Mental Training and the Filipino Martial Arts
The mind is the most powerful weapon in a martial artist’s arsenal and this is true not only in the Filipino martial arts (FMA) but in other martial arts as well.
In the FMA, it was no less than Grand Master Floro Villabrille, the late undisputed champion of escrima death matches who attested that mental training played an important role in his success as a fighter. In Dan Inosanto’s book “The Filipino Martial Arts” (1980), he narrated: “Before a fight, I go to the mountains alone. I pretend my enemy is there. I imagine being attacked and in my imagination I fight for real. I keep this up until my mind is ready for the kill. When I enter the ring, nobody can beat me; I already know that man is beaten.”
When I interviewed Grand Master Yuli Romo for Rapid Journal in 2003, he told me of a similar practice. He said that he constantly creates fighting scenarios in his mind and the exercise aids him in improving and polishing his art. Every martial artist uses mental training in varying degrees. The purpose of this article is to help the fighter harness his mind in a practical and scientific way to improve his performance.
Because I am a certified Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) practitioner, much of the materials in this article are from NLP. Founded by Richard Bandler and John Grinder during the 1970s, NLP is a science that uses the natural workings of the mind to induce positive change in people. I was introduced to NLP in 1999 and since then integrated its principles to my martial arts training.
Visualization is a powerful tool. It improves performance because visualization creates neural patterns in the brain for any particular act as if you are physically practicing the act. It has been proven scientifically that the mind cannot distinguish between a mental and physical experience, hence, a neural pattern is a neural pattern whether it is ingrained by a mental act or a physical act.
Any visualization exercise can be greatly enhanced by involving our major representational systems or the ways we think about the world. The three major representational systems are visual, auditory and kinaesthetic. Visual people relate mostly to the things that they see, auditory people relate more easily to what they hear and kinaesthetic people to what they feel. It is important to note that some people use more than one representational system.
A page from Dan Inosanto’s book “The Filipino Martial Arts,” featuring Grand Master Floro Villabrille
So, when doing a visualization exercise, make sure to involve all three representational systems. Let’s say you’re visualizing winning a stick fighting tournament; instead of just purely concentrating on creating the picture of the event in your mind (visual), involve the other two representational systems as well. Hear the cheering of the audience, the shout of your coach and the whacking sound of the stick as you land a clean hit on your opponent’s head (auditory). Then feel the weight of the armor on your body, the thickness of the stick in your hand, the hardness of the floor and the aggressiveness welling up inside you as you size up your adversary (kinaesthetic). As you gain skill in doing this, note your dominant representational system then make necessary adjustments on which one you want to resonate the most.
Here’s another incredibly simple mental training to supplement visualization; based on scientific studies, the mere act of watching your favorite athlete either in person, in video or in still photos can significantly improve your performance too, Kay Porter and Judy Foster in their book “The Mental Athlete” (1987) wrote, “Along with this [visualization], you should have a clear picture of how it looks to perform your event perfectly. This you can get by watching the best athletes in your sport in person, on television or looking at pictures in magazines or at posters. We suggest that you hang pictures of athletes performing your event to perfection where you can see them as often as possible. This will continually create the perfect picture in your mind, a feeling in your body or important sounds or words and will keep you connected with what it will take for you to be the best you can be.”
ANCHORING YOURSELF TO EXCELLENCE
Anchoring is a popular NLP technique and as its name implies has something to do with setting up something that will take a firm hold. There are varied applications of anchoring but for the purpose of this article; I will just focus on how a martial artist could anchor himself to a state of excellence and how to elicit that state at will.
An anchor can be a gesture or a word or a combination of the two. Many top athletes have used anchoring knowingly or unknowingly. Take for example how some baseball players tip their hat before hitting the ball or boxers doing some odd rituals before a fight. Chances are they’ve already used those gestures in the past as a prelude to attaining a successful outcome. Those acts overtime, have become their ways of reconnecting to a powerful part of their being.
I’ve also seen this thing among elderly escrimadors. How many times have you seen an old escrimador, wrinkled and stooped with age suddenly explode into a blur of motion when asked to demonstrate his art? He was he able to do that despite his weak physical condition because picking up those sticks reconnects him to a part of himself that is excellent.
While anchors can occur naturally as in the aforementioned, the good thing is they can be installed and reinforced systematically.
Before practicing visualization or installing anchors, it is best to start with some deep breathing to induce relaxation and a light alpha trance. The reason for this is that a mind in an alpha state is 200 times more suggestible than a mind in a normal waking state. Now, with your eyes close, remember that time in your life as a martial artist, when you feel excellent, when your attributes like power, speed, stamina etc. are at their peak. While doing this, involve the three major representational systems when recreating the scenario in your mind. The goal is to make it pulsate with colors, sounds and feelings. When the experience is at its peak; make the OK sign by touching the tips of your right thumb and index finger together and saying the word, “Excellent.” Then slowly open your eyes.
You have just installed an anchor for excellence. So the next time you’re feeling inadequate as a martial artist, you can elicit that state of excellence by making an OK sign and saying the word “Excellent.” You may have to repeat the procedure several times to reinforce the anchor. If you’re doing that, try using another gesture or word; choose something that has special meaning to you. You may further reinforce this anchor by making the OK sign and saying the word “Excellent,” every time you’ve accomplish something exemplary in your martial arts practice.