In our last discussion, I spoke on the subject of Spirit Boxing. In this article, I would like to discuss Kung Fu of the mind or the mental aspects of the martial arts. Fighting arts consist of more than just physical ability. The mind plays as great a role as the body.

From a Christian perspective, we know that, like God, we are triune being. This should come as no surprise since we are made in his image. We recognize God as; God, The Father; God, The Son; and God, The Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit. We too are triune in our being. Man is a spirit, he has a soul and he lives or resides in a body. This is general Theological knowledge to most of my Sunday school scholars out there.

You may wonder what this has to do with the martial arts. Well, nothing and everything. A Christian who understands the true dynamics of the victorious Christian life understands that he must be able to function and be successful in each of these areas of his life. Being one dimensional in our Christian lives does not translate into a successful Christian walk. We have to be able to operate in the spirit because, “God is a spirit and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). Our spirit being is our connection with God.

Also we must operate in the soul realm. It is with the soul that we choose between spirituality and carnality. The soul is the seat of our awareness and determines our individuality as well as our life direction. For this discussion we will identify the soul as the human mind.

As each of us is aware, we have a body and through that body we express our physicality. Our bodies are our physical connection to this world and are the mediums through which we express our influence on the world in which we live. As practitioners of the martial arts it is through our physical beings that we express our expertise in whatever martial art we may practice.

We talked about the role of spirit in the martial arts in our first lesson. In our next discussion we will explore some of the physical aspects of the arts, but in this lesson, I want to discuss the mental aspects of the martial arts. In the very last installment of these lesson discussions, I will try to tie them all together. Now, with all of the prelims out of the way let’s get into this lesson.

The body, mind and spirit are capable of acting independent of one another. Many Christians are carnal Christians and because they let the flesh determine their life direction, they are not successful in their Christian walk. Many people act or react without thinking. We can all attest to the results of that. Our decisions are often impulsive and are made without proper consideration.

It is possible to train the body to react from muscle memory. These kinds of reactions become reflexive and originate in the spine, the seat of the central nervous system, bypassing the brain.

To be an effective fighter, we have to learn to bypass the brain. If you have to think about it, it won’t work. When someone is slashing at your throat with a knife, you don’t have time to ponder the situation. You either react effectively or you suffer major injury or death. In spite of this, however, the mind still figures heavily in our abilities as martial artists.

To begin with, it is the mind or the brain, that gives human beings superiority over the beasts of the earth. You can study tiger kung fu until you turn blue in the face. You may become the most deadly fighter on the block, but I don’t care how adept you become with your tiger claw or your leopard strike, you will not be able to defeat a tiger in mortal combat. A tiger will watch your graceful and dangerous techniques (that is if he takes the time to). He may be impressed with your grace and power but after your demonstration, he’ll eat you with as much ease as he would anyone else. We are not as formidable as a tiger and yet, in spite of that, we have almost wiped tigers off of the face of the earth. Why is this? How is this? That’s because we’re the most dangerous creature that has ever walked the face of the earth. What gives us this superiority? It certainly isn’t out physical prowess. What makes us so dangerous is our brains; our minds. Our mind is our greatest weapon.

Kung Fu of the Mind: The Mental Aspects of the Martial Arts

You may remind me that we don’t have time to ponder technique in the middle of a life and death struggle. No we don’t, but this doesn’t mean that no thought has gone into your fighting techniques.

It is said and it is true; fights are won in the gym, dojo, dojang or kwoon, not in the ring or in the streets. We face our opponent or our attacker with the skills, ability and training of yesterday’s class and all of the classes that went before it.

I intentionally used Kung Fu in my title for this discussion, as opposed to karate, kenpo, jiu jitsu or whatever other art you may study. There’s a reason for this. The term kung fu simply means consummate skill. You can have kung fu in flower arranging, calligraphy or tap dancing for that matter. The term kung fu has become a generic term for the Chinese martial arts but the actual terms for Chinese Boxing is Chaun Fa (translated as Kempo or Kenpo in the Japanese language) which means way of the fist or fist law; or Wushu, which means war arts. Though differentiated geographically and emphasizing different techniques these arts are basically the same. For instance, if you study Karate you actually study Okinawan Kempo. Master Oyama, the founder of Kyokushinkai Karate originally studied Korean Kempo (probably Taekyon). So we see that all of us, in a sense study our “kung fu” or consummate skill in whatever martial art we study.

