The martial arts are more than just a sport or a way to stay physically active. They are more than a gi and a belt rank. They are more than a dojo or a gym. They are more than a style or a title.
Martial arts is about becoming one with yourself, with nature, with the universe. It is about living mindfully and incorporating its virtues in day-to-day activities and interactions. And in applying philosophy to martial arts, practitioners can create and maintain balance in their training.
Philosophy and martial arts
Philosophy plays a major role in the martial arts. Practitioners who study martial arts without understanding the philosophy only partake in half of the journey.
Joseph Cardillo, author of Be Like Water and Bow to Life, puts it this way: “A martial artist without philosophy is nothing more than a street fighter.”
In his introduction in Bow to Life, Cardillo explains that, from the very beginning, martial arts was more about living than about fighting.
I received this book as a gift from my parents years ago. It was not until recently I decided to read it. The book gives great advice on how to convert dojo practices into everyday life.
When I finish reading the book, I will write a review.
A virtuous life
Virtues are important in the martial arts. Showing respect and humility, practicing self-discipline and patience, building self-confidence and having integrity are virtues that a practitioner should possess and apply to their practice and their life.
I will write a separate blog that breaks down the different virtues of martial arts and how they can be applied to practice and everyday life.
Qi: life force, energy
Qi is not a mystical superpower, as many fake martial arts practitioners like to make their students believe. (Watch the video linked above to have a good chuckle.)
Qi (气 simplified Chinese – literally translates to “breath” or “air”) exists in everyone and everything that lives. Jesse Enkamp, aka the Karate Nerd, describes the term qi (also spelled “chi”) as energy.
Qi/chi is called “ki” in Korean and Japanese.
In his video, Enkamp breaks down the Chinese character for qi, explaining that it represents ‘steaming rice,’ which in turn is thermal energy.
Qi, therefore, is a ‘life force’ that everyone possesses but not everyone has a chance to master.
At an advanced rank, I started to learn how to control my breathing, my qi. With each movement, I had to know when to inhale, exhale, tense my muscles, relax. I also had to learn to breathe with my abdomen rather than my chest.
One of the very first katas we learn as students is Miyagi Sanchin kata. The breathing and tension techniques are learned and applied in the advanced ranks. Take a look at this video to get a sense of what I mean.
It is quite a difficult technique to master, and it is all about timing and focus. But it is not something that can be practiced daily because it can impact one’s blood pressure.
Practicing this technique during meditation is helpful: breathing deeply and slowly (without tension), inhaling through the nose and exhaling out of the mouth.
Adding this technique to my routine has slowly helped me improve my breathing when I apply it to my practices.
“Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless like water. When you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put water into a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”Bruce Lee
Meditation and mindfulness
Meditation is a practice that can improve one’s physical and mental health. Not all martial artists practice meditation, but I find it helpful in clearing the mind.
Focusing on the breath is a way to find balance in meditation. Feeling the breath softly and slowly enter the nose and exhale through the mouth is quite calming.
I like to have my white noise machine on in the background too to drown out the sounds that can be distracting.
I like the sound of a rainstorm or the sound of waves at the beach.
Through the combination of philosophy, martial arts, virtues and meditation, practitioners can work their way to creating spiritual, mental and physical balance. But it takes discipline and devotion to maintain this balance in one’s life and martial arts practices.
I have only just begun my journey. And I know there is a long road ahead, but with focus and determination, I am well on my way to creating and maintaining balance in my life.