The Path of a True Martial Artist:
Fine-Tuning, Balancing & Harmonizing Body, Mind, Breathing, Energy and Spirit
By Bob Ellal and Ramel Rones
What makes a martial artist? Is it just the ability to fight well and defend oneself against any attacker? It cannot be that alone--many street fighters can do this, and they do not deserve the title "artists." It is far more than fighting skill; it takes a much greater commitment on many levels to be a true martial artist.
“You must learn to first fine tune, then balance all five aspects of your being: body, mind, breathing, energy and spirit—then harmonize them with the three forces of Earth, Heaven and Human,” says Ramel Rones, master teacher of Northern Shaolin, White Crane, Chin Na, Weapons, Tai Chi Chuan and Chi Kung. Rones is a disciple of Dr.Yang Jwing-Ming, celebrated kung fu master, author and lecturer.
Rones has studied his lessons well in the over twenty years he's trained full-time with Master Yang and other renowned Eastern arts masters. He's won gold medals in solo form as well as fighting competitions in North America, Europe and even China. He's used his chi kung knowledge to help cancer patients survive, help the elderly cope with what he calls "unnecessary aging," and develop and tailor a mind/body approach, based on the principles of various martial arts, for debilitating diseases such as cancer and arthritis.
"Fighting and forms successes are only the external manifestations of the arts, which is needed at a certain step of the path of a Martial Artist" says Rones. "After all, the real goal of martial arts is a life-long journey of self-discovery and self-mastery. If you learn martial arts only for the purpose of fighting, you will probably lose interest at some point or another—you will have achieved mastery only over the first building block of our being, the body, but stopped there. As you get older you will naturally be more concerned with health and longevity, and perhaps the goal of enlightenment (or at least intensive sitting or standing meditation) so that's where the other building blocks—mind, breathing, energy and spirit—come into play."
The martial arts journey says Rones, is one in which you strike a balance between external and internal work and developing the mind and the body. By doing so, you will not only be on the right path to achieving great fighting powers, but maximum health and longevity and a better quality of life for you as well as the people around you.
Fine Tuning the Body
"You begin to fine tune the physical body through finding a balance between strength and flexibility. One way to achieve this is by doing forms and drills," says Rones. "Relaxing the body is the first step in fine tuning your body. Only when you are relaxed are you able to find balance and find your physical body's center. Once you find your center, you are closer to finding your roots. From finding your roots you are one step from experiencing your energy, which is the right path to achieving a high level of martial skills and a better quality of life."
Therefore, the five building blocks are all interrelated; you use your mind to help relax your body, and you will use your breathing to help focus your mind while tapping into the energy and spirit to boost and upgrade them all.
"For example, proper breathing helps prevent tight muscles or having lactic acid build up in them before you spar or fight. If you take several deep breaths your mind relaxes, and sends signals to your muscles to relax also. They become supple, and you are able to better sense your opponent and strike more quickly and with greater power."
Other concepts & skills needed for fine-tuning the body, for both martial and health purposes, besides finding a balance between strength and flexibility, are:
Freeing the skeleton from being a prisoner of the soft tissue.
2. Proper alignment is the first step toward achieving the art of effortless power or giving your body the feeling of "transparency." We must understand and achieve alignment in our different postures through out life; these postures include: lying down, sitting, standing and moving slowly
3. Maintaining range of motion in the joints by stretching the various soft tissues around joints such as muscles, fasciae, skin, ligaments and tendons. Then you learn to pump and pulse the ligaments that will boost our energetic system, which will "fill" the whole body with abundant energy. Using resistance to increase muscle mass, prevent Sarcopenia—or the loss of muscle as you age—and increasing bone density.
4. Creating "space" and constant movement or for the internal organs to function at maximal capacity. You accomplish this first by alignment and then by massaging the internal organs through self-massage and movement.
5. Physically aligning the "qua"—the area from the belly down, which includes the hips and groin.
6. Creating the "dam" effect for both the blood and energy—learning to tense and relax different muscles. This effect is present in different philosophies, which use different techniques to achieve it: in yoga through asanas, holding postures for a long time; and in Chinese arts through tensing and relaxing different groups of muscles repeatedly.
