martial arts way of life

It Really Is a Way of Life

*On September 13-15, 5 PMA students tested for and earned their Black Belts in FILKENJUTSU Kenpo. Follow along over the next few weeks, as we share some blog posts that were written by PMA’s newest Black Belts during their preparation for Black Belt. First up is Iain Willborn. Iain is our academy’s first person to begin training as a child (Iain started at 11), earn their Junior Black Belt, and then take the 3-day test to earn their full Black Belt upon turning 18. Hopefully the first of many! Enjoy!


One may observe the phrase “martial arts is a way of life” and think “No, martial arts is nothing more than a hobby, through and through,” and to be honest, when I was younger, I would have fallen into the group of doubters.

Can you find Iain in this 2013 photo? He is the 5th from the right in the back row!

Can you find Iain in this 2013 photo? He is the 5th from the right in the back row!

I was one of the people that do not see martial arts for anything more than basic self-defense and exercise. But when you look deeper, martial arts, in my case, FILKENJUTSU, has a plethora of knowledge and lessons hiding just under the surface. Respect for authority is just one. The humbling experience you receive on a class to class basis through the teachers and the curriculum is another. As you are told often, “a martial artist’s journey is never done,” and indeed there is always more to learn, whether physically or mentally. The self-control, the ability to be a gracious winner and an even better loser, and then the true feeling of comradery between one another are just snippets of what martial arts, especially taught through PMA, have opened my mind to over the years.

I never wanted to train in martial arts in the first place. I was lovingly forced into it by my parents, who hoped it would not only give me some well-needed exercise, but also aid in my anger management issues. And I thank God that they did because it’s been one of the primary means that He has used in my life to this day.

As a lazy, angry child, I saw absolutely nothing good about PMA, other than it was something cool to tell friends about. But looking back at that little boy now, I can see that PMA is exactly what I needed, and exactly what God wanted for me. The investment that my parents made in classes for me over the years has been priceless in my life. My journey through Progressive Martial Arts has ranged years, and I’ve had many different attitudes towards it during that period. I’ve gone from not wanting to do it, to only doing it for fun, to doing it for fitness. But all these have been leading me to where I have landed and settled over this past year, wanting to do martial arts for life, wanting to learn more, and continuing to improve my skills.

August 2015 - PMA's first group of Junior Black Belts!

August 2015 - PMA's first group of Junior Black Belts!

For almost the entirety of my martial arts life thus far, I have been more of a punch and kick oriented fighter. My newest passion, however, is the entirely different fight that happens on the ground, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

When I first started martial arts, I did private classes in which I learned some basic Jiu Jitsu. As I continued to train, however, I eventually started doing group classes in the juniors, then to young adults, then finally to where I am today, the adult Kempo class. In the juniors and young adults, Jiu Jitsu was taught very minimally. So, for years I was in a stagnant state concerning groundwork. I knew the basic positions, and basic movements, but I never practiced them, and I never thought of them very much honestly. But just within the little time that I’ve been training Jiu Jitsu seriously, about a month and a half, I’ve learned just how wrong my outlook was.

My mentality concerning my lack of Jiu Jitsu training through the years was as simple as “I won’t ever let someone take me down, so I don’t need to know Jiu Jitsu,” which is crazy! One must observe that I drastically overestimated one thing, and that was my skill as a fighter. Over the two years that I have been in the adult’s class, my lack of skill in controlling a fight has been demonstrated to me time and time again, and that is just in a civil sparring match! I now realize that I will never be quick enough, or smart enough to guarantee that I won’t be taken to the ground during an altercation. Like SiFu David regularly reminds us, “Action is faster than reaction”. So, moving forward now, what is my goal for Jiu Jitsu?

My goal for Jiu Jitsu, as is my goal for any aspect of a fight, is to learn how to survive. I simply seek to gain the ability to last through the fight, whether on my feet or on the ground. But another more exact point of interest for me is submissions. The art of controlling your opponent, whether to injure or to simply stop them from injuring you has fascinated me. As a person that trained for years thinking about fast, powerful, and rigid strikes to control an opponent, seeing the fluid art of chokes, key locks, and triangle chokes (just to name a few) has opened my eyes to a side of the fight game and martial arts that has been out of my reach for years. I am looking forward to learning and honing these skills moving forward in my martial arts life, and becoming a more well-rounded martial artist.

August 2015 - Iain’s Junior Black Belt Test with his classmates and instructors.

August 2015 - Iain’s Junior Black Belt Test with his classmates and instructors.

The anger that plagued my younger years is still a fault I continue to battle even now, but it is not the destructive hellfire as before. It is now in the form of constructive discontent. Instead of firing my failures, insecurities, and sadness out at the poor souls around me, or destroying myself mentally, I use it to fuel my desire to always be improving, always learning, and always helping others. My hope and dream moving forward is to be a part of the family at PMA, and to be there to support and uplift others as they are embarking on their own journeys.

