View Full Version : Zen and Martial Arts

04-06-2001, 09:51 PM
I read that a martial artist is able to enter into a trance before a fight and thereby react (not move) much faster (almost 2 times faster). This is done by focusing at the dantian and feeling a pulse there. Can I, a beginner martial artist, try this? Do I first need to know the forms first so that I can use them spontaneously without thought and instead rely on reflexes? Right now, I do not know the forms or moves well (I started a week ago). Also, should I have a strong base of Zazen (Zen meditation) before applying anything in combat?

Here is part of the article where I read about it. I got it from:

www.hsuyun.org/Dharma/zbohy/MartialArts/MartialArts/martialarts-home.html (http://www.hsuyun.org/Dharma/zbohy/MartialArts/MartialArts/martialarts-home.html)

[This has been edited for briefness. However, you still may find it lengthy the way it is here.]

One can move with effortless fluidity, without conscious consideration of a single move. He remains in a state of complete dispassion, going through the motions of combat without feeling the emotions of combat. He is able to remain calm because his ego is not involved in the contest. Even though in his relaxed or casual moments the master may experience a comparatively high state of awareness, when beginning a contest he will nevertheless heighten this state by entering a meditative trance and evicting his ego from the combat arena.

The method he uses to accomplish this is usually a simple triggering stimulus. First, he concentrates his attention on some. In the martial arts the focal point is usually the body's center of gravity/hara/dantian, which is a point deep in the abdomen where the aorta (the large blood vessel that exits the heart and travels down the center of the body) splits to become the femoral or thigh arteries.

Using specific meditation exercises the master trains himself to feel his pulse beating at his hara; and, using concentration on this point as the triggering stimulus, he enters a meditative trance as he simultaneously balances himself around this center.

At this point, the master's ego-identity has vanished. He's no longer a person. He's simply a fighting machine. His thoughts have vanished. He has practiced his combat skills to reflexive perfection, and he lets his training take over, reacting automatically as he enters an intense Zone of egoless concentration (is the author referring to samadhi?)

This egoless state gives him several distinct advantages. He can react instantaneously; he can process fainter signals, signals which otherwise might be undetectable. He can respond to sensory data which his conscious ego might not notice or know how to interpret correctly, and he can prevent his own body from experiencing the deleterious effects of emotion or pain. He can even curtail blood loss should he be wounded.

In order for a person to respond to a given stimulus, that stimulus must cross several thresholds. First, it must be noticed by an appropriate sense organ. Sensory organs pick up information in the form of energy: light energy excites the receptors within the eye; compression waves of sound strike the ear drum; heat energy directly passes through our fingertips, and so on. The first threshold is the SENSORY threshold.

The stimulus must then have enough energy remaining to travel along neural pathways to his brain. If it succeeds in making itself felt in the brain, it has crossed the second threshold, the PERCEPTUAL threshold. The brain records the event - it's now entered in the student's data banks, so to speak.

The student can "overlook" or otherwise pay no attention to this data (his ego may be directing its attention elsewhere or he may simply be daydreaming) in which case the event is recorded in his brain without his being aware of it at all. In the excitement of the moment, the data can become garbled because the ego-consciousness could not process or memorize it.

The student can access an event data in two ways. He can ego-consciously respond to it by thinking. When this happens the stimulus has crossed the third threshold, the CONSCIOUS ACTION threshold. He has noticed an action and has considered and executed a reaction to it and he can usually recall this action/reaction event. If, for some reason, he is unable to summon a recollection of it, under hypnosis he will be able to remember the event.

To retrieve forgotten or overlooked data the confused ego has to be bypassed - transcended in the trance or hypnotic state. A re-entry into the perceptual threshold's domain has to be effected. This retrieval technique is related to the second way the student can respond to a stimulus: he can experience it directly or unconsciously and then react to it automatically without his ego's involvement. We call this action/reaction event subliminal.

