While I was filming a documentary about Tai Chi, the director wanted some B-roll of me talking with the great Chen style Tai Chi master Wang Xi’an (for more info on that documentary, check out this post). They sat me down in a chair next to the grand master and instructed me to talk. There was no audio for this scene, so I could say whatever I wanted.
I’d been dying for a chance to talk to Master Wang but wasn’t sure how much time I’d have, so I didn’t mess around with small talk. I asked my first question: “What’s the most important thing about practicing martial arts?”
Without hesitation, Master Wang answered, “To practice with your mind.”
“You mean like visualization and that kind of thing?” I asked.
“Not just that. Any time you practice, focus your attention completely on what you’re doing. If you practice without your mind, you’re just wasting time.”
“Cut!” said the director. “Thanks Eric, that’s perfect.”
I didn’t get a chance to ask follow up questions, but afterword I thought incessantly about the master’s wise words. I decided to try it out myself.
At that time, I was practicing iron arm kung fu*, which entails me slamming my arm into a tree as hard as I can for about 10 minutes every day. It’s a painful and repetitive experience, not exactly something I looked forward to. While practicing, I often merely went through the motions, more like a masochistic ritual than training kung fu.
I decided to switch up my strategy from mindless bludgeoning into one of mindfulness. I concentrated on which strikes would hit the tree the hardest. I noticed there was some consistency about which were strongest and which were weakest, and began changing my technique to try to increase power across the board. In a short time, I could feel my technique improving.
For me, this was incredible. A practice which I dreaded became increasingly interesting and productive. I started trying to apply mindfulness to all of my practice sessions, and I’ve seen great results ever since.
What do you think is the most important thing about practicing martial arts? Tell us about it below in the comments section!
*Editor’s note – Iron arm kung fu isn’t a part of the Taiji Zen curriculum. I just enjoy practicing weird/crazy things.