December 2016 - Iain tested for his first degree on his Junior Black Belt, alongside Monty Blalock and Matt Thomas. At PMA, when a child reaches Brown Belt but is not old enough to take the Black Belt test yet, we test them for a “Junior Black Belt,” which is the belt you see in this photo with the white stripe. Then, they can earn degrees (the red stripes) on their Junior Black Belt, until they turn 18 and are selected to take the test for their full Black Belt.

December 2016 - Iain tested for his first degree on his Junior Black Belt, alongside Monty Blalock and Matt Thomas. At PMA, when a child reaches Brown Belt but is not old enough to take the Black Belt test yet, we test them for a “Junior Black Belt,” which is the belt you see in this photo with the white stripe. Then, they can earn degrees (the red stripes) on their Junior Black Belt, until they turn 18 and are selected to take the test for their full Black Belt.

I will move forward in the race that is this life to learn how to handle myself with honor and dignity, so that one day, I can master the avoidance of battle and strive for peace. The work ethic that I have learned from my parents, my church, and PMA has enriched every aspect of my life. Those three things have sculpted who I am, and who I’m striving to be. PMA is one of the building blocks that is there to support the growth of who I am, and I will continue to build on those foundations for the rest of my life.

Iain amongst his FILKENJUTSU Black Belt family!

Iain amongst his FILKENJUTSU Black Belt family!

I couldn’t be more thankful for the people that have aided me along this journey, especially in the early years, like SiFu David and SiHing Terry. They have been there to lift me up, but also correct me when I was wrong. Their commitment to me, and my fellow students, has left an unperishable imprint on who I am and how I carry myself today. I’m never going to stop pursuing my callings and aspirations, even when faced with failure and hardship.

To fall seven, to rise eight. Life begins now.
— Bodhidharma (Damo)

The Rules of Normal Eating

We teach our students that there are 8 aspects of the martial arts way of life:

  1. Fitness
  2. Meditation
  3. Philosophy
  4. Yoga & Stretching
  5. Health & Nutrition
  6. Striking Arts
  7. Grappling Arts
  8. Self-Defense

A complete martial artist should be putting energy into each of those 8 aspects of their training.

Today, I have a quick video to share with you in one of the areas that is most difficult for people and is often one of their biggest roadblocks to success - nutrition.

In our nutrition and lifestyle coaching program we teach 25 habits over the course of a 1 year program. You spend 2 weeks working on each habit and receive daily lessons (online) that will help you with your current habit. Two of the most important habits in the program are eating slowly and stopping before you are overly full.

This video hits on these concepts. As Dr. Koenig reinforces, this stuff is SIMPLE but not EASY.

Jiu Jitsu Thrives in the Championship Rounds

*NOTE* I ran out of time to finish the blog post I was working on, so this week's post is a recycled article I wrote that was posted on GracieMag.com in 2010.

Link: http://www.graciemag.com/en/2010/08/09/jiu-jitsu-thrives-in-the-championship-rounds/

On Saturday, August 9, 2010, Anderson “Spider” Silva won his 12th-straight fight in the UFC Octagon (a record). After being dominated for 23 minutes, Silva pulled off the submission that is arguably Jiu-Jitsu’s signature move: the triangle choke.

The triangle choke can not only put the person to sleep but it is applied from the bottom, a position most every martial art would say is disadvantageous. You should not ever choose to take the bottom in a fight because of the damage that can be done from the top. However, the fundamental principles of Jiu-Jitsu instilled by Helio Gracie were to use Jiu-Jitsu to survive the fight and most importantly NOT LOSE! Anderson was able to do this that night…from the bottom.

It is a rare occasion that one can see this applied in mixed martial arts competition (not losing, as opposed to trying to win). The reason for this is that the nature of the sport demands that the competitors train themselves to the best and push the pace from the very beginning to try to win. There is a limited amount of time to win the fight, therefore every second counts.

However, in this fight, the five championship rounds provided fans the opportunity to witness this fundamental principle of Jiu-Jitsu: patience.

Anderson was taking a beating, but surviving the fight. Though he was continuously put on his back, Anderson neutralized many of the strikes that were being thrown by Chael. Through many of the rounds, Anderson was positioned to execute the triangle, he had wrist control on the right arm of Chael close to his legs and the left arm of Chael was extended inside the guard. In this position, it was a matter of slipping his leg over Chael’s right arm and… game over.

So why didn’t Anderson pull this off quicker? Nobody can answer this but Anderson. It seemed to me as though he was not sure if the timing was quite right. Without the proper timing, Chael could defend the triangle, possibly advance his position, or at the very least have a read on what Anderson would be trying to do. Chael Sonnen did an outstanding job of putting Anderson Silva where he does not like to be, but we had seen this finish once before versus Travis Lutter. When, he finally thought he had Chael distracted enough and the timing was right, the Spider’s legs locked down the submission.

Anderson represented Jiu-Jitsu very well that night, as did Fabricio Werdum a few weeks before when he pulled off a triangle choke finish versus Fedor Emelianenko. Helio Gracie time and time again demonstrated that he could use his Jiu-Jitsu to neutralize bigger, stronger, dominating opponents and look for a finish later in the fight. Mixed martial arts and sport Jiu-Jitsu competitions many times take away this possibility and thus change the nature of the art in most cases. Same techniques, different philosophies. This is probably necessary for the growth of the two sports, but should always be noted by spectators.