7. Embryo breathing—controlling abdominal and the lower back muscles, in and out, as you breathe. Then using the mind you learn to tap into the center of gravity energy center and pituitary gland energy center or what the Chinese refer to as the lower and the upper Dan Tian, or "field of elixir". The lower visualization: the area two inches beneath your navel and is your being's center and the upper the area at the base of the brain, the area where the pituitary gland is located.
8. The major up and down forces—properly understanding them and then achieving proper alignments through the head, neck, shoulders, 3 sections of the spine and sacrum.
9. Bow breathing—the long "bow" of the spine as it moves forward, backward, up and down and the cross "bows" of the shoulders as they arc and expand. Includes action like: bowing, pumping and pulsing.
10. Self-massage, which is achieved by tapping, slapping, brushing and kneading the entire body--especially around our internal organs.
These fine-tuning exercises will make you more than just a better martial artist; they will increase your health and puts you on the road to greater longevity.
Fine-Tuning the Mind
Have you ever practiced standing post meditation, which are one of the foundation practices of the internal martial arts as well as some Yoga styles? Then you would know or experience the difference between your emotional mind, or what in the art of Chi Kung is metaphorically referred to as the monkey mind (in Chinese Xin), and what we in the West refer to as our logical mind, referred to metaphorically in Chi Kung as the Horse mind (or in Chinese, Yi).
Your horse mind is the part of you that makes the decision to take on the rigors of standing meditation. It "tells" you on a physical level how important it is to your training to squat in a high horse stance and hold your arms in an arc in front of your chest until you can hold the posture for over an hour. Your horse mind tells you that you will be building a strong root, integrating your body as a unit, and developing tremendous chi. On a mental level it "tells" you not to think throughout the task so you can achieve a meditative mind, with brain waves between awake and asleep to activate a positive hormone production versus a negative one.
Your monkey mind, or our emotions, is the part of you that wants to quit after five minutes because your thigh muscles and shoulders burn from the pain of holding the posture. Thus, the Chinese say you must seize the monkey and tame the horse if you want to achieve health and be a successful martial artist. The Xin or monkey mind is emotional and excitable and must be put on a leash or tricked to be controlled or seized. The Yi horse mind is strong and powerful but you must also harness or train it to use it effectively.
That means in order to succeed balancing the mind you have to fine-tune the horse mind, logic, to "capture" the monkey mind, emotions. When the emotional mind is under the control of the wisdom mind, you will be calmer and more focused. Different styles use different methods to train this skill through different tricks or mental visualizations. Some typical visualizations are the image of the Moon or with religious individuals, the image of the Buddha, or Jesus Christ. You can also repeat a prayer or a Mantra. By focusing or visualizing on a person, a sound, movements or an object you will be able to lead your mind into a steady, calm state and use your wisdom, Yi, to conquer your emotions, Xin. This method is called Guan Xiang—"observe thinking"--you need first to quite and observe the thoughts in order to achieve control. There are many methods to achieve this skill.
Fine-Tuning the Breathing
"To have good health and be a good martial artist you need to develop your lungs and that is achieved through good cardiovascular training or another method is what is called in Yoga Pranayama or the science of breath. Then you will not run out of breath when you are fighting. Jumping, kicking, punching and wrestling require a great deal of energy and good cardio skills.
Another reason for having bigger or stronger lungs is it helps you "capture" the monkey mind. The lungs are metaphorically compared to a banana that has the potential to capture the monkey, so through developing the lungs we will have a bigger "banana", quitting the monkey mind will lead to greater success on levels, health and martial arts.
"However, you also must fine-tune your breathing to stay in focus when you fight. If your breathing is wild, out of control, your mind will race and you will burn up your energy quickly and will not be able to continue. You must pace your breathing—that is the 'banana' we use to capture the monkey mind. When your breathing is measured, your thoughts are too. That is the connection. Then you will stay calm and in control of the situation, whether it is a sparring match, a conflict on the street or a conflict in life—such as a health problem," says Rones.
