Tuesday, October 13, 2015

How important is the ability to focus to you? And how does Martial Arts Help?

"Always remember, your focus determines your reality."

I have been a student of the martial arts for as long as I can remember, honestly I have very few memories of my life before I started taking martial arts.  I was lucky enough to be able to get enrolled into an excellent martial arts school at a very young age, and with the support of my family and friends I stuck with it to this day, where I make a career out of helping people live better lives through the benefits of Martial Arts that I have enjoyed.  One of the character traits that was stressed in Martial Arts from the day I first stepped foot onto the mat to this day is focus.  I always learned that with focus and effort, anything we set our minds to can be accomplished.  As I grew up, I continued to train and studied people who were successful, not only in Martial Arts but in all areas of life.  One of the many things I found that was common with every successful person was the ability to focus on the right thing, and control their focus with laser like precision.

In my opinion there are two areas of focus that needs to be trained. First is the ability to develop and maintain focus, and the second is the ability to control and direct that focus.  The ability to develop and maintain focus is like the strength of a muscle, it can be trained and cultivated, and determines the level of concentration that can be mustered at will.  The ability to control and direct your focus is how you use this power of focus; intense focus in the wrong direction will of course do more harm than good. These two areas of developing focus are both important and must both be trained, they go hand in hand and must be cultivated in unison.

So the development of focus, the power of your concentration, ultimately comes down to the ability to keep a specific thought/intention/message/etc in the forefront of your mind, without being distracted or diverted away from that desired end result.  A basic example of this is if you are working on a project at work, you cannot keep checking your Facebook account to chat with people unrelated to the task at hand.  We all fall victim to this in our daily lives, and it is something that can be avoided by strengthening our ability to focus.  There are countless ways to develop focus, but for the purpose of this blog I will use Martial Arts for our examples because, well frankly, I am a Martial Artists and that is what I like to talk about :) While I will use examples from Martial Arts, it is not a far stretch of the mind to be able to relate these concepts to many other areas of life in order for everyone to benefit, whether training in Martial Arts or not.

In Martial Arts, well any good Martial Art anyways, the instructor will require their students to focus, and from the very first lesson they will begin to teach the student ways to improve and strengthen their focus.  These lessons are sometimes explicit and obvious, but many times they are subtle and the student does not even realize they are learning the secret on how to become a focus master!  There are physical techniques the students learn, such as punching and kicking, that require the student to focus in order to complete.  They have to hit a target, with the right angle and accuracy, and of course this takes physical and mental focus.  On the next level, the student has to focus in order to have the right timing and distance to execute a technique, often made even more difficult when being practiced on another participant in the class that moves and makes it their purpose to add difficulty to the proper execution out of their own self preservation.  All of this requires the student to concentrate their entire energy to accomplishing the task, and the degree of focus needed builds as the techniques grow more difficult with the student's advancement in skill and rank.  Aside from the physical techniques that require the student to develop and grow their focus, Martial Arts has many aspects of training that are less obvious but really allow the student to develop and discipline their ability to focus.  An example of this is standing at attention.  In traditional Martial Arts, when your senior or instructor talks to you, you stand at "attention."  This stance varies based on the specific system, but the concept is the same.  You stand still, with good posture and eyes focused on the instructor.  This stance allows you to focus on the instruction, and prepares the student to learn.  Standing at attention is an easy concept, but in application it is not always as easy as you may at first imagine.  After some time training though the student learns to be able to focus their bodies this way, and this discipline teaches them how to control their bodies in a way to focus on exactly what is important at that specific moment.

These are a couple basic examples, but when done over time and with increasing intensity, the effects are profound!  The next aspect of focus is the ability to control the power of the mind, to guide and direct the focus in the right direction.  The first thing to consider in the ability to control your focus, is being aware of it.  Many times in a Martial Arts class I am instructing, I asked the students if they focused, and many times their answer is yes, when in reality it was clear they were not.  Now I do not think it was the students intention to lie, but I feel that many people are truly not aware of where their focus is!  What I mean by this is that often people do not even realize when their minds wander.  The mind being flexible and able to think of things in many different ways and from different directions is a good thing, but it is important to be aware of these wanderings so that we can decide if it is beneficial or not, then decide if we should give any attention to the thoughts.  For example, the thought of "I am hungry, I have not eaten all day" may be a good thought to have, nourishing the body can help the mind work, but constantly thinking about last nights episode of Lost may not be as beneficial.  Taking an honest inventory of your thoughts and the direction your mind goes is the first step to guiding the focus of your mind toward success.

Once you have developed a powerful focus, and have an honest inventory of what your mind focuses on, you can begin to steer and guide your focus in the direction it needs to go, and this is when you can truly begin to experience amazing results.  Knowing what to focus on is the thing that sets apart individuals who excel past what those without this power of focus can even begin to imagine.  It is something that takes constant concentration, attention and effort.  You have to decide where you are going, then focus all of your efforts in that direction.  It is not an easy task, but we have seen time and time again with the Bruce Lees, Michael Jordans and Mark Cubans of the world that this type of disciplined focus yields unmatched results.

So, take the time to develop focus that has purpose and lasting power.  Focus is a muscle that has to be worked out and trained, it has to be practiced and maintained, then its strength has to be applied in the right direction to accomplish the specific tasks needed to reach the end goal you are striving toward.  Train Hard, Stay Focused and SUCCEED!!

HapKiDo Instructor