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DATE : 17-08-22 06:12
Mental Training in Martial Arts; Part 1
 WRITER : usmai
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Mental Training in Martial Arts; Part 1
by Young Joo Cho, translated by Mike Sohn

Relaxation, A Key to Overcoming Physical Limitation

A desire to win is an integral part of human nature. It is so much so that success is measured by winning and the passion for it is openly displayed in competitive sport such as martial arts. Generally, physical attributes such as strength and quickness are associated with winning. Strength, in turn, is also defined by physical qualities like strong physique, stamina, and also by one’s physical mastery of his art or sport.

Even though, it is important to realize that strength does not guarantee a win. For example, at a martial arts competition it is not uncommon to witness a physically weaker or a less talented contender to win the match. There are numerous elements that attribute to the outcome of a match: differences in skills, physical condition at the time of the match, simple luck, etc. However, it should be noted that one of the major deciding factors is not physical, and for that very reason it is often overlooked. This intangible key to success is the mental ‘ability’ or ‘toughness’.

In competitive sports, one can easily predict a winner if one of the competitors appears nervous and tentative, and the other demonstrates self-confidence. The person who keeps his composure, thereby enabling him to maintain his focus, would have an advantage over his opponent. Consequently, an ability to maintain a calm state of mind can lead you to the winning path at critical junctions of a match. Thus, it is important to train both mind and body.

The words ‘mental training’ conjures up images of rigid, systematic training similar to weight lifting or martial arts training. However, since each person’s mental state, personality, temperament, and thought process are diverse, it is not productive to have a single standardized and conventional method for everyone.

The research on mental training began in earnest in 1950s in Eastern Europe, mainly in former Soviet Union and East Germany. The knowledge gained from these researches was utilized in full-scale mental training of their athletes. It was incorporated into the athletes’ daily lives, which included achieving greater awareness of their consciousness and goals. They were also introduced to image training and to improving their concentration levels.

Their ‘superiority’, or mental toughness, started receiving validation at world competitions, and reached the apex in 1976 at Montreal Olympics where they were able to garner a large number of gold medals. As a result, the importance of mental training gained worldwide prominence.

The nucleus of the mental training consists of motivation, relaxation, and concentration.

1) Motivation: Motivation is what drives an athlete to go the extra mile, what drives him to push himself further. A clear goal, and a strong desire to achieve it, is needed to maintain the focus on motivation. Do not be afraid to ask yourself even the most basic questions such as, ‘why am I devoting myself to training?’ or ‘why do I need to win at this competition?’ On the surface, these questions seem unnecessary and maybe even silly, however, one should be able to answer such questions with clear objective and conviction. The ability to do so could be the difference between a winner and a loser.

2) Relaxation: Often times, words used to describe athletes before a game are nervous, tense, anxious, jittery, uptight, etc. A bit of tension is not necessarily bad as it keeps the athlete ‘on his toes’. However, if an athlete is overwhelmed by nervousness or tension it could be detrimental to his performance as it affects both the mental and physical state.

In a normal state, body’s ideal blood flow is 40% to the brain, 30% to the upper torso, and 30% to the lower body. However, when a body tenses up 70% of the blood supply is sent to the brain, 20% to the upper torso, and 10% to the lower body. Consequently, reduced blood flow lowers the lower body temperature.

Also, tension causes shallow breathing, which reduces blood oxygen supply. Then the body tries to conserve oxygen by slowing down metabolism and starts yawning in an effort to replenish the depleted oxygen supply; this is often associated with feeling drowsy. Being in such a sluggish state cannot be useful at a competition.

For aforementioned reasons, it is vital to realize the importance of relaxation and to practice one’s ability to maintain ‘calm’ state of mind.

3) Concentration: There are two basic factors that affect concentration: external and internal distraction. It may be an impossibility to totally block out these distractions and achieve an absolute concentration. However, sometimes an athlete comes close to such a mental state: often referred to as being in a ‘zone’. When in a zone, most impressive physical performance and mental toughness are displayed. At times, it seems as if the athlete just cannot do anything wrong, almost as if he is able to anticipate what is going to happen next. Needless to say, concentration matters.

In sports, it is quite easy to become fixated on the physical aspects, however, the significance of mental training should not be discounted. A mental training that achieves a balance between motivation, relaxation, and concentration could be the winning combination.

* In the next column, mental training method will be introduced in a categorized manner that can be incorporated into the daily routine.