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markusan
Orange Belt
Orange Belt

Joined: 26 May 2004
Posts: 223

Styles: TKD

PostPosted: Wed Dec 01, 2004 5:00 pm    Post subject: Finding the Zone Reply with quote

Much is said in all sports about that illusive state of being in the “Zone”. I think the term has been corrupted in popular culture to merely describe a day when everything is going well, the punches and kicks are landing, the putts are dropping or the top spin lobs are landing on the right side of the back line. I think it’s far more than that and in some ways much less.

After many years of competitive running, martial arts training and meditation practice, I think the zone is quite simply a state of mind-body and one that with practice and the right mental conditions is readily repeatable. But, it can be tricky.

My first experience of running in the zone was many years ago training hard for a marathon. I could make the distance comfortably but was having trouble maintaining a respectable pace and I knew the problem was my breathing.

So, on the advice of an inspired coach, I changed my training to less miles and more speed, adding sprint training, working anaerobically as well as aerobically and always thinking hard about my breathing.

Eventually over the miles, the mechanics of breathing stopped being a narrow focus and turned into a light, more general attention. Part of my mind was now gazing almost with a soft focus on the breath, noticing it’s detail but in almost from a distance and bingo – I was in the zone. My legs were no longer straining, my lungs were no longer bursting, arms were swinging free on loose shoulders and the mind was immersed in a kind of calm euphoria. I was running the Tan track in Melbourne (Australia) skipping past lunchtime joggers and a pack of surprised harrier club runners. Try as they might they couldn’t catch me.

After that episode, I thought my running would never be the same; I’d broken through some sort of barrier. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case and try as I might; I could not deliberately repeat the experience. Over the years it did happen again, but significantly, only when I wasn’t trying.

I had similar experiences in my martial arts training, particularly after I had attained a reasonable level of skill and experience, though the feeling is obviously different to the steady rhythmic nature of running in the zone.

The only way I can describe the sensation in a sparring situation is that the nature of the fighting changes from “me fighting you” to a wider experience of just fighting. No me, no you, just movement, strategy, action, reaction and flow – most importantly flow.

One of my favorite references texts is probably the shortest book I own, but one that I keep going back to year after year, reading and rereading. It is the kendo classic, the Book of Five Rings by Myamoto Musashi. It was a gift from a martial arts brother who’d also gleaned much wisdom from its pages.

A passage I carry with me is from the Water Book chapter under the heading ‘The Gaze”. It goes:

Quote:

The gaze should be large and broad. This is the twofold gaze of perception and sight. Perception is strong and sight is weak. In strategy it is important to see distant things as if they were close and to take a distanced view of close things. It is important in strategy to know the enemy’s sword and not to be distracted by insignificant movements of his sword.


These are simple words but for me are loaded with deep wisdom, applicable to far more than a kendo duel. In my view they offer us the key to finding the illusive Zone.

To practice martial arts or any activity effectively we must have some level of concentration. Any concentration is better than none but if we look inwards long enough we will notice there are different shades of concentration.

The first type, which I’ll call initial concentration, is hard and narrow. It focuses on a pinpoint and seeks out the finest detail, burning it into the mind’s eye. It is the most concentrated concentration, but like a tight flexed muscle, resists change, is slow to react and has a limited life span. Though even this exhausting concentration can be given more stamina with practice.

The third type of concentration (I know, I missed one...be patient) is muddied concentration. It has a very temporary nature, can be disturbed easily and quickly lapses into daydreaming. It can be refocused but will lapse again before long.

The second type of concentration is what I think Musashi’s large broad gaze referred to. Its nature is light, attentive and fast, but not narrow, quick to follow and most importantly relaxed without being lazy.

I think the Zone is in this state of concentration and carries with it the feeling of balance and equilibrium without effort or tension.

There are a few prerequisites to attain and hold this state of concentration and they all require training, both physical and mental.

In martial arts the requirement for fitness is a given and is intimately linked with skill. Skill comes through practice and training. Training develops fitness. Fitness makes training and skill development easier and more enjoyable and so the wheel turns.

