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Martial art concepts: Physical-Mental

From Tibetan Buddhist Encyclopedia
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If asked whether golf is more a physical or a mental sport, most people would agree that it is mental sport. The physical requirements are not near as demanding as the mental aspects of the game. If asked whether taekwondo is a physical or a mental sport, most people would agree that it is a physical sport. It is seemly obvious that it requires much more physical ability than it does mental concentration. However, this assessment would be incorrect. Although taekwondo does require physical prowess, the mental aspects are much more important, even though they are not nearly as evident.

Lay a gymnastic balance beam on the floor and ask average people if they think they would be able to walk down the length of the beam without stepping on the floor. Most people would say they could. When asked to try, most people would try and would be able to do it with little problem.

Then place the beam on its standard mount, about three feet off the floor. Now ask the same people if they think they would be able to walk down the length of the beam without falling off. Most people would say probably not. When asked to try, some would try and a few of them would fall off.

Then place the beam between two high buildings. Now ask the same people if they think they would be able to walk down the length of the beam without falling off. Most people would say NO! When asked to try, only a very few would try and surely a few of them would fall.

Nothing physical changed in either of the scenarios. The width or length of the beam did not change; the only variable is the mental aspect. What was easy to do under safe conditions became difficult to do under dangerous conditions. What is easy to do under normal conditions becomes much more difficult to do under stressful conditions, even when all other factors are kept constant.


It is no more physically demanding to perform a pattern at a rank testing as it is to perform the pattern in a training class. , when under the mental stress of testing, many students freeze, lose their place, add movements, leave out movements, put movements in the wrong order, or perform sloppy techniques while performing their patterns.

Every able-bodied student is capable of breaking one one-inch pine board with a taekwondo side kick. Many are able to do it consistently during practice and are able to break even greater thicknesses. Yet, under the stress of testing, many students cannot break one board, even after multiple attempts. Sometimes the students who fail to break the board are large men in excellent physical condition who are capable of performing difficult jump-spin side kicks in class, but under stress, they hit the board off-center or miss it entirely.

Sometimes a student, who is normally an excellent sparring competitor, consistently loses against certain inferior opponents. The student may be physically better than these opponents, technically better than these opponents, and better prepared than these opponents, but the student still loses. Something about certain opponents freaks out the student so he or she loses concentration.


It is obvious that something other than physical ability is causing these students to mess up while performing patterns, to fail to accomplish their breaks, or to lose their sparring matches against lesser opponents. That something is mental preparation and concentration.

If two opponents face each other in a sparring match and one is only physically prepared and the other is only mentally prepared, they mentally prepared opponent will probably win. Under most conditions and in most situations, the mentally prepared will better the physically prepared. The greatest leaders, the greatest sports stars, the greatest actors, the greatest warriors, etc. ate not the ones who have the greatest physical prowess. The greatest are those who have conquered their fears, who are more mentally prepared, and who can maintain intense concentration under the most stressful conditions. In any sport, the greatest are not those who are the biggest or the strongest; they are the ones who have the mental processes that it takes to be the best. When described by coaches, experts in the field, and analysts, the great sports figures are described has having the greatest competitive spirit.

Ever watch a pattern completion and see an old, fat, out of condition competitor win first place over all the other high jumping, fast kicking, and highly conditioned competitors. It may seem to be a mistake, until you carefully watch the completion. The older competitor maintained intense concentration and perfect (though unimpressive) techniques throughout the entire pattern, while the younger competitors had minute lapses in concentration and slight errors in their otherwise spectacular techniques. The older competitor was more mentally prepared and was able to maintain concentration.

What separates a great athlete from a good athlete is mental preparedness and concentration. What makes a great taekwondo practitioner is not so much his or her physical abilities as it is their concentration. Sometimes, a person has great physical ability and intense concentration; these are the truly great athletes. They are rare, that is why they achieve so much fame and fortune.

Therefore, it is evident that, while it may not appear so at first, taekwondo is more a mental sport than a physical sport. Therefore, while you should continue to increase your physical abilities and taekwondo skills, you should train more to increase your mental preparedness, concentration, and warrior spirit.