Mental Gun Fu
Among the martial arts, Gun Fu
stands unique in its broad emphasis on evolving mind, body, and
At Ironcrane Dojo, I have attempted to share training concepts
in an "archetypical" format. Many of the articles and
lessons are tailored to trigger responses within you, hopefully
inspiring a path of multidimensional discovery.
It brings to mind the Chinese proverb about providing the people
with fish or showing them how to fish for themselves. I was
blessed with many great teachers and masters, both in Karate and
beyond, whose influence directly impacted the evolution of
Ironcrane. The objective of Ironcrane Dojo has not been to
teach Karate, or martial arts. What we teach is how to
learn the martial arts. We emphasize the delicate balance
between growth in martial arts skills, and full actualization of
With that continuing objective, we are now going to consider our
concept of "Mental Gun Fu."
Because of its complexity, power, and potential for great harm
if misunderstood, or misapplied, only some of what constitutes
"Mental Gun Fu" will be shared herein. This will
nonetheless be of great value to all who are looking to move
more efficiently in responding to the unknown.
Perhaps we should pause momentarily to consider the matter of
resistance. If I asked you to walk a mile (four times
around a football field), you'd say, "No Sweat!" and 7-9 minutes
later, you'd return asking, "What next?". If I asked you
to walk the same mile, dragging your right foot on the ground
the whole way, you might collapse before we met again that
day. Ultimately, that's what resistance does. If it's
associated with your movement, it's working against you.
If the time to strike is when the opportunity presents itself,
resistance within means lost opportunity. Elsewhere, I'll
talk about the physical aspect of resistance (ratcheting).
Here our focus will be mental resistance.
I recall the story of Hapkido Master Ji Han Jae. As I
understand, he spent a year in jail, during which time he
actualized his system of "Mental Hapkido." On release, he
left not a bitter man, but one who evolved and experienced
insights into training which ultimately reshaped the direction
of modern Hapkido. Master Ji Han Jae sometimes uses the
expression "Stealing the opponent's mind." By this he
means actually taking the opponent's mind for an instant,
causing the attacker to freeze and then countering during the
moment of stillness. There are many ways to steal the mind
of an opponent. One might distract the opponent via
movement, gesture, comment, shift of balance, turn of the eye,
change in breathing, or even by doing nothing. A pointed
example is the knife attacker who holds a knife to your
throat. Trembling, you ask what he wants. As he
verbalizes a reply, as soon as the breath of response crosses
his lips, you move. From the perspective of Mental Gun Fu,
the attacker's conscious focus on a verbal response to your
question would inherently delay any physical response to your
moves in self defense. In the net, since he is talking and
thinking about what he is saying, he would have to stop talking
and thinking, before he could act in response to your unexpected
movement. Again, the concept of resistance, but this time,
working for us.
Mental Gun Fu, at the end of the day, is your mind, flowing like
water. When water hits an impediment, it moves
around. Bring a microscope and try to analyze how long it
takes for water molecules to adjust to an obstacle, my wager is
you won't be able to measure the time. Water, unburdened
by the resistance of mind, is reacting instantly as the
impediment is felt.
Few of us can find that level of integration. It is said
when Mozart composed his operas, there were no corrections on
his worksheets. In effect, he conceived, and recorded,
without error. That's flowing like water. If you're
like me, even something as simple as standing before a group of
people will have you clearing your throat, or pausing, if only
to delay so your next thought is fully conceived. Again,
that's resistance. Have you executed Kata in front of
others and had a lapse in memory? Embarrassed, you had to
start over. Has it happened in a tournament, where stress
was an added factor? That's all resistance, albeit mental
resistance. As your mind struggles for the next move, the
effect is no different than your foot dragging on the ground
completing that excruciating mile.
In a nutshell, mental Gun Fu is about reacting without
impediment, restriction, resistance, or delay. Here are
proven methods from our system enabling you to develop the
Most people learn concepts in linear fashion. Start at
point A, end at point Z. With a break in any step, thought
stops, leaving the participant bewildered. At best,
they'll proceed, perhaps improvising a new move, while
attempting to conceal the unavoidable delay, which though
measuring only an instant, means death in a match against a
Make this your Rule #1!