Fitness also allows us to concentrate better. If we are tired, sucking air into burning lungs, our legs and shoulders burning, we risk lapsing into the muddied concentration I spoke of earlier. We may not lapse into a daydream but our minds will be distracted by how tired we are, how many blocks we’re missing, drawing our attention inward rather than on the game where it should be.

So the first enemy of concentration is tiredness, dragging our minds from the balanced state of concentration to the muddied interrupted state.

Then there’s fear, but it operates at the other end of the scale pushing us into the first type of concentration - the hard, focused, immovable concentration.

Notice none of these concentration states are in the mind alone, the mind and body react as one.

When we fight with fear, whether it’s fear of our opponent or fear of losing, it introduces tension into mind and body, slowing us down, magnifying pain, missing opportunities. The mind is so focused it excludes possibilities like the freedom to quickly adjust strategy and to be creative. These are distractions it discards in order to center more effectively.

A short philosophical note: remember back to when I was describing the feeling of fighting in the zone. It is not a feeling of I am fighting you, rather only a sense of the activity of fighting, of strategy and of being one with the moment.

Anything that brings us back to the feeling of “I am fighting you” brings us out of that balanced concentration back to the very focused concentration. In that sense it is the ego that is dragging us back to the inferior focused concentration.

If we can relax and drop off fear, not only fear of pain but fear of losing our “self”, going into the contest we have a much better chance of finding the zone and hence performing at a much higher level. Perhaps that is what is meant in Budo circles by the strange statement that to win, a warrior must enter the contest prepared to die.
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Patrick
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Joined: 01 May 2001
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 01, 2004 5:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you for the submission.
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Killer Miller
Brown Belt
Brown Belt

Joined: 29 Nov 2002
Posts: 732
Location: California
Styles: JKA Shotokan

PostPosted: Wed Dec 01, 2004 9:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Good article. Mizu No Kokoro!

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ninjanurse
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Joined: 13 Feb 2003
Posts: 6154
Location: Upstate NY
Styles: TKD;Shotokan;JuJitsu;Tai Ji

PostPosted: Wed Dec 01, 2004 11:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Very nice! I recently had an "in the zone" experience at a test. It was not my first and hopefully not my last but this time it was different...and I can't explain why. I definitely went much farther into the zone than on previous occasions and it was brief....but very satisfying and exhilarating. Because of my experiences I take great joy as an instructor in helping my students achieve this level of performance as I know that it's impact on the mind and spirit is tremendous!


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italian_guy
Black Belt
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Joined: 26 Nov 2003
Posts: 1476
Location: Italy
Styles: Formerly in Goju ryu karate (Nidan) now in Wing chun with past experience also in krav Maga, Kickboxing, Tai chi chuan (yang) and JKD.

PostPosted: Thu Dec 02, 2004 3:12 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Very nice article, my congratulations.

One thing I did not understand, it is about your experience with marathon... why, in your opinion, you could not repeat the experience you had Melbourne marathon?
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simpso1j
White Belt
White Belt

Joined: 10 Dec 2004
Posts: 23
Location: St. Louis, MO
Styles: Commando Krav Maga, Shido-kan Shorin-ryu, Shotokan

PostPosted: Fri Dec 17, 2004 1:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great article!!! Keep up the good work.
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ladyj
Yellow Belt
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Joined: 22 Dec 2004
Posts: 69
Location: tn
Styles: American Karate

PostPosted: Mon Jan 03, 2005 11:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great article. The hard work and focus have paid off.
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aefibird
Black Belt
Black Belt

Joined: 26 Oct 2003
Posts: 4416
Location: UK
Styles: Past and present: 2 styles of Karate, TKD, Aikido, Wing Chun, some Tai Chi

PostPosted: Tue Jan 04, 2005 5:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great article! I especially like the quote from The Book of Five Rings - one of my favourite MA texts.
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bushido_man96
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 16, 2006 4:25 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Very interesting article. I have never seen the "zone" broken down and explained like this. A very well-written approach, and I like it very much!
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