Mind Over Matter

For over a century Mind Over Matter is a phrase that has been bounced around numerous pieces of text and seminars all over the world. Without going into things too deeply, it is basically the belief that the mind is more powerful than the body. In sport and business visualisation techniques have been adopted for many years to imagine a successful outcome over and over again until the mind believes it to be so real that it gives the person relentless self confidence. It is also widely believed that the power of thought can have an influence on the world around us, but this is possibly something that can be talked about at a later date.

In truth, the power of the mind has been utilised for centuries in martial arts – all the way back to the traditional warriors and Japanese Samurai. These had a certain mindset that was so focused on their objectives that nothing, even the thought of death, could distract them. This indomitable spirit would become their most powerful weapon. Of course they had the fighting skills to go with it but martial art is as much a mental stance as it is physical technique. The mind and body need to act as one and I will come on to this later.

In martial arts you practice a lot of techniques and do the physical things often, so how do you learn the mental part? In short you keep practicing the physical part. You keep going to your class and you practice away from the class. You get knocked down and you get hurt but you get back up and keep practicing. This dedication tones the body and the consistent training disciplines the mind. Over the years it will transform you from within and the self belief you have from your physical skills will make you even stronger.

At our club in Middlesbrough we keep setting challenges for our students to do outside of class. These are physical challenges that in part serve to increase physical strength and endurance but the main reason for them is to train the mind. They are designed to push them beyond their normal limits, to eventually prove that the mind is such a powerful tool in the arsenal. Those who look at the challenge and think it is too hard or, sometimes impossible, are already defeated and it is the wrong time for them to attempt it. As I tell them, it is not important whether they actually complete the challenge to the end, or whether they can do it in 5 minutes or it takes 10 minutes, the most important thing is that they push themselves more than they have done before. It is truly amazing what the body is capable of, but a lot of people fall short because they let their minds get the better of them. Your mind tells you that your body is tired and can’t continue, but if you can take control of your mind then you will be able to push past these normal limits. More reps can be completed, you can go for longer and in turn your body will become stronger as a result. This is also conditioning your mind.

This focus of the mind is seen a lot in combat sports. It is important for a fighter to have the belief that they can beat their competitor. If they walk into a fight thinking that they are going to get beat, then they almost certainly will. It is the same for self defence situations also, in fact I believe it is even more paramount to have the right mindset as there would be no time to build up to the event. In a situation where you are forced to defend yourself you need to have the mindset that you can deal with the situation. Whether it is sports, combat or self defence martial arts your mind needs to be able to push past any tiredness or pain that it may be experiencing. In sports and combat martial arts it is the difference between winning and losing. In self defence martial arts it could be the difference between life and death.

Let us get back to the point now of the mind and body acting as one. As important as it is to have a strong mind, you must also practice the physical aspect perfectly. Self belief and confidence can sometimes blend into false belief and arrogance. Looking at an example away from martial arts – many people watch TV shows like Britain’s Got Talent and X Factor and get great enjoyment from watching the auditions, where there are often some terrible acts. Although this can be entertaining, it can be quite worrying just how delusional these people can be. Some of the worst acts actually believe that they are good. This of course isn’t a problem on a TV show, they receive the criticism and for many they probably dismiss what they have been told because they have such a strong mindset.

In a self defence situation this kind of ‘false belief’ can be dangerous. You need to know your limits and run away if necessary. If though, you make the decision to stand and deal with the circumstances then you need to do this with full, unwavering focus and utilise the physical skills you have learnt.

Strength is often measured by varying factors for different people. Some see strength as muscular power, others see it in having lots of money and the power it brings them, whereas some see more strength in a family unit. Some may even see strength in the gang they surround themselves with and the weapon they carry. These strengths are all conditional and can be gone in an instant. Muscular power can be affected by illness and injury. Money can be lost through bad decisions and economic down turns. The strongest family unit can be broken by the loss of a family member. The very gang and weapon you carry can often be turned and used against them.

The only strength that is unconditional is your strength of mind. Find it, train it and exercise it. It will become your most powerful weapon in martial arts and life.