Ichigan Nisoku Santan Shiriki
Of all the teachings in Japanese swordsmanship, one of the most important teachings is: 1st the eye, 2nd the footwork, 3rd is the tanden (or hara), 4th the strength (or muscles).
1. Ichigan (一眼)
"If you are not calm then you can’t do things your best"
“The eyes are the window of your spirit,” therefore should check your spirit and feel if you are calm or not. If you are not calm then you can’t do things your best. Through breath control, first calm yourself. That is the very first teaching. We see this often in Japanese martial classes; classes always begin with Meisou (瞑想) or Mokusou (黙想). We sit and calm ourselves then practice martial arts. This action will make us think better, see things clearly, and lead to better action.
2. Nisoku (二足)
The footwork does not exclusively pertain to the feet. Most of the power in our techniques is generated from under the hips.
Therefore, the idea of nisoku encompasses the entire lower body. In order to use footwork you must move your legs. Without leg work, it is impossible to adjust the distance between yourself and the opponent, or execute efficient upper body techniques (punches, blocks and etc).
"Weak footwork leads to weak technique"
Knowing how to properly use the bottom of your feet is also essential; for example, depending on the situation you must adjust your weight to either the little toe or big toe side, ball and/or heel of the foot. Weak footwork leads to weak technique.
3. Santan (三丹)
The third is the Tanden (located approximately an inch and a half below the navel). This is where you think, see, hear, feel, taste and smell from.
As a martial artist, everything you do should be done from the HARA (Tanden). What does this mean? When we think from our brain, many times it makes us busy. We have so much information coming at us (whether we like it or not) via the media, friends, cellphones etc.; without our knowing we are constantly bombarded with all kinds of information making us think non-stop. We are rarely free from unnecessary thoughts. Often, when our mind is busy thinking about many things, our body begins unconsciously breathing short and shallow. This in turn perpetuates a “stirred up” feeling and inhibits our ability to do our best.
"When a computer has too many processes working at the same time, the computer slows down"
Our mind is very similar to a computer. When a computer has too many processes working at the same time, the computer slows down. It cannot perform tasks efficiently. Sometimes, the computer will freeze up or even crash. How do we solve this problem? Simple: We close down some of the programs so the computer can focus on the most important task you want it to do. The same thing happens in the human mind. When it is processing too many tasks at once, it starts freezing up, crashing, and making mistakes. This leads to a spiral effect of frustration, confusion, anxiety, sometime even anger or fear. In this state of mind we cannot do our best, can we? So how do we solve this? The same way we solve the computer problem. We close down programs by breathing from our HARA.
"when our conscious mind is free from extra thoughts, our subconscious mind has more room to react"
When we finish one process and then go on to the next, we can do things with a calm and confident feeling. Further, when our conscious mind is free from extra thoughts, our subconscious mind has more room to react to unexpected situations efficiently and effectively.
For instance, if you saw a glass falling from a table and your mind consciously started thinking “glass is falling, I must catch it otherwise it's going to break!” and then you tried to catch it, it would be too late. Your body would move too slowly under the control of your busy computer-like mind. However, if when you saw it falling, you simply reacted to catch it (without going through so many conscious thoughts), you would move swiftly and succeed. When the conscious mind is quiet, the subconscious mind is capable of incredible things!
Perhaps you can remember a time during kumite (sparing) practice when you had been too cautious, thinking many things such as “I better be careful” or “how should I attack?” or perhaps just clinging to a feeling of wanting to avoid pain. When you had this state of mind and the opponent attacked, you could feel your movements were staggered and counters were stiff, perhaps even missing. This was because your conscious mind was occupied with too many thoughts and your subconscious could not come through smoothly.
Speaking to the experienced (not necessarily advanced) martial artist, can you remember a time when faced with an opponent and that opponent attacked and you instinctively counter attacked within a split second? Can you remember how smooth, clean and swift your technique was? The movement started and finished without consciously trying. It just happened! This was because your previous counter technique training came through your subconscious in a time of perceived urgency.
When both minds work together harmoniously it is called the state of Samadhi. To bring forward subconsciousness in working order we must eliminate clutter in the conscious mind so we can stay calm. Like this, if we trust ourselves and let the subconscious come forward to work in many situations, we can do things with great calm and swiftness. This is what it means to “see things from Hara, hear things from Hara, smell things from Hara” etc. Trust yourself and stay calm. You will do better than if you tackle tasks with a busy mind.
"Do not dwell on or attach yourself to thoughts or problems."
To be clear, I am not saying, “don't think”. I am saying, don't think unnecessary thoughts habitually. Learn how to relax your mind as much as possible, and be free from thinking about that which is not important in your life. Feel like you're on the beach: lying on the sand, closing your eyes and letting the sun engulf you head to toe, making your whole body warm from the sun’s rays. When you are feeling the sun’s rays, you're not thinking too much about anything other than just feeling the sun. Isn’t that a wonderful feeling? That is the zazen state of mind. We should be seeking this state of mind as much as possible. But when you need to think, then you need to think deeply, like you need to solve the problem. And after you do your best, either get it over with or drop it. Do not dwell on or attach yourself to thoughts or problems. Thinking all the time is not good for you, physically and mentally. In emergency situations, usually there is no time for you to think, so just relax and let yourself be ready to react to tasks at hand. This is called 腹を据える(hara wo sueru), let your stomach set or be determined. Or 覚悟を決める (kakugo wo kimeru), no more struggling "GO FOR BROKE”.
You will need to research and practice for many years before you will deeply understand and be comfortable “doing from Hara”. Do not be discouraged. Meanwhile, focus on breathing through this region (hara) and when you need to drop your physical center of gravity, drop it to here in order to generate your power, gain stability and acquire speed.
4. Shiriki (四力)
The fourth and last part of the teaching is strength. Why is strength listed at the end, almost like an afterthought? Japanese ancients believed it was unwise to depend on strength, and instead favored using Waza (skill). Here is a story I have heard in past: Two carpenters lived in a village. One was young and well known for being a man of great strength. The other was a very old man, not so strong but who had done carpentry all his life. Both were working together to build a house, nailing boards into place. The young man, with his handsomely defined muscles, strongly and courageously pounded the nails into place, exerting great effort and making a quite the show. The old man, without so much strength, but rather using the weight of the hammer, simply and quietly pounded the nails into place, matching his breath naturally and calmly to each movement.
To make the story short, the young man ended up getting tired and giving up way before the old man. This story shows that it is not strength of muscles but rather experience, correct body movement and breath control that is important.
This is not to say that it is acceptable to be lazy about strengthening your body and cardiovascular endurance. But try not to think “power” equals strength of muscles. Research and find the smart skill that will lead to enduring power.
This is the Way of the Ancient Japanese Martial Artists:
ICHIGAN NISOKU SANTAN SHIRIKI. 一眼二足三丹四力