Mental Training in a Martial Art

Learn how you can improve your mental training and abilities

As we examined on the home page, mental training and mental development is one of the three elements trained in a martial art.(To learn more about this section...)

We dare say that mental training and the mental ability which develops from it is the most important element in a fighter!

For we will not be the first to point out that the one who loses in the majority of the time loses first in his mind before losing physically!

Mental “defeat” can start before the beginning of the fight or during it

Reflect on it; in most fights we can see the outcome before it really ends. When the spirit breaks before the final blow!! (Of course the reason for the breaking can be either physical or mental; More on that later).

Factors in our mental training and development

Our mental training and development as martial artists and the direction in which we choose to take our development, is determined by many factors, some of which are:

• Reason for training, the purpose which it serves...

• Martial art practiced

• Innate or true nature

We will try to simplify and organize this vast subject by referring to the fighting nature (martial art as a fighting system) of any martial art.

Through this examination we will be able to understand how we can improve our mental training and development through and for a martial art, regardless of whether or not we are interested in its’ fighting nature

Warrior/Fighter mental profile

If we needed to give a mental description of an ultimate warrior it would probably be –

Strong fighting spirit - doesn’t give up and has a strong will to fight.

Very aggressive - Tries to impose his will on his opponents.

Fearless - Is not afraid to receive punishment or endure pain if it serves his winning goals.

Calm - does not allow his actions to be effected/ "infected" by emotions.

Concentrated - Maintains his concentration and focus, and does not allow him self to be distracted by anything.

This is a general “blue print” of the mental qualities of an "ultimate warrior" - qualities which provide the mental edge which is so important in a fight*.

We'll examine these qualities and their changes due to different circumstances.

Examining mental training and qualities in light of our martial arts needs

Strong fighting spirit

What will determine the fighting spirit of a fighter, aside from his nature?

Even weak spirited person will fight unbreakably, if he is fighting for his life or for the lives of those he holds dear.However the fight is not always a life or death one…

If the fight is a competition and not a life or death situation, what determines and motivates the fighting spirit? Might it be sheer competitiveness?A fighter who can not stand the thought of surrendering, or losing, fueling his motivation to win.

There are some cases in which this competitiveness is not driven due to the opponent but rather from a “self competitive” nature. In this case overcoming the opponent is of less importance!!

“Achieving perfection” is the adversary. The competition is innate, and the mistakes are the “mental blows” received (This sort of mentality drives the people who are motivated by it to be very self conscience, until the point when even winning is not enough, if in the process mistakes were made…)

There's one more kind of fighting spirit - That which does not exist or matter

If we are not practicing a martial art for fighting and self defense purposes, we do not need to have nor develop any kind of fighting spirit, aside from that which drives us to excellence!

A fighting spirit is exactly that mental feature which allows us to succeed and achieve in whatever we choose to do in life, be it school, career, or parenting.

It’s the quality which raises our head when we’re down and drives us through potential breaking times. Correct mental training can improve this attribute.

- Fighting spirit can also be referred to as Mental Toughness

Fighting Spirit and Mental Toughness

We’ll begin by examining this quality in life and death situations.

When our mental training is intended to deal with life and death situations we need to remember one thing:

If we’re fighting for our lives, chances are, so is the other side, (And if their not we have a big advantage, because we’re willing to do whatever it takes to win!!!)

As always, however, we try to prepare for “worst case scenario”**. So, in the situation at hand we'll assume we are on balanced ground (we are both fighting for our lives). So, what breaks the tie? What brings the mind to surrender, and to give up?

Some times it will happen due to sheer physical reasons. The body cannot stand the punishment anymore. Exhausted from the effort and the pain, the mind accepts defeat.

In the mental training of the martial arts we try to develop a "mind over matter" thinking and ability. Nevertheless at the end we are flesh and blood.

(Example - Lets imagine an extreme situation - If a person has dislocated his two arms, and his opponent is still in good condition, it will probably cause the will to fight to dissolve and the mind will probably accept defeat.)

Sometimes it will be a mental defeat. For instance if the person is just too good, and we feel that what ever we do, we just can’t hurt him or win. The mind might give in!

By the way, it does not necessarily have to look like a hands down no defense situation defeat, it might, just the same be a “kamikaze” response, where the person attacks knowing he is doomed

Sometimes the same mental defeat is purely mental. It happens when fear takes over (Remember the fearlessness part…). It can even happen before the first blow. The mind just gives in and accepts its defeat.

