Warning: no parlor-tricks or trance techniques in this article.
Instead, this is a piece that clarifies the importance of attaining and maintaining a Zen-like mindset through martial arts training.
In my opinion, achieving this objective requires an understanding of the three parts of the budo brain:
Conscious Mind – interacts with the critical faculty and helps us think, reason and strategize. It is the conscious mind that enables us to calculate an attacker’s distance, determine the best response and predict the outcome.
Subconscious Mind – functions by association. It stores our memories and experiences, much like an internal library. If the conscious mind is how, the subconscious mind is why. It is the subconscious mind that regulates the body’s temperature at 36.6oC, keeps the lungs and heart working, and directs our flight or fight response.
Unconscious Mind – governs emotional and physical responses and reflexes. When you chamber a low block or tighten your stomach before sanchin shime (vigorous body testing) without actually thinking, that’s the unconscious mind at work.
Example: You’re confronted by an attacker.
Step 1 – the conscious mind sees the individual. Step 2 – the subconscious mind assesses the situation, considers whether you should run or stay, and determines the only option is self-defense. Step 3 – as the assault launches, you access your budo brain and evade, block and counter.
So what does martial arts practice have to do with “hypnosis”, an artificially induced altered state of consciousness, characterized by heightened suggestibility and receptivity to direction?
In our quest for mushin, a state of no-mind, we may employ self-hypnosis exercises. Repetitive action and positive suggestion enable us to unify and fortify body, mind and spirit, as we kick bad habits, achieve goals and shift our potential into high-gear.
Chances are you’ve already initiated types of self-hypnosis into your training, i.e. decluttering the mind before class through mokuso 黙想 and evaluating your progress at the end of each session with hansei 反省. Along your budo journey, you’ve likely incorporated positive self-talk, visualization, or meditation into your daily practice.
There are other ways to boost physical and psychological performance – none of which involve gazing at a swinging pocket-watch, ingesting psycho-pharmaceuticals, or reclining on a vintage leather sofa.
Try this basic mental preparation exercise:
- Sit comfortably in a quiet corner of the dojo, or change-room.
- Loosen your belt, relax your body and take several long, slow breaths.
- Close your eyes and create a vivid, visceral picture based on previous or idealized technical performances.
- Construct a sense of positivity based on your successes or those of others.
- Imbed those images and feelings into your core, and carry it with you inside and outside the dojo.
Whether labelled self/hypnosis, mushin, visualization, meditation, or self-talk, the capacity for positive performance programming lies within all budoka, but it is up to each of us to unearth it.
When we discover that the truth is already in us, we are at once our best selves. Dōgen Zenji