As someone who primarily writes about the practical, physical aspects of karate, as well as generally being a cynic and a skeptic, it often surprises people to learn that I am a proponent of meditation and visualization. I have mentioned these topics, before–click here to read about that–but never really delved into them in much detail. Even my Sensei, whom I consider to be a friend, and whom I have known for nearly 6 years, was surprised to discover this during a recent conversation. The mental benefits of martial arts are widely known, and so I rarely discuss them, because I feel that the practical, physical side is often neglected. As a result, I may have neglected the mental side in my writing more than I ought, so this article will cover my personal approach to meditation and visualization.
While meditation is often considered to be a somewhat mystical, ancient practice, it has been studied fairly thoroughly by science, particularly over the past half-century. While there are always variances, it is generally accepted that meditation carries many benefits, including relaxation, improved cognition, and relief from stress and anxiety. There are many different approaches to meditation, but they generally have three primary criteria–a defined technique, logic relaxation, and a self-defined state. The defined technique, of course, will vary from method to method. “Logic relaxation” refers to the act of reducing the amount of conscious analysis that your mind is doing, as well as avoiding expectations of what will be achieved through the meditative process. A “self-defined state” is simply a state of mind that you put yourself in, as opposed to someone else doing it, which would be something like hypnosis. There are too many methods of meditation to cover them all, here, and I am not familiar enough with them to do them justice. Instead, we will look at the two methods that I am familiar with.
The first method of meditation that I was taught wasn’t even called “meditation,” although it certainly fits the definition. I was instructed to go into the wilderness and stand or sit comfortably–I chose to stand–and close my eyes. After that, I was told to visualize, in my mind’s eye, being outside of my body and watching myself. Then, I was to imagine that energy was all around me, by giving it a color, and visualize that energy being drawn into my body and flowing down into the ground. Unlike many methods of meditation, breathing was not focused on, and was allowed to be done naturally. The exercise was entirely focused on the visualization of energy, and its movement. As someone who does not believe in “energy,” in this sense, it does seem strange to envision it, but as a visualization tool, it works well. I spent nearly half an hour doing this, the first time, and by the end, my mind’s eye had moved me to the mountains, and I felt the coolness of the air and smelled the evergreen trees. When it was over, I felt energized–almost jittery. It was a very intense experience, especially because I was not expecting anything, which is a key part of the “logic relaxation” component of meditation. My best friend was going through this exercise for the first time, as well, but in the end felt relaxed and calm, so it is clear that different people will react differently, even to the same meditative process.
The other form of meditation that I was taught was moving meditation, connected with the practice of Sanchin. Of course, Sanchin has many uses, but this article will only be addressing the mental components. When I learned the kata, I was taught to focus on engaging and tightening all the muscles below the neck, inhale through the nose, and exhale through the mouth using slow, restricted pressure from the diaphragm. The movements of the kata are rather simple and repetitive, so it did not take long to memorize the pattern, which meant that I could focus entirely on the feeling of the body and my breathing. Through the repetitive motions of the kata, done without thought, and the intense focus on muscular engagement and breathing, I was able to block out everything else. I couldn’t hear what was going on around me, I didn’t really even notice things visually, and the strikes of shime testing felt distant and numbed. This practice was physically exhausting, but very mentally relaxing, for me. At the end, my mind felt completely calm, with none of the chatter that normally goes on throughout the day. Of course, just as in the previously described method, different people react differently–I know of some people who feel energized by Sanchin training.
There are those who will say that meditation is a must for martial artists–some even say that all people should do it. That said, I think that it is something that is very personal. It isn’t necessary for all people to meditate, and there is no one true way to properly meditate, nor is there a definite result for everyone who meditates. The mind is a very intimate thing, because it is the very essence of who you are, as a person. How you care for it should be governed by your own beliefs and feelings. If you find meditation to be beneficial, then by all means, do it! On the other hand, if you find it to be nothing but a waste of time, there is no reason for you to pursue it. Either way, however, I suggest that everyone at least try a method or two, and see if it is for them.