Within our martial arts training and even sports training the term mindful may have come up. Anyone with any level of experience knows that the mental aspect is a critical piece in our development to self mastery. In the end we are all seeking to master ourselves both physically and mentally.

There are two related mental practices that on the surface appear to be the same. However if you look a bit deeper you may realize that they are very different. These two practices are mindfulness and concentration. Both are critical to your development and essential to self mastery.

Concentration

Concentration helps to settle and stabilize the mind. Generally it is engaged in by turning our attention from one aspect of our training experience to another and allowing the mind to settle on that one aspect; whether that is to bring attention to a particular principle or a particular aspect of a technique. The mind will settle down and stabilize on one thing. When any other experience outside of that one arises we let it go as much as possible. We just keep returning the mind over and over again to the focus of our training.

One of the main objects for concentration practice is to bring focus to a given technique or a given aspect of a technique. When our attention is taken away from that focus for even a moment we simply bring our attention back. The distraction could be in the form of mental, such as frustration, or environmental. This I like to refer to as disciplined or self-guided concentration which is different than the concentration we give when watching TV which is undisciplined or unguided. Concentration is generally what people think of when they think of mindfulness.

In our concentration practice we settle the mind on something to the point where the mind creates an internal image of that experience and that internal image becomes steady and stable. Concentrated awareness lays the foundation for the next aspect.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness as compared to concentration is more about being aware of what’s happening around or within us. It can be viewed as the broader stroke of a paint brush where as concentration would be the fine stroke. One of the primary aspects of mindfulness is being aware of change as a whole. I usually refer to this as open awareness. We are aware of the changing nature of the moment to moment experience. During a high level of open awareness all our senses are amplified i.e. hearing, sight, touch, smell, intuition.

In mindfulness the concentration comes not from the settling of the mind on one thing but through a settling of awareness on change as a whole. So that the awareness is steady and stable even though experience is coming and going. An example might be during sparring we experience the opening and closing of lines of attack. We experience an opponent’s patterns, gestures, timing and rhythm. We are aware of our surrounding. We experience these same things within ourselves. We are not focused on any one aspect of the experience we are simply aware of them all. There is no active thought given to it. We are free to respond based on the situation. This is also commonly referred to as no mind.

One of the things we must be cautious of with mindfulness practices is the tendency to move into undisciplined awareness. This is where we begin to space out or day dream and we are not really connecting with the experiences. That is one of the great challenges with open awareness. It is also why we must first develop a strong foundation in concentration. When our concentration foundation is strong we will have disciplined mindfulness.

Conclusion

Both concentration and mindfulness are needed in order to develop the other e.g. when we lose concentration we need mindfulness to recognize this fact. In mindfulness practice we need concentration to allow us to realize what is actually happening in that moment.

Generally speaking we focus more on concentration during the beginning years of training in an effort to build a strong foundation. This is when we are focused more on the technical attributes.

As we transition to mindfulness our responses begin to flow. This frees us from an unbalanced level of active thought or being too concentrated on one thing. It’s important to realize that concentration is still present it is simply put into balance. We find overtime that the balance of concentration and mindfulness brought to a given moment will vary and is dictated by what is required. Our goal is ultimately to find that fine balance between alertness and relaxation, between ease and effort.

So why is it important to know the difference? Like training our physical techniques we must break things down into its individual components. We do this so that we can understand and perfect the whole by strengthening the individual components.

Author's Bio: 

Tom Harvey is a Master Trainer with over 15 years of Fitness Consulting and 20+ years of experience in the Martial Arts. He currently works with students and clients on general fitness, sports performance enhancement, Combat Athlete Striking, and Jeet Kune Do instruction. For more information regarding training with Tom visit: http://www.tomharveytraining.com