Only a few young, very conditioned athletes can perform at the highest level MMA competitions. However, people from all ages and fitness levels can train the arts that these competitions come from with a holistic approach and carry away with them such benefits as confidence, fitness, stress relief, flexibility, endurance, and overall well-being – the Martial Arts Way of Life.

Anderson had received a lot of criticism after his disappointing performance versus Demian Maia, but on this night he showed a champion’s heart and the patience of a Jiu-Jitsu black belt. After this fight, Anderson did not have a lot left to prove in the UFC. He had demonstrated his superior striking skills and backed up his black belt. From that point forward, it became hard to criticize this UFC legend again and he began to be called "the greatest of all time."

5 Reasons Martial Arts Training Is The Best Activity for Your Brain and Memory!

A recent Consumer Reports article presented the latest research on keeping our minds sharp, especially as we age. As I read the article, I couldn’t help but notice that each of the five areas discussed could be addressed by being actively involved in a Martial Arts program!

1.    Reducing Stress

Exercise is well known for its ability to aid in the reduction of stress. Add to that the myriad of stress-reducing benefits of the Martial Arts in particular and you have a true stress buster. 

2.    Staying Connected

By this, the authors meant staying connected socially with others. The social aspects of a training class such as a Martial Arts class cannot be underestimated, not to mention Martial Arts classes are fun and engaging, helping you to commit to the long term benefits. 

3.    Feeding the Brain

Consuming a nutritionally-balanced diet is key to any Martial Arts program and your overall healthy lifestyle. The recommendations for maintaining healthy brain function are much the same as for maintaining overall healthy body function: minimizing trans-fat intake, reducing saturated fat intake, and consuming more fish and other foods that contain healthy fats. 

4.    Staying Fit

Physical activity is the best-known way of protecting your brain against aging. The recommendation here is the same as for general health and well-being: at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days. Martial Arts training incorporates daily exercise into your routine in a fun and exciting way so that you can stick to it. 

5.    Flexing Brain Muscles

Use it or lose it. The mental aspect of Martial Arts training provides this type of mental stimulation along with a great physical workout. This is something I discuss with our adult students on a very regular basis. Adult students often notice that the martial arts we teach are so technique oriented, cerebral, and detailed that they sometimes have difficulty remembering the techniques. That is exactly why it is so beneficial for you. Using the brain to make the mind and body work together performing a complicated Jiu Jitsu technique, or a long Kata in Kenpo is exactly the kind of workout that your brain needs!

Keep in mind that “aging” doesn’t mean you’re heading toward your 90s. Depending on your lifestyle, aging-related changes in your brain such as memory loss can begin as early as your 20s or 30s. So stay committed to your Martial Arts training. Your mind will thank you for it.

Some people plan on doing crossword puzzles and sudoku to keep their minds working as they age. I for one plan on rolling and practicing my forms/techniques when I’m 90!

Becoming a Martial Artist

A few years ago, I wrote a post titled “Martial Artist or a Student of the Martial Arts?

I posed the question to my students trying to determine how they saw themselves. There were a variety of opinions on the topic, but today I want to discuss one way of looking at this. I had multiple people tell me that while they were training martial arts, they did not yet consider themselves martial artists because they were not living all aspects of their life like a martial artist would.

The next logical question would be: "How does a martial artist live?"

For this, let’s take a look at the eight aspects of the martial arts way of life that we have outlined for our students at Progressive Martial Arts Academy:

  1. Fitness - Are you living your life in such a way that you are a healthy and fit individual? Does your body function the way that it should?
  2. Health & Nutrition - Have you adopted healthy eating habits? Sleeping habits? Most of us know what we should be eating, and how we should be living our lives, but are we following that? This one can be tough.
  3. Meditation - Have you brought a little bit of meditation into your life? Again, you don’t need to be sitting on top of a mountain cross-legged to say you meditate. At this point, if you have not at least brought it into your life in small ways like taking a few deep breaths and living in the moment, you are ignoring so many studies that have proven its effectiveness.
  4. Yoga and Stretching - Unless you've been living under a rock, surely you've heard that this stuff is excellent! And you don’t need to be a yogi to benefit from it. A martial artist has to have some yoga or good stretching/mobility routines in their life to recover properly from their training and maintain a level of flexibility and body control that allows them to perform their techniques.
  5. Philosophy - Being a martial artist also means living your life with the philosophy of a martial artist. That means bringing kindness, humility, respect, and love to all aspects of your life and all people in your life. This philosophy includes things like avoiding fights and confrontations. Do you have road rage? Then you still have some work to do here.
  6. Striking Arts - Keep those tools sharpened. A good martial artist has something in their life that keeps their striking sharp. For some this is heavy bag work, for others, it might be traditional forms. These are two great methods for keeping your tools ready to go.
  7. Grappling Arts - You can’t ignore the groundwork either. You may not have taken the full fledge jump into a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class yet (if not, what are you waiting for!?), but you need to know how to defend yourself on the ground. Something like Jiu Jitsu takes many years to master, so the sooner you start, the better.
  8. Self Defense - Being able to walk around the world with confidence that you can protect yourself is what enables the martial artist to carry themselves the way they do. You need to be training with a focus on self-defense.

