Character Building With Martial Arts



Focus is an attribute people are looking to attain through martial arts training. Focus goes hand and hand with the attribute of discipline (see previous post.) A well focused mind is essential for having mental and physical discipline. Martial arts training teaches students to focus on the task at hand. As you concentrate on one task and work to accomplish that task, you are disciplining the mind to focus on seeing a job through to the end. The development of focus starts with small things and grows to encompass many more aspects of life. The cultivation of focus begins with an act as small as a punch. Students are taught to focus their punch to a specific area. As they practice, the student learns to focus their strength and energy into that area. I often tell students there is a difference between aiming and focusing. Aiming is placing the punch on a particular spot on a target or opponent. Focusing is not only hitting the spot, but is striking the spot with the desired power. At higher levels, this would include focusing the body’s internal energy or “chi” into the strike. This is a simple but effective example of the stages of focus development.

Stage 1 – Focus on hitting one specific spot.

Stage 2 – Focus delivering power into that spot.

Stage 3 – Focus on projecting the body’s energy “chi” into the spot. Each stage requires a higher level of focus to achieve. No stage can be skipped. The new stage will just happen the more the previous stage is mastered. This demonstrates a progression of the level of focus through on technique. Focus not only grows stronger in one technique at a time; focus spreads from one task into more and more aspects of life.

Students start by focusing punch after punch. They focus on making sure a block is in the right place. They focus on balance and targeting while throwing a kick. Students learn to stay focused on a series of movements as they train forms. Later, students realize they must stay focused on many elements at once, if they want to achieve their next rank. The goal is for the student to carry this new found skill of focus into other areas of their life. I try to encourage my younger students to approach school with the same focus they apply to Kung Fu training. I tell them, “If you focus on the current assignment, you can complete it faster with better results. Don’t let your mind wander. Stop wishing the assignment was done and stop dwelling on what you are not getting to do while working. With focus the job will soon be finished and you’ll be able to do what you’re wanting to do sooner.”

Tso Ting
Tso Ting

In my school, we begin class with a Tso Ting or “sitting contemplation”. Students sit cross legged for one minute, breathing deeply, and focus. I suggest students take this time to focus on what they want out of class that particular day. What do they want to work on? Will they focus on their stances? Will they work on developing more power in techniques? Students should use this minute to block out all outside distractions. Students should put themselves into a “Kung Fu” mindset. For the next hour the student will focus on and give full attention to Kung Fu training. After hearing this explanation, one student’s grandfather told me he was going to suggest his group do something similar the next dental conference he attended. This is a great example of using character building skills from martial arts outside the Kwoon or Dojo.

Be sure to check out the next character building post on Respect.