Supporting the Body and the Mind – Supplemental Training for the informed martial artist

For most modern martial arts students, supplemental training tends to refer to running for fitness, a new stretching routine or an alternative resistance training regime, but the truly traditional disciplines were replete with all manner of effective adjuncts to calisthenics and purely technical practise.  True martial arts are invariably ‘holistic’ in nature.  Now before you shrink back in horror, we’re not talking ‘dippy-hippy’ here, simply
being open to and indeed, actively involved in, a rounded approach to the arts and its role in your life and well-being.

Traditionally, virtually all martial arts masters were polymaths, and amongst their many skills were healing and health promotion skills.  This was a matter of some practicality; anyone who has trained in a truly combative art – and without any disrespect to them, I’m not referring even to the toughest of combat sports, such as Judo, MMA or Muay Thai but to battleground arts, would be expected to learn certain battlefield medical skills.  It was also intended to be a counterpoint to the potential spiritual and psychological wear and tear involved in immersing yourself in a warrior lifestyle.

As part of my early training in Sicilian Fencing, I was educated in basic herbalism for the
treatment of wounds as an adjunct to the bone-setting I was also expected to learn; both practical forms of  knowledge, not just for combat but for the all too real possibility of injury in training.  Later, as I began my career in karate and other oriental arts I was introduced to various health practices such as shiatsu.  Shiatsu – for anyone not familiar with the term – is an acu-pressure method; the tsubos – or pressure points – correspond to the sites along the meridians used in acupuncture.

Over the years I’ve acquired a good deal of practical knowledge of the application of shiatsu, but I can’t claim the proper traditional training in the practice, though I have had the privilege of working with some wonderful exponents of the discipline.  Whatever your views on energy-based treatments, direct experience of certain ancient practices will confirm their validity.

I can fully understand why many ‘alternative’ therapies are given short shrift by the western scientific and medical communities; however, some such as acupuncture, and by extension, shiatsu are I believe mistakenly lumped in with many others and labelled non-scientific.  Specifically the charge laid against such disciplines is that they are not grounded in what is termed, ‘empirical’ science.  Now, what could be more empirical than
observing that stimulating a given point on the body – either with a needle or the tip of a finger – produced a given response; particularly when that same point is stimulated millions of times on a large variety of individuals of quite differing body types over millions of instances throughout several millennia?

Part of the problem for Western scientists and medics, I believe, is that we have a quite different basic paradigm and so we are always talking ‘at cross purposes’ when discussing such things with someone from the East.  This is particularly observable in any discussion of chi, ki, pranayama or ‘vital force’ with martial artists.  The Westerner confronted with, for instance, an Aikido-ka, or Tai Ji stylist’s ‘explanation’ of ki/chi isalways going to be disappointed by what they are presented with.  What, to the Easterner, is an explanation is
what the Occidental can only understand as a description of certain observable phenomena, rather than an exposition of a testable theory that fits those observable facts.

We sometimes forget that even in our own experimental tradition of science – and I wouldn’t wish to eschew it, by the way – some experiments are deemed more ‘elegant’ than others.  That is to say, that some experiments are better constructed to more clearly isolate cause and effect than others, thereby rendering them better quality evidence that our theory can be proved to describe an underlying reason for the phenomenon.  The Oriental is sometimes happier to take the apparent end result and exploit it as applied science and worry about the proof afterwards.

My Tai-Ji teacher, Nimara Braddell, like all the best teachers I have known, was the epitome of the polymath martial artist.  A senior student of Herman Kauz, himself a disciple of Chen Man Ch’ing, Nimara was clinically trained as a psychologist and was a qualified shiatsu practitioner, as well as having trained in one of the tougher dojangs on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, which she once described to me as ‘kick-ass karate’.  I was particularly impressed by her ability to read the 12 pulses – 6 in each wrist – to discern my entire past medical history on only our second meeting.

