Zen Mind - Vigilant Body
By Aaron Hoopes
As martial artists we all aspire to live in that place where we are ready to react to whatever events occur in our lives. Our training is designed to instill in our body the ability to respond to any challenges we are presented with. With great diligence we can often get to a very high level of perception and readiness. The more we train, the stronger our bodies get. When we are not training, the energy we’ve built up in the body through training remains. Sore muscles, bruises and miscellaneous aches are reminders of the path we travel. It is not always easy…but it was never supposed to be. The path of the warrior is not for everyone.
In the same fashion, the more we train our minds the sharper they become. Like sharpening the blade of a sword, the more we train, the clearer our mind becomes, allowing us to focus more completely on the task at hand. Training the mind can be quite a challenge. There are many distractions. The practice of meditation needs to be an integral part of training even when we feel that it is not doing anything for us. The subtle changes that occur over time through the regular study of meditation are invaluable to the true warrior. While we may understand the concept of meditation intellectually, putting aside time to practice is often difficult. Nevertheless, the clarity of thought that meditation provides is something vital to our training that we should not be without. It brings us fully into the present moment.
When we exist fully in the present moment we are embodying our trained selves. Like moving in stereo, the body and mind become a single flowing entity. By following the same rhythm, each compliments the other. We are able to react without thought or hesitation. Our reactions are perfectly appropriate depending on the situation, neither too strong nor too weak. This is the true meaning of body and mind connection.
The problem comes when life intrudes. The business of daily life can be extremely distracting and often make it quite difficult to realistically remain centered. We believe our training can see us through times when we are unable to train. And this is true to some degree. Unfortunately, the motivation to train can be severely drained by the problems of the world and the stress they bring.
Stress can do a lot of damage to us before we even notice it. The effect of stress on the mind is rather sinister. Too often we don’t realize the effect stress has on the mind because we are so distracted by the stress to begin with. It scatters our attention and gets us worrying about irrelevant things. We end up with so much to deal with there is no time to live in the present moment. We react without presence of mind. The consequences of these reactions can be quite unfortunate. There is much danger in a stressed out and distracted martial artist.
At the same time stress creates tension in the body. This can cause all sorts of difficulties as the proper flow of energy becomes restricted. Internal blockages manifest as aches and pains in the body. We lose the precision control in our techniques. We can become very prone to accidents and injury. When this happens our training suffers, leading to further problems.
The difficulties in the world today are very distracting. It almost seems as if the rules have changed and we are struggling to determine if there are, in fact, any rules at all.
I don’t think anyone can deny that some radical changes are upon us in this world, and more are coming rapidly. The modern world will not be very forgiving to those who are unprepared. Even highly trained martial artists may be called upon to search deep within themselves for the strength and courage to proceed. There are going to be challenges to face that will be enlightening experiences for even the most adept fighter.
This is where meditation is so important. The Zen Mind is a state of being fully aware in the present moment. It leaves the distractions behind and allows us to see things as they truly are. From the Zen Mind we are able to deal with everything in its proper time and place. The training of Zen Mind is meditation. This practice is not about stopping thoughts. Instead, it is simply putting some space between the thoughts and allowing them to be. It is not always easy, but this type of training is vital because if the mind is distracted, there is no connection to the body. When there is no connection, the mind tends to become overly attached to the body causing reactions to become hesitant and unbalanced.
It is important to understand here that if the body is trained properly, there is no need for the mind to attach itself. The Vigilant Body is trained to respond. The days and years spent in training have forged the body into shape. It has become a weapon in and of itself. The attachment of the mind only slows it down. When the mind withdraws focus from controlling the body and instead becomes more expansive within the whole, it is as if the Zen Mind merges with Vigilant Body and they both flow together. The key lies in the fact that it makes almost no difference how well your body is trained if your mind is undisciplined.
Common sense dictates that preparing the mind and body is vital. We train the body with our art. The state of Vigilant Body comes from the repetition of technique and hours of sweat. Training the mind is more of a challenge. If we become distracted by all the fluff and nonsense of the world we can quickly lose our way. Being mindful of the present moment keeps us grounded in our body. By practicing meditation we can reach this state of Zen Mind.
Both the Vigilant Body and the Zen Mind exist in the present. If we are able to bring them together we can achieve the highest state of awareness. Many of the internal arts are focused on this type of training. For most people it is only after many years of external arts that they realize the importance of the internal arts. The internal arts hold the true essence of the warrior’s path.
It may take many years to discover the truth of this. When we are young and strong, the body is all-important. However training the mind is the secret. Many people give up long before that realization. This, however, is exactly why we walk this path. And though at times it may remain a mystery, we continue to travel along it. The true path of the warrior leads inward. Are you ready for that journey?
Aaron Hoopes began his training with Takayuki Mikami in New Orleans in 1982. He spent three years in Japan studying at the headquarters of the Japan Karate Association and at the Hoitsugan (Masatoshi Nakayama’s private dojo). He has also trained for many years in Tai Chi, Kung Fu, and Qigong. He is the founder of Zen Yoga a blend of martial arts, yoga, qigong and meditation. He has authored six books including; Zen Yoga: A Path to Enlightenment through Breathing, Movement and Meditation, Breathe Smart, Perfecting Ourselves: Coordinating Body, Mind and Spirit, and Zen Anti-Diet: Mindful Eating for Health, Vitality and Weight Loss.