If you have 15 minutes, take a look at this TED talk below. Dr. Chang is discussing how to make hard choices, but she lays out a way of approaching life that can help lay the framework for becoming who you want to be - in our case today, a martial artist.

So, I'll ask you again - Are you a student of the martial arts or a martial artist? If you are still having difficulty labeling yourself as a martial artist, is there an area of your life that you can work on aligning your lifestyle with the items listed above?

Most importantly, keep training!


Do you need help "becoming a martial artist"?

Some of you may have a few of the items above taken care of because you have begun training in martial arts, but may still be struggling with the elements outside of the academy such as your nutrition and lifestyle. 

Most people know that regular movement, eating well, sleep, and stress management are important for looking and feeling better, yet they need help applying that knowledge in the context of their busy, sometimes stressful lives.

That’s why I became a Precision Nutrition certified coach - to help PMA students lose fat, get stronger, and improve their health…no matter what challenges they’re dealing with. I accepted my first group of students last summer, and recently had certified PMA instructor, Kristie Fox, get her PN certification so that we can take more students in the program. 

We are planning to accept a group of students to begin their program on Monday, July 31st with Coach Kristie.

Interested in starting this one year program this summer? 

You can find more information about our nutrition and lifestyle coaching program here:

http://www.pmaoakridge.com/nutrition

Then, send me an email to join the presale list; you’ll save up to 45% and secure a spot in the program. We like to reward the most interested and motivated people because they always make the best clients. 

And, you’re more likely to get a spot. To give clients the personal care and attention they deserve, we plan to only open up the program twice a year. In the end, if you’re ready to change your body, and your life, with help from the world’s best habit changing program, this is your chance.

If you're ready to join the presale list now, you can do that here:

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My Trip to Rio

On May 19, I took off with my wife, Brittany, and oldest son, Charlie, on what would be the trip of a lifetime. We spent 10 days in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil visiting my close friend and teacher, Felipe Costa, his wife, Ana, and his son, Bento. Charlie and Bento were born just 2 weeks apart and despite living almost 5,000 miles away are great friends!

I thought for the blog this week I'd share some of the posts and memories that we shared on Facebook throughout the week, all collected in one place!

Taking off from McGhee Tyson Airport in Knoxville, TN!

Taking off from McGhee Tyson Airport in Knoxville, TN!

Day 1:

It's only been one day in Brazil, but we are having an incredible trip! 

We came back to Felipe's house and unloaded/rested then took a long walk down Copacabana beach and Ipanema beach to Ana's parents' house where they cooked us a wonderful traditional Brazilian meal - feijoada.

So happy to be reunited with our friends!

So happy to be reunited with our friends!

Ana's parents were so welcoming, and cooked us a wonderful meal!

Ana's parents were so welcoming, and cooked us a wonderful meal!

Day Two: Today we visited the botanical garden, the lagoon where the Olympics were held, and ate at a really nice Brazilian steakhouse. Bento and Charlie's friendship is really cute (as you'll see!).

We love this family so much! And are enjoying every second of time with them in their home, on the other half of the earth!

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So today while visiting the Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden we got to see a variety of wild monkeys! That by itself is really cool.

Now, while watching the monkeys, one of them snuck up on us, jumped in the stroller, and stole our unopened bag of snacks. He then took it up into the tree, shared with his friends, and later they all came down to retrieve the ones that they had dropped - even taking them from our hands!

 It's crazy how you can be in one of the largest cities in the world and just a short walk away from the jungle.

DISCLAIMER: you should not normally feed animals in the wild or in a zoo, both for your safety and their health!

Day 3: This morning we took Felipe's son, Bento, to school and then spent the day exploring downtown Rio de Janeiro. We also went by Felipe's academy, Brazilian Black Belt, Terere's academy, and watched Professor Ricardo De La Riva teach De La Riva at De La Riva Jiu-jitsu!

Visiting Professor Ricardo De La Riva's academy!

Visiting Professor Ricardo De La Riva's academy!

On the way home tonight, we were picking up some Acai for dinner and ran into a group of kids walking home from Jiu Jitsu class. Felipe stopped them and asked them some questions about their training and then "fought" one of them in the street. 😊

P.S. - Authentic Acai is much different than the frozen bricks sold in the United States! Charlie still enjoyed it, and Bento LOVES it! Charlie is also a big fan of the subway we have discovered.

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Day 4: Today we visited the top of Sugarloaf Mountain. It has an amazing view over Rio de Janeiro. This was one of our favorite moments so far.

Then Charlie and Bento went to Jiu Jitsu class! This was Charlie's first official Jiu Jitsu class and how cool is it that it was in Brazil?! 

Afterward, Brittany and I stayed to train too. Felipe's academy, Brazilian Black Belt, is awesome and has a great group of people of all ranks to train with. You can tell who their teacher is because their technique was great, and the culture was good too!

Our Portuguese is improving little by little!

