Educating the Mind as Well as the Body

We who have been in the Martial Arts for so many years and love these Arts, find that there is so much to them. I began studying formally in 1961 (and even earlier via magazines and books), being interested in what seemed to be “mysterious power,” the mysticism of the East, a vague and exciting promise of some foreign transcendent experience.

This lasted only a short while after months (and the years) of hard, grinding, and repetitive work. Thousands of blocks, strikes, punches, and kicks later, I re-evaluated my initial view of the Martial Arts. But, I still had that slightly mysterious feeling deep in my gut, that the Martial Arts were more than just repetitive self-defense techniques. I knew the physical aspects were important, but I felt there was more to it. So, I began a serious journey to find out what this more was.

What I found now seems quite obvious, although, at the time, I thought otherwise. What was hard for me was understanding the “mental” or psychological side of the Martial Arts. Mostly, the books on Martial Arts were of two kinds— first it was technique, the how-to lessons in self-defense; secondly, it was Eastern philosophy—Taoism, Buddhism, and especially Zen Buddhism, with its mindboggling, cryptic stories which left you wondering what you had just read. My “Western mind” had a difficult time understanding the underlying philosophy of the Martial Arts because I was looking for “answers,” solutions to a problem. It took me years to understand what in essence was quite simple. But this is another story. Suffice it to say that a wonderful Haiku poem could encompass the philosophy underlying Martial Arts practice.

But, there was something in this mental side that was “answerable.” What the basic intent of the Martial Arts was telling me was that we study Martial Arts to end conflict non-violently, not to create more violent conflict. This is what I had felt all along. It was what had attracted me to the Martial Arts in the first place. It was not what I saw in Martial Arts movies or magazines. It was not what I saw in many Martial Arts schools. What I generally saw was Martial Arts portrayed as bizarre, lethal fighting, a style of conflict resolution through “heroic,” violent acts. This was because the basic intent was not understood correctly—that of understanding and ending conflict non-violently. Most people only saw the physical side—the self-defense portion and therefore, exploited that sensational aspect, removing it from its whole context and meaning. The Martial Arts, therefore, became unbalanced, violent in being divided from the whole. I thought about this and decided that in order to carry out the important intent of the Martial Arts—to end conflict non-violently—I had to teach more than merely physical self-defense. I had to teach the “mental” or “psychological” side— and in a down-to-earth, practical manner—especially when it came to my young students.

There is much I’ve learned since these initial insights. I have written 21 books on the subject—which is complex, but not overly difficult. I realized the obvious fact that it was vitally important to teach the Martial Arts in a way which included both the physical and mental—they go together as an integrated whole. One cannot be taught without the other. I realized that physical self-defense skills could give a young person the confidence to not react to a potential threat in a selfdefeating fight or flight manner. When one felt this confidence that he or she could handle the situation, a “pause” or “gap” was created in this reaction to threat. What I did then was to give young people the psychological skills to get out of the conflict using nonviolent alternatives; that is, through the use of role-playing, they learned how to turn a potentially threatening situation into a peaceful one. Acting out the roles of the bully or the victim, the young people learned how to cope nonviolently with hostility. And, it was so simple and easy!

I realized that this was the first step in creating the right foundation for the “mental” side of the Martial Arts. It was a simple, safe, practical and successful way to end conflict without creating more conflict. I found that teaching physical self-defense skills alone wasn’t enough. By only teaching the young person to fight, I was removing one of his or her alternatives to a threat—that is, to be able to run away (flight). What I wanted to do was to increase the alternatives so the student could have more options than only the underlying skills of physical self-defense. In most cases, the non-violent (mental) alternatives worked. The students did not have to rely on self-defense physically. So, I felt that I was putting into practice the original intent of the Martial Arts—to end conflict peacefully – in a way that any young person could put into practice easily and effectively. The key here was to train my students in these mental skills, just like they were training in the physical skills.

There is much more to understanding and ending conflict. But, learning these non-violent skills through role-playing was the first and most important step in creating the foundation for what comes later—that of understanding what other factors create conflict—individually and globally. I now see that the Martial Arts, if taught properly, could help a person understand conflict on all levels, because at the root conflict is conflict—the individual conflict is the world’s conflict; both have the same nature and structure in conditioned thinking. But, this is another issue that would need to be discussed at length. I now understand that the Martial Arts can have a vital and profound role in helping people resolve conflict nonviolently. It is clear to me that the Martial Arts have the potential to become a significant educational model to use in raising young people to be healthy and intelligent human beings. The Martial Arts can become a vital force in society in changing our conditioned, destructive patterns of relationship and thus, create the potential for a more peaceful and loving world—if they are taught as they were intended to be taught.