Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Martial Arts Present of Being Present

Martial arts provide a gift that many desire, yet can be difficult to find. The present is "presence," also called "being present."

A search for those terms yields many articles about presence. For example, the Huffington Post offers tags with links to dozens of articles on the subject.

They extol the virtues of being truly integrated with your immediate surroundings. In brief, it's possible to be happier and more productive if your mind is on the task and environment at hand, rather than elsewhere.

I experienced the gift of presence earlier this month at my Krav Maga school's "Friday Fight Night." (See my Februrary post Back to Sparring for thoughts on my first experience with this tradition.)

There is no opportunity for "being absent," the opposite of presence, when you are sparring. If you check out from the immediate environment to think about problems at work, or an upcoming vacation, or your favorite TV show, you are likely to be punched, kicked, or otherwise struck. Not being present has its costs, in immediate, physical terms!

I learned this lesson a few times during Fight Night. I wasn't even pondering the deep secrets of the universe. A few times I was thinking about what part of my sparring game I should try to improve. In those few seconds, or sometimes fractions of seconds, I found myself at a disadvantage to my opponent. Only when I checked back into the immediate here and now did I regain my position and improve my sparring experience.

The sparring duel is more than a person-to-person engagement. You also have to consider not walking backwards into a wall or piece of equipment. Furthermore, in our school we have everyone sparring at the same time. This means we might find another set of fighters crashing into "our space." All of this is relevant and useful, because the addition of extra variables reflects the world outside the school in a slightly more realistic way.

I don't mean to use a sparring mindset to focus your thoughts in non-martial situations. In other words, don't approach life as a fight requiring your utmost attention in order to survive or prevail.

Rather, I recommend recalling how it felt to focus and be acutely aware of the sparring environment, including your opponent. That ability to focus can help you listen, learn, and hopefully be a more engaged person when interacting with family, friends, coworkers, and others with whom you wish to connect.

You don't even need to spar in order to experience the value of presence. I've felt the same way when learning and practicing Chinese kung fu forms, and patterns and techniques for Filipino Martial Arts.

Have you found ways to be present through the martial arts?


  1. For me, the strongest way to practice presence is meditation. And it directly feeds into my sparring, as well as the rest of my martial arts practice.

    It sounds flaky, yes. But it really does work. And that sense of being fully present helps in carrying out any task.

    At my school, we work towards bringing that meditative state of mind directly into our practice. The goal is to be relaxed and aware. This helps avoid anticipating what your partner's actions, and helps retain a calm and focused state of mind.

    We practice maiming and lethal techniques, after all. I hope I never have to use a physical technique outside the dojo. I really don't want to be attacked on the street. But if I am attacked, I want to retain that sense of presence even in the face of rational anger. I want to use the minimal amount of force necessary, not break someone's neck out of violated outrage.

    Being fully present is absolutely required for self-control.

    And that skill is SO valuable in business, family, everything...