It is difficult to worry about our day-to-day problems when someone is trying to choke us unconscious or punch us in the face.
Aside from simply learning how to fight or defend ourselves, there are many psychological, physical, and emotional benefits to be found in sparring based martial arts, martial arts wherein practitioners regularly pressure test one another with live resistance in an attempt to pin, submit, or strike each other. One such benefit is the ability to hyper-focus on an immediate problem while also seeing the bigger picture surrounding that problem. Beyond this state of hyper-focus, however, lies a deeper state wherein our conscious minds gives way to, or become one with, our physical bodies and we enter a state of flow, perfectly present in the exchange, transcendent of all fear, worry, or desire.
At first, when we begin sparring or rolling, we are easily overwhelmed by the bombardment of stimuli coming at us. Things move so fast, with threats, and even pain, seeming to come from all directions at once, that it is difficult for our conscious minds to keep up with the physical exchange and our minds begin to, for lack of a better phrase, short circuit. By trying to deal with an onslaught of physical challenges consciously, we are slow and we lose, a lot. This experience of being can be extremely frustrating, exhausting, and discouraging, but it is also a necessary part of the process.
Over time, our physical skills begin to catch up with the challenges we are faced with and our minds begin to relax into the situation, hyper-focusing on what is happening, what may happen, and what we want to happen, and all of this is then expressed through our bodies. As we become more experienced and more comfortable under pressure, we become immersed in the physical exchange, and our bodies, not our conscious minds, begin to guide us in an intricate dance back and forth with our opponent. With enough skill and the right training partners, sparring or rolling becomes a nearly mystical experience that simultaneously takes us out of ourselves and brings us closer to our essential natures.
Holistic Budo: As it is in budo, so too it is in life. As it is in life, so too it is in budo.
Robert Van Valkenburgh is co-founder of Taikyoku Mind & Body and Kogen Dojo where he teaches Taikyoku Budo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
All photos by Robert Van Valkenburgh unless otherwise noted.
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