Stay In The Present

Each of the two combatants fought through their respective weight classes and was now facing off, center ring, for the grand championship of the day. Beads of nervous moisture mixed with day-old sweat as they settled into their patented stances and slowly raised their fists into DefCon 1.

The referee raised her hand, I swear in slow motion, and the tension in the room was as thick as a muggy fog over a New Orleans bayou. Her hand began to fall, and as she shouted her command to fight, the heavyweight smiled a crooked smile.


The lightweight was off his feet, slipping like lightening on an angle to his right, scoring the first point of the match with a well-placed left ridge-hand to the head. Unbelievable! Point judges? White. White. White. White. Referee? White! Point white!

They bowed to each other, took their stances and the referee shouted again, dropping her hand exactly as before.

This time the heavyweight was first to attack, growling a throaty cry, and the lightweight sidestepped, round-house to the solar plexus, retract, cock the knee high, hook-kick to the back of the heavyweight's had as he flew by, and again the white flags snapped up all around. White! Point!

Needless to say, the lightweight won. As a matter of fact, the heavyweight hadn't scored a single point. Needing to understand why, I decided to interview both players and get into their heads, so to speak.

“I was in the match the entire time.” The lightweight told me. “For some reason he kept leaving. And when he did, I'd hit him.”

“Okay.” I said, trying to look like I understood what the heck he was talking about. “I understand what you're talking about, but for those that wouldn't, would you mind explaining exactly what you mean?”

“Sure.” He said. “I stay in the present.”

He told me he didn't think of anything but the moment at hand. This kick, this punch, this movement, this moment, then forgotten. And the next moment. And the next.

After he scored the first point, he'd forget about it. He wasn't up one to nothing. He was in a new moment now, and the point he'd gotten in the last moment had nothing to do with this one. “In a game where a winning technique can often be delivered in the time it takes to form a thought, I can't afford to think about anything but what is happening right now. This moment. I have to stay in the present.”

Back in the dressing room, the heavyweight was happy enough. He'd won his division, a modest cash honorarium and a pretty nice trophy. He said he'd had a really good day. However, you should have seen his eyes when I asked him where he went during the grand championship match. Of course I stood way back when I asked him.

I explained a little of what I'd discussed with the lightweight, and to my surprise, he was really receptive to the idea of my helping him break down his thought processes during the match.

“Right off the top,” he began, “Just as the ref called fight, I do remember thinking that the grand championship trophy I was going to take home was actually taller than the guy I was fighting.” Then with a snicker he added, “It almost made me laugh.” “I know.” I said. “The lightweight noticed the smile, knew you'd left the ring, and scored.” He looked at me. A revelation. “Yeah, I guess he did.”

He admitted to having met a young woman earlier in the day, and hoped she'd be watching. He hoped she would be impressed enough to go out with him. One of the lightweight's points, we discovered, was scored during one of these thoughts. Another point against him scored when all he could think about was how many points behind he was. We agreed that for the most part, he was either thinking of the past – how many points behind he was and the girl he'd just met, or he was thinking of the future – how many points he'd have to score to win, and would the girl go out with him. He looked up at me utterly amazed. “I guess I really wasn't in that match, was I?”

To be at your tournament best, whether sparring or performing kata, you have to focus your mind on the moment at hand. You're technique, his technique, this moment, then the next; whatever is happening that very instant. If you think about anything else, and God knows we all do, the clarity of the interaction between your eyes, your brain and your nervous system becomes clouded. The end result is that your physical performance usually suffers. That's just the way it is.

In battle, the great Samurai has no thought of death. Death is his future. Death will come on its own time. Rather, his focus is on the moment at hand – the fight. Only the fight.

Don't get me wrong. Staying in the present is not an easy thing to do. In fact no one can keep his mind perfectly in the present. No one's focus is flawless. But what separate the winners from the losers and the professionals from the amateurs are having the where with all to know when they slip away, and the ability to remind them to get back to the business at hand.

Meditation is a great way to practice being in the present. It doesn't have to be anything religious or spiritual, just a succession of quiet, calm moments where a single thought (mantra) is repeated over and over, aloud or in your head, in cooperation with a deep rhythmic breathing. If you find your mind wondering, that's okay, it happens. Just gently nudge yourself back to the present, and continue repeating your mantra. Buddhist monks use a great big stick to snap mind-wondering devotees back to the present. You've got it easy.

As I mentioned in a previous column, your mind can only think one thought at a time. You many think you think of many things all at once, but your really don't. It's one thing, then the next, then the next, and maybe back to the first or second thing very quickly. But the fact is you can only think of one thing at a time.

Have you ever been reading a novel and discovered that when you'd gotten to the bottom of the page you had no idea what it was you just read? Of course you have. We all have. Your mind wandered, but your eyes continued to read. Had you the ability to think of two things simultaneously, you not only would have enjoyed your little daydream, but you would have also comprehended what your eyes saw on the page.

Staying in the present takes practice. Standing amidst a circus of spectators only moments away from performing a particularly intricate kata takes concentration. One thought of how you look standing there will defeat you. You must attack your form with the single-mindedness of the great Samurai. And if at anytime during your performance, you give a moment's thought to how well you're doing, and that you just might win this, you just might possibly lose. You will have given your opponent's blade an opportunity to strike true.

Stay in the present!

Till next time, stay focused!

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