Whenever you do a Kata, your mind must move at a rate
significantly faster rate than your body. Normally, when
you execute a form, and delay or hesitate, it's because the
movement of your body has exceeded the ability of your conscious
awareness to maintain the pace. That spells D-e-f-e-a-t!
Imagine your mind moving ten times faster than your body.
You understand, if you are able to flow at that rate, not only
would your body never stutter or stop in the midst of
movement. It would also be able to accelerate with added
confidence, knowing instinctively, at all times, where the next
move must be. The issue of resistance may try to raise its
head, only now, we are eliminating resistance. That is.
Mental resistance which impedes physical movement.
So...pick a Kata...yes, right now!...pick a Kata! Make
sure it's one you're generally familiar with. Now pick a
comfortable chair. Without doing anything physically,
begin visualizing the Kata in your mind. Perform it
perfectly, getting each move spot on.
Now, do it again, but faster!
After you've become comfortable with the process, take a
stopwatch and time yourself, again being careful to visualize
with precision, every move of the form.
The resulting time interval will be your initial "standard."
Now, do the same thing, but accelerate the process of
visualization. Within several repetitions, you should be
able to run through the entire form twice, in the same space of
time as your "standard", with no loss of quality.
You are not done yet! Push the envelope! Do it faster. See
if you can add a third repetition in the same space of
time. Once you've succeeded, see if you can add a fourth,
and finally, a fifth. This could take several
sessions. In the end, you should be able to mentally
execute five complete repetitions of the form, missing no moves,
in the same interval it originally took to execute one physical
Do you see what's happened?
At the end of a week, your mind is moving five times as fast as
your body. When you next do the physical form, should
there be a hesitation, a stutter, or some other element of
resistance, it will occur within an accelerated mental
framework, which is operating so fast, the hesitation will not
be physically perceptible.
That's mental Gun Fu!
One might also think of this as "Mental Acceleration." To
gain insight into what's happening observe new students in
class. Note how much their thinking impedes physical
movement. Listen to them, they’re talking all the time.
One teacher theorized that without the mental resistance, even
new students could effectively perfect techniques at first
Once "Mind" is free of resistance, the rate of learning and
assimilation of new physical movement accelerates
geometrically. Read that to mean fast! Once you've
mastered this concept, you'll find a new focus in retaining
technique, and a much shorter time span between first learning a
technique, and developing it into instinctive response. By
definition, instinctive response is mentally replicating the
technique at the highest speed possible. For most people,
that would mean, instantaneous, fluid response.
Creating such a foundation for your overall art is the realm of
Kata. Phase II would be applying the same concepts to your
arsenal of self defense techniques and reactions.
Typically, at Ironcrane Dojo, self defense is taught in clusters
or groups of techniques. Students learn multitudes of
responses to those attacks most likely to present in the real
world. Before long, each student will have acquired 15 to
30 responses to every conceivable attack. The student then
identifies natural inclinations or favorites among those
responses. Once that stage is reached, mental Gun Fu
Suppose for purposes of discussion, you've learned the arm bar
as an application against an incoming hand attack. The
Head Instructor allows you 15 minutes of class time to practice
the technique with a partner. As you practice with the
partner, you periodically alternate, perhaps you critique, or
perhaps you relax, or simply lose focus. By relaxing your
intensity of practice, at the end of 15 minutes, how many
responses to incoming attacks have you accomplished? Most
partners will have executed less than 20 repetitions. From
the perspective of mental Gun Fu, those 20 repetitions can be
practiced, mentally, sitting, in less than a minute. You
can see where this leads. By mentally being able to recreate the
technique with precise visualization, and proper focus, 15
minutes of practice has been condensed into a single
minute. Though the exercise is purely mental, when you
return to the floor, you will find the physical exercise is
vastly improved in its efficiency of execution. Now take
the same concept and expand the mental aspect, doing the mental
repetitions for 5 complete minutes, before the physical
practice. Note the startling improvement.
In the old days, when learning new techniques, it was not at all
common to practice the physical concepts, and concurrently allow
for mental reinforcement. Common practice was linear, rote
repetition. Recognizing the need for enhanced efficiency,
I would go home, stand in the living room, and mentally run
through all the concepts with hundreds of repetitions.
Mostly I'd be standing in place, sometimes even in the dark.
