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Develop the Mental Focus of a Martial Arts Master

The mind leads the Chi, the Chi leads the Body

This is a commonly heard phrase in the traditional Chinese martial arts, especially the internal arts of Tai Chi, Hsing-I, Ba Gua and Chi Gung. It is a powerful piece of advice that if properly applied can and will allow you to ramp up whatever it is you are currently working on, be it a max Deadlift, a PB in a marathon, that extra rep in the Snatch test or stripping away an extra inch from the waist line.

In fact any endeavour.

I’m not one to wax lyrical about the Chinese concept of Chi or energy. It’s a divisive topic and suitable for a longer post another day. If you wish to know more about Chi and Chi Gung, either download my Chi Gung notebook (click here) or talk to my friend Nicola over at

But the one part you must take away from this is that the body comes last in the hierarchy.

Mind –> Chi –> Body

Where you focus the mind is where your body will go.

22 years ago I joined my first ever martial arts class and was introduced to focusing the mind, concentrating on perfect form, body mechanics and power. Pretty soon I was applying the same focus to my running and cycling. A little later again I discovered weight training and found that without focus, that bar just will not move. You cannot improve yourself physically unless the mind is also strong.

Fortunately the two often go hand in hand, as you begin to strengthen the body; it helps to strengthen the mind. It also goes the other way, strengthen the mind and it allows a greater potential for strength in the body.

There is any number of methods available for building mental strength and focus, but they all have the same thing in common, blot out all distractions. When faced with a challenging task, be it a trawling through your in tray of pushing through a high intensity finisher at the gym, your mind will start throwing distractions at you. Your mind may wander as you start to think about what’s for dinner or what’s on telly tonight. Anything but the task in hand.

If you can learn to blot these thought out, ignore them and let them drift away they will eventually cease. If you can maintain your attention on one thing, get into the habit if focussing on one thing, become proficient at ignoring the chatter, you can become anything you wish.

Like most skills it is best to separate it out, take it and perform drills that will develop this skill without worrying about anything else. Once the first steps have been taken, you may then add into other training.

The simplest way to develop this is meditation. Before you panic, we’re not going to look for your “power animal” a la Fight Club, and we certainly will not be taking part in any group hugs.

What we will do is breathe.

Every night I finish my day with a meditation; I lie in bed and breathe. Every time I exhale I count it, the aim is to count to 100. While I try to maintain absolute focus on the numbers, from time to time I get distracted, but that’s fine, I just start over at one. This does two things; it helps me practice mental focus but also relaxes me into a deep sleep.

Thoughts come and go as I lie there counting, but I let them go unattended, I don’t get attached to the thought, I let it pass. It’s kind of like the adverts on TV, they pop up and disappear yet we pay them no attention as we wait for the main feature to come back on. Some days I get to 100 easily and repeat the process, other days I get to around 25 and I’m gone into land of nod. Other days it’s a little more work, I may get to 20 or 30 only to start over. Again, don’t get attached to this, just start out at one, the two and go until you stop.

This type of breathing can be done anywhere, in the checkout cue at the supermarket, waiting for a bus, while having your hair cut. Anywhere at all. Soon you’ll be able to block out all the noise and traffic and focus on the task at hand. Once you do your output and the results from it will skyrocket.

It’ll also be time to take you mental training to a new level.


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