martial arts training

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The global pandemic of COVID-19 has altered our day-to-day lives, including how we are able to train. However, many classes can be taught outdoors with a limited number of students.

As you head off to train, there are several things within your power to help reduce the spread and risk of infection associated with the coronavirus. It is imperative we all play our part to overcome the pandemic.

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What did masters of meditation in ancient Japan have to teach students of the sword? Plenty! Learn the historical connection between Zen and the samurai in this scholarly piece.

Before you dig into this post, would you like to read Part 1? If so, go here now. Regardless of specifics, from the time of the first Kamakura shogun, Zen Buddhism had found its foothold in ancient Japan, and its impact was imminent. One key point that Winston L. King brought up (see Bibliography) was that Zen monks did not enter into politics to advance in the imperial court. He gave three rather lengthy reasons for this lack of political striving: Zen, by nature, was anti-institutional; its timing was such that it was not introduced during a warring period; and its monks already held top advisory positions in the shogun’s councils, so there was no need for further political striving. (31) As stated above, the move to Kamakura put Zen monks in a position of close confidence with the military leaders of the day. Even though this relationship had humble beginnings and was probably mostly secular in nature (record keeping, political advising, etc.), it grew quickly as the employers of those monks realized there was more to be gained from Zen’s religious aspects than just sutra study and recitation. The warrior class was quick to see the potential for “special spiritual and psychological strength from Zen, which contributed to the strength of character, firmness of will and imperviousness to suffering on which they prided themselves.” (Reischauer 1989, 53) With similar prized characteristics as a goal of sorts, Zen meditation and martial arts training naturally complemented each other. The spiritual path of Zen was one that the samurai found most appealing. Truth, in the Zen tradition, was to be found within the deepest core of one’s visceral being, not in the intellect. This put the truth well within the range of the samurai’s awareness and emotional compatibility. (King 1993, 163) Samurai Swordmanship Volume 2: Intermediate Sword Program comes from Masayuki Shimabukuro, Carl E. Long and the staff of Black Belt magazine. Order a copy of the DVD today on Amazon! Zen offered the samurai what no amount of physical training or knowledge of military strategy could. The purpose of Zen meditation was to open this martial training to the subconscious, instinctive forces of his being that governed action without thought. (King 1993, 166) The techniques of swordsmanship were not inherently flawed, but the factor that was most open to imperfections was the mind of the practitioner. Zen offered what is called mushin, or no-mind. Taisen Deshimaru likened mushin to “the body thinking.” (1991, 78) In D.T. Suzuki’s Zen and Japanese Culture, it is described thus: “[It is] going beyond the dualism of all forms of life and death, good and evil, being and non-being. … Hereby he becomes a kind of automation, so to speak, as far as his own consciousness is concerned.” (94) Takuan Soho wrote about mushin in three letters to Yagyu Munenori, head of the Yagyu Shinkage school of swordsmanship. (King 1993, 167) A passage reads as follows: “Mugaku meant that in wielding the sword, in the infinitesimal time it takes lightning to strike, there is neither mind nor thought. For the striking, there is no mind. For myself, who is about to be struck, there is no mind. The attacker is emptiness. His sword is emptiness. I, who am about to be struck, am emptiness. … Completely forget about the mind and you will do all things well.” (37) To understand this is to understand the heart of Zen. Some might call this having a satori (realization of a profound truth). Zen, having in its nature a focus on the non-rational mind, is difficult to explain by merely defining theses. The best way to understand Zen thought is by illustration. One of the best illustrations of how one might benefit from Zen training comes from Suzuki’s Zen and Japanese Culture: “He who deliberates and moves his brush intent on making a picture, misses to a still greater extent the art of painting. Draw bamboo for 10 years, become a bamboo, then forget all about bamboo when you are drawing. In possession of an infallible technique, the individual places himself at the mercy of inspiration. “To become a bamboo and to forget that you are one with it while drawing it — this is the Zen of the bamboo, this is the moving with the rhythmic movement of the spirit which resides in the bamboo as well as in the artist himself. What is now required of him is to have a firm hold on the spirit and yet not to be conscious of the fact.” (31) This passage entails the entire essence of Zen and the martial arts. Through zazen, or seated meditation, one comes to know mushin. With the prerequisite of swordsmanship training, the practitioner then must forget that he has this library of knowledge and act instinctually through the fine filter of his “forgotten” techniques. “Forgetting learning, relinquishing mind, harmonizing without any self-conscious knowledge thereof, is the ultimate consummation of the way.” (Munenori 1993, 69)

Those who appreciate the Japanese and Okinawan martial arts will love this online course featuring Black Belt Hall of Famer Fumio Demura. Learn the bo, nunchaku, sai, tonfa, kama and eku bo. Watch a video preview here.

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The former trainer on the NBC hit series The Biggest Loser talks about the pivotal role martial arts played in her rise to the top of the fitness world.

