When I am practising and teaching my martial art of Kuk Sool Won™, nothing else exists. I am not thinking about what has happened in my day or what I will be doing later. I am freed from any worries that may be causing me stress. My mind is focused on one thing; what I am doing in that moment. For me, martial arts is a mindful practice.
Most people will have heard of mindfulness. It is the big thing at the moment with loads of books published on the subject and a huge array of mindfulness courses available. It has the potential to truly enhance a person’s quality of life if it is understood and practiced correctly. What most people may not realise though, is that a traditional martial art such as Kuk Sool Won™ incorporates and teaches the concepts and benefits of mindfulness. It is a mindful practice. To understand this relationship, we need to understand what mindfulness is and how it is relevant to the practice of martial arts.
Mindfulness is derived from eastern Buddhist practices where monks would meditate for hours to still and empty their mind. They saw this as a path to enlightenment, something which takes a lifetime of practice to achieve. Given its Buddhist origins, most people associate mindfulness with the concept of being completely still and of emptying our minds. However, for most of us, this is not realistic. Our lives are too busy, are minds are too filled with thoughts that we struggle to control, and we have little free time to sit and do nothing.
Mindfulness as it has been related to westernised culture, is based on the principle of focus rather than on emptying of our minds and as such, it doesn’t require us to meditate or to be completely still for extended periods of time. Instead, mindfulness is a state of being, where we are completely present and living with full awareness of each moment. This frees us from worry about the future or thinking about a multitude of things at once. By living fully in the present moment, we can give our full attention and focus to our present task or activity, whether it is sitting reading a book, taking a walk, or practising martial arts.
Being fully present and mindful not only requires us to focus solely on the task at hand, but also to do it in a non-judgmental way. This involves gently letting go of the negative self-talk and the judgments we make about ourselves, such as “I’m not doing this well enough” or “I will never be good enough”.
When I first started practising martial arts, I would become distracted by my thoughts and self-judgments. I would reflect on my day during the warm up and think about what I would be having for dinner or doing tomorrow. I would also have a frequent internal dialogue on all of the things I was doing wrong or not good at. I would criticise myself for not being good at kicks, or not remembering my forms, or not getting my techniques right.
As I progressed in my training, this began to change and I am now much more mindful in my training and teaching. For example, instead of thinking about my day, I now focus on my body and how it feels during the warm up. This is the time when I connect with and prepare for my training and the class I am teaching. When I am training, I do it with awareness and focus on what I am doing. While I am aware of how well I am performing it, I rarely criticise myself now. Instead, my awareness provides me with important information which I can use to help me improve. I am also not thinking about what I will be doing next. Instead, I am focused on that present moment. There is a connection between my body and mind, in each moment of my training, which makes it a much more enjoyable experience. It reduces my stress rather than adding to it. This flows through to my teaching, enabling me to give my students my full attention and the best teaching experience I can.
Martial arts training has taught me how to be fully in the present moment, in a non-judgmental way. While I am not able to replicate this at all times, in all aspects of my life, it does have a flow on effect by encouraging me to be more present and aware, as well as less judgmental throughout my day. My life is richer and more enjoyable as a result.
JKN Jane Hurst
First degree black belt and school owner
Kuk Sool Won™ of Onewhero
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Caroline is a 5th degree black belt and Jane is a 2nd degree black belt in the traditional Korean martial art of Kuk Sool Won™ . They run 2 Kuk Sool Won™ martial arts schools in New Zealand.