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Sunday, May 3, 2009

What does meditation have to do with Kung-Fu?

Whatever branch of traditional martial arts you study, chances are you are going to run into meditation. It is at the core of Kung-Fu. It is its lifeblood. One of the legends of the origins of Shaolin states that Bodhidarma (Tamo) taught the monks meditation exercises like the Yijinjing (muscle/tendon change classic) to build their endurance so that they were not falling asleep during seated meditation. The monks took their new found strength and used it to develop their martial arts. Meditation has made a resurgence as of late, with more and more people taking it up either for spiritual or health reasons.

Meditation in Kung-Fu is also used for health and enlightenment. Doctors like Hua-To found meditation and qigong enhanced longevity and so he prescribed his Five animal frolics to patients to improve their health and well being. Chan buddhists and Taoists used it as a way to achieve enlightenment. Most traditional martial arts have meditation as a key component of their practice and use meditation for similar purposes.

I have often asked myself questions about meditation. What is meditation's purpose in the martial arts? Is it possible to be a skilled fighter without being able to meditate? What does sitting still have to do with how hard I can hit. Why is such an emphasis placed on it in traditional martial arts? The further I have explored the different avenues of meditation, I have come to appreciate it more than ever. I believe it is critical to development as a martial artist.

Here are some benefits to meditating when practicing the fighting arts

1. Meditation allows a practitioner to be fully present. You cannot face an opponent and be able to see his vulnerabilities if you are thinking. Thinking of fear, thinking of what you ate for dinner. Thinking about what techniques you should use. In any given day your mind is processing millions of thoughts. meditation teaches you how to separate you from your thoughts. So that you can be able to completely focus.

2. Meditation also allows you to have better awareness over your own body. How to regulate your breathing and control your heart rate in stressful situations will give you a clear advantage over an opponent who is not trained to do so. Better and deeper breathing lets more oxygen flow to your cells when you need it the most (like when you are defending yourself ).

3. Meditation can also improve your overall technique. Strikes are more efficient when the muscles and joints involved are working complementary to each other. Unnecessary tension before delivering strikes can limit their effectiveness. if you are breathing deeply and relaxing, you will be able to deliver strikes more quickly and powerfully than if you were tense.


Sakan said...

On the whole, I'm in agreement with you on your three benefits of practicing meditation to supplement the fighting arts. Although, on #3, I would like to add that meditation does not only improve overall technique, but that it improves overall concentration. Some may not agree with me or understand why, but the essential purpose of meditation is simply for that, concentration. Why is it so important? Concentration is the ability for one to focus his or her capabilities in achieving success at whatever task is on hand, going beyond all forms of distraction and fears of failure.

Concentration is what separates humans in their varying stages of advancement and those who are capable of achieving intense levels of focus have access to skills, ability, and knowledge not available to average humans. This is what is generally regarded as 'superhuman', acts of incredible mental and physical prowess. Of course anyone capable of intense concentration can direct it towards achieving success in whatever goals they see fit. In a Buddhist sense, it is to be directed to develop clear, absolute insight into the Four Noble Truths. But in a purely martial sense, it could be used to hone a weapon of deadly efficiency.

Koshin said...

That is a great point, meditation improves overall concentration. Which in combat would be an essential aspect. Being able to be fully present and aware is vital. I hope you and your family have a wonderful 2010.