Extraordinary techniques for unleashing the power of the body and mind
When we practice martial arts it’s vitally important that we train our minds as much as we train our bodies. We believe we are the boss of our minds but when our mind says it wants chocolate, even though we know we shouldn’t, the next thing we know we are eating a bar of chocolate. So who is in charge? We can’t blame it on the bar of chocolate can we?
More than two thousand five hundred years ago, The Lord Buddha said, “It is our mind which makes the world.”
A positive mind has a positive impact on ourselves and in turn our family and friends and this trickles out to the world at large. I don’t know if there was chocolate in the Buddha’s time but I can guarantee that our mind was the same then as it is now.
At the Shaolin Temple we use powerful techniques that have been passed to us directly from the Buddha to aid us in our martial art’s training. This doesn’t mean that in order to practice Shaolin we need to be Buddhists but using some of these mind techniques can help us to approach our training with fresh eyes.
Mind and Body Stamina
When I studied at the Shaolin Temple, we started every morning with a grueling run up the Songshan Mountain to the Bodhidharma cave then back down the hill, where we would begin our martial art’s training. There were many mornings when I felt lazy and the last thing I wanted to do was run up the mountain but our master would be chasing behind us with a stick and we would be beaten if we were too slow. Over the years, one of the things I began to realise was that sometimes it wasn’t my body that was feeling tired but my mind. Our master was there with the stick not just to give our bodies stamina but more importantly our minds.
In our martial arts training it is vitally important that we build two types of stamina – mind and body. A martial artist’s mind is very important for every aspect of their performance. We need to be as flexible in our mind as we are in our bodies.
Looking back over my training, I realise it was my mind which held me back rather than my body. Shaolin Steel Jacket is a good example of that. When I began this training, I doubted whether it was really possible to hit myself with a brick and feel no pain. Of course, it is impossible without special instruction and techniques. It would be like trying to find a street in a strange town without a map or someone to guide us. But with the correct training, our body can surpass what our mind thinks is possible. People call Shaolin monks “super human” but we are human, it’s just we know how to train our flesh and blood and the most important thing: our mind.
A fusion of body and mind
I feel this is what all martial arts are, an extraordinary fusion of mind and body. And the first thing Shaolin monks do with their body is take it for a run. I don’t believe that any martial artist can have good stamina if they don’t run.
When we run and we get tired, sometimes it is our muscle and other times it is our breathing. We need to build the power of our muscle and breathing together. We don’t need to count how many steps we take but we need to get into a rhythm so our steps are in tune with our inhale and exhale. The other important aspect is to vary our speeds so that sometimes we are doing aerobic exercise and other times anaerobic. For example we can do five minutes to warm up then two minutes sprint then one minutes slow then another five minutes normal jogging speed.
We also need to do at least one long distance run a week. But if we can run eight or ten miles, this doesn’t mean we have good stamina for martial arts. The only way to build this is to continue our training after we have run. This is the reason why all Shaolin Temple trainees start their day with a run up the mountain and then don’t stop but continue.
The running is just a warm up, a preliminary. Our body is warm and now we begin our real martial art’s training. It’s vitally important that we stretch thoroughly. Running, especially hill running makes our leg muscles tight so we need to do a lot of kicks to loosen the tightness of our muscles. We start off by doing relaxed kicks and punches building up to using power and practicing our forms. We also can do some jumping to strengthen our legs.
At the Shaolin Temple we have no choice. We are never allowed to lie in bed. But here in the West, we have many choices. We may start off with a lot of enthusiasm but maybe one day it’s raining or we feel tired or there’s an interesting film on at the cinema or we don’t have enough time. This is when it’s time to employ Mind Stamina.
When we are in the temple, we practice meditation. Many people think that meditation is sitting on the floor in a cross-legged position and trying to empty our minds of all thoughts but this is not meditation; this is like being a dead person! There are many types of meditation, I think people give themselves a hard time, they say ok, now I will be peaceful but when they shut their eyes the thoughts seem louder and they don’t feel peaceful at all so they stop meditating all together.
Thoughts are thoughts. It’s what we do with the thought that is the important thing. It’s how we react. There are many different ways to meditate but one way is to meditate with positive thoughts. This will give energy to our mind.
We don’t have to sit to do this but we can do it when we run. When we feel tired, we can dedicate our run. For example, we can say; I want to run ten minutes for peace or ten minutes for my grandfather who is ill, or ten minutes for my friend who was feeling depressed today. We can dedicate whatever we do for the betterment of others, and this takes the focus off the smallness of us and makes our running a part of the whole world.
The other thing we can do to help with the stamina of our mind is practice different stances. For example we can practice horse stance. We stay as low as we can and we quickly get tired so then our mind fights with our body. Our mind says, “Keep going!” but our legs say, “You are killing me!” It’s the same as the chocolate bar. Which one will we choose?
This is one of the reasons in the old kung fu films we see the kung fu master’s practice horse stance. It is great for building mind and body at the same time.
You already are what you want to become
Another mind technique we can apply to our martial arts training is
aimlessness. This is one of four Dharma seals in Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism. This means: You already are what you want to become. Does a tree have to do something? The purpose of a tree is to be itself, and your purpose is to be yourself.
We have everything. There is no need to put anything in front of us and run
after it. So, whatever it is that you believe you want – good health, more
energy or to be an exceptional martial artist – you already have.
Bringing this energy into our practice, enriches everything we do - running, kung fu, qigong, meditation, and also our work and family life. It helps us to stop putting our life on hold or wait for the future when we think we will have more time or be less stressed.
There is only now
There is no future time there is only now. And now is the most important
time we have. Now is the building block for the future. Instead of drifting
into the future of “if” and “when”, we focus on the single point of now.
Kung Fu Ch’an
In my DVD Kung fu Ch’an, through Shaolin Kung fu, I demonstrate how the mind and body work together to become one so that Shaolin training becomes a direct gateway into the teachings of Ch’an Buddhism.
Shaolin Martial Arts helps us to reach the potential in ourselves that we only dreamt of before. I believe with the correct approach and the right motivation, we can use our martial arts to bring to our life the wholeness, health and inner satisfaction that we seek.