Day 5: We woke up early this morning and hiked to one of the Horto waterfalls! The water was freezing but we had to jump in!

Then later in the day, we visited the Christ the Redeemer statue which was voted one of the seven wonders of the modern world in 2012! Another unbelievable view of the city of Rio.

Then we packed up to spend the weekend in the beach town of Armação de Búzios (another city in the state of Rio de Janeiro).

Day 6:

This morning we visited Felipe's grandmother and her good friend Lola (who was Felipe's nanny)! Afterward, we spent the afternoon on the beach in Leblon before picking up Ana, Fernanda (Ana's sister), and Michelle (Felipe's long time friend, and Jiu Jitsu Black Belt) and driving to Buzios!

The classic drink on the beach in Rio - Matte!

The classic drink on the beach in Rio - Matte!

We arrived to find out Felipe and Ana had surprised us with a house that was actually on the beach. We woke up each morning and opened the back door to a beautiful view of the beach and could step right off the patio and walk onto the sand.

After grabbing some dinner and lemon pie (Lemon pie is Felipe's favorite dessert and he swears this place has the best Lemon pie in the world - we all agreed!) in downtown Buzios, Felipe and I decided to jump in the COLD ocean, you only live once! 

Day 7:

On our first morning in Buzios we took a walk on Geriba beach before heading out for some breakfast at a delicious local bakery. Brazilian breakfasts typically have lots of bread and cheese. Delicious!

We then went back to the house for naps. That afternoon we walked to Ana and Fernanda's cousins' place for some Acai.

We went out again Friday night for some bruschetta and pizza and of course, more lemon pie!

Day 8:

Today we woke up, went out for breakfast, and walked down to a different beach in Buzios where we spent the afternoon swimming, playing and relaxing. The water felt great and Charlie really loved it!

At the end of the day, we walked down to another beach in Buzios to eat dinner watching the sunset on our last night in Brazil. That was followed up by some lemon pie downtown of course!

Day 9:

This is our last day in Brazil! Brittany and I woke up to see the sunrise over our beach and I spent the morning reading.

Once everyone was awake, we ate a wonderful breakfast at our house and walked down to one more beach to say goodbye to Buzios. And grab one more bowl of Acai!

We then drove back to Rio and packed up to come home. Saying goodbye brought tears to everyone, and we can't wait until we see each other again!

This was a trip we will never forget. Our friends live in a beautiful place, but it was them that made it so special. ❤️

All pictures from this trip were taken on my iPhone. It's so fun to be able to capture these amazing pictures with something we take with us everywhere and that fits in your pocket!

You Are Normal

Do you ever get home from work or school and not feel like going to class?

So do I.

Do you struggle to follow healthy nutrition guidelines and find yourself tempted by junk food at every waking second?

So do I.

Are you nervous about starting martial arts because you're afraid you'll make yourself look like a fool?

So was every martial artist out there, excluding maybe those who began training when they were too young to care!

Do you get nervous about sparring because you are afraid of performing poorly and getting hurt or embarrassed?

So do I.

Do you look in the mirror and think negatively about your image?

So do I.

All of these things are just part of being human. And we all have people that we think are superhuman that we put up on a pedestal but guess what - they are just like you too.

Now it is true that some people seem to have everything figured out in areas of life that you are struggling in. They are just further along in that aspect of the journey, but they were where you are at some point. And in other areas of their lives, they won't be quite as far along.

Plenty of highly successful business people are overweight.

Many famous people have unstable lives.

Tons of professional athletes and musicians struggle with addiction to drugs or alcohol.

Many people that make millions of dollars go broke.

Lots of incredibly fit people have poor relationships with their friends and family.

In many cases, high levels of success in one area of life leads to other facets being neglected. We act surprised when we see someone that seems to have "had it all" fall apart, but it's because we forget to see that they are just human beings. 

We are quick to judge and criticize others because it makes us feel better.

When we talk about how much weight someone has put on, we feel better about our fitness journey. When we gossip about someone's personal life, it comforts us.

So next time you catch yourself rationalizing why you shouldn't go to class tonight, get up within 5 seconds and go. Even if it isn't time yet! Go early and practice or update your notebook. 

When you start convincing yourself why you shouldn't start your martial arts training, fitness program, nutrition plan, etc. yet, get up within 5 seconds and start. Don't wait for Monday. Take the next small action you can take towards beginning.

When you find yourself putting someone down, thinking you are better than someone, or participating in gossip, stop right away and intentionally do something positive for that person instead.

All of these thoughts and actions are human things, but our goal should be to strive every day to be a better human. That is the "Martial Arts Way of Life." Don't let the fact that it's "normal" help you rationalize staying where you are.

The fact that you are normal is comforting. Realize you aren't alone. It feels good, doesn't it? Be kind to yourself. Now, since all of these things are normal - strive to be weird!

For more on this, check out one of my favorite pieces from Precision Nutrition - 

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/that-fit-person-whos-got-it-all-together-doesnt

Zen and the Martial Arts Way of Life

*On February 19, 2017, Linda received her Black Belt in FILKENJUTSU Kenpo at Progressive Martial Arts Academy. This was written by Linda in the preparation process.

