Why martial art practice is invaluable for holistic health

Posted on July 17, 2020Comments Off on Why martial art practice is invaluable for holistic health

The dictionary definition of holitsic: “characterized by comprehension of the parts of something as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole”. In this post we will be discussing why martial art practice forms an invaluable contribution to your holistic wellness.

Goal: Integration & Union

First and foremost, our goal is integration. We integrate our scattered thoughts into a unified intent. We integrate our ego mind, emotion, our body, and our energetic self into a cohesive, harmonious self. That is the meaning behind “one sun”, to reduce and gather the scattered suns and scattered light into one. It is similar in yoga. The word yoga literally means “union”, derived from the Sanskrit word meaning “to join”.

Okay, that makes sense. We want to be well in all the aspects of ourselves. But do you wonder why we learn to fight? Aren’t we working to be at peace?

In the ultimate pursuit of union, we aim to be one with everything. But before we achieve such lofty goals, our foundation begins by unifying and integrating ourselves internally. As we progress along this journey, martial arts provide an effective means of developing union beyond our physical body.

Weapon Practice – Tools of War as Tools of Harmony

Kungfu master Wang Ziping

I enjoy the practice of weaponry: swords, spears, staffs, maces, all kinds of traditional weapons from various cultures. Weapon practice teaches us to be one with a tool, and having done so, to extend our intent through it to accomplish a goal.

You might remember the first time you picked up a tennis racquet or baseball bat and feeling awfully clumsy. What is this strange, heavy, unwieldy thing? But you have also seen great athletes swing them with such ease and grace. What is the difference? Union. They are one with their tool in a way that you had not yet learned to be.

But you have experienced this union too. When you hold a pencil, your thoughts flow onto the page. You do not have to think about how you grip a pencil, how you rotate your wrist. You have just your thoughts and they manifest as words through the harmonious union of you, the pencil, and the paper.

You also experience this while driving. When you make that turn, you do not know how many angles of rotation your shoulder goes through, which hand is exerting more pressure and when do you do hand over hand. You do not micromanage your driving. In fact if you did, you’d probably drive much worse, much more distracted. Instead, you just have an intention of being somewhere, and your body works harmoniously with this complex vehicle. The desired result is achieved, without you knowing what all went on with your body or under your car’s hood!

In these acts, you learn to extend your self and create union with something beyond your body. In weapon practice, you learn to do the same through a series of movements with gradually increasing complexity.

When you achieve this union, you feel a comfort and joy in your training. Gradually, you become familiar and accustomed to this feeling and you create it throughout your life. You will have improved your capacity to create union and harmony in your life.

Combat – The Practice of Empathy, The Ultimate Practice of Union

Photo by Bernd Viefhues on Unsplash

Once you learn to create union with an inanimate thing, the next step is to obtain union with living things. It’s easy to get along with & understand people who like you, who are similar to you, who have the same goals as you. Combat is essentially the opposite of that. You face someone that may or may not like you. Furthermore, you’ll have diametrically opposite goals! In learning to have union in this most challenging situation, you learn to develop your integration and union to the highest level.

Combat can be divided to a few levels of increasing mastery:

  1. Punching and kicking as hard as you can with little regard for your opponent. It’s not much different from hitting a punching bag except that it hits back. You hope simply that they go down before you do.
  2. Employ strategy against opponent’s habits and ability. Now you start treating them as living thing and start opening up your mind.
  3. Recognize and accept your opponent in full: you aim to understand their feelings and thoughts. You accept their intentions and actions. You understand the dharma has the two of you are engaged in combat in this moment. You accept this without hatred, without knee jerk reaction, you don’t tense up or struggle unnecessarily.

Combat is a dance

Good combat is like a dance: you and your opponent take turns leading, following, creating rhythm and flow. When you can accept this, you can engage in combat without panic, without hatred, without fear. You transcend the boundaries between you and your opponent and create union in this most challenging of situation.

Now obviously, don’t just jump into a fight and expect this to work out! Just like with inanimate objects, we start easy with pens, and then light sticks and light swords, and then heavier ones. We build up your “union creating muscles”. In this dance, we start with helpful partners who know the dance. Overtime, you can dance competently with more and more people. You eventually learn to lead even clumsy dancers into graceful movements. And in combat, ultimately we will dance with people who do not want to dance with us. Yes that doesn’t sound easy but that’s why it’s the ultimate pursuit!

Push hands – The Taichi practice of harmonious combat

T.T. Liang and Cheng Man Ching – Push Hands Practice

In our holistic martial practice, we start with a practice called push hands. It is a slow partner practice and competition. It is a form of standing wrestling, like sumo’s pushing and pulling, with a slow, smooth, and methodical mindset that is both dance-like and chess-like. You start with your partner in a more cooperative practice. As you become comfortable you gradually practice in a more competitive manner.

As you accomplish this, you accomplish what in Taichi they call ting jing and dong jing, meaning “listening force” and “knowing force” respectively. You don’t do this with an aim to overpower or outsmart your opponent. That is still a ego-centric and conflicting state with your opponent. You aim to know your opponent so you can have union, so that you can guide them to the desired outcome of this dance.

Push hand is a deep, fascinating, and fun practice that is deserving of its own discussion. We will continue discussing it in a future post. For now, it’s sufficient that we understand how martial art practice facilitates integrating our selves within and beyond. This gives insight to why so much of the east Asian martial arts developed in temples. And vice versa, the meditative practices help open our mind to a different aspect of martial arts.

For demonstrations, take a look at our youtube channel.
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We’ve all had experience of using a tool as a part of ourselves, as an extension of our intention. Usually, it is a joyful experience. Do you have such an experience? Share in the comments below!