Martial Arts & Mindfulness
The importance of recognition:
I first began martial arts at the age of nine years old and continued to do so until my early twenties. When life, work, mortgage, and family commitments became a priority I was unable to train and drifted away completely from something that kept me grounded right through some early stressful parts of my life. I did on numerous occasions try to return but again commitment due to time constraints and work and family priorities made this impossible. Just after Christmas, in 2017, I reached a point where I noticed attitude and behaviour issues were more prevalent. People who were close to me were also showing concerns about my behaviour and moods. I had gained weight, was not sleeping correctly and found my levels of concentration to be very poor. I remembered a comment my late father (who practiced Judo) said to me ‘outside of work and the family home, you need something to challenge you, inspire you and look forward to’. So, I made a conscious decision to return to martial arts after speaking to my wife and kids about how I was feeling.
The search began to find a martial art form which could help me. After a few days of internet searching, email and phone conversations, it was clear Genbukan was the martial art for me. I was welcomed and felt in the right place, at the right moment. A balance had returned to my way of thinking and my way of feeling after just one lesson. Under Sensai Martin O’Raghaillaigh, his instructors and fellow students, I began to train three days per week. Obviously, me being out of shape meant I had to be patient with myself. Within a month I began to notice real positive changes. I was sleeping better, eating better and overall feeling better. My wife and family also noted how well I looked, sounded and appeared. Within one year I attended 140 classes, lost 30lbs, did six gradings, traveled to Barcelona to a Tai Kai event and met some wonderfully supportive people who inspire, challenge and support me every day. I also assist with the instruction of children’s classes on Saturdays which is very rewarding.
Barcelona Tai Kai 2018
While there are certainly many benefits to participating in other sports and activities like soccer, gymnastics, and tennis, few can come close to the physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual health and wellness benefits that may be derived from serious martial arts practice. Some of the benefits which I find very relative and important to my mental health are:
1) Responsibility: Martial arts is a pathway to self-actualisation. To not take responsibility is to put a wall in the path. We must be able to protect ourselves and those whom we love. We learn that if we don’t take responsibility, we may lose the things most dear to us. With this knowledge, we become more aware of the words we use and our non-verbal communication when faced with conflict. We have control over how we respond to others and whether we choose to escalate or de-escalate conflict, whether we choose to avoid or evade a fight, and the extent of force that we use to end a conflict.
2) Discipline: Attaining and practicing self-discipline is a great asset in both our personal and professional lives. Regular practice of martial arts helps us gain the ability to control our emotions, desires, and reactions. Martial arts teach us to think before acting, regulate our movements, and focus on action rather than reaction. The discipline involved in fine-tuning and honing skills and techniques cannot be overstated. This ability becomes a way of life and permeates all aspects of our being.
3) Perseverance: People with perseverance are able to accomplish long term goals in the face of adversity. Excelling in martial arts is extremely difficult – it takes thousands of hours of practice and dedication encountering many challenges along the way to developing new skill sets and advancing in belt ranks. In Genbukan we are thought that everyone’s martial art journey is different and individual. Martial artists learn to view challenges as opportunities rather than obstacles; crucial in minimising unhealthy stress-related situations. It is this kind of attitude which leads to an enduring and striving spirit. Through challenges, we may truly grow and by growing we may best face challenges. Martial arts emphasises that it is not how many times you fall down but the number of times that you get up that is the best predictor of success.
4) Values: Establishing goals based on your core values infuses them with deeper meaning and energises you to pursue them passionately. Values set the course by which goals are established. Living a life based on your values is a foundation for achieving a balanced and satisfying life. Bringing life to your values will bring value to your life! Inherent in Genbukan martial arts are a certain set of core values – respect for others, discipline, manners, harmony, balance, spirituality, self-determination, self-protection, and service for others. These common belief systems help establish firm bonds between fellow martial artists and allow us to thrive in other non-martial art related activities throughout our lives.
5) Positivity: A focus on positivity and optimism associated with many health and wellness benefits including less depression, less substance abuse, and alcohol dependency, greater long-term happiness, better relationships, improved career success, and living a longer life. Martial arts instill many foundational principles of positive psychology such as a focus on personal strengths, flow, positive/productive communication, optimism, resilience and celebrating successes.
Weapons training with Iaito
6) Humility: Society is embattled with the consequences of more ego, self-centeredness and entitlements. Being humble is associated with more effective leadership, more self-control, improved work and academic performance, less prejudicial behaviour, more kindness and enhanced relationships. Martial arts help us appreciate our strengths yet be honest and objective about our limitations, weaknesses, and areas which need improvement. Even the most successful, most famous, and most accomplished martial artists are amazing examples of what it means to show humility.
7) Confidence: A lack of self-confidence has devastating consequences for children and adults that can result in avoiding social interactions, inappropriate fears, poor relationships, poor job performance, depression, and substance abuse. With poor self-esteem, you are more likely to give up on goals in the face of adversity. Genbukan marital arts excel at promoting self-confidence and self-esteem in its practitioners. By teaching respect for others, including your opponents while instilling the importance of individual responsibility, martial arts promotes balance between humility and confidence. There are endless opportunities for achieving goals and developing self-confidence.
8) Respect: Having respect for others improves all of your relationships. Respect begets respect. Showing respect and appreciation of others encourages them to respect you and increases the likelihood of having others be kind to you. Respect includes friends, foes, and strangers. Employees report that the single most important trait that a leader can possess is that of respect for their workers. In Genbukan martial arts not only do we respect our teachers, mentors and those wearing a higher or lower belt, but we also learn quickly to respect our opponents. This trait is important to not get cocky and make dangerous assumptions about their abilities.
9) Wisdom: We tend to lump all martial arts styles under the umbrella “martial arts.” Genbukan martial arts reflect the people, culture, weapons, and specific circumstances of the country of origin, Japan. The differences are reflected in how we emphasise stances (kamae), kicks, punches, blocks, and body movements. Becoming an accomplished martial artist requires more than simply learning the physical techniques. One must understand the history, culture, people, and even the language. Mastering a specific martial art necessitates practicing enough to incorporate techniques into muscle memory as well as a deeper understanding about proper body mechanics, kinesthesiology, anatomy and physiology, situational awareness, conflict management, de-escalation techniques and weaponry including materials and manufacturing technology. At Genbukan I count myself extremely fortunate and lucky to be able to practise and learn such a concise and historic martial art.
10) Mindfulness: An open, non-judgmental moment-by-moment awareness of your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and surrounding environment. A focus on the future is to live in a dream and a focus on the past is to live in a memory. Mindfulness is a focus on the here and now. It is associated with improved health and wellness, lower stress, better decision-making, fewer errors, an improved immune system, better relationships, and greater life satisfaction! It gives us a greater sense of mental clarity and focus. Mindfulness is a key ingredient of Genbukan martial arts practice. More than just being aware of what is going on; there is an implicit deeper sense of spiritual contemplation and reflection.
Mick Dalton, Transport Manager Eirebus
Mick trains with www.shogun.ie