Thinking Through The Body as a Tool for Martial Art Performance
On the mat, I often see people getting incredibly pissed off with themselves when they cant get something right. More so, they get angry at their body for being so dumb. I get it. I have done this too often in the past, but less so these days. What I have tried to do is to surrender to my body, allowing it to be my teacher — specifically in respect to mind, emotions and spirit. If approached from this way, the experience of martial arts can allow each of us to integrate our natural intelligence. As Candace Pert, a neuroscientist reminds us, “ Your mind is in every cell of your body.”
The Inarticulate Machine
I think this is where the problem often comes in. We have for so long relegated our bodies, to something that simply houses the most important element of our being, our intellect. The body from this position is an inarticulate machine. But the experience of martial artistry suggests otherwise. We learn that the way the body moves, directs the mind, as much as the movement of the mind directs the body. Mind and body, body and mind are in continuous cooperative communication — only delineated by a separation through our own imagined boundaries.
Checking In With Your Body
For example, if you feel stuck in your martial arts game, try checking in with your body. What are you ignoring? And then consciously invite it. In doing so, you invoke new ways of experiencing movement, that previously may have had you stuck. This however takes a deep reverence for the body as not merely that machine that gets us from point A to point B, but rather as a living intelligence, that although we often take for granted, is our greatest asset to living a fulfilled, and joyful life.
While many of us don’t think about this, but why have a body at all? Why not something else? Why not simply a brain in a vat? The body, so often neglected in our day to day living, is the ground of our experience in this world. A less optimal body, will experience the world very differently to one that is optimal. I have always thought, how much of our distress, or angst in living is rather not due to what we call the external stressors of life, but rather how we expect to engage with that stress with a body often less than fully optimal? The body then, is a mirror to our psyche.
The Body Changes Your Mind
For example we now know, that the way you hold your body, your body posture, can change the way you think about either yourself, or something else that is happening in your environment. We could argue this is the same for martial arts. The way you position yourself, the moves you make, will affect how you feel and think about those moves, and yourself. It’s no wonder then, when one looks at well defined functional martial art systems, like boxing or BJJ, that there are, for the most part, specific moves that characterises those disciplines. As such, those same moves are taught anywhere in the world you find those arts. Partly these moves exist because of the morphology we have, but also because they are the most efficient use of our bodies to accomplish a certain goal. In this case, subduing an opponent. If you want to then get better at these moves, its better to feel them, and work of that feeling to ascertain if they are correct, rather than simply trying to think them through.
Feeling a move to get it right, is very different to thinking if its right. Feeling implies a deep connection to sensation, and the body as a natural intelligence. As Mary Starks Whitehouse, a professional dance, and teacher, reminds us, “Where does movement come from? It originates in…a specific inner impulse having the quality of sensation. This impulse leaps outward into space so that movement becomes visible as physical action.” The language of the body is sensations. Sensing a movement opens up bodily awareness. It is only then that not only can you think through your body, but crucially trust the body to make the right adjustments for that move to work.