Meditation practices in the Martial Arts Path
The importance of meditation is usually most apparent at the more advanced levels of the martial arts path
In the years that I have practised and taught meditation as a part of the Martial Arts Path I have noticed some commonalities shared by those students who seem to make the most progress in their inward-turning practice. What constitutes progress on such a path is very much dependent on the context and in the case of the traditional Asian martial arts I practise. As the exponent becomes more skilled physically, it is of vital importance that there is some kind of concomitant mental and spiritual growth to avoid a descent into mere physical thuggery. This becomes even more necessary as the exponent matures in their practice and finds that although physical abilities might decline as the body ages, there is no limit to the progress that may be made in other areas such as intuition, emotional maturity and an increased sensitivity to such matters as timing, distancing and the diffusion of conflict in the earliest stages. The Chinese character used for martial (also used in Japanese) can be explained as the stopping of conflict and this lies at the root of all Asian martial arts.
In the practice of the traditional martial arts, it is common for the long-term exponent to feel a sense of coming home to their daily practice. This feeling is associated not only with the sacred space in which the practice takes place (often called the Dojo or Daochang, place or field of the Way) but also with the practices themselves, whether solo movements or partner work, unarmed or with weapons. This coming home is a return to a place where they recognise something fundamental and essential about their own nature.
When the exponent undertakes the serious study of such inward-looking practices as meditation, this sense of returning home becomes even stronger. Over the decades that I have been practising and teaching I have noticed that there are certain types of student, or perhaps I should say, students with particular attributes, that make the journey home with more ease than others. In this piece I shall attempt to describe these attributes. This description is not based on any one exponent but rather on the experiences of many.
Before we dive into this however, I must note that the nature of the Journey home is not really a path to a far-off destination for it is the nature of this practice that, although we set off with a seemingly distant destination in mind, we have actually already reached the goal but just don’t realise it. The late Bruce Lee described this process in the martial arts as being the chipping away of a sculptor to reveal what is already there in the piece of rock rather than an accretion of skills, experiences and so on.
When starting the journey home it is best to have an open mind both about the destination and the journey itself. Thus the ideal student, very often, does not identify strongly with any particular belief system. A feeling that one should be able to access a particular state, as defined by this or that “ism”, might not be strong enough to sustain the inward traveller on what might be a long road. On the other hand, the growing recognition that the practice leads us to a place that is both familiar and yet somehow significant in ways we might not previously have recognized, provides support and encouragement for us as we continue on the journey. This is that sense of coming home.
In the absence of firmly held religious or atheistic convictions, a feeling for the sacred in nature and the interconnectedness of being is of some help as a support in the early stages but what is more important is to start on the journey expecting nothing while maintaining a mental attitude that is receptive to and inquisitive about whatever might happen.
Continuing on the Journey, our ideal student greets each experience and stage of progress with a sense of wonder but also with a degree of detachment as to what this might actually mean in the context of the “real world” of their martial studies. A willingness to test whatever states one might feel one has developed or experienced in meditation in solo training or sparring and to be neither excited nor disappointed with the results, provides continued “fuel” for the journey. The patient persistence required will be familiar to the experienced practitioner of the martial arts for it is the very lifeblood of long term practice.
An example of the testing process might occur at that time when the student experiences an increasing sense of calm and stillness while meditating and then seeks to see if this same state is accessible in the furious to and fro of sparring. Initially they might find their calm dissolving but with an attitude of patient persistence, one day they may well find themselves in the “zone” of stillness even while engaged in intense physical action.
The type of student who makes steady progress along the “Inner Way” is not necessarily the one with the most enthusiasm or the one who rushes in headlong. Indeed those who start out with some hesitation, often pick up momentum as they go and find that their interest grows as the practice becomes its own reward.
A dangerous time occurs when the exponent notices that they have acquired some measure of advanced or special powers through their practice. This might be in the form of increased sensitivity to the environment they find themselves in or the partners they are working with in sparring and other training. While these skills might appear extraordinary there is an ego-trap here, for they very often can prove fleeting and if, in the process, they have become a part of or reinforcement for the exponent’s sense of ego self, when they inevitably fade away, their loss may cause considerable distress. Again the middle way of being attached to neither a sense of gain or loss is the best path. For the practitioner who patiently persists, putting their faith in the process of practice rather than the illusory goal of superhuman powers, a greater reward lies in wait and that is revealed as they find their True Self, uncoloured by discriminatory conditioning and thus they are enabled to become “fully human”, able to respond to what is rather than what is hoped for or feared.
When passing through this stage the ability to remain humble and open to whatever might happen is a must. Any temptation to feel that they have been divinely blessed or specifically singled out to receive special gifts is able to be treated as the illusion it is, until the student is safely home.
In the words of one of those students who is well on the Way back home: “I welcome the practice with interest and try to just enjoy the ride. I am neither an atheist, nor an agnostic, nor a religious person. I try to live in the now and neither reject or accept any viewpoint without trying them out.’
This student continues to make great progress in both his meditative and martial practice and in the process lives a life that shines with the best of what might best be termed human virtues: kindness, loyalty, compassion and an unselfish willingness to help others.
If you are interested in these observations and are new to this website you will find many better-written and more authoritative examples given from the first hand experiences of Trevor Leggett.