Gichin Funakoshi, founder of Shotokan karate, emphasized that every practitioner must seek perfection of character. In order to accomplish this, it is essential to obtain a clear focused mind in pursuit of a mental and physical state harnessed for perfection. When learning and practicing karate, particularly as it involves both physical and mental tasks, one must first start with the mindset of discipline. In karate, attending to the work of the mind is a discipline that can be practiced both in and out of the dojo.
When training, it is crucial for the practitioner to reset the mind, essentially clearing it from any past or future thoughts. As with many great endeavors, one must set personal goals to accomplish in training. Being mindful of these goals is crucial as not adhering to them is like riding a bicycle in tiny circles to get to your destination. When away from the dojo, the practitioner can also apply the mindful practice of karate to one’s personal challenges of everyday life. Therefore, mental training should occur seamlessly with the physical demands of karate as it permeates all areas of a practitioner’s life.
For whatever reason, a martial artist might arrive at a plateau where they feel they aren’t gaining from their training or they are faced with great challenges. Our minds are powerful and can lead us to believe we are stuck when, in fact, the very act of attending a class is beneficial to the practitioner. It is essential to tap into a focused mindset, seeking to use the strength of the mind to breakthrough, identify, and attend to any present difficulties. One of the essential ways this can be accomplished is by resetting the mind. In doing this, it is imperative to let go of all exterior distractions, past and present, in an effort to obtain a blank slate or tabula rasa, thereby forgiving oneself of any extraneous events of the day. Another method is to simply check in with oneself, asking “Where am I with my kata, stance or flow?” followed by “Where do I want to go with my kata, stance, or flow.” Then, visualize the steps and, furthermore, envision accomplishing them in progression and, ultimately, with success. The whole idea is to reset the mind continually throughout one’s training in an effort to optimize learning the skills without distraction, thereby gaining a new perspective of the areas in which to attend.
Mind-body connections also aid in the progression of muscle memory in addition to learning sensory motor movements essential to karate. It takes both the mind and body to develop a strong and present awareness in order to optimally enhance the structured sequence of movements in karate called kata. Of course, it is also essential to obtain good teachers to model the movements, provide feedback, and help the student reach their goals. In karate, the mind adds to the vigor and spirit behind each movement that the body is directed to perform. Anyone, with enough practice, can go through the motions, but it’s through these mental connections that one can arise to become the greatest among the great.
With mindfulness, a karateka can complete tasks that involve mental acuity with more fervor. It helps in a way that focus and concentration cannot accomplish alone. The reason is that mindfulness works a step further, utilizing both the unconscious and conscious minds. Using the unconscious mind is a bit like adding water to a reservoir one drop at a time to fill the cup when it’s most needed. Mindfulness attends to present moments, particularly when the goal is to remain focused with optimal attention to learning forms and detail. Renowned mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn speaks to it as “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, without judgment. In training, it comes down to checking in to explore the possibilities while focusing on areas to improve. It is not about criticizing, but rather finding ways to grow. The methods utilized vary from sitting silently in zazen to practicing basic walking meditation or even meditating on a daily basis. The idea is to practice using your mind regularly with as much frequency and integrity as you practice using your body. When the mind and body are in tune, one can achieve optimal states of mental and physical awareness in order to demonstrate their own perfection of character.
-Dr. E. Cruz Eusebio, 3rd kyu student in Shotokan karate