There is a very persistent myth among students of martial arts. This myth persists due to a characteristic of the human ego. We want to believe our conscious minds are completely running our lives.


Is Free Will Gone?

I can assure you that just about every study of human consciousness (remember that PhD in Neuroscience thing) adds to the evidence that our unconscious minds make MOST of our important decisions. Our conscious mind steps in to take credit after most decisions is made. This is disturbing to you if you don’t recognize your unconscious mind as an integral part of your complete self. For example, most of us don’t take credit for miracles like our body’s healing process, or the fact that we pump 2000 gallons of blood a day throughout our bodies. We typically only define “I” as the part that seems to think about stuff. This all has disturbing implications for the concept of free-will but I will let you wrestle with that on your own.

Thoughts Begone

Let’s look to the world of sports for some prime examples of what the highest levels of performance look like. Let’s face it there are no modern examples of martial arts taken to the ultimate logical end result, which is death of the opponent. Even MMA type fights have rules and a bell that rings to stop the round. However, professional sports push every competition to the highest levels The peak performers of every sport are in a life and death battle to win in that sport. What we know then from all sports superstars is that they are NOT conscious while executing the most intense or demanding moves and strategies in their sport. This cannot be overstated! The highest-level athletes perform their sports miracles in a state of NO CONSCIOUS THOUGHT.

Spinning The Rolodex

This destroys what I call the “rolodex theory of sparring” in martial arts. The common myth is that people see a move and search their mental database (their rolodex) for the move they learned to counter that move with; a kind of “Rock, Paper. Scissors”. The higher the level of martial art master, the faster they can search the database for the correct response. This illusion can be heard around every sparring ring and tournament. People telling stories about how they “knew what their opponent would do because they had been studying them”. This is our conscious mind struggling to tell itself the story of how it is actually in charge and knows what is going on. The truth is, most decisions are above the pay grade of our conscious mind and it is an offline observer pretending to be the puppet master. When actually is in charge it runs a full half-second too slow and is the source of all our performance failures.

Enter “The Zone”

Why is it important to understand all of this? There are times when every martial artist enters the “zone” and things happen without thought. The moves are faster, simpler, and even startle the person throwing the moves. This state is not an accident and the more you understand and can enter this state the more often you will be in “the zone”. Rather than trying to cook up combos and plans before the match begins, you should instead try to enter a “no mind” state of receptivity. Rather than “beating yourself up” for not using the combos and plans you made, you can realize that NO PLAN is the only plan that works.

The Tai Chi Zone

When you are ready to pursue this state of mind, begin your study of Tai Chi. Like last week’s blog, Tai Chi is the state of undifferentiated reality. The state of “no mind” that exist in the present moment, before thoughts of the combos and tricks you were going to use in sparring today. Tai Chi both cultivates this peak performance state and then teaches the moves and strategy of how to fight at the short distance range this turns into.