Focus is an important skill to have, in the martial arts and in general life. When we are working on a particular task, having the ability to focus completely on it makes the difference between getting the job done efficiently or having it drag on as you wonder where the heck all the time has gone.
Many people take up a martial art for the mental benefits the training can bring, including focus. Part of the reason it develops focus is that one’s development as a martial artist is very much connected to how well people are able to focus on their training. This development comes naturally for many, and they reap the benefits it brings, including quicker progress and greater retention of what they are exposed to in class.
Making the Most of Limited Training
For most people, martial arts training is a hobby. They may derive great pleasure from it, and see a wide variety of benefits for the body and mind, but it is still a hobby for the vast majority of people who practice. This means that most people probably only train a few hours a week at their martial arts schools, with a determined few who may devote some extra time outside classes to train on their own. If you’re one of these people, you only have so much training time, and during that time you only get a limited amount of your instructor’s attention (if you train in a traditional class setting), so you want to make the most of that time. When you’re focused, your training sinks in more, both mentally and physically, so you don’t need to train as much to make the same amount of progress as someone who of equal ability that is less focused. Or if you have more time to train, you can make even more progress in a shorter period of time. Either way, the benefits are awesome.
Making the Most of Your Body
Some forms of martial arts training are harder on the body than others. Throws and falling out of throws then getting back to one’s feet over and over again is a lot harder on the body than training most form-focused striking exercises. So when you’re training something that is more tiring or harder on the body, you want to learn as much from the experience as you can because your body can only take so much of it before you need to take a break or move on to a less demanding form of training. Being focused helps you do just that. In addition, training that can be harder on the body often involves more risk. Being focused while engaging in such activities helps make it safer for both you and your partner.
Ways to Consciously Improve Your Focus
While some people are able to develop their focus simply by training in a martial art due to the learning atmosphere that naturally fosters focus. Others need to take additional measures to help develop their focus due to their own personal habits or personality type. Below are a few ways you can help cultivate your focus to help you get more out of your martial arts training, as well as other areas of your life:
1. Mindfulness. Being more present in each moment helps you get more out of your moments, and as a result, more out of your life. Mindfulness is the practice of this. The easiest way to practice mindfulness is to start with simple things like eating, doing chores, driving to work, or other activities that have become so habituated that you no longer have to think about them. Take these simple activities, and experience them fully. Listen to your senses. When you eat, appreciate the colour and shape of your food. Enjoy the texture in your mouth. Listen to the sound it makes when you chew. Savour the tastes and smells. Try this with other things too. Then when you go back to your training, try to apply this state of mindfulness. As you begin to make this state of mind a habit, you’ll find yourself experiencing your techniques more completely, such that it takes you less time to absorb them.
2. Meditation. This goes hand-in-hand with mindfulness. Where mindfulness is a meditative state applied to an activity, meditation is mindfulness applied to very little at all, in many cases, nothing beyond your breathing and the state of your body. Many people find this more difficult because they often find their mind reacting defensively to it, wanting to stay engaged, simply by giving the person things to think about. And that is okay, but if you want to make the most of time spent meditating, in whatever form you choose, you’re better off gently allowing those thoughts to fall away and allowing your mind to stay loosely focused and open to the experience of simply being. The practice of meditation is widely accepted as having great benefits for the mind and body, and greatly enhances one’s ability to be more mindful in their life experiences and therefore more focused on any task at hand.
3. Note-taking. Where mindfulness and meditation help develop one’s sense of unconscious focus, note-taking, in whatever form you use it, engages your conscious focus. It can be especially helpful for people with more analytical minds, or those who need to take further measures to help cement their martial arts practice into their subconscious minds. If you learn something new, but haven’t fully absorbed it into your mind and body, it can be very helpful to take notes, whether you do it through writing descriptions or taking video so you can go over it in more detail, use it as a refresher when practicing, or even as a tool to help you do visualization training when you can’t practice physically for whatever reason. Most martial arts instructors will encourage you to simply practice techniques more as it is the most efficient way to get to Carnegie hall, so to speak, but sometimes people need other ways to “practice” outside their formal training, and recreating the training, in whatever form of notes you use, can help with that.
4. Limiting distractions. When you’re training at the dojo, you already remove some of the distractions. I don’t know many schools that allow people to leave the cell phones on or check their phones in the middle of classes without a really good reason. Martial arts teachers usually also discourage irrelevant and/or prolonged talking during classes. This is to keep students in a focused training atmosphere. You can take this further by turning off your phone, and limiting conversation when doing any training you do outside formal classes.
5. Relaxing and removing pressure/stress. Sometimes people get so focused on trying to be focused that they become tense. If they don’t get something right away, they become frustrated, and can even adopt a self-flagellating attitude. This causes a lot of stress, which actually hurts your ability to focus and learn, defeating the whole purpose. Try to stay relaxed and let yourself have fun with your training. Removing the overly results oriented attitude keeps things light and more enjoyable, which helps you stay more focused on a subconscious level.
6. Compartmentalize. When you train, be fully focused on your training. But when you’re doing something else, allow yourself to be fully focused on that. When you’re spending time with your family, be there for them fully. When you’re working, put your mind fully into our work. Part of being a martial artist is to give yourself fully to all the areas of your life. This does not mean being so obsessed with the martial arts that it distracts you from other things that are important to you. Your subconscious mind is a wonderful thing. When you allow things you’ve learned in your training to simmer in the background as you focus on other things in your life, you’ll be surprised when you go back to it and have some new epiphany that you hadn’t previously realized in your active training. But sometimes you need to let go of your active conscious focus in order for these things to bubble to the surface. You don’t have to constantly be focused on your martial arts training for you to become a better martial artist.
Do you have any particular ways of helping to improve your focus on the martial arts or anything else? Please feel free to share these in the comments. 🙂