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Mental Strength

By Iain Abernethy

In his book ‘Wado-Ryu’ karate, Hironori Otsuka tells us that there are three kinds of strength – Physical Strength, Technical Strength and Mental Strength – and if any of those is deficient, it will be “the downfall of the individual”. It’s a common misconception throughout the martial arts that ‘technique’ is the key; if we have good technique then we will be effective in combat.

The fact is that technique is no more or less important than physical fitness or mental conditioning. Many martial artists dislike this idea as it infers that those with poor technique can defeat those with good technique (if they lack the required mental and physical condition). A laborer on a building site (physically conditioned) who regularly gets involved in bar fights (mentally used to combat) could easily defeat the martial artist who concentrates on technique to the exclusion of the other forms of strength.

If we are to be able to effectively defend ourselves then we need to ensure that our training also develops physical condition and mental strength in addition to technique. The key is to ensure that our training is intense enough to encourage growth in all three areas e.g., we drill our techniques with intensity and to the point of exhaustion (stimulates physical strength) and no matter how much we want to quit or ease off, we then drill them some more (stimulates mental strength).

We need at least two sessions per week that take us to our very limits. The key is not duration but intensity. We can train for hours and never break sweat or we can work flat out for around two minutes and be close to throwing up. Real fights are extremely intense and, if our training is to be valid, we also need to train in an intense way. This intensity in training has many benefits besides increased combative effectiveness.

To make progress physically, we need to attempt activities that are currently outside our capabilities. To get stronger, we attempt to lift more weight than we can currently lift. To increase our aerobic and anaerobic capacities, we try to do more than we can currently do in a given time. Through attempting to accomplish that which currently lies beyond our reach, our bodies will adapt, our physical fitness will be advanced and the initial task becomes easier to accomplish. Our minds work in a similar way. If we wish to strengthen ourselves mentally, we also have to attempt tasks that are currently beyond us. This not only applies to our training but to our lives in general. Through our training, we get accustomed to reaching beyond ourselves. We are therefore more likely to reach beyond ourselves in all areas of our lives.

We should be prepared to take on difficult tasks in order to develop ourselves and the quality of our lives. The task needs to be difficult if it is going to develop our capabilities. If the weightlifter does not put enough weight on the bar, he isn’t struggling and hence he’s not getting any stronger. Likewise, if our lives are “plain sailing” we are not developing ourselves. If things are too easy, our abilities are not developed and hence our potential for progress becomes limited. We won’t experience any “discomfort” so long as we remain exactly where we are; but in my opinion that’s no way to live. We should push our boundaries and not remain tethered to our “fur-lined rut”. We should actively court discomfort and the growth that results from that discomfort.

It is through attempting difficult tasks that we develop the ability to accomplish them. The key thing is to ensure that we are consistently trying to “lift that weight”. Regardless of what that “weight” may be – better health, more money, more rewarding jobs and relationships, etc. – the only way we’ll get it is through attempting to get it. It may be very uncomfortable at first; however, it is that very discomfort that will develop our abilities and ensure that we eventually succeed. For example, a new job certainly won’t be as easy as the old familiar job, but any difficulty experienced will strengthen and develop our capabilities. As our talents grow, there will come a point where the new job will become “easy” and hence we will have the ability to reach yet further.

To achieve great things we need great abilities, and the only way to develop great abilities is through great struggle. Once we understand that “resistance” is a vital part of the process, we actually start to desire that resistance and the associated struggle.

Our training gets us used to reaching beyond ourselves and helps us to understand the process of resistance and advancement. Our intense combat training (Jutsu) should lead to us applying the lessons learned in our daily lives (Do). We train in a way that takes us beyond our current limits, so that we can expand those limits. In life, we should also constantly reach beyond our current limits so we can develop our capabilities and lead the lives we want to lead. In training and in life we need to seek out discomfort, strive to develop ourselves and ensure that we are constantly moving forward.

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About The Author:

Iain Abernethy has been involved in the martial arts since childhood. He is a senior instructor with the British Karate-Do Chojinkai and an instructor with the British Combat Association. Iain regularly writes for the UK’s leading martial arts magazines and he is a member of the "Combat Hall of Fame". See:

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mental side of martial arts, spirit, mind power, spiritual strength, intense training, real fights

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