In a small village, Lynton on the north Devon coast, I was surprised to learn that a young, former ballerina whom I knew, Rachel had graduated from her formal training as a shiatsu practitioner.  The training was rigorous, both in theory and practice, conducted largely by Japanese masters of the art, and many conversations about the subject convinced me of her knowledge and ability.  Shiatsu is very effective, and being a ‘massage’ form, the benefits are felt pretty much immediately, as I can personally testify.

It’s also a very appropriate discipline from a martial artist’s point of view; after all, in the original Okinawan versions of karate, the tsubos are exploited to harm rather than heal, so we can’t deny the validity of the concepts of energy flows and the method of accessing them.  Rachel Frageley, as a former ballet dancer, has an excellent understanding of the stresses that intense training places the body under, and has begun to work on helping to prevent injury in athletes and to enhance their performance, rather than simply repairing them when hurt.   Rachel’s contact details are at the end of this piece, and I would encourage any martial artist to take some treatment with her, or group to invite her to teach a seminar – in my first karate dojo, we used to end sessions with a brief neck and back shiatsu-based massage as part of our warm-down.  For the teachers out there reading this, trust me, your students will be forever grateful and you will rise even further in their estimation as a direct result.

Turning to the purely mental aspects of training now, I would like to recommend another practitioner from the same area, this time in the field of hypnosis/hypno-therapy.  This may seem a little surprising, but after a life-time of studying a variety of meditational disciplines, and modern western techniques, such as NLP and Sophrology, it has been my contention for many years that practices from Zen meditation, to Yogic forms of internal training, to modern hypnosis-based regimes are all more similar than different.

I must confess that this viewpoint generally goes down like ‘a lead balloon’, as the old saying goes, with practitioners of each and every one of these arts in general, but as far as I can see, all of these apparently very different techniques really just exist along a spectrum.  Essentially they are all trying to access similar mental states and processes – true they might go about it in ways which are distinct, but this is largely a matter of detail.

Whether you study Zen, or Raja Yoga, or Autogenics, the aim is first to reach a state of profound physical relaxation, allowing the mind to free itself from both the sensory bombardment of the physical world around it, and to ‘quiet the internal dialogue’ as the technical term has it.  We live in an increasingly ‘noisy’ world in every sense of the word, and while we might attribute this to the compression and over-stimulation inevitable with over-crowded urban life, much of it is entirely self-inflicted.

I try wherever possible to create a little time and space apart each day for myself, and frankly, find it near unbearable when I can’t – even without any special routine I may wish to practice from the many mental arts I have trained in, it is just good to have time and leisure to think.  In later blogs, I hope to create some simple explanations and examples of some of the many methods I have learned, which I hope will be of use to everyone.  Returning to hypnosis, I would like to make a couple of really simple, but crucial points for all those who may be feeling particularly sceptical about the process.

The first thing is that, as the great medical hypnotist and psychiatrist, Dr. Milton Erickson, who more than any other individual made hypnosis a credible medical discipline, famously said, “Everything is hypnosis, and there is no such thing as hypnosis!”  What did he mean?  Well, if I understood him correctly, the first point refers to the fact that we are
profoundly affected by our sensory and emotional experience of the physical world and the people around us.  If you are sufficiently absorbed in this piece of writing – and selfishly and egotistically, I’d like to believe you were – then you are in a ‘trance’ state.  Of course, there is no such thing as a ‘trance’ in the sense that most laypersons understand the term.  However, for the sake of discussing this apparent phenomenon, perhaps the most useful way to understand the word, is to say that a trance is a deeply concentrated, yet relaxed state maintained for a relatively – perhaps unnaturally – long time, focussed upon a particular internal task or subjective experience.

The ‘trance’ induced by the stage hypnotist is, perhaps paradoxically, an excellent example in one regard – because you cannot ‘put someone in a trance’, you can merely encourage someone to co-operate with the process of deciding to relax their inhibitions, and thence to experience a subjectively different reality.  The context of the stage show – ‘all just harmless fun’ – is a perfect example of how the hypnotist merely ‘gives permission’ to the subject to focus on one part of experience (internal) to the exclusion of all else.