As we said before these are the “tie breaking” situations where life and death is concerned, but looking closely these are also the same "mental breaking" situations experienced in the different fight types and competition being the opponent - another fighter or ourselves.

However one major difference is that in a sports event room for "mental escalation" still exists, meaning, the fighter still has mental space to push himself mentally to a life and death situation (even if, realistically, this is not the case).

This indicates that:

Through changing our perception of a situation, we can give ourselves a certain edge!!

[More on this when we introduce our articles about visualizing and hypnosis]

Nevertheless we must beware! If implemented fully this ability or "technique" of mental training leads to life and death actions aswell.

One might break all the physical rules of his sport to “protect” himself and “kill” his opponent, (If the opponent is the “person himself” (self motivated) he might cause himself serious health injuries – over train, over strain exe.)

* Very Aggressive - Tries to impose his will on his opponents

This quality is less dependent to what we’re fighting for (because aggression is a strategy, and/or a tactic and sometimes even a technical decision.), but rather to our:

Definition and conception of the fight, our nature, our martial art, and fighting style.

Indicating that not in every situation, it will be best to be aggresive or the aggressor.

It is common to view the aggressor as the attacker and thus - The dictator of occurrences in the fight.

Meaning that if he is the initiator the other is the responder. “Statistically” by being the defender our chances of getting hit grow (Of course this depends, on whether or not our response is an attack or just a defense… more on that later).

Being the aggressor resembles having the first move in a chess game. If played correctly our opponent reacts to our moves...Let’s examine this further:

Definition and conception of the fight:

If the fight is a street fighting situation, for example, we must consider "worst case scenario" which we talked about in the previous topic:

• The more time which passes by, the more we risk the chance of having some one intervene (not in your favor...). If it’s friends of our opponent/s, or anyone else that may interrupt the occurrences…

Don’t get me wrong we're (the warriors project) not encouraging violence; god knows that if we can avoid violence we should, even if it means running away!!

But when trying to look at the fight as objectively as possible, when engaging in one, it means we intend to win, be winning what ever we decide.

The more time which passes the more we risk the chance of our opponent changing the fighting “equation” to his favor (…again, worst case scenario…) – picking up a stone, bottle, stick, any sharp object.

• We stand the risk of losing the element of surprise which if used correctly can be decisive…

• And one last and important thing, which sums everything up, there is a saying – “when you start a ”war” you know where it begins but you don’t know where it will end” (another reason to avoid violence!!), a logical implication of this is –

When in a street fight/battle finish it as fast as possible.

All that said, we think the implications are obvious –

In a street fight aggressiveness is a strategy!!

It is a key factor in our ability to win, and getting out of it alive and in one piece.

Aggression as part of our nature.

“Our mental stature is the one component that holds the most potential for improvement and development through mental training, but is the hardest to change” (we examine this point later on).

If our nature, even when fighting***, is not an aggressive one, we will find it difficult to implement this strategy in our fights whether they are (street, army, mma…)

As a street fighter, due to the reasons we examined above, it is worth while through correct mental training to develop our mental ability or choice to be aggressive.

However even on the streets it is not the only way; and when not on the street, to much more of an extent, it is not a “must” to obtain…

Therefore in other fighting situations, because of the huge difficulty of adapting these kinds of changes to through our mental training to our nature.

Perhaps it'll be better to spend the time on something that will produce better results - For instance, choosing the right martial art, or/and the right fighting style – for us!

There are some martial arts which are not meant to be aggressive, but rather be more responsive – “taking what your opponent gives you” – exploiting his mistakes, instead of forcing him to make them.

Martial arts such as - Tai-chi, Aikido, and even Brazilian jiu-jitsu (especially in its traditional version, without the striking) tend to “recommend” this kind of behavior.

Choosing the right fighting style is also a way, to “bridge” over lack of aggressiveness.

[ more on that when we publish our articles on Fighting Styles]

Perfect examples of this we see in boxing – Roy Jones junior fights a totally different game then Mike Tyson, and both do boxing.

In many cases we see a fighting style adapting and adapted to a persons character, and not the character adapting to a style…

Fearless - Is not afraid to receive punishment or endure pain if it serves his goals

“The difference between a coward and a hero is not fear – they both are afraid. But the coward is obedient to it, and the hero rips from its hold!”

Fearlessness is a usually a great virtue in a warrior/fighter, it allows him to act calmly, and rids him of the physical side affects of fear (numbness, slowing of reactions, heavy breathing, over reacting and so on.). But,

There is such a thing as being too fearless –

1. If it makes us take unwanted risks (lowering our guard, committing too much to a strike..), causing over confidence.

2. If it causes our “fight or flight” mechanism not to work - Blood pressure rises to allow faster and stronger responses, adrenaline is distributed so that the pain is less felt, and the occurrences of injuries are less likely.

