My freshman year in high school, I met my cousin, David, who was a black belt in Shotokan & Karate. Everyone talked about David like he was the biggest badass around, so he was a living legend to me by the time I met him. I was shocked to discover he was a short guy with thick glasses who looked kind of like Richie Cunningham.
That day I took him with me to meet some of my track team buddies. At one point he asked if I wanted to learn some moves. He threw me around like a rag doll. Two of my friends ran over thinking I was in trouble and suggested he taken them on. These were big dudes, but David said he’d take all three of us on. Each of us took hold of him, in a head-lock, wrapping his legs in a scissor hold, pinning his arms behind his back, and then he asked if we were ready. We said yes, and in a matter of seconds, the three of us were flung out across the grass as he easily broke our holds using his martial arts training. He literally mopped the floor with us and it wasn’t even a challenge for him. It was mind-blowing.
After that, I started training with David. Eventually, my martial arts training became more of a spiritual practice when I took up West Coast Taekwondo under Diane Murray after college. Diane earned a silver medal in the 1992 Olympic Games and a bronze medal at the 1993 World Taekwondo Championships in the bantamweight division. Her training included key philosophies on respect and responsibility, including the use of CANI as our creed.
I trained for 5-7 hours a day, 6 days a week preparing to compete in tournaments. Every day as part of our training we meditated and spoke our goals in call and response fashion as they use in the military:
“Who are we?”
“West Coast Tae Kwan Do, Ma’am!”
“What’s our goal?”
“What does that mean?”
“Constant and Never Ending Improvement Ma’am!”
My time studying with Diane cultivated in me great physical and mental discipline. It also taught me how to stay focused on improving myself and my skills as a life philosophy. But perhaps my most valuable lesson was how to use mindfulness and focus, as well as technique, to convert energy into power.
Mindfulness can be a vague term for someone unfamiliar with the concept, but it’s important to understand that it is more than just being self-awareness. It’s about being in tune with your spirituality and having the ability to reflect on yourself in both positive and negative lights. It’s more of a specific type of awareness that harnesses the powers of energy mastery and an open mind to help you develop yourself.
I believe that Martial arts are some of the most effective practices to improve one’s understanding of mindfulness and the ability to harness it. No matter what type of martial art you are interested in trying, most can teach you how to respond rather than react; a core principle of mindfulness and one of the main goals of martial arts training.
Karate, Judo, and Taekwondo, for example, are not strictly designed to improve your physical strength and fighting abilities. While they certainly help with those categories, the mental benefits that come with these practices teach you how to respond more effectively, as well, disposing of negative thoughts and embracing the martial arts mindset.
From a very simple standpoint, you can respond to any negative thoughts or emotions you are feeling by saying “stop,” and focusing on a positive alternative. This is a common strategy martial artists use to silence any feelings of self-doubt and persevere, which you can apply to everyday life. Let go of your fears and insecurities, especially those that are out of your control. There is no point dwelling on something you cannot change, so focus on what matters most and approach everything with a positive mindset.
Mindfulness can also help you avoid being affected by the negativity of others around you. The only thing you have the ability to change in the face of negativity is either yourself or your environment. Continue forward on the path that you chose and don’t let the distractions of others cause you to stray from that path. In martial arts, it is frequently taught to pay attention to your own actions and not to those around you. Perfect your own form and don’t allow thoughts of self-doubt to cause you to question your own abilities and compare them to others. You will only adopt this negativity by giving them your time and attention.
Connect your mind and your body. The physical tests that come with practicing martial arts should be aided by encouraging thoughts such as, “I need to jump higher,” or “I need to punch faster.” This reminds you to be productive in your training to achieve those goals.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time competing and pushing myself to be undefeated in my tournament competitions. And I believe the lessons I learned from my practice are still serving me today.
Whether in Martial Arts or in life, your mind and body should be in sync for the best results, both physically and mentally. Staying mindful and present in all you do will dramatically increase your sense of happiness and success in life.
Tj Bartel is a transformational coach working with men and couples in the areas of energy mastery and conscious relationships. Visit TJBartel.com to learn more.