There are four basic principles upon which all good martial arts techniques are founded. All techniques are designed to strengthen these principles in the practitioner. The same principles that make the martial artist strong, will also make his opponent weak. All fighting strategy therefore, is designed to maintain the practitioner's - and break his opponent's - four by four martial technique.
Principle One: Opposite force through the feet.
Defense: All directional power and resistance depends on the pressure of the feet on the floor. Therefore when you want to direct your power backwards, you must push forwards. Although we are not conscious of it, we have to maintain a constant pressure downwards through our feet just to stand upright. When we are training, whatever technique we are using, the initial power drive will come from an opposite power drive applied through the feet. The more we study this, the more we will understand the force at our disposal.
Attack: The principle of your technique must be designed to destroy your opponent's sense of balance. If he cannot apply pressure with his feet, he will not have the power to drive his own movement or to resist yours. You will then see dramatic results in the application of your chosen technique, because all your opponent's energy will be spent in trying to maintain his balance.
Principle Two: Body Geometry.
Defense: Your body will function with efficiency when you move it within its natural range of movements. When you try to move outside of these limits, you will discover that you are weak and are unable to transmit or resist power. All techniques are designed within these directional limits. Form and kata take you through a continuous sequence of movements within these limits, so that even in combat you are trained to be strong at all times.
Attack: Strategically, therefore, you should be trying to force your opponent into positions outside his limits. If you succeed, your opponent's structure will become weak and he will be unable to transmit or resist power. Inn fact, his energy will be spent in trying to keep his balance. Again, you will be delighted at the dramatic increase in the power of your technique.
Defense: If you breathe in or out too deeply, you will weaken your power considerably. Contrary to popular belief, your opponent should not be able to detect your breathing cycle. At the precise moment you feel your opponent is about to strike you, stop breathing for that instant, so that you can apply power whether you are breathing in or out. You should practice "pot bellied breathing" (i.e. pushing out your stomach as you breathe deeply), and breathing through the nose (flaring the nostrils) to stop your opponent from detecting your breathing cycle. Keep your power in your stomach and always leave a third of the breath in the body. Pace your movement so that you don't change from "fight" to "flight" and weaken yourself.
Attack: Make your opponent alter his breathing pattern. You can do this, for example, by forcing him to move around and make him short of breath. When he has to open his mouth to breathe, when his shoulders start to heave, when his pallor changes and he has to use his chest to breathe, this is the time to attack strongly as his bodily state has visibly weakened. Also attack him as he breathes in.
Principal Four: Mental Focus.
Defense: You must remain 100 percent mentally focused and not allow your mind to be distracted by anything else. This is probably the hardest principle to apply, but it is also the most powerful because it links all of the others. You must concentrate on the power drive from your feet, the power line through your stance, and the central power store in your abdomen maintained through your breathing. You must also always remain aware of your opponent. Your level of concentration will betray your level of skill.
Attack: Distract your opponent. Break his focus and attack him when he is unable to maintain his concentration. Watch for "dead" time when he becomes slothful or when his posture becomes dead through distraction. Attack his vital points when his concentration has lapsed.
Meditation in Motion.
I call these principles 4 x 4 because each principle is inextricably linked to all the others. When one is broken, all the others are destroyed. Every true martial art is based on these four principles and they are essential to understanding why and how the various techniques work.
This is why we practice karate ni sentenashi (which means "there is no first attack in karate") as the uke (receiving) technique is designed to break the opponent's 4 x 4. Therefore our counter-attack is to a weakened opponent with an unstructured mind and body. Consequently we must always apply two techniques at once, usually utilizing both sides of the body, one side to receive and break the 4 x 4, and the other to transmit the energy back.
When you study the older techniques, forms and kata, you will discover these principles are applied consistently throughout them - and it will make sense of many of the apparently obscure movements. When you watch other martial arts, you will see how the same principles are applied to receive, lock, throw, sweep, trip, slip, strike and cut. By watching your opponents movements, you will also be able to judge their skill level.
In meditation, the same four principles are used. You maintain posture through balance; you maintain correct body alignment; you breathe correctly; and you maintain proper mental focus and alertness in the same way as you do when you are training.
Sometimes students will approach their teacher and ask when they are going to be taught meditation. They go away somewhat confused when they are told that they have in fact been learning it for some time. Forms and kata, as stated previously, are like mediation in motion.
It's All in the Mind.