Most of us become afraid at some point, either from physical punishment or mental strain – the thought of losing.

It might happen because of the size of the opponent, it might happen because he is holding a weapon, it might happen only after we received a hard hit – But at some point we will need to deal with this emotion

There are ways to deal with it when it appears, and through correct mental training improve our mental ability, so that we can avoid it before it reaches our conscious level...

Learn more about Meditation

Learn more about Hypnosis

Nevertheless “we should only be so fearless!!”

• Calm - Does not allow his actions to be effected/ "infected" by emotions

Although fear is also an emotion, in a fight, it has its own place of “honor”.

The emotions we’re referring to in this section range anywhere between anger to jealousy and from happiness to pity.

In general during the fight a person should be clear of emotions- each one normally causes its own “side effect” –

• Anger usually causes over committing, over reaction, over aggressiveness – unwanted risks – over tensing…

• Jealousy commonly leads to anger, but can also cause low self esteem – resulting in hesitation, and insufficient aggressiveness.

• A sense of happiness – normally causes less adrenaline, and less attention.

• Pity - usually results in lack of aggressiveness, and lack of quality execution.

There are many more emotions which cause side affects, so the best to try and avoid them all in all (more of that in the concentration bit just ahead) –

“It is much easier to keep the insects out of the house by shutting the door than by leaving it open and preventing it with a broom”

In most mental training methods regarding emotions, if they arouse we train to control them – not letting them influence our behavior.

Nevertheless there is one exception to this rule.

Sometimes a person can use an emotion, and “harness” it in his favor. For instance anger, if harnessed correctly, can be a way to overcome fear, and "pump up" the adrenaline in a productive manner and direction. However we need to beware not to over do it…

• Concentrated - Maintains his concentration and focus, and does not allow himself to be distracted by anything

When reaching full potential of this state of mind through mental training –

It is referred to as: “empty mind”, “zen mind”, “in the zone” To learn more...

This state of mind can supply a lot of the “warrior” mental qualities mentioned above.

If before we referred to the emotions, now we are referring to the thoughts

It is very important, to keep the mind clear, preventing any thoughts to run around in the head.

The only thoughts should be specific for the situation – escape routes, potential weapons, in sport - the fight plan/tactics, and so on.

Nevertheless, the moment engagement begins during a fight or battle, we should try to clear all thoughts, this is the time to work on “auto pilot” thinking will reduce our reaction time!

General Mental Training

Mental training in a martial art is of the utmost importance!! As we set out to do in the beginning, we have examined its qualities, purposes, advantages and disadvantages through the “eyes” of a fighting art.

But by no means does it stand alone. For those of us who are looking for mental training which will improve our mental ability in general, the martial arts can be an amazing platform and tool for improving.

We must,however, first understand what it is we set out to achieve and what are the ways for us to reach them.

Begin by learning more about mental training ideas, methods and drills which will improve and develop your mental ability!

Improve and Develop – avoid your comfort zone, and work towards your goal from different angels

Learn about Meditation in a Martial Art

Learn more about Hypnosis in a Martial Art

Learn more about Mental Endurance in a Martial Art

Learn more about Mental Imagery in a Martial Art

Go from Mental Training to Physical Training in a Martial Art

Learn about Martial Arts Techniques Training

Return from Mental Training to Home Page


* We don’t refer to a battle, because a battle always implements life and death situations and fight can mean both.Go Back

** This will be a concept we will refer to many times in this site. Meaning - what is the worst case we need to prepare ourselves to deal, with in a “rationale” situation?

For example: In the boxing ring, we might want to prepare to face an opponent that’s faster and stronger then us, but there is no need to prepare or adapt our technique for someone that is out of our weight category. In the street, we might want to prepare and adapt our technique and strategy, to a very big guy that over-weighs us and over towers us, but there is little need to prepare for someone holding a grenade… (In which case run and pray…)

Furthermore, it is preferable to train for the worst situation ,and let reality "surprise" us with an easier scenario, then the opposite - When in reality it's a worst situation…)Go Back

*** This is such an important point that we risk repeating our selves for the sake of it being understood:A fight is not a normal situation for a human to be in, it is usually a very extreme situation!!

“Extreme situation call for extreme measurements and actions”The qualities mentioned, are all qualities which are important as measurements for a fighting situation. Not for everyday, routine behavior, frame of mind.

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