Mental Gun Fu

Mental Gun Fu

Among the martial arts, Gun Fu stands unique in its broad emphasis on evolving mind, body, and spirit.

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 the individual.

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 requisite skills.

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 skilled fighter.

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 repetition.

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 instruction.

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 begins.

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 physical application.

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 variations.

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 knowledge.

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 of minutes!

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 mind!

Addendum of February 1, 2009:

Responding 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.

Mental Gun Fu
(Chi Follows Thought)


(Rooting Peng to the Core)



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