Using your breathing—the "banana"—to capture the monkey mind is also vital to qigong training, which every martial artist should do to both to strengthen his or her martial arts and health. It allows you to breathe deeply and calmly to relax, which keeps your mind clear and fills your lungs with plenty of air so you have an adequate supply of oxygen. Also, deep breathing enables the diaphragm to move up and down, which massages and stimulates the internal organs, making them operate more efficiently as well as releasing a positive hormone release-- Endorphins and serotonin versus a negative one—adrenalin from the adrenals.
A basic way to develop the lungs and then use your breath to capture the monkey mind is center of gravity energy center breathing or Embryo breathing. Embryo breathing is divided into two parts: The physical, and the mental. Physically, when we breathe we make a conscious decision to notice the diaphragm descending while coordinating each breath with the movement of the abdomen and the lower back muscles. Mentally we "put" our thoughts or mind in our center gravity energy center (remember, the monkey mind will find ways to distract the mind and pull it away from residing in this energy center, or lower Dan Tien).
To practice it and achieve success you must first use your hands to control or mold the movements of the muscles in your lower back and abdomen since we do not use those muscles or specific movements. We may have lost the control over them; usually a few years after we are born; that is why the exercise is also called back to childhood. There are two ways to perform this mind body prescription: One for relaxation and circulating energy internally--when you inhale, intentionally expand your abdomen and back muscles, full moon, and when you exhale, let them contract, empty moon. That is also considered in the art of Chi Kung as Buddhist breathing.
The second is for manifesting energy or expressing power away from the body. When you inhale contract inward the lower back and abdominal muscles, empty moon, as you exhale expand them, full moon. That is Taoist breathing. In addition, in both breathing methods you should gently coordinate the movements or “pulsing” of the Huiyin cavity, the area between the groin and the anus, with the movements of the lower back and abdominal muscles.
Fine-Tuning the Energy and the Spirit
Your vital energy—that which animates you and keeps you alive—is known by many different names to many cultures. The Chinese call it chi; the Japanese ki; the Greeks pneuma; the Indians call it prana; the American Indians called it the Great Spirit. In the East, as opposed to the West, studying the energy is actually a science. It is a force that can be cultivated through proper direction of the (body,) mind and breathing through eastern arts such as yoga and Chi Kung. Through proper training of the five building blocks, you will be able to raise or "cool" your spirit and accomplish incredible things.
"We've all witnessed martial artists who have seemingly transcended the laws of physics by breaking stacks of bricks or ice with a single blow, or even one single brick within a stack. The same great feats can happen within the healing side of the martial arts. I work with cancer patients who have recovered from hopeless cases of Stage 4 disease because their spirit was strong and it enabled them to train hard in qigong and build their energy. Also, I have seen people whose spirit wasn't strong who wouldn't train hard and didn't survive," says Rones.
"Having a strong spirit is metaphorically speaking, like being in a forest. In the daytime, we can see our way clear. At night, when darkness falls and the mist rises visibility is bad. That is when we need faith and belief to keep us going. Having a strong spirit is like having a compass in this dark, misty forest. Our spirit needs to be trained through philosophies which include energy work so we can raise it to full strength when we need it."
Harmonizing the Five Building Blocks with the Three Forces
—Earth, Human and Heaven
Once you fine-tune and then find a balance among the five building blocks, you need to harmonize them with themselves and with the forces around us. For both seekers of the martial arts and health, to achieve optimal success, we have to live in harmony with the constant changing of our forces and the forces of the universe.
"For example, for both the health and martial arts: First you must fine-tune the body, breath, mind, energy, and spirit and then balance among them; to be able to act while setting in motion each one of them in real situations. That's harmony of the five building blocks with our force or energy," says Rones.
"Then you must "go" to the next level to tap into the Earth and Heaven energies which for the martial artist can generate tremendous power and for the health seeker abundant healing energy. You should also tap, specifically, into the sun as well as the moon energies to use their powers to achieve specific Yin and Yang goals with your energetic system. That is harmonizing the three forces of Earth, Human and Heaven. "Through harmonizing the five building blocks with the three forces, you "recognize" how to take advantage of the energy within you and around you. That is why the Chinese do not believe in, and have the word "luck," but only "destiny."
For more information about specific exercises to fine-tune the five building blocks with the three forces, go to www.ramelrones.com and check out Rones' Sunrise Tai Chi DVD.