Thoughts on Being Martial

The concept of “being martial” has two components, the physical manifestation and the state of mind. To me it is more of a state of mind. This concept seems to evade a lot of non-competitive martial artists but is very prevalent in competition Karate. Your technique is predicated on the actions and position of your opponent. If your opponent gives a different attack or a different angle you will need to respond differently.  This culminates in your instinctive reactions.

Being Martial Means More Than Being Physically Aggressive

So, what does it mean to have a martial state of mind?  It means you must have the intent to strike and maintain the honesty of your attack from the beginning to the end. It means you must have kime, the focus and power to project into your intent. Without kime, your strike is weak and therefore is not an honest attack. Ki-ai helps you deliver kime and is also a useful martial tool to “psych” out your opponent.

You must control your emotions (fear, anger, anxiety) in order to control your opponent and the space.  Executive protection (EP) agents and Secret Service personnel are trained to control people, space, themselves and their clients and so must we. You must have a sense of self preservation – the presence of mind to recognize a threat and then act accordingly. You must maintain zanshin, an awareness of what and who is around you. You must keep a connection to your opponent, through your hara and zanshin.

The physical manifestation is far easier to see than the state of mind, although experienced martial artists can perceive the state of mind. First, you must not be structurally weak. You must have your center and balance.  Keep your posture, no leaning. A person’s kamae (stance) will tell you a lot before they even attack. Their breath and eyes, tension of the hara (center), the body made narrower by dropping and rotating the hips half, knees bent and positions of the feet and toes, and the arms in a guarded position are all physical attributes of a martial person.  Often, you can look at your opponent and know something is coming, you may not know what or when, but you see that intent in their kamae. This is where the concept of mushin no shin comes in. mushin translates to “no mind”.  It is a free mind…expect nothing but be ready for anything. The physical manifestation of intent, through ki, can be felt through tension between you and your opponent.  This can be used to act before your opponent does. this is sen no sen, the highest form of being martial.

Physical Posture, Mental Posture

Your kamae must allow you to move freely and quickly. You must always stay attached to you and your opponent’s technique, space, and timing.  You must always seek an opening and try to disrupt your opponent. Your threat will affect an opponent who has martial awareness (zanshin). If they are threatened, they will change their attack or evade. They understand the danger, what to do, and they understand their vulnerabilities. Someone who has no martial awareness will most likely get hit and won’t protect themselves.

“Any part of the body the attacker touches, you are able to affect his balance…he touches me, he goes down. I touch him, he goes down or I control him…affect him without scaring him…if you scare him he will fight. If you don’t threaten him enough he will fight. [The goal is to create the situation where] he is threatened but not scared.
Sensei Kevin Choate

Matt Stephen is a senior student of the Aikido Chuseikan Dojo.  He holds the rank of nidan (2nd degree black belt) in Karate, and shodan (1st degree black belt) in Shotokan Karate-do.  He is an assistant instructor at the University of South Florida Aikido Club, and an assistant instructor for the Tampa Bay Shotokan Karate Club.

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