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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Meditation Training for the Martial Arts

Meditation Training for the Martial Arts

By Sifu Zopa Gyatso

Meditate on the unborn nature of mind:
Like space, no center, no limit;
Like the sun and moon, bright and clear:
Like a mountain, unmoving, unshakeable;
Like the ocean, deep, unfathomable.

- Jetsun Milarepa 

Just as they hone the fitness of their bodies and their reactions, many martial artists practice meditation to hone and control their minds. Meditation can assist martial arts training and performance by giving the practitioner the ability to focus and relax the mind. In combat a relaxed but focused mind is essential and may well be the factor which ensures you are a survivor. Japanese samurai well understood this and sought out Zen masters to learn this skill and studied it assiduously. Likewise, Chinese masters, both Buddhist and Taoist, in various martial traditions, have stressed the necessity of mind training to attain superior skills. This is especially marked with respect to the internal systems, some of which have extensive chi gung and meditation curricula. Wing Chun Kuen, of course, has its Siu Lien Tao form, the first section of which can (and in my view, should) be used as meditative exercise.

In this article I will restrict myself to discussing seated meditation. Standing meditation is slightly physically different but involves essentially the same mental processes. Likewise I refrain here from commenting on chi gung. The thing to bear in mind, in both martial art and meditation, is that you must seek transfer of training to application. In other words, the calmness you achieve in practice must be transferred to the normal world by consciously practising the transfer. Otherwise, you are simply training something in isolation, "in an incense-filled room", as some-one recently put it. You need to practice your calm relaxation during training and to be aware of it during an actual self-defence encounter.

In the Tibetan tradition of mind training there are two types of meditation. These are: Shi-ne (Tibetan), Samatha (Sanskrit) or Calm Abiding meditation (English) and Lhag mthong (Tibetan), Vipasyana (Sanskrit) or Insight Meditation (English). Both are essential but one must master Shi-ne before Lhag mthong can yield any benefits. This article focuses on Shi-ne. In the words of my lama, Lama Choedak, Shi-ne tunes our minds to the wave length of spaciousness, freedom and happiness.


Here are the reflections on Shi-ne meditation: 
My mind has long been lost in search of happiness Without knowing how transient all things are. Seeing the unsatisfactoriness of real life experiences, I will not allow my mind to wander outside.

Turning back the forcers of harmful habitual inclinations And holding firmly to the peace and tranquility within I rejoice in the store of joy I have discovered I the happiness of observing the intrinsic calmness. Let this clear and luminous state of mind Not be overshadowed by my habitual tendencies; Abiding in the natural calmness and serenity of the mind Let me see all perceptions as nothing but its mere reflection.

Neither grasping nor rejecting any sensory perceptions. I shall see them as adventitious ripples and waves Of the sea of my mind in deep meditation And absorb them into the ocean of clear mind.

As I focus my mind to sit in the correct meditation posture Let the physical self express the deep yearning To experience the calm, still and spacious nature of the mind And transcend the problems I have with this body.

The incoming breath brings in all the positive things outside me And permeates the whole nervous system of my body; As the rays of the morning sun dispel the darkness It soothes the pain and temporary discomfort.

As I retain my breath, let me sustain The vital energy of wakefulness and awareness Enabling me to let go and forgive the past And enjoy the fresh manifestation of this bare moment. My outgoing breath releases all feelings Of tension, anger, stress, anxiety and worry As the masses of dark clouds suddenly disappear Let the adventitious circumstances lapse to dawn a new beginning.

Breathing and observing the bare moment of awareness Without assuming what it will become May I live every moment with pristine awareness Without delaying an unforeseen future to cultivate it.

Following the wise sages by respecting their words of wisdom Let me remember skillful ways to apply them to everything I do, say and think, so that my conduct brings no harm to others And may I not become a victim of what I do, say and think.

While watching the constant flow of thoughts Without discriminating between those that are good or bad Let me neither be overjoyed with meditation Nor depressed by my lack of concentration Sinking in a withdrawal of the senses Is relaxation of the conscious self, but not meditation. Let me not be excited by the slight virtues of concentration I have just begun to experience.

Holding the rope of mindfulness and the hook of alertness May I resolve to tame this mind which is like a wild elephant.

Steadily focusing the mind with moderate application of antidotes May I discover what causes its restlessness.

When I find no sensory objects which are not in my reflection All visions and experiences are the circumference of my self. Like trees, mountains, rivers and heaven and earth My existence is to give and share what I have with others.

How can I cling to and grasp what I have obtained from others? As soon as I let something go, I create space and experience joy. As soon as I give things away, I find a joy not found in keeping them. Learning to cherish others will bring me happiness that will last.


If you decide to add meditation practice to your training then you will not regret it. In my view meditation is an essential component of training in martial arts both for the practical benefits which flow from it in application but also for the training of a calm mind which can express Mo Duk .