For very good reasons, the martial artist wants to prevent his ego-consciousness from interfering in the combat. The ego's domain is the place we find those seven deadly sins: pride, envy, lust, laziness, gluttony, greed and anger-the reckless, destructive motivations.

Whenever a stimulus is consciously acted upon, the ego evaluates the stimulus and decides what, if anything, ought to be done in response. If the ego does decide to act, it directs the body by sending out electrochemical messages to the appropriate muscles. In fact, the ego has an array of chemicals at its disposal which can influence and interfere with all body systems. Unfortunately, the ego does not always act in the body's best interest. For example, any emotion can be detrimental.

Animals don't have egos; and because of this they respond efficiently and without prejudice. Their reactions are fast and direct and if they kill it is to satisfy hunger, not anger. Animals do not resort to mortal combat to settle territorial disputes; humans, providing they reasonably feel threatened, may kill anyone who intrudes into their premises. They don't have egos that interfere with their body's actions. Their responses are pure reflex, uninhibited by personal judgments. Which brings us to another reason martial artists don't want their egos involved in the action: Response times. Subliminal responses can be nearly twice as fast as consciously considered responses!

Animals do something else that martial artists emulate: they read an array of sensory signals - smells, sounds, and body and facial language; and these signals are invariably more reliable than verbal language or deliberate gestures.

We've all heard of a poker face. The expert card player trains himself never to reveal pleasure or displeasure or to give any inadvertent clue to his true intentions. He looks for such signals in the faces, tics, or mannerisms of the other players. Boxers, too, train never to "telegraph" a punch, that is to squint an eye or raise an eyebrow prior to striking in a specific way.

The fact is that we human beings have inherited from our primate ancestors a variety of facial and body signals; but in the course of evolution, our mushrooming cerebral cortex with its commanding verbal abilities has largely replaced our non-verbal signaling system. Somebody can approach us with hate in his eyes, but if he warbles, "Good to see ya', old buddy!" we go with the verbal message and discount that look of hate.

Our cerebral evolution has also caused us to discount olfactory signals. Human beings give off a variety of smells (pheromones) that signal an existing emotional state.

Fear has an odor and at a subliminal level we detect that odor. Olfactory data have the most direct route of all to the human brain; and if a combatant senses, i.e., unconsciously smells fear in his opponent, he's ahead in the game. Clearly, he doesn't want to experience fear lest he signal his opponent that he is aware of the weakness of his own position. Fortunately, fearlessness is a universal characteristic of the truly spiritual person. The Zen man understands that death is nothing to fear. He is immersed in the safe Zone of the Divine, i.e., he has truly taken refuge in the Buddha. On the other hand, he's not stupid.

Naturally, guile is a combatant's weapon. An attempt is always made to mask one's real intentions. This is simple strategy. An attacker doesn't announce the time and place from which he will launch his missiles. Zen training at every level denigrates verbal communication. The often inane language of koans is intended to demonstrate how untrustworthy words can be. Especially when life or property is at stake, words can be a great enemy. Flattery and deceitful assurances may cause the ego to enjoy comfortable feelings of safety which will annul suspicion and relax a guarded stance. Threats and innuendo may create fear and confusion. To whatever extent a combatant succumbs to deception or fear, he yields his own resources to his opponent.

Verbal messages are conscious messages and conscious messages fall under the control of the ego. The task of the martial artist is clear: he must keep his ego from getting involved in the contest, yet he may not suspend intellectual control. Hypnosis or drugs may make him egoless, but they will require him to surrender control of his judgment and will ultimately lessen his awareness.

The master further demonstrates his acute awareness by immediately determining not only which hand or leg his opponent favors, which is clearly valuable information, but also which eye his opponent favors. In the use of weapons the combatant is always taught to keep his "eye on the target". When the hand or foot is the weapon, the favored eye will just as surely aim at the targeted area.

