Breathing In and Out
by Sensei Mark Hannah

Our world of karate is loaded with many different ideas and techniques as well as different opinions on how each of these techniques are to be implemented. If one were to think about it then one would realize that there is an overload of information to try and comprehend. This information in turn is supposed to somehow all fit together and complete a larger puzzle. Our minds can become bogged down with all of these different techniques and combinations of techniques. Each has their own application for different stances, and for different people of all shapes and sizes.

These many things can buzz around inside our heads and can create quite a whirlwind of thought. How many times have we been frustrated after being in the ring and thinking to ourselves "when he/she does this, then I'll block with that... no hold it, if I start by throwing...", then WHAM! You get scored on. It can be a horrible feeling. Especially when you have done this before and things went okay. Especially when you have performed and practiced these techniques before to "perfection". But now for some reason they just don't seem to be there when we think they would be most beneficial to us.

So how do we clear our minds of all these thoughts and judgements in order to move ahead?

Perhaps thinking about our technique is not the answer. I have also been in the ring when everything seems to come together. It is on these days that I don't think about my techniques much at all. Instead I just DO them. They occur naturally as if each part of my body has a mind of it's own. Something comes at me, the block goes up and the counter technique is already there.

It would seem to me that in karate our mind set is a very strong and influential tool. It can work both to hinder us or to help us on our road to progress.

I know that I personally will be working on conditioning (or emptying) my mind at each and every work out that I attend. In my opinion in karate there is no room for the past. So I will condition my mind not to dwell there as it has already happened and no longer exists. This is likewise for the future. So why worry about? It is not here yet and this too does not exist?

So what does exist?

The present moment is what exists and that is where 100% of my focus and effort will be from now on.

We may ask ourselves how do we practice living in the present moment?

The answer is really rather simple. At the beginning of each workout we find ourselves kneeling on the floor. Our backs are held straight, our hands are laid upon our thighs in an open position. We have our eyes closed and we are slowly breathing in and slowly breathing out. If we can learn to accept that we are doing nothing more at the present moment than keeping a good posture and breathing in and breathing out then we will be well on our way to emptying our minds of both past and future thoughts.

Next, the work out begins and we can practice by being mindful of each and every technique we are shown or are practicing in the dojo. We can be aware that a punch is simply a punch and a block is a block. We can absorb the mechanics of each technique with 100% effort thinking of nothing else except what is going on in the here and now.

When the work out ends, we once again go into our kneeling position and concentrate on nothing else except what we are doing NOW. Breathing in and breathing out. Perhaps after all our struggling through thoughts, plans, and strategies, karate is really just as simple as breathing in and breathing out.

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