A quote that I use as a signature on an internet martial arts forum goes as follows:
“Mental bearing (calmness), not skill, is the sign of a matured samurai. A Samurai therefore should neither be pompous nor arrogant.”
– Tsukahara Bokuden
I think that the author makes an interesting point. I interpret this passage as saying that all Samurai have the same “basic training”. One can expect that a Samurai has skill with the sword, the bow, a spear, horseback riding and so on. The mature Samurai though, he possesses the presence of mind and calm demeanor that allow him to apply those skills freely and at the opportune time.
I’ve often thought about how this applies to modern combatives. An average practitioner is expected to have some training in basic combative skill. The thing that will set that student apart from others will be that “switch” between the physical techniques and “mental incorporation” for lack of a better term. A black belt with an encyclopedic knowledge of technique that “tweaks out” under stress is worthless. An untrained person who can stay calm under stress, grab a ball point pen and stab an attacker “about the head and neck” with it is a successful survivor. Mental bearing, willingness to commit and a pre-thought “action plan” are key. I honestly believe that successful martial arts training has more to do with getting a person to ACT when the time comes to act, the technique or system is secondary to this. I think that the advantage being seen in MMA is due to their training program vs any “technical superiority”. They train to take and deliver blows. They train against resisting opponents. I think that almost any martial art can reap these benefits through a re-evaluation of their training protocols. However, not everybody studies martial arts for this purpose. Studios that depend on the children’s programs, the fitness pitches or the “hobbyist” martial arts students will not attract or retain as many people as they would like if they make the training too demanding. It comes down to the instructor and his goals.
On another point, people who take this business seriously need to “pre-plan” for as many situations as they can dream up. Even if the solution is as simple as “I will never allow myself to be forced into a car and transported elsewhere. I’d rather fight and die quickly on the spot than be taken somewhere to die”. The survivor needs to have a basic “mental flowchart” already downloaded into the brain. This will foster this “mental bearing”.
I think that the pursuit of this state of mind is what attracts many martial artists to Zen and meditation; but while that can be a substantial aid I don’t see it as a “magic potion” unless it is made into a part of ones everyday life. Often it seems that westerners look at things like Zen as a “martial arts supplement”…take your daily dosage and watch the amazing results. I think that benefits like these are cumulative and the changes so slow and subtle that a person will rarely notice a change in themselves. Taking that route requires a life long commitment and a permanent shift in ones concept of reality.
The best way to learn to control your mind under stress is to “inoculate” yourself against it. Face the small battles everyday. Push yourself physically and mentally. Train to work through fatigue, fear and stress. Another thing I have often read about mindset is paraphrased as “you are how you choose to think”. In other words “act calm” under stress, even if you don’t think you are calm. For all intents and purposes, you will be controlling your mental state and if done long enough you will find that you really do start remaining calm under stress. Life rarely has “magical transformations”, most change comes from consistency. The formation of good habit is key.