As a practitioner of Wing Chun Kung Fu for over 30 years this has always been stressed in my training. To begin with most Traditional Chinese Martial Arts (TCM) start you in stance training. Depending on what style you are studying determines what type of stance you train. It all reflects the art and the teacher. For the first month we would literally spend an hour 3 days a week in our stance. Despite the training facilities not having any heat you were drenched with sweat when you left. My teacher would continuously say, “Quiet the monkey”. You know that voice in your head telling you to stop, to stand up, to quit. My teacher would tell us ignore that voice and focus on breathing. Focus on the breath, check your stance and quiet the monkey. It’s amazing how hard it is to do, but the breathing worked. If you focused on the breath the monkey was still.
When I began my kettlebell training one of the first things I noticed were all of the martial training overlaps, Mindfulness is one of them. To make the concept clear to the reader I will share a phrase I learned: “Your head and your ass have to be in the same place.” In martial arts eastern philosophy was always stressed mind and body unity it was called. But, I believe that quote from a kettlebell coach pretty much sums it up like a Zen poem.
When working with a kettlebell or any Iron strength training for that matter, Safety is Paramount! The Iron does not care, it has not the capacity for mercy, so you better be focused on what you are doing. Not like on a treadmill, running aimlessly and talking about the Kardashians’ or whatever crap is on the TV in the gym. You have to be there, if you get distracted injuries are likely.
The other aspect of Mindfulness is taking a simple movement and going through tens of thousands of repetitions over time with a strict focus on technique moving ever so slightly towards unattainable goal of Perfection. There is an old story of a young boy watching an old Kendo master in his morning routine. Every day for over 70 years the old man would take his katana and after the draw, step and chop the air. The young pupil knew this rudimentary drill and asked the old Sensei, “Why are you still practicing this after all of these years?” His response,” I am looking for the perfect slice.” That is the discipline of Mindfulness and that is what we all need to do in our training if we are going to make substantial progress.
Another point on mindfulness I got from Kirk Karwoski. He was reviewing some squats I had recorded earlier and he was giving me grief because I wasn’t hitting depth. I was perplexed over that lift and I explained,” I didn’t understand why they felt so heavy because….” He stopped me mid-sentence. “I don’t give a shit how you feel and neither should you!” WOW! He went on,” The only things you need to be concerned with is your technique. You don’t have time to even know how you feel because you are running through your checklist to make sure your technique and structure are perfect. Then the machine takes over and you can’t help but be successful!”
So weather I am doing a Martial Art form, swinging a kettlebell or standing under a heavy bar getting ready to squat, I have to practice mindfulness. Is my head where my ass is or I am I thinking about some bull shit that happened at work? Am I reviewing my check list focusing on technique striving for perfection. Mind and body unity, quieting the monkey, breathing headed for another PR or maybe enlightenment! Enjoy the process.
Dr. Donald Berry, DC SFMA CK-FMS
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