Many non-martial artists think that all martial artists infuse spirituality in to their martial art. Look at the very popular Kung Fu television series! There was more martial art spirituality in that show than you can measure with a mile-long measuring tape. The main character was a Shaolin monk who traveled through the American Old West armed only with his spiritual training and his skill in martial arts. We all loved the way this show exemplified spirituality through its martial art characters.
Some martial artists, however are very down to earth. Some do not consider spirituality a part of their training, even if they freely quote the “mind, body, and spirit” mantra. Can martial artists really bring forth a spirituality, no matter what style they practice?
The answer is yes, and a very big yes. In small and subtle ways, you can improve your life and your martial art through a better sense of awareness, self-understanding, positivity, and faith. Here are five ways you can add a better sense of spirituality to the martial art mix.
1. Appreciate the moment
Many take this for granted. Because of the difficult experiences in my life, I tend to hold on to this one with a mighty fist! Appreciating the moment brings you an awareness of the here and now. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow is yet to unfold, so right now is all you have.
Martial arts are more than a physical journey. That is because they empower you to be more than you ever thought that you could be. I discovered this empowerment when I began to appreciate a new sense of spiritual insight in my practice. In the midst of one particular training, I felt so amazingly right and true in the moment. I was fully engaged, through breath, action, and thought.
Appreciating the moment is not always easy. I sometimes get frustrated in class when I am not grasping a technique very well. Then, I remind myself of how lucky I am to be in class with an excellent instructor, great classmates, and a good environment. I look at the “moment in time” and am suddenly grateful, instead of frustrated.
When you recognize the impact of the moment, it is like a small dose of personal enlightenment. Look outside of yourself to see what is happening around you and use it for your own empowerment. Not every moment is an awakening, but every now again everything will fall into place.
Use the appreciation of the moment to create a spiritual base upon which you build your martial art practice.
2. Meditate, Visualize, or Reflect
Meditation is a little more difficult concept than reflection, but both provide a necessary respite from the hustle and bustle of life, and both allow you to quietly seek peace, even in a chaotic world.
Meditating with closed eyes and thoughtful breathing takes place in some martial art schools, as well as in yoga classes. The most difficult thing about it is that it feels impossible to think about nothing, even if just for a few seconds! Visualization can help calm your thoughts and bring you into the current moment. You can clear your mind from the happenings of the day and find yourself in the here and now.
Breathing is essential. Once you learn to use your breath and focus on it, you can eliminate some of the other daily thoughts that constantly fill your brain space. Beginning a martial art class in this manner is helpful because it provides your mind with a clean slate.
Reflection and visualization are more active than meditation. You can reflect on what is good in your life, a positive story, a simple concept, or a quote. How does it apply to your life? How can you become better from it? Apply this reflection to your practice. “I am so excited to be learning again,” or “I have looked forward to class all day,” or “It was a long day, but this is exactly what I need to rejuvenate.”
Start by recognizing whatever is uplifting, empowering, or inspirational to you. Take the time to think about them prior to your training. They are exactly what you need to bring a bit of spirituality to your physical practice.
3. Use Positivity
Every martial artist eventually learns that without a positive and encouraging mindset, it is difficult to achieve. Believing in yourself is key if you want to excel in your martial art. Positivity is a form of spirituality because it comes from within. No one can force it upon you, or take it from you. It is a choice that each person, and each martial artist, must make.
In my earlier years, I was not familiar with positivity. I did not know I could use it as a spiritual way to live my life. After working on it for a while, I started to see changes in my life. I became more confident, focused, and appreciative, not just because I was improving in martial arts, but because I was improving in life.
I learned to take difficult martial art tasks and turn them into “I can do it” opportunities, instead of thinking that I could never accomplish them. I began to believe that I was capable. Positivity allows you to be more open-minded. Knowing you can lift the boundaries of self-imposed limitations is tremendously important in your training.
Add positivity to your martial art practice. It will not only benefit you, but your students, and peers, as well. Lift the limits and build upon the internal spiritual belief that you have talents and gifts unlike any other, and each of those will help you become a better martial artist.
4. Incorporate Your Faith
Rarely do I talk about faith or religion because everyone has their own belief system, and I respect that. Generally speaking, however, a martial art mindset can be combined with your personal faith to enhance your spirituality.
I use a combination of prayer, positivity, and martial arts to enhance my spiritual purpose. Each of these fulfills me in a different way. When combined, they give me a sense of wholeness and fortitude. In my worst moments, I summon all three to the forefront. They are like a triple defense against the worst of times. Somehow, miraculously, they always pull me through.
Use the power of your personal faith, and the physical practice of martial arts, to overcome obstacles, or simply to be grateful. This empowerment of prayer, positivity, and martial arts can create a stronghold in your life that will remind you why your life is good, but also that you can continually battle against the obstacles that present themselves. Whatever combination of faith and spirituality works for you should be meshed into your mindful practice of martial arts.
5. Practice in Nature
When I practice kicks outside, it is as if that kick shoots off into space somewhere. When I breathe, it is as if I am creating a swirl of energy that protects me. Every effort outside is a magnification of what I do inside the school walls. There is something incredible about being in an expansive atmosphere under a huge sky with no walled-in boundaries. The experience is quite different from when inside the martial art school. There are literally no walls to limit you.
Typically, I am also alone when I practice outside. This provides the perfect opportunity to be one with nature, which becomes a very spiritual practice. You can incorporate all of the other items mentioned in this blog post during your nature experience. Positivity, meditation, reflection, living in the moment, appreciation, and faith all tumble together as you try new movements or practice the old ones in nature.
I also use my outdoor martial art practice as a time to experiment. I modify kicks to suit how I am feeling in the moment, for example. They are not kicks from a particular style, but rather, Andrea’s kicks. They are about how I feel in that moment, alone, without judgement, criticism, or oversight. These are moments that are uniquely mine, and I am free to be the spiritual martial artist that I choose to be.
Practice one of your forms outside, or a few kicks, or slow-motion martial art stepping sequence. Make your martial art practice in nature a way to enhance your martial art spiritual journey.
Martial arts are a very physical practice, and always will be. They are fighting arts with a specific purposes in mind. Still, you can take your own practice in any direction you choose. It is unlike any other, just as you are unique and special in all the world. Just practicing the physical is very good. You will learn to defend, take down, and re-direct. In real life, that is exactly what you need.
Your martial art practice, however, can be so much more. You do not have to corner it only into what others believe or expect. In a quiet moment when you are alone, no one else knows what you are feeling. Do you need to get out your frustration by pummeling the bag, or do you need to sit with legs crossed and eyes closed to become one with the moment? Do you need to spar, sweat, and drive yourself to new levels, or meditate about what your martial art practice really means to you. The options are open. The call is yours.
I have always been inspired by the Kung Fu television series because it brought spiritual training and martial art skills together. I do not think anyone would disagree that we need more of that in our world today.
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This book shares the stories and insights of more than twenty-five women in the martial arts, and how they apply martial arts to their lives.
Unlike most other martial art books, the reader will catch a glimpse into the brave and empowered woman who dares to be all that she can be. Many of these women had to overcome great societal or personal challenges to break into the men’s world of martial arts. This book will motivate and inspire you to go after your goals in life and to fight through every challenge and defeat every obstacle. The Martial Arts Woman will open your eyes to the power of the human spirit and the martial art mindset that dwells in each of us!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Andrea F. Harkins is a writer, motivator, life coach, martial artist, and public speaker. Her book, The Martial Arts Woman, is now available at themartialartswoman.storenvy.com.