I believe you're starting to get the picture. Now, let's
view the trump card, combining mental gun fu with direct
We’ll revisit the armbar discussed previously. After
developing a complete understanding of the concept through
focused mental drilling, take that same mental drilling into
physical application without a partner. This is a form of
shadow boxing, but it's more than shadow boxing in that
supporting the physical movement, is a fully developed
visualization, ensuring the physical application is perfectly
executed at its highest rate of speed. For example, the
attacker's hand comes in. Is it a right or a left?
Is it a punch or does it hold a weapon? Is it a right side
throw or a right hand grab? Is the grab to the wrist,
sleeve, arm or chest? Each would require a modification to
the arm bar response, but all would still be executed with the
same underlying mental concept of arm bar response to an
incoming attack. You will literally stand in a fighting
position and execute these techniques in machine gun like
response, as though the attacks were coming in one after the
other, after the other, after the other, with multiple
Practicing in this fashion will soon amaze you with new levels
of intuitive awareness that become your norm.
It is said Bruce Lee could see a technique once, then execute it
at a higher level of skill than the person who just showed the
technique. That's what we're talking about. When
your mind and focus become efficient through exercises such as
are discussed herein, impediments to learning new concepts will
simply disappear. In other words, not only will you
develop instinctive responses, you will develop instinctive
awarenesses which allow you to instantly assimilate new
In discussing tournament fighting, Chuck Norris noted how he
would scrutinize his likely opponents fighting in the
elimination matches. After noting their preferred moves,
he would stand alone, develop a complete visualization,
identifying their strong points, then replay their fight
mentally against himself. Within a few short minutes, he
would run tens, possibly hundreds of attacks and
responses. When he entered the ring against the opponent,
he was completely prepared. All accomplished in a matter
There are even other arenas where mental Gun Fu will prove
beneficial. I think at this point, you're getting the
idea, and after one more example, you'll take ownership of the
concept and run with it.
As a final mental application, let's focus for a moment on
breaking. Now, if you've ever spent time breaking, you'll
understand how far we've come. Breaking is in large part
overcoming your mental resistance to breaking. Most people
when breaking, feel they're releasing maximum power into their
strike or kick and are literally baffled, when they impact the
object, and are stopped dead in their path, with no break.
Here is the story of my first learning to break rocks with
Master Archibeque. It took nearly a year for my first
genuine rock break (Yes, I still have the pieces). The day
I broke my first rock, I began breaking one rock after another
after another. What I didn't realize for that year was my
power was not getting into the rock. Rather I was
impacting the rock, but allowing the energy to recoil into my
body. That type of inefficiency is present whether you
know it or not; whether you believe it or not, in virtually all
the things your do. For example, if I asked you to lie
down on the ground, flat, and to relax completely, merging with
the floor, I would be able to show you how you were still tense,
lying with your muscles tensed and stressed, still manifesting
nervous exhalations of breath, all of which would be impeding
your desired outcome of relaxing completely and merging with the
floor. I would ask the obvious question. Why are you
holding yourself together, when you have the floor beneath your
body to do it for you? Of course there would be no answer.
Unless your are a Tai Chi master, or a fish (or some other
comparable entity), your entire life is spent battling gravity,
and the basic forces of nature.
Breaking brings these issues to the forefront, as questions
requiring specific answers. We're not going to do an
expanded explanation of breaking here (Our comments on breaking
can be found elsewhere on the site). The point is mental
Gun Fu works just as well for an activity like breaking, as it
does for Kata, self defense, and sparring. If you take
time to practice the art of Gun Fu, via direct mental
visualization and maximum number of visualized, focused
repetitions, you will see the difference!
There are aspects of mental Gun Fu we choose not to divulge, or
to expound herein. Mental Gun Fu is an art in itself, and
takes years to perfect. Just as Master Ji Han Jae
continues to develop and expand the applications of his mental
Hapkido, we are doing likewise. Master Archibeque made it
clear at the inception of his system. The goal of Gun Fu
is "Mind Over Matter." Make no mistake in understanding
this. Ultimately, the power of Gun Fu, starts and ends with the
Addendum of February 1, 2009:
to questions regarding the relationship of “mind” and
“consciousness” to the movement of energy, we have added these
supplemental videos. The first, details one of our own
techniques for anchoring the full power potential of your
movement to your mind and willful control. The second
shows one of the techniques for encouraging the projection of
Peng Energy from the core.
(Chi Follows Thought)
(Rooting Peng to the Core)