Ninety percent of martial arts skill is in the mind. The purpose of training is to develop a sharp, responsive mind, unhindered by any negative thoughts or emotions. A sharp mind can organize what you have been taught in an orderly fashion.
Your aim is to therefore achieve a peaceful and still mind that is, nevertheless, deep and sharp. Try practicing repetitive movements, concentrating on good physical posture and proper breathing. Having a peaceful and still mind makes you a bit like the "eye of a tornado": all around you is action while your thoughts remain focused and calm.
Power Sitting: A Simple Guide to Meditation.
Meditation for many aspiring martial artists remains a mystery. Often their instructor will pay it lip service with a short period of "sitting" at the beginning and end of a lesson, but little other instruction is given. This brief guide will, hopefully, start to help you understand the basics and benefits of meditation. All good martial arts training is essentially meditation in motion, and this guide is designed to help you meditate when sitting or moving.
The reason for "sitting" just before practice is to help you to focus your mind on training, clearing all distractions, then relaxing your body before you begin. It is also good to "sit" after training, as this aids deep relaxation of the muscles and sharpens the mind allowing you to remember the lesson better. To get the most form meditation, you need to set aside a regular time that is free from distractions. The beginning and end of the day are often best, but you need to find a time that suits you.
You cannot watch the clock and meditate, so it is advisable to set an alarm clock for your allocated meditation time and turn it to face away from you. At first you may find it strange to be in a "timeless zone" but it is important not to be governed by time. So remember - do not look at the clock however much you may want to!
If possible, choose a place that is spacious and airy, as a good environment will aid the meditative process. The development of a calm mind is aided by a feeling of security, and if you can't feel settled then it is difficult to apply yourself. You lose concentration and tend to daydream.
The more that you meditate in "your place," the more stable and settled you will feel. Inside the training hall is a perfectly good location. For everyday meditation, use the room that you always train in at home. Meditating outdoors in a natural environment is also very relaxing. Playing atmospheric music can also help to induce a deep feeling of peace.
Your knees need to be at least as high as your hips. To achieve this, sit cross-legged, either on a kitchen chair or on the floor. If you sit on the floor, support your buttocks with a cushion or meditation stool. Sitting in the "lotus position" (sitting cross-legged with your feet resting on top of the opposite thighs) requires no other support., but many Westerner's find this position uncomfortable and give up because of the pain it causes in their knees. If my joints are stiff from training, I sit on a kitchen chair where the back rest give my back some support. Otherwise, I use a cushion on the floor, or pillows from the bed if I am traveling and staying in a hotel.
Maintain an upright posture. If you slump it will cause discomfort, so try to imagine that you are being drawn upwards from the top of your head. The small of your back should have a natural, unforced curve which feels comfortable to you.
You should feel that you are being gently pushed between the shoulder blades. Gently release any tension in your neck and shoulders by shrugging them and moving them backwards and forwards. Keep your knees in line with your hips, and hold your arms lightly against your stomach. Make sure that you are working with your body and not against it.
Breathing is like a stick of bamboo. A bamboo stick has straight sections and, every so often along its length, a knot. Breathing in and out is like the straight part of the bamboo, and the points between an inhale and exhale are the knots.
Inhale from your tanden (a point in the center of your body between your navel and groin). Focus your breath down with a silent kiai (a spirit shout) and then allow it to escape gently, at a natural pace through your nose. Just at the point where you would have to stop yourself from exhaling, begin the process again until, like the bamboo, your breathing pattern is an unbroken line. Breathing should be steady and relaxing. You should allow your mind to follow the sensation of the breath and its rhythm.
You are not trying to go into a trance, only to sharpen the workings of your mind - so when your mind is distracted, simply bring it back. By gathering your attention and focusing it on the breath, you will develop patience and understanding. This is a goal that everyone, with a little perseverance can achieve.
If you feel drowsy, pay attention to your posture. Remember the following rule: every time your mind wanders, your awareness drops and your posture slumps. Do not feel disappointed - simply continue. If you feel disappointed because you are not as successful as you want to be, simply note these feelings and continue. Allow your awareness to spread through your body, letting go of excess tension wherever you find it.
This is only a simple guide to get you started. The aim is to help you enjoy the feeling that comes from understanding how martial arts training is a form of meditation. The nature of movement within both mind and body cannot be understood without understanding stillness first. And the joy of stillness cannot be understood without experiencing movement in contrast. One naturally reflects on the other.