In a very real sense, the medical or therapeutic practitioner is doing something quite similar – but here the skill lies in discerning the needs of the subject (not always what they may have come to the therapy session stating as their conscious aims) and guiding them through what is, always in my view, self-hypnosis.  This is done by teaching them through breathing, relaxation and visualisation techniques, a way to use their sub-conscious mind to either deal with a particular problem, or develop some part of their personality or skills.

Such techniques, whether derived from a base in hypnotic or meditational skills has been applied frequently in a variety of elite athletic and sports coaching since the late 1970s – ‘Inner Golf’ being one of the first books to appear on such an approach.  In many physical disciplines some form of ‘mental rehearsal’ has become common place as part of the coaching skill-set, and part of the beauty of this from my point of view is that it is not necessary for me have a background that closely mirrors the individual I am trying to help in order to be effective.  I have worked successfully with a variety of professional and elite sports-people; one example being tennis players, despite having played only around 20 hours of tennis in my entire life, and having very little idea about their specialist field.

A relevant, but little known example from the world of the martial arts goes back to the 1960s.  Gogen Yamaguchi, ‘The Cat’, as the great karate sensei and founder of Japanese Goju-kai, was known decided to investigate the degree to which mental training could affect outcomes by performing an experiment with his own advanced students.  He took a group of a dozen Sandans, 3rd degree black-belts, whom he deemed of a largely similar technical ability level, and split them into two groups of six.  For the next six months he gave one group, additional technical and calisthenic training, over and above their already intense tutoring.  With the other group, he added half an hour of breathing, relaxation and mental visualisation techniques to their daily martial arts practise.

At the end of the six months, he pitted one group against another repeatedly in ‘jiyu-kumite’, or ‘free-fighting’ practise.  To his surprise the group who had undergone the mental training consistently dominated those who had simply had ‘more of the same’.

My friend, Heidi Hardy, has completed comprehensive training in Solution Focused Hypnotherapy and has set up her own practice.   She uses this solution focused method to help improve skills development.    We often speak of her work, and having performed a similar discipline, I can tell you that she has a number of excellent strategies for guiding an athlete or sports-person to improved performance.  As an advocate of – and a thoroughly convinced believer in – the value of such training, I would recommend that you contact Heidi to arrange either an individual consultation or a group workshop in your dojo, kwoon or club.  I believe you will reap the benefits that a skilled practitioner can bring to the learning curve of you and your students.

You will find the contact details of the professionals concerned below:

In the first instance, you can email Heidi Hardy at:
and her other contact details can be found on her web-site, where you can further investigate her services and background.  The address is:

Rachel Frageley can contacted at:, or by phone on: 01598 753415 and mobile: 07595 151077.

©John Mellon M.A., and The Martial Arts University, 2011.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to John Mellon M.A. and The Martial Arts University with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


About themartialartsuniversity

In daily training in the martial arts for the last 53 years; teaching almost daily for 43 years. Hold teaching ranks in 27 martial arts, Master ranked in 4 arts, Headmaster of 3 systems, the Founder of 2 arts, and the co-Founder of 2 others. Has been the official Technical Advisor to Profs. Wally and Leon Jay of Small Circle Ju-jitsu since the 1990's. Assistant Headmaster of Small Circle Ju-jitsu and the co-founder and joint Headmaster of Small Circle Concepts with Prof. Leon Jay. Has three Bachelor degrees and a Masters Degree in History. Experienced writer - published or featured in all of the UK martial arts magazines and in Inside Kung Fu in US, as well as: Esquire; She; Elle; Woman's Journal; Health and Fitness; Zest; Marie Claire and The Independent (UK national daily newspaper). Has been featured on BBC and ITV news programmes as expert on weapons defence and usage in relation to law enforcement issues. Former CPO (Bodyguard), and still active as a Bodyguard trainer.
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