Benefits of Achieving Balance
It's been a while since I last wrote. I've been involved in some introspective work and have been re-reading the Bubishi. If you are not familiar with the Bubishi, it is the classic manual of combat and was once considered a secret document passed down from master to student for centuries. The Bubishi is a classic Chinese work on philosophy, strategy, medicine and technique as they relate to the martial arts. It is sometimes referred to as the "bible of karate." There are several translations, the one I recommend is by Patrick McCarthy.
One section that especially struck me was on the topic of balance.
It goes on to state that "Perfect balance is a reflection of what is within." Balance can mean your physical capability to stand on one leg, for example. It can also mean the internal balance of your emotions and serene focus. In the Bubishi, physical and internal balance are one and the same.
Balance is a requirement to be proficient in combat. If you have mastered balance, you are able to easily take advantage of or create a weakness in an opponent's posture. In the dojo we call this Kuzushi. Kuzushi is the Japanese term for unbalancing an opponent. It is the moment of weakness in which you can quickly overtake an opponent. The description that the Bubishi gives for the qualities contained in a balanced individual is poetic and beautiful...
Like the sun's strength, your energy must radiate outward, your eyes should be as clear as the moon, and your legs should be like the rolling wheels of a cart. Your posture too, from head to toe, must be evenly balanced so that footwork and hand techniques support each other. If everything is in balance, no one will be able to defeat you.
What I found most fascinating is that in order to have physical balance, you must first have internal balance. To cultivate internal balance one must grow in wisdom. The Bubishi lists nineteen laws of Wisdom. Here they are:
My philosophy of the martial arts is based on three things: Mind, Body and Spirit. My goal as a Sensei (teacher) is to facilitate growth in all three areas for every student that comes into my dojo. For good health I believe it is important to strive to improve these three areas of ones life.
First, it helps to understand the meaning of each of these elements:
The Body = represents your physical health; strength, flexibility and stamina
The Mind = represents your mental health; alertness, expanding ones knowledge through learning new things and stretching the mind with new challenges, ideas and thought processes
The Spirit = your spiritual health; development of strong character, positive attitude, slow to anger, a purposeful life, belief in a power greater than yourself.
I believe that each of us, myself included, must constantly work to hone our minds, bodies and spirits. Karate and the martial arts are methods for improving all three. But, it is important to also seek opportunities for improvement outside of the dojo.
Just for today, do something healthy for your body.
Just for today, read or talk to someone about something that expands your mind.
Just for today, take time to meditate or pray to your higher power. Focus on finding the positive aspects of any situation.
If you choose to do these three things each day, you may soon find peace and the rewards of a healthy and fulfilling life.
The Secret to Managing Stress
Breathing is one of the best ways to relax and reduce stress.
The saying, "Stress Kills" has a lot of truth to it. I believe that how we handle stress is what "kills" and causes many of our problems in life. If you are stressed out it can constrict blood vessels, prevent restful sleep, cause indigestion issues and other health problems. It can also lead to anger and even cause depression. Stress is anything that creates mental, physical or emotional strain in our lives.
There are always going to be things in our lives that cause stress. Unfortunately, it's not possible to eliminate stressful things from happening to us. (Wouldn't life be boring without a little bit of stress?) However, you do have control of how you react to stress.
Martial artists and other warriors, such as military soldiers, are often known for their calm demeanor under extremely stressful situations. When a life or death situation occurs they must be able to quickly evaluate the threat and react instantly. They cannot freeze, hesitate or overreact. Over reaction exerts too much energy that must be conserved to successfully finish out a battle. An experienced warrior often recalls later that, in the heat of battle, things seemed to slow down. It was as if time stopped and allowed them to see each opportunity clearly. Their breathing slowed, things came into focus and their body just naturally reacted. The key to their reaction appeared to be how they handled their stress and specifically, how they breathed.
One of the best ways that I've found to relax and reduce stress is to breathe. You may be chuckling right now thinking, "I already breathe! I'd be dead if I didn't!" True. But, there are certain breathing techniques you can use to reduce stress in your life. If you get in the habit of using breath control techniques, when stressors do come into your life you will have a method of reducing the negative effects on your body.
There are many different methods of breathing. One of which, that we practice in the dojo, is slow meditative breathing. In this type of breathing you breathe deeply in through your nose and out through your mouth. It is a cleansing breath that goes deep into your belly and fully exhales out. It's a way to clear your mind before class. There are other types as well, such as in the face of danger, take a quick but deep breath through your mouth and then exhale slowly through your nose. This provides additional oxygen to your muscles.Then, the slower exhale through your nose keeps the oxygen in your body longer to give you necessary energy.
Below is a video that provides several alternative methods of breathing specifically for stress reduction. The video is produced by Sensei Roemke, who runs a dojo in Santa Cruz, California. I have no affiliation with him or his martial arts system, but I thought this particular video segment offered some excellent tips on breath control. Several of the techniques I use myself in my own personal meditations.
If you are having trouble viewing the video, you may access it directly here: http://youtu.be/ZLJ2FJnty64
I am not being endorsed by or promoting the people in this video. I have no affiliation with them. The video was screened and approved for use on this blog based solely on the benefit found in the techniques demonstrated. On January 8, 2013 the videos were found to contain appropriate content for the topic of this blog. As the videos are linked to from YouTube, and can be changed by the owners of the videos at anytime, I am not responsible for any changes or deletions made by the owners. If you find the video no longer works or is not meaningful to this blog, please contact Vashon Borich.
Vashon Borich-Leach, Sensei teaches traditional karate and tai chi in Branson, Missouri. She considers herself a life-time student of the arts. Her blog is an open journal of lessons learned in the martial arts. If you are a martial artist and would like to contribute to her blog please contact her.
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