Self-Development and
the Way of Zen & Martial Arts


Where do the paths of self-development and the way of Zen and Martial Arts intersect? Zen and the Martial Arts can lead to some of the highest levels of self-development and inspired life change a person can aim for. Fully engaged in these life changing disciplines - the body-mind is transformed. We evolve, reaching for the next level and then the one after that, climbing challenging spirals of personal growth, accomplishment and fulfillment.

The Life Changing Forces at Play

The essential way of Zen and the Martial Arts can be found in the dynamic interplay of opposites. Life and death, movement and stillness, flow and concentration, body and mind - all brought into balance through unified training.

This dynamic interaction of (seemingly) opposing forces isn't only at the heart of Zen and the Martial Arts. It points out the very essence of self-development too.

Change for life has more on this powerful interplay of opposites.

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Self-Development and the Way

Self-development and the way of Zen & Martial Arts intersect at four powerful junctures:

  1. Movement / Action
  2. Stillness
  3. Concentration
  4. Flow

These can be grouped into two 'dynamic duos' (seemingly opposing forces operating to actually support each other):

  1. Movement and Stillness
  2. Concentration and Flow

Let's take a closer look at how these dynamic duos bear on self-development. Let's put a finger on these junctures so that you can then use them for what they are - opportunities for tremendous personal growth and positive life change...

Self-Development Intersect #1:


Zen and the Martial Arts don't believe in taking a passive approach to life. These are dynamic disciplines, and as such, place high value on movement - on positive action.

In many ways, movement is an indication of state-of-mind - a window into the soul if you will. Left within the confines of the mind we may convince ourselves of many things - real or not. Stepping out-of-the-mind - by taking action - we're confronted with our true priorities.

Movement helps keep us honest. As opposed to the mind - which travels between the past and the future in the blink of an eye - the body helps keep track of where our mind is at now

In Martial Arts, for example, if you don't move off the line of a descending sword you get 'cut'. You are either caught by your thoughts - unable to move fluidly. Or you are free - to move, to avoid the cut.

In both cases, the reality of the situation is plain to see, not to mention feel!

In self-development, as in life itself, taking action may put you at risk. You're risking a 'hit' or a 'cut'. But for what?! Because it's the best way to learn and grow! For the lessons learned with the body leave an indelible impression on the mind. The mind forgets - the body rarely does.

Self-development and the way of Zen & Martial Arts value movement. But what kind of movement are we talking about? Is all movement better than no movement?

For personal growth and self-development you move consciously. You take action - because losing yourself to mindless activity is no longer attractive. You act instead of react.

With all of that in mind, action is only one-side of the coin of life change. Action draws strength and balance from the other side of the coin - stillness.

Self-Development Intersect #2:

Be Still!

How does stillness factor into self-development and the Way of Zen & Martial Arts? After all, aren't 'stillness' and 'passiveness' practically synonyms?

While action is to be valued, too much action - with no intervals to rejuvenate and replenish resources - starts working against us. Our movements slow... we gradually lose our sharpness... our crispness and vitality erode... we burn out.

This is where stillness comes in. Being passive - and being still - are two very different states of being...

  • Passivity drains us.

  • Stillness replenishes us. 

  • Passivity is reactive.

  • Stillness is proactive.

  • Being passive, we're primed to react.

  • Being still, we're primed to respond

  • Passive - we contract.

  • Still - we expand.

  • Passive - we stagnate.

  • Still - we come alive!

Passivity is stagnation. Stillness is life.

Stillness gives life, while passivity drains it away. Stillness is your well-spring of vitality and the source of inspired action.

Take time-out to be still and you'll find your actions - all of them - invigorated. A fresh wind will blow through your movements. Daily actions and activities will be infused with new power. Stillness and movement revitalize each other. They bring your total efforts into balance.

The way of Zen and Martial arts eschew passivity and welcome stillness. In our self-development efforts we do well to do the same.

Self-Development Intersect #3:


How does concentration relate to self-development and the way of Zen & Martial Arts? To 'concentrate' can mean any of the following...

  • 'To think about something...'


And from (emphasis added - not in the original):

  • 'To bring or draw to a common center or point of union; converge; direct toward one point; focus; collect.'

  • 'To put or bring into a single place.'

  • 'To intensify; make denser, stronger, or purer, especially by the removal or reduction of fluid.'

  • 'To bring all efforts, faculties, activities, etc., to bear on one thing or activity.'

In terms of Zen and the Martial Arts, the first definition of concentration is one that often gets us into a lot of trouble. 

Whether we're walking down a dark alley at night, or perhaps trying to take action on an important goal we set for ourselves, being caught-up in our head isn't necessarily the place we want to be. To be lost in thought when action is near is concentration - misplaced.

When it comes to movement or action - thought is considered a serious distraction.

We shouldn't mistake the admirable ability to 'think on our feet' as a recommendation to think when action is needed. Rather, it's the quick ability to act (on our thoughts) that counts. 

Thinking retains its respectable place. There's a time for thinking. There's a time for planning and strategy. Yet, without effective execution all our thinking is for naught. We need to know how to shut-out (or shut down) the thinking apparatus when it's not needed. Otherwise it certainly gets in our way. 

This is where another type of concentration comes in (as per the definitions above). This time it's a concentration of energy in the body, not the mind. This concentration lends itself to action, instead of detracting from it. It's the type of concentration that Zen and Martial Arts are so good to develop.

By concentrating attention in the body - we take it away from the mind. For once, we're able to step away from that which distracts us. We are free to move - to act as we will.

To know when to concentrate on thinking - and then let it go and move - is key for self-development and the Ways of Zen & Martial Arts.

Self-Development Intersect #4:


Traditional Zen and Martial Arts training emphasize cultivation of a ‘flowing mind’ - a mind that doesn't stop, or get ‘caught’, on anything. The 'flowing mind' is an epitome of adaptability - a highly valuable asset to anyone walking an evolutionary path of self-development or positive life change.

When we connect with the 'flowing mind' we're 'in the zone' - the 'flow zone'. Being 'in the zone' you're present and fully awake to the activity at hand. Instead of losing yourself to thought - which happens so often to us - you lose yourself to experience instead.

This requires concentration. It requires practice - nurturing a growing ability to go beyond the distractions of thought. Stepping out-of-the-mind, wapply ourselves to the task at hand. We enter the zone.

In the zone - any and all thinking melts into a spontaneous, effective and often rapturous flow. In the zone thoughts are no obstacle. In the zone - the highest planes of personal growth, fulfillment and positive life change are reached. You're connected to being truly at your best.

If you're someone naturally drawn to high levels of challenge and skill, you're most likely no stranger to the 'flow zone'. You've experienced how flow can bring on some of the most intrinsically rewarding times of your life.

Naturally, you want more.

Luckily, you don't have to engage in high challenge / high skill activities in order to experience flow. You don’t need to be a martial artist or Zen practitioner to gain access to a flowing mind. The flow state is readily available - to one and all.

Here's the thing: the flow state isn't created or induced, although it does seem that way. Rather, it's preexisting inside. The flow state is in fact a living presence within you - just waiting to be tapped.

So why aren't you experiencing flow at this very moment you may ask (or maybe you are!)?

The only thing preventing your experience of flow is over-involvement with thought. Flow is a full-body experience that cannot be enjoyed from the limiting confines of living up in our head. A step out-of-the-mind - putting some distance between your thoughts and yourself - is the only thing necessary.

Being more mindfulinstead of just mind - full. That's the aim!

Self-development and the Way of Zen & Martial Arts are dynamic paths to follow. More than thinking. More than talking. They are meant for walking.

Walk well!

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