Most people would probably agree that being in good health ranks high in things that can contribute to a happier and longer life.  So in general people may seek to adapt an exercise and or nutrition regimen to achieve this goal.  

On my personal path to becoming healthier, I began training in martial arts. The more I train, the better physically conditioned I become, my self-confidence is improved, and I feel empowered as I continue to build my self-defense skills.  

Linda performing a push up exercise with cinderblocks.

Linda performing a push up exercise with cinderblocks.

But what else can I add to achieve overall well-being? 

A few years ago, I was given a book by my instructor, my Sifu, entitled “Zen in the Martial Arts,” (Hyams, 1979).  The only thing I knew about Zen was that it included some kind of meditation and peace. Meditation was not something I incorporated into my daily life.  

After reading this book, I found that Zen is not easy to define, so it was something that intrigued me to explore further.  I can now see that employing tools and methods of Zen can enhance someone’s life in general or as part of the martial arts way of life.  

Linda receiving a promotion from her SiFu, David Corrigan.

Linda receiving a promotion from her SiFu, David Corrigan.

Originally Zen was just one way, of many, that Buddhists incorporated in their religion to attain liberation from delusion and suffering and ultimately find enlightenment.   According to “The Zen Way of Life,” (ZenBegin, 2014), Zen Buddhism originated from India in the 6th century.  It began with the Prince, Siddhartha Gautama, who left his riches and his life at the palace to embark on a spiritual journey.  He became a monk on a quest to find the real nature of all things through thought, meditation, and fasting.  He was regarded as the enlightened one, otherwise known as Buddha.  

Bodhidharma, who was one of Buddha’s successors, traveled to China to spread Buddha’s teachings, “the Dharma,” which they named Chan.  The teachings of Buddhism and even Zen already existed in China but the idea that Zen pointed directly to the mind to reveal one’s true nature was introduced.  

Bodhidharma was trying to portray the nature of emptiness, the absence of self, and the truth in everything as well as other Zen teachings to find enlightenment.  As noted in “Everything Zen Book,” (Sach & Faust, 2004), Bodhidharma was credited with being the first Zen patriarch to China and also credited with being the founder of martial arts because of the physical and spiritual training he provided to the Shaolin monks.   

In the twelfth century, Bodhidharma’s teachings on Zen spread to Japan and the Samurai Warriors.  The Japanese knew Bodhidharma as Daruma. 

After receiving her Black Belt, Linda presented a gift to her teacher and academy featuring Daruma/Bodhidharma's famous words, "To Fall Seven Times. To Rise Eight Times. Life Begins Now."

After receiving her Black Belt, Linda presented a gift to her teacher and academy featuring Daruma/Bodhidharma's famous words, "To Fall Seven Times. To Rise Eight Times. Life Begins Now."

The Samurai class used Zen to become aware of the nature of things to be able to move without hesitation in battle.  According to the “Everything Zen Book,” (Sach & Faust, 2004), there were two schools of Zen in Japan.  The Rinzai and the Soto schools which are still very prominent in Japan today.  The difference in them is the view of approaching the mind of enlightenment.  

The school of Rinzai believes Zen happens at one great moment and the Soto school believes Zen occurs in little flashes.  In Japan, Chan was pronounced Zen, and this is the name we know of today.  Although Zen meditation and its beliefs were used by Buddhists to achieve the liberation of truth, today it has evolved into so much more.  

Three Asian immigrants, Zen masters Roshi,  Harada, and Roshi Yasutani, introduced Zen Buddhism to the West.  And although there are many Americans that practice Zen Buddhism as a religion, there are also many Americans that have just adapted the principles of Zen in their everyday living to live more wisely and more fully.   

Linda with two of her training partners, Brittany and Kristie, at the Secret City Half Marathon.

Linda with two of her training partners, Brittany and Kristie, at the Secret City Half Marathon.

To the latter group, the Zen practice is more methods and tools to change a mindset and behavior to achieve enlightenment rather than a religion.  

As stated in “Zen in the Martial Arts,” (Hyams, 1979), it is interesting to see that methods and principles of Zen have become part of the martial arts way of life.  Several styles of the martial arts have the ending of “do” which means “the way” or more fully “the way to enlightenment, self- realization, or understanding.”  For example, Aikido, Judo, Taekwondo, Jeet Kune Do, etc. Zen can be thought of as a state of mind or attitude when confronting circumstances in any situation.  

So how does Zen relate to martial arts, when a martial artist is viewed as a warrior, but Zen portrays tranquility and peace?  

In actuality, the martial arts places lots of emphasis on discipline, awareness, and unity, over fighting.  The connection in the Zen and the martial arts is in the mental training. Therefore, Zen can become an invaluable tool for any martial artist.  

Linda served 6 years in the United States Navy.

Linda served 6 years in the United States Navy.

Detailed below from “The Four States of Mind,” (Roadtoepic, 2012) are just a few of the many methods and states of mind or consciousness one can practice to achieve Zen in a martial arts way of life.  Although one can read about countless ways to achieve Zen, ultimately Zen is something only one can experience intuitively.  It is not about thinking but about telling your mind to be still to attain insight.