The martial arts if studied properly should have a positive effect on our characters. Our involvement of the arts should serve to make us better human beings. We don’t just practice our kung fu in the dojo. We practice the skills we learn in the dojo in our daily lives. We may practice Judo, Aikido, Hapkido, Karatedo or whatever other martial art we study. The word “do” in these words means, a way or the way. That is to say a way of learning discipline, self control and positive attributes. Our practice isn’t to make us effective street fighters or urban combatants though it may accomplish that. We study the arts as a way of self improvement. You don’t have to spend years in the gym just to be an effective fighter. You can pick up a gun, a knife or a stick if all you want is to do is be dangerous. To be honest, a barely trained man with a knife is more dangerous than the average martial artist will ever be. The kung fu that we should seek shouldn’t translate into street fighting or fisticuffs. We practice a kung fu of a higher nature. Our ability as fighters are simply a byproduct of our study.

I teach my students that if they find themselves in a street fight, they might want to study harder, because their kung fu has fallen short. The greatest expression of kung fu isn’t to fight but to not have to fight. If I find out that one of my students has been in a physical altercation, he had better have a good explanation as to why or he will be expelled from classes. I’m not trying to train street hooligans or barroom brawlers. I am trying to turn out responsible human beings of good character.

The self confidence that we garner in our studies should teach us how to deescalate a volatile situation without it turning into a physical fight. We have enough confidence to walk away. We are assured of our ability and we don’t feel compelled to prove ourselves.

Along with our fighting abilities we should also perfect our verbal kung fu. I work in mental health and my job requires me to have contact with any number of patients, some of whom could become violent with little or no provocation. Being able to defuse such a situation is a better option than having to take down and restrain a combative patient. That would prove to be better kung fu than a shoot or a takedown and restraining technique. That is where we want to be in our kung fu skills.

Should you find yourself in a physical altercation, in spite of all of your verbal and psychological skill, mental kung fu may mean the difference between life and death. It isn’t hard to learn the physical skills of combat but implementing them may prove a different matter. Everyone who can punch and kick isn’t an effective fighter. In such a case, it isn’t lack of physical skill that makes a difference. It is the person’s mind set. Without confidence, you’ve lost the fight before it has started. Determination and tenacity win more fights than fighting skill. If you fight a fighter who has a killer instinct you had better have the same. A determined person with a killer instinct and a bit of determination is better than a trained fighter with no resolve. You can’t hope to win a fight by kinda fighting. If you have to fight you have to be ready and willing to give it all you’ve got. If an opponent is determined to destroy you, you have to be equally determined to survive, and not just to survive but to triumph.

If you’re faced with a drug crazed attacker you have to believe in your heart that you can win. You have to believe in yourself. You’ve done the training. You have the skill, now do you have the heart to get the job done? Let’s be honest. You aren’t going to face a determined street fighter and come away unscathed. You are going to get hurt. Mental kung fu is what enables you to fight injured and still triumph. You can’t go into that kind of altercation seeing yourself as the underdog. If you do you will become a self fulfilling prophecy. Solomon said that as a man “thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7). If you think you are defeated you are defeated.

Knowing that God is on the side of the righteous should give us confidence. Knowing that he will neither leave us nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5b) and that no weapon that’s formed against is shall prosper (Is. 54:17a) is what gives us strength. Our strength is in the Lord (Eph. 6:10a). And lastly, with God on our side, we are more than conquerors (Rom. 8:37). This is the source of our faith; in God, in ourselves, in our ability and in the final outcome of any struggle, whether we face man or devil.

I am a sixty four year old man and have been studying the martial arts for almost fifty five years. I have undergone several surgeries in the last two years, two of them on my back. Because of the limitations this has placed on me, I don’t have the raw ability that I have once had. Age too has taken its toll. All of this may have lessened my ability, but as they say in those grade B Kung Fu movies. “My Kung Fu is strong!” My body may not be what it once was but my heart, mind and spirit are sound and strong. Because of, not just what I am but because of who I am and whose I am, I don’t have to fear any man or any demon in hell. Why? Because I have the strongest Kung Fu of them all. I have Kung Fu of the mind.

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Donald Miskel
Donald Miskel started his training in 1959 at the Jiu Jitsu Institute in Chicago and trained with several well known and respected martial arts instructors in a number of disciplines. He has attained black belt ranking in six different martial art disciplines. Sensei Miskel taught at several locations in and around the Chicago area for many years. His focus was self defense instruction for civilians and specialized, individual, training for law enforcement personnel and security officers. He worked in several areas of law enforcement, mental health and personal security as well as performing Pastoral duties at several churches and ministries for a number of years. e helped to create the Black Lotus Combative System and he founded the Dante Ryu Gojute Kenpo karate/ Ju jitsu fighting system. Dr. Miskel is an original member of the Black Dragon Fighting Society.