Meditation, by definition the state, par excellence, in which the ego is transcended while awareness is enhanced, will alone provide the martial artist with the means to achieve this necessary state of mind, or, more precisely, No Mind.

[There is more info in the article, including instructions in part 10 to enter that state before sparring. Refer to the site up top. There are 10 parts to the article. The last ones are the one's I used for quoting.]

04-07-2001, 02:52 AM
o - what style of kungfu are you practicing?

These methods are inherent in the training of the internal styles. It's not something that will instantly click for most people if they "do it right." Rather, it's something that is dependant upon the development of a subset of different skills over time.

Try to cultivate the idea of your lower dantien being your center. It is the center of your movements, of your breathing, of your energy, of your balance, but also of your consciousness. The way you generally attribute "I" to residing predominantly in your head - try to get this feeling to reside in your lower dantien. All of these things will reinforce one another and make each other easier. Furthermore, work on the concept of natural regulation. All things should flow in concert (breath, energy, movement), and they should flow at their natural pace - never forced. However, as you relax, you should be able to *naturally* achieve a slower pace.

I believe these are the methods towards what you're interested in.

04-07-2001, 10:56 AM
I am not sure that meditation is all there is to it. Years of training coupled with meditation will help you to achieve spontaneous response to an attack, but I am not sure that meditation alone will.

My belief is that repititious training will get you there better than meditation will. Gotta train until it becomes second nature ;)

Guns don't kill people, I kill people

04-10-2001, 03:51 AM
Sorry I didn't reply to you any sooner. I am not actually practicing kungfu. However, I am practicing the martial art of Tae Kwon Do or Chung Kwan Do. In that class, the dantian is referred to as the center of gravity. We are supposed to tense it right when we get to the end of our fully extended punches. We tense it at the same time we twist and tense our fists right at the end of extension. Also, we are supposed to tense the dantian in attention stance with both fists held out about 3 inches in front of the dantian and the arms forming a diamond.

How should I go about making my dantian my center? Can I just practice seated meditation and count breaths from my center?

Thanks for the help

04-10-2001, 03:57 AM
The master doesn't actually say to tense the dantian. He says to "make it hard". I guess I take this to mean "tense it". Am I interpretting this rightly or wrongly? How am I to make it hard? Is what he is telling us to do considered hard qigong?

04-10-2001, 04:50 AM
o - I do not know how these methods will work for martial styles of non-taoist origin such as what you study. I would suggest that if you're interested in such things that you should find competent instruction in the taoist styles. That is not to say that you will not be able to find what you seek elsewhere - I'm just going with my own limited experience here.

That said, I can offer some advice from my (still limited) understanding of taoist methods. And if they help you, that's great.

Regarding the dantien as a center:

You should picture the lower dantien as the bowl defined by your pelvic cradle.

As a center of gravity, this is relatively easy to understand. When you are rooted, this will literally be your center of gravity. At first this is easy to see with low postures. However, with minute adjustments it can be manifested in just about any posture. A common problem is that the center of gravity raises to the chest when you move. You should pay attention to this and try to avoid it. Nonetheless, I'm sure you have some implicit understanding of center of gravity, so you can figure this out for yourself.