 In Japan, the word Shoshin is referred to as “beginners mind.”  This is described as entering a situation without a preconceived notion or expectations of how the situation is going to play out.   This helps us from over thinking or over analyzing the situation. It also helps us to think outside the box and therefore be open to learning and new ideas. 

According to “Zen in the Martial Arts,” (Hyams, 1979), Bruce Lee was a student of Zen, and one of the lessons he mastered was to always approach a situation or a training session with an “empty cup” or a beginners mind.  He studied many forms of martial arts and took from each the techniques that he found useful. He was always learning because he approached things in the Shoshin state of mind.  

Linda and her son, Jared, at a PMA Christmas Party.

Linda and her son, Jared, at a PMA Christmas Party.

Zanshin is the state of mind where one is aware of their surroundings and their emotions to have more freedom in the way they choose to respond.  This translates to “remaining mind.”  One application of Zanshin in martial arts can be when you are fighting an opponent you are focused on them, but not so much that your focus takes you away from also being aware of an attacker that may be coming up from behind.  It is about achieving a focus while keeping a mental awareness with unity and flow.  

Linda and her sister, Tanairi, after running in the Ninja 5K.

Linda and her sister, Tanairi, after running in the Ninja 5K.

Another state of mind in Zen is referred to as Mushin.  Mushin can be described as having “no mind.”  One can think of it as getting to the point of doing something effortless.  A way to achieve Mushin is by practicing something to the point that it becomes automatic or second nature.   

A lot of athletes are said to experience Mushin when they are “in the zone.” When one becomes what it is they are doing, then it is thought to be in the zone, “Everything Zen Book,” (Sach & Faust, 2004).  I believe I have experienced Mushin when running but I didn’t know that is what it was. Often my mind quiets and frees itself of wandering thoughts during running, so I can embrace nature and travel for miles and miles without realizing the distance I have gone.  It is my desire that I will ultimately experience Mushin in martial arts as I spend more time in the discipline.

Linda with her husband, John, and two sons.

Linda with her husband, John, and two sons.

 One state of mind that can be beneficial in any walk of life is referred to by the Japanese as Fudoshin.  Fudoshin is described as having an immovable mind.  One is said to experience this state of mind when they can easily control themselves under the most stressful situations.    Fudoshin is attaining the ability to remain calm and collective when it seems like the world is falling apart around you. 

 I can see where being in this state of mind can also be critical when your actions can determine your survival.  For example, if there is a house fire, if one has Fudoshin they can remain in control, access the situation and act appropriately to remain unharmed.  

On February 19, 2017, Linda became the 5th female FILKENJUTSU Black Belt. Pictured from left to right: Olivia Cannon, Gracie Hall, Meg Corrigan, Madelyn Fowler, and Linda Davis.

On February 19, 2017, Linda became the 5th female FILKENJUTSU Black Belt. Pictured from left to right: Olivia Cannon, Gracie Hall, Meg Corrigan, Madelyn Fowler, and Linda Davis.

According to “Zen Living,” (Burk, 2014), “The central Zen method is Zazen or seated meditation."  Za means seated, and Zen means meditation. Zazen, when practiced regularly even daily, can be very beneficial. The mind will start to settle the longer one sits.  Beginners may start with 5 to 10 minutes but a normal classic Zazen period is 30 to 40 minutes.  Zazen can be done anywhere, but it is recommended to find a place with minimal distraction to you. It is recommended that you keep your eyes open to avoid daydreaming or drowsiness. Thoughts will come as you meditate, but it is important to let them be passing thoughts and not mull over them.  

Practicing Zazen increases the awareness of mind, building its attention muscles.  Zazen teaches you to declutter your mind and achieve serenity.  With Zazen we try to see things purely, letting go of discrimination and the subjective.  

Linda with her Black Belt Test partner, Gary Hall.

Linda with her Black Belt Test partner, Gary Hall.

In the Western culture, there are other ways people meditate that are different to Zazen.  For example, one might focus on a passage from the Bible and how we can apply the concept to our life.  Some concentrate on repeating a mantra, or some might try to set aside distractions as they focus on visualizing something. 

According to “Zen Living,” (Burk, 2014) “mindfulness is the practice of Zazen except it is done while engaging your daily activities.”  “In contrast, mindfulness is cultivating awareness during an activity; you don’t do Zazen while washing the dishes, you wash the dishes.”  It is being in the present and focusing your awareness on the action you are performing. 

Most people have trouble remembering to be mindful.  Our minds tend to wander to the past or the future and find it difficult to stay in the present.  If we are actively doing something with our body, our mind becomes active as well.  But with mindfulness, one is always taking care of everything around them, whether it be a person or a situation.   

The best way to keep in the present while meditating is to focus on your breathing.  As noted in “Zen in the Martial Arts,” (Hyams, 1979), Zen breathing is a method of controlled or focused breathing that can restore calmness, confidence, and strength.  Visualizing the air entering your body through your nose and entering the lower part of your lungs as it completely fills to the top.  Then imagine the air traveling through your body as it fills every inch of your body and before it leaves your body, you take the next breath.  One cannot force the breathing so that it is unnatural.  This type of breathing has proven to relieve anxiety, fear and even to heal our minds, bodies, and spirits.  Breathing can also be used to manage pain and provide insight into the way your body responds to different situations.  

