flee situation giving over to the body’s wisdom. It is in these moments that we must trust the body, and its training to take over for our brain. Our reactions come out as instinctual and intuition.
The punch comes too fast for the brain to register and tell the body to move, you must trust your body to do so for your brain. In the scroll of the emptiness from the book of the five rings; it speaks about using the brain and body to learn a technique or tactic. Then train to become intimate with it. Once that is accomplished, then learn to detach from it so that it is always ready in your body with your mind empty so that your reaction times are faster than thought possible.
Let go yourself, let go your ego
In these moments and in hard workouts as our brain slows we begin to “lose” our social identity for a time. Who we are, where we work, where we come from. Instead we find ourselves focused on finding that well of energy deep down that many of us leave untapped. We focus on the flow of energy from one muscle to the next. Pulling every last drop of energy we can through it to harness that inner energy with surprising power.
If you have ever experienced near exhaustion or muscle failure in a fight or workout, then yet found yourself able to continue, then suddenly you begin to feel like you still have quite a bit left to give, then you have experienced tapping into that well of energy. The goal of exercise is not to be strong or look good, or even move well. The main goal should be physical awareness and a healthy relationship of mind, body, and spirit, instead of just that as master/slave.
Feel & Experience, let your body experience the day as well as your mind.
So through these moments we learn how to feel our body. We learn how to experience with it, without the interference of the distractions the mind is so fond of. Over time with practice we can learn to tap into this whenever we want. We can learn to stop and just feel whenever we want. We begin to notice having far more profound experiences in the beauty of the world around us. It begins to give us a keen sense of danger, and a far better understanding than most about body language. It can even help us grow in our empathy(ability to feel what others are feeling in yourself). Empathy is mostly thought to be a trait that can not be learned, I have experience that makes me disagree.
Take the good with the bad.
Another tendency we have is to shy away from bad experiences. Unfortunately this is unhealthy as well, for the balance in your wisdom to exist you must take the good with the bad. If an experience is bothering you then there is a lesson to be learned from it.
Many of us, myself included at one time, use those bad experiences to shut down all of our senses. Over time we find that we can’t even notice any real emotions anymore. It can feel like you become robotic, you pretend to feel, but its more like going through the motions. If you find yourself shutting down like I did, take this warning. If you spend four years blocking out your ability to feel, it will take you 6-8 years to regain it. Ignoring those bad experiences is allowing yourself to be beaten by incompetence and ignorance, which can both be beaten simply through EXPERIENCE.
Practice feeling not just knowing, practice experiencing, not just seeing. Exercise your instinct and intuition so that it may grow, they are meant to be felt, not thought.
Written By: Cory Rose