Where You’ve Seen Her: The Biggest Loser Martial Arts Experience: karate, muay Thai, akarui-do As inspirational stories go, this one’s pretty remarkable. Start with a 5-foot-2-inch, 175-pound, 14-year-old girl who’s devoted to junk food and facing the emotional trauma of her parents’ impending divorce. Give the mother the foresight to enroll her daughter in a local karate dojo, hoping that maybe the sensei will straighten her out. Let the instructor’s cutting assessment of her constant snacking sink to her deepest sense of self and spark a permanent shift in behavior. Give her a few years to establish herself as a serious force in personal physical transformation and voilà! You have fitness guru Jillian Michaels. Just one look at her fitness training and martial arts background gives the impression that Michaels could be preparing for competition. Is she? “No, but it’s very much like that,” Jillian Michaels says. “[I practice] a hybrid style, and it’s extraordinarily combative. I never wanted to compete because I didn’t want to get messed up. As much as I love the sport, I do not want my face bashed in.” By the time Jillian Michaels was 29, she had her own sports-medicine business in Beverly Hills, California. That’s when one of her clients, an agent, told her about a reality show on the horizon. Titled The Biggest Loser, it could be the missing link in Michaels’ path to mainstream recognition and success, he said. Ironically, she wasn’t all that thrilled. “My first reaction was disinterest,” Jillian Michaels admits. “But he convinced me to [audition], and they told me, ‘We’re going to give you six people and you’ll control their lives.’ I figured it’d be good for the gym. Cut to four years later, and I’m still doing it.” (Michaels left The Biggest Loser in 2014.) Stay in the Fight: A Martial Athlete's Guide to Preventing and Overcoming Injury, by Danny Dring and Johnny D. Taylor — order now on Amazon! The exposure catapulted Michaels into a national spotlight, allowing her to publish books and DVDs, star in her own fitness show and pursue opportunities from vitamins to fresh-food delivery. Her latest book is Making the Cut, and she’s working on a diet book based on hormone balance. Despite her fame, Jillian Michaels remains down to earth about her success. “You win some and lose some,” she says. “I heard that 95 percent of people who lose a large amount of weight will gain it back. That said, I think I’ve had a 50-percent success rate, but it’s obviously not just about diet and exercise; it’s hugely psychological. Why did they put the weight on in the first place? That’s their drug, that’s how they’re self-medicating and comforting themselves. These things are not healed in a couple of months. If they don’t understand the importance of continuing to do the emotional work, it’s almost guaranteed that they’ll put all that weight back on.” A supportive environment provides a big head start. Jillian Michaels discovered that when she took up karate.

Wang Bo, formerly of Shaolin Temple, is the featured instructor in an online kung fu course from Black Belt. Titled Tree of Shaolin, it streams video lessons to your preferred digital device. Sign up here and start your journey along the 1,500-year-old Shaolin path!

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Find out what five experts — Kelly McCann, Michael Janich, John Riddle, Tom Gresham and Mike Gillette — have to say about improving your awareness and safety on the street.

No matter how connected the Internet makes us think our planet is, human beings are still very much a tribal species. In part, that’s why we can watch a news report about a suicide bomber in the Middle East and think, “Yes, that’s terrible, but it’s happening on the other side of the world to people I don’t know.” When a terrorist attack happens close to home, however, everyone pays attention. At that point, some people take action. The ones who haven’t been preparing often start, and the ones who regard themselves as always ready often turn up the intensity of their training. As a martial artist, you no doubt fit into that second category, and it is to assist you that Black Belt presents this article. Before we begin, it’s worth noting that not every terrorist attack involves an improvised explosive device or an AK-47. As the events that unfolded on September 26, 2014, and October 24, 2014, prove, “lone wolf” terrorists are now using weapons that martial arts training enables us to defend against. On the first date, one woman was beheaded and another repeatedly stabbed by a man in Oklahoma. Afterward, Rep. Frank Wolf (Virginia) urged the Department of Justice to investigate the incident as an act of terrorism. On the second date, a man whom Reuters described as “self-radicalized” used a hatchet to critically wound two New York City police officers. And lest you think only Americans face these threats, think back to March 1, 2014. On that day, eight terrorists armed with knives murdered 29 people and injured more than 140 at a train station in Kunming, China.

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To say that Bruce Lee was ahead of his time in terms of martial arts techniques and physical training would be an understatement, yet it's worth examining how much of his work was on the cutting edge.

In all the Bruce Lee biographies that have been written, one theme stands out: He was ahead of his time in terms of both martial arts and physical training. The list of professional athletes, media icons and everyday martial artists who have been inspired by his teachings is impressive — for good reason. When Lee moved, he embodied the perfect combination of efficiency, effectiveness and aesthetics. What made all that possible was his approach to physical development and health sustainment. With respect to that, a couple of aspects have always stood out. The August/September 2015 issue of Black Belt, on sale until September 20. First up is Bruce Lee’s scientific approach to martial arts training, which is well-documented in Tao of Jeet Kune Do, his comprehensive treatise on the art of fighting. By combining teachings from the East and the West, he laid the groundwork for a martial arts curriculum that addresses all aspects of the pursuit, including the spiritual/philosophical foundation, warm-up routine, psychology, and offense and defense. Bruce Lee could do this because he was an academic at heart. He researched, analyzed, synthesized and documented his thought processes and findings. And he applied physics to his theories before he made them his conclusions. By being scientific, he was able to arrive at indisputable conclusions about what worked and what didn’t.

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