Mental and Spiritual Strength in the Martial Arts
By: Andrea F. Harkins “The Martial Arts Woman”
When you think about martial arts strength, it is often physical strength that comes to mind. Pick any martial art movie and you will see it. Look at any martial art poster or motivational picture and you will notice it. The musculature and physical empowerment of the martial artist is depicted frequently in media.
While physical strength is an excellent byproduct of martial arts, and a great personal goal, there are a couple of other strengths that, when realized, produce a great deal of untapped martial arts power. What are these amazing strengths? What more can you possibly strengthen if not the physical self?
How about the mind and soul? The mental and spiritual?
If you allow it, these creative and personal strengths can infiltrate your life through your mastery of martial arts.
Being a female martial artist for twenty-six years, I understand the importance of physical strength. I know that I’m fit and more flexible than most of my female counterparts and I’m stronger, too. I combine my training with some weight workouts to maintain my physical strength. Imagine if you could take your physical strength and kick it up a notch by adding in a few other ingredients to the mix. Wouldn’t that be an awesome combination? That’s exactly what I did and I’m about to share the secret behind this explosive life-power that I’ve discovered from my martial art.
Physical strength can wane. It all depends on how many times you practice per week and if you supplement your practices with weight training. What if suddenly you cannot practice due to illness or other commitments that creep into your life? Your physical strength can dilute or diminish until you can return to physical training again.
Mental and spiritual strength in martial arts are completely different from physical strength. You may call them a lifestyle or a mindset, and unlike physical strength, they are always with you. They do not fluctuate depending on your training times. Once cultivated they are there to stay. When you combine your martial art mental power and spiritual growth with your physical strength, you have a trio of powers that is the shield of a warrior. But, even if the physical falls behind, the two remaining strengths offer you all the defense you will need against life’s daily struggles, or even the biggest battles and challenges that you might face.
I’ve experienced many personal obstacles and battles, just like I am sure you have. I got stuck living in an unfinished house with hardly any drywall and no electricity for five years; I endured a pregnancy that was doomed in my fifth month; I fought two fires on my property with my bare hands using a water hose and some buckets with my family. The average person would have given up. They would have walked away from the house that was half-built; they would have listened and believed the doctors who said an unborn baby was destined to die; they would have looked at a looming fire and thought, “This is too big for me to fight.”
Whatever dire situations you face, whatever destruction has funneled its way into your life, you have choices to make, the first of which is how you will face them. Will you use the available spiritual and mental strength that has seeped into your life through your training? First, you must recognize it and know it exists before it can work in your favor.
The mindset of a martial artist who has practiced for a while sees life differently. She is a warrior and a ninja and knows that there is a way to fight back both physically and mentally. When I faced each of the difficult scenarios, I fell back on my martial art mindset. I reminded myself that if I could achieve a black belt, then later a second degree, and if I could pursue martial arts through pregnancies and life’s unexpected redirections, then I can persevere through anything. If these strengths could relentlessly guide my path in martial arts, then I can use them in my life, too.
After five years of struggling and living like I was camping in an unfinished house, we finally finished building it. After being told my baby would not make it, I carried the baby to full term. After working together with my family to extinguish the brush fires, we put them out completely.
The mental and spiritual strengths are not as easily developed as physical strength. They appear when you are pacing yourself through a kata, moving your body in an uninterrupted and continuous pattern, or when you are focusing on breath and movement while sparring, grappling, or trying to escape. As you achieve proficiency, you find that the mindfulness of your learning is as important as the physical momentum. You are reaching for higher ground.
Push up after push-up, punch after punch, kick after kick, block after block, fight after fight; each of these skills builds muscle mass. When you give the effort and you achieve the result. The mental and spiritual side of strength takes effort for the result, too.
Think about each martial art struggle you have faced. There was a day when you could not perform a certain skill or didn’t understand a concept. But, you didn’t give up. Over time you figured it out or practiced it enough that it finally made sense. That perseverance and stick-to-it attitude is mental strength.
When you are totally focused, thinking of nothing but your technique, and when the world is quietly swirling around you as you practice your martial art, you are experiencing a spiritual strength. It is a part of you that exists somewhere beneath the surface and as it emerges you see yourself in a new light. Competent. Proficient. True.
The final piece of mental and spiritual strength is changing how you see your place in the world.
Take the negative situations that surround you and replace them with positive. Use your martial arts training as your influence and inspiration. Each step in your training represents a personal change in you. From one belt to the next you are more confident, self-assured, and you start to believe in your own power. Your martial arts spiritual side grows as you start to accept that you are just as good as any other martial artist. You notice that each practitioner has his own weaknesses and no one is perfect.
What a revelation! Your mind is now free from the temptation to be like everyone else. You learn to be yourself, work diligently, and to never allow yourself to give up. Your spiritual and mental strength starts to deepen. One day, when told some terrible news like your home will be foreclosed or your child is not going to survive, you will have the mental and spiritual gumption to overcome because of your positive and hopeful expectations and beliefs. As a martial artist, you have already overcome difficult physical, personal, and combative challenges in your martial art. You know what this feels like and you know that you can overcome.
Spiritual and mental strength can also be practiced in class with your physical strengthening. Do you just listen or do you devour what you are taught? Do you go out of your way to work just a little harder than usual? How you conquer each moment, delve into each learning opportunity, and appreciate the opportunities to train, strengthen your mental and spiritual side and brings all of your strengths into focus.
I understand that martial arts are more than just a physical practice and I’ve eagerly allowed myself to apply the mental components of martial arts to my life through achievement, dedication, and perseverance. Your mental and spiritual strengths will make you stand out in the crowd. You will be an example, and you will understand how, when, and where to use your strengths depending on what obstacles are placed in your direction. Unlike physical strength, your internal awareness, positive approach to life, and unwavering spiritual and mental focus will be your biggest success factors.
As you physically strengthen your body through your martial art and whatever additional training you perform, don’t forget to focus on your mindset. It will pull you through difficult times in your life. A martial art strengthens your mental and spiritual side through patience, diligence, opportunity, reflection, perception, physicality, breath, movement, and determination. All of these factors fall into place and it’s up to you to interpret their importance in your life. Spiritual and mental strength will not wane once you understand it.
As you age, perhaps physical strength is more difficult to maintain. You may have to work harder for the same result. The spiritual and mental strength, however, will not let you down. Those strengths are far more powerful than any other. Thanks to your mindset, your martial art has new direction. While strengthening your body is of upmost importance, working out the mental and spiritual muscles will bring life-long, lasting results.
It’s up to you. Will you flex your mental and spiritual muscles? You may not be in the next martial arts movie or on a martial arts poster, but they one thing is for sure. These strengths are definitely a part of your personal star power and definitely worth exploring.