A center of breathing is also easy to understand, as breathing, like gravity, is something we're all familiar with. Normal abdominal breathing is centered around the "false dantien" which is centered around your navel or slightly higher. When you are capable of relaxing and sinking your breath, you will find the true lower dantien, which is centered roughly three finger widths below the dantien. This only takes time and practice, but you should eventually be able to notice the difference. To achieve this, simply be aware of your breathing, and relax. If you try to force it, it will never go down. Try to breath deep in your abdomen, but do not constrict your chest to force it down there - your chest should still move with inhaling; the movement should just originate from the center of your true lower dantien. If you raise the section of your body between your genitals and anus (with a small amount of tension), you will more easily become aware of the movements of your lower dantien. With inhaling you should relax it - it should fill with air by itself when you do this properly; and it will expand like a beach ball - in all directions (you will eventually be able to feel it pressing down upon the aforementioned area, pressing up, and expanding backwards into the kidneys as well as expanding forwards which is usually easy to feel). I found it easy to experience deeper abdominal breath by lying as follows: on my belly, lean to my left, extend right leg out 90o from the hip, knee bent 90o, right arm extended out similarly, head turned to the right; breath once deep into your lungs, exhale, once deep into your abdomen, exhale, then once deep imagining a passage tunneling into your lower dantien. Because of the openness and relaxation you get out of lying in that manner, you can usually feel deeper abdominal breathing on that third breath. This can be a thumbnail for recognizing it in martial usage. On a proper exhale, there should be a slight contraction all around the ball: from below, above, in front, and behind. The contraction must be gentle or you'll only work your overt abdominal muscles - rather than what you're trying to move. On inhale do not fill up all the way - only to natural completeness. Similarly on exhale, do not exhale completely - only to natural completeness.

Both gravity and breathing are things we are familiar with, and thus can be most easily understood. They form the foundation for understanding the other aspects of the center. If you get one thing right - the rest will fall into place. They all reinforce one another.

Having your dantien be the center of your movements is more difficult. I do not know how applicable it will be to the movements you are studying. The general concept is that the root generates the movement. When you want to move your hands, focus on the movement of your elbows - they dictate what your hands do. Similarly, focus on the movements of your shoulder blades - they dictate what your elbows will do. The movements of your spine dictate what your shoulder blades do. The movements of your lower dantien dictate what your spine does. In this way, you can progressively understand how the dantien becomes the center of your movement. Like all things, it takes time though. Start with things you can understand (like the elbow being the root of your hand), and work at it. The lower dantien can shift from side to side, raise, sink, and twist. From combinations of these, it can generate all your movement. This is difficult to understand before progress in other concepts has been maintained. It is easier to understand and still useful to examine the motions of your waist independant from your hips. Your hips can remain fixed forward while your waist twists. This also takes practice, but is easy to understand intuitively.

It is also the center of your energy. All these things are related and must be regulated in their movement. When your movement is explosive, your breathing will be explosive, and so will your energy. And so on, if you do it properly, they all follow one another. Even movements of your center of gravity/balance can be used in concert with the rest of them (you can extend your center of gravity forward and if it remains sunk in your lower dantien and moves in concert with everything else associated with your center, then great power can be generated). When you inhale, energy is gathered from your extremities to your dantien. In particular, it is drawn in from the air through your fingers and palm, along your arms, down your spine, into your lower dantien. Also, it is drawn up the flat of your foot from the earth, alone your legs and so on. Also, from the top of your head from the sun, along your spine, and so on. When you exhale, it follows the reverse path. The speed is dictated by the breath - it follows the breath. Thus, when you strike, you exhale, energy is directed out to your striking surface. Picturing all of these things at once AND relaxing is very difficult, you focus at one thing at a time until it is natural, then include the next thing in your practice. This can take years, but is the best way to learn. All of this has martial importance. The imagery of the energy helps you keep your center where it should be. Energy extending out from your center helps you understand attacking. When you strike, your hand is not a weapon - your whole body is. If your hand is blocked, your energy can just as easily continue on through your elbow without break, if this is blocked, it can continue along from your shoulder, and so on. This also helps you understand the root generates the motion. Oh, also... you should never expend all of your energy. When you exhale and imagine the energy leaving your body, also imagine as if some has been compressed and kept in your dantien.