Doing something with focus and concentration, in other words, being in the present, is a practice of Zen referred to as Kime.  It is the process of tightening the mind. Bruce Lee was quoted in “Zen in the Martial Arts,” (Hyams, 1979) with saying “A good martial artist puts his mind on one thing at a time.”   

Linda learning a Jiu Jitsu technique from her teacher.

Linda learning a Jiu Jitsu technique from her teacher.

Many times I would arrive at martial arts training, and my mind would be drifting elsewhere.  This would interfere with my mental state.  I could not give my all to the technique I was learning because my mind was not in the present.  This hindered my training because I could not retain the information when the class was over.  

I train a lot better now as I leave whatever it is at the door.  I can tell from my experience that practicing Kime helps me retain information and train with enthusiasm.  The same thing can be applied to life in general by staying in the moment of whatever task you are doing from the most mundane to spending time with the family.   
 
Practicing Zen methods and tools to adjust your attitude and find yourself in any of the Zen states of mind mentioned above can attribute to a healthier quality of life.   It is my desire that these principles that I have reflected on in regards to Zen will make their way into my daily martial arts way of life.   

Linda and SiFu David.

Linda and SiFu David.

 

Works Cited

Hyams, Joe.  Zen in the Martial Arts.  New York:  Bantam, 1979.  Print.

“The Zen Way of Life, Buddhism.” ZenBegin. 2014. Web. Feb 2017

Sach, Jacky and Jessica Faust. The Everything Zen Book. Massachusetts: F&W Publications Company, 2004. Print

Wik, Adam. “The Four States of Mind.” Roadtoepic. 22 May 2012. Web. Feb 2017

Burk, Domyo Sater. Zen Living. New York: Penguin Group, 2014. Print

Life is Life

One night while talking before a concert my family and I were attending, my Dad asked me about one of our advanced students that has been missing from class. I told him that I had not seen him in awhile but had spoken to him and knew that work was really getting in the way of his training.

My Dad said well make sure he knows we understand and to just get back to training when he can. “Life is life,” my Dad said, “and martial arts is all about life.”

All of us can relate to this message. Sometimes things just get in the way of your training. This is absolutely normal. We just have to make sure we get right back on track when we can.

That might seem like an easy piece of advice, but it can be extremely difficult. When things get in the way, it is easy to let other things that aren’t really in the way seem like they are. You may miss a week or two of training for any number of reasons, but then those reasons aren’t there anymore and you continue to delay your return to training. You may have originally missed because of the snow, work, an injury, vacation, family commitments, the list goes on and on, but now you are missing because of laziness, fear of being out of shape, fear of not knowing all of your techniques, or being behind.

We all need to remember that the first list of reasons that actually got in the way are normal and completely understandable. Life is life. It’s going to happen! This is training in the context of a real life. The second list is where we have to be mindful. The second list is where the “no excuses” mentality needs to come in, or Nike’s “just do it” motto. When it is time to get back on the mat, or get back to your diet, or back into your routine - JUST DO IT.

In that moment more than ever we cannot psyche ourselves out. Turn off the brain for a little while because in that moment your power to reason usually will work against you! Because it is easier to stay home, you may convince yourself of a sound reason to do it. You can convince yourself to just get back on track tomorrow, or the next day. But don’t!

The decision to take the easy path might give you pleasure or enjoyment for that one moment. The decision to take the harder path will give you happiness and fulfillment for a lifetime.

See you on the mat!

Why I Train Martial Arts

I don't remember ever making conscious choices to train martial arts when I was growing up. It was just something that my family did. I cannot remember a time that I was not training martial arts, or that my older brother Nick wasn't training, or that either of my parents weren't training. I come from a family of martial artists. When it is something you have always known, it is part of who you are, and to not train makes you feel like something is missing. And it is! It wasn't until high school that I started to really ask myself why I was training. Questions about my future led me more and more to meditate on my motive to keep training.

What are you going to do when you graduate high school? What are you going to major in? What are you going to do when you graduate college? What do you want to do? Who do you want to be?

Thousands and thousands of kids just graduated high school last month and are being asked the above questions over and over again. The worst part is that most of them don't know and this will stress them out. I didn't know either.

But one of the first times I remember realizing how important training and teaching martial arts were to me was when I was a sophomore in high school. My brother and I were both on the wrestling team and there were many nights that I had to miss training at the dojo for wrestling practice or meets. This really used to bother me. I hated the feeling of not being around the academy when things were going on. So at the beginning of my Junior year of high school, I did one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I told my wrestling coach that I wasn't going to wrestle for the high school anymore so that I could dedicate my time to the academy.

Over the next couple of years of high school (and throughout college), I came to the realization that I really enjoyed teaching martial arts. I realized that I was making an impact on people's lives. All sorts of people! From the 4 year old Lil' Dragons up to the grown men and women with successful careers. I knew that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. And I've never looked back.