I have heard many martial arts’ instructors use the phrase “mind-body connection.” I am sure that many of them really believe in what they say when they use that phrase. But many instructors may use the term lightly, primarily as a way to sound more esoteric.
As I see it, “mind-body connection” does not have to be esoteric. In my opinion, a connection between the mind and the body primarily describes mindful action of the body. In other words, think as you move, think about your movements.
How often do we really think about our movements in karate (or other martial arts, or any activity, for that matter)? Sure, many of us use our minds in order to memorize new combinations or to concentrate on excelling at a particular kumite timing. While this can be described as “mind-body connection,” I think we can and should go beyond that.
Although most people do not have a desire to delve so deeply into their training as to spend hours each day on non-physical study of their art(s), at least some thinking can be of great benefit to physical training.
Training in the mind only is of limited value. So is training of the body only. To integrate the two is the ideal. By using the mind more, the physical training becomes more efficient and the techniques more effective. We should strive to “connect” mental and physical training more to make our training time more valuable, “steepening the learning curve.”
“Mindless Repetition Training” (“MRT”) that occurs in a large number of dojo around the world every day has its value for physical training of the body. But it is not, generally, as efficient or effective a use of training time. To think about the moves as we do them speeds up the learning process and more completely ingrains the movements, ideas and strategies into our bodies and minds. MRT can be good sometimes to ingrain movements into our bodies and our subconscious through “muscle-memory” or to simply get a workout. But to do this type of training only is neglecting a significant potential portion of training, perhaps even the physical training itself, in a way.
The mind-body connection can work in the other direction, too. A finely-tuned body can help to make the mind more alert and in top condition for other applications. A physically fit body may contribute to the development of an emotionally sound and intellectually active mind.
Some people read about karate (such as you are doing right now). Some instructors actually tell students that they should not read about karate, nor should they talk about the subject; “shut up and train” is an often-quoted phrase. Anyone who has attended university classes (of any subject) knows that many of the best classes are those that involve discussion time, not simply lectures. Although there is much written about karate that is of relatively little value, there is a lot of valuable information and opinion put out these days as well, much of it for little- or no-charge on the internet.
• Read – books, magazines, e-zines, discussion group postings, articles, newsletters
• Watch – instructional videotapes, demonstrations, tournament
• Discuss – talk with others about their questions and opinions to open up new ideas and get feedback on your thoughts.
• Experiment – If you think you are on to something, perhaps it is worth some experimenting; the so-called “masters” do not have all the answers.
Read, watch videos, discuss, experiment, think.. But keep training as you do it. Integrate the physical and mental sides of your study and it should make both better.
Copyright © 2022, Jon Keeling (originally published September 2001)