The center of consciousness is even harder to understand, but again will help everything else, and is the key to the original topic of this post - although I believe it must stem from the other things. You should have an understanding of the other aspects of "center" before this will fall into place. This is also the most difficult to explain. When most people in our society walk around, their "I" is contained in their head. This makes intuitive sense because that is where most sensation arises. If you lose a hand in an accident, that is almost like losing a tool - it is your body's periphery. But your head - that is YOU. It is important to understand that that concept is not essentially tied to your head (or even your body). It can be moved. In regards to this discussion, it can be lowered into your lower dantien. The first step of this is simply lowering your attention there. Pay attention to what is going on there. The key words for all of this practice are sink, relax, feel. The proper method is to sink - your center into your lower dantien; your posture must also sink. This is done by relaxing - you will sink so that you hang off your hips, your arms hang off your shoulders. Relaxing also lets you feel - you do not force your body, but only learn to listen to how it really wants to be. This is inherent in the teachings of both zen and taoism. The hard part is that none of this can be forced. Whether we're talking mental aspects like attention or physical aspects like generating movement. If it is FORCED, it will be incorrect. On the other hand, if you are extremely relaxed in the contemporary sense, you won't be paying attention. This is also incorrect. You must learn about inattentive attention. You're not trying to pay attention, you just are. Again, Zen has alot to say about this, even though I'm talking from a Taoist perspective. The next step in this is to not only move your attention to your lower dantien, but also that concept of "I" that we discussed earlier. Of course, this is hard.

None of these practices are necessarily "meditation" as such - but only correct practice for martial movements: forms, two-man drills, even stretching. In reminder, these are for taoist arts; how much they apply to your practice, I cannot say. In kungfu, we practice qigong, "breath work", which are usually standing practices with no movement other than transision between postures. These let us focus explicitly on the concept of center, and the methods of sinking, relaxing, and feeling. (whereas if you only try to incorporate these feelings into training methods such as forms, you may have difficulty, as you are allready focusing on so much). However, in theory, I don't see why you can't simply work these concepts into your forms - it would just be more difficult. In my system I have heard it said that everything is everything: the forms ARE qigong, the qigong ARE forms. Again, I do not know if this can apply to your practices. Some kungfu systems also have seated or lying meditations that further let you focus on certain things in preference to other things. But it is important to remember that all of these aspects should be present in everything you do - specific training formats such as qigong or meditation are only designed to facilitate your progress by allowing you to preferentially focus on certain things.

I do not know if the methods you discuss could be called "hard qigong." What I have heard described as "hard qigong" is not consistent with my understanding of qigong at all. This is surely effected by my limited understanding and experience, however. From what you have described, I would also interpret "make it hard" as "tense it", however I would be careful to actually be tensing my dantien rather than just my large abdominal muscles - you could do this by only tensing very lightly, and paying attention to interior movement rather than muscular tension.

"We are supposed to tense it right when we get to the end of our fully extended punches."

Based on my understanding, I would try to link this to the unification of all concepts of center. When you strike, you are initating explosive movement. Explosive breath (exhaling) should therefore follow. Exposive breath requires a contraction of the lower dantien.

"We tense it at the same time we twist and tense our fists right at the end of extension."

Perhaps you can use this to help you understand how motion of the root (dantien) generates motion of the extremity (hand), like a series of gears twisting.

I hope this has helped, and I encourage you to seek out a teacher with more experience than me (I have precious little, but am glad to share my albeit flawed opinions) if you are sincerely interested in internal development.

Oh, also of course you must practice martial drills so that the movements are reflexive. With "Zen" you will react reflexively and therefore quickly and with accuracy. But you should also have martially effective movements fueled by this process.

04-12-2001, 10:42 AM
Repetition of the movements(i.e. forums or techques) will only go so far in making you quicker. I learned this not in Kung Fu but in marching band. We would pratcie a song about a hundred time and no matter how many more time we practice it we couldn't play it faster. Your muscles will move only so fast with an untrained mind. That is what the meditations in an internal system are for. Its been four years sense I've played an instrument and I can still remember how to play the music.

04-28-2001, 05:20 AM
Go from soft to hard.
Go from shallow to deep.
Start at the beginning.
Find a master who knows the way.