I get asked frequently, what exactly do I do for a living? My wife has a tough time answering this question too.
To answer this question I often reply, “it depends on my audience.”
If I am working with special force operators, then I am coaching them a combination of empty hand fighting techniques, along with mental game strategies that they can apply on the battlefield. If I am working with my martial art students, then I am helping them get into amazing physical shape, while at the same time, I help them learn how to protect themselves and those they love. Further, and what excites me most, is I get to share with them life lessons from boxing, so they can then apply those lessons positively into their daily lives.
Needless to say, I am somewhat of a paradox. On the one end of the spectrum I am teaching people how to survive interpersonal violence in what could be considered the worst experience of their life if it happened. Yet on the other side of the spectrum I am helping people find calm, focus and presence in the midst of everyday life.
What is common in everything I do, is how I teach my students. I view it as hacking their embodied interface to achieve excellence in environments that demand peak performance! Here peak performance could mean surviving on the battlefield or in the boardroom. If I had to choose a single way of describing what my ultimate goal is, it is to enable my students to be mindful, but in action.
Mindfulness-in-Action One Punch at a Time
Mindfulness itself has become somewhat of a ‘buzz word’ lately. This is especially true in the world of celebrities, and organisations.
But my approach is radically different. Unlike most mindfulness based approaches that use various forms of meditation to achieve results, I prefer to use what I refer to as an ‘in-action’ oriented approach. Here applying my experience as a martial artist/boxer takes center stage. I use the underlying scaffolding of a boxing based experience to allow my students to experience being mindful while punches are being thrown at them. Think of it as Mindful-Boxing. As such, I have created an approach that is accessible to the widest possible audience. In fact, I have had people attend my mindfulness-in-action workshops who have never done a day of combat sports in their life before.
I understand for many mindfulness teachers, especially those who are more inclined to connect mindfulness to spiritual practice – that my approach may seem the antithesis of what mindfulness is intended for. Here I am specifically thinking of mindfulness as scaffolding for the Buddhist Noble Eightfold Path. With that noted, there has been a lot of debate over the recent years about the secular versus the non-secular approaches to mindfulness.
For myself, taking a secular approach to mindfulness, is not to denounce its rich history in spiritual traditions (i.e., Buddhism for example), but rather I view it for what it is when looked upon as a state of being. In this sense, to be mindful, is to be present on purpose, while being aware of everything both internally and externally, without judgement. Said another way, mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. Non of this requires a spiritual component (but of course, it couldn’t hurt either).
The reason I chose to teach mindfulness in the way I do through a Mindful-Boxing based experience, is because while I have experienced formal practice in meditation – I found personally, that nowhere was I able to grasp what it felt like to be truly mindful (or not) than when I was dodging punches. In fact, it is no coincidence, that in the warrior traditions, specifically the Samurai, that they wrote so much about this embodied state, especially as it related to going into battle.
“The undisturbed mind is like the calm body water reflecting the brilliance of the moon. Empty the mind and you will realize the undisturbed mind.” -Yagyu Jubei, Samurai
In boxing sparring, when faced with someone trying to punch you – you very quickly realise that if your thinking mind (and by extension your whole body), is anywhere else but right here, in the present moment — you stand the very strong risk of getting hit. Mindfulness-in-action then, really started as a way for me to be more present in my boxing sparring game. It further allowed me to both create a system, and cultivate a practice that made being mindful in the moments of pure chaos of a fight more regular. I ended up developing this into a teachable system, and even wrote a book about it, entitled Full Contact Living.
While I had spent countless hours practicing various forms of meditation, and mindfulness techniques (like mindful eating, mindful walking etc), nothing brought me closer to being mindful than on the mat, and in boxing sparring. What made me most excited, was what happened organically out of this experience. Overtime, I began to see, that the more regular I was mindful in sparring, the more I was able to be mindful in life. I know that sounds like an absolute paradox, that getting punched in the face made me more mindful in life, but it really works!
As my mindful muscle in my mind-body got stronger on the mat and through boxing sparring – that strength began to spill over into other areas of my personal life. These were often areas I had a real hard time being mindful in. This was the main catalyst for me continuing the development of the EmbodiedMBA Program, a program I created for organizations and teams to learn how to be mindful-in-action. Further, this inspired me to choose this topic for my PhD research.
Meditation on the Zafu: A Far Cry from the Chaos of Living!
Tony Schwartz CEO and founder of The Energy Project, and bestselling author, writing in the New York Times, notes that what is needed is mindfulness in action, not what a person can do with their eyes closed. Further Deepak Sethi, CEO of Organic Leadership, while recognising the possible potential application of mindfulness to the work environment, notes that the challenge is to be mindful in the crucible of work, and not just in the meditation chair.
The reality of living in this world, with the hustle, bustle, unpredictability and chaos — is a far cry from the candle lit room, with soothing music, and wafts of incense, while sitting on a zafu. As I talked to many people who had tried this way of learning to become more mindful in their life – I found many people, outside of some benefits that lowered their stress levels – were finding it virtually impossible to take the mindfulness they seemingly achieved on the cushion into their hectic life. The reason I feel should be obvious.
Sitting on a zafu is not the world we all need too, and have to live in. In fact, I first attempted to try and teach seated meditation to my ‘A type’ personality clients, those CEO’s, high energy entrepreneurs and they all gave up pretty quickly. However, once I introduced it to them through my Mindful-Boxing based program, the uptake, and levels of success took me by complete surprise.
Boxing in many ways resembles life. Its tough, uncompromising, challenging, frustrating, chaotic, and gets your stress levels up — almost as quickly as your boss does. But, and here is the big takeaway, what if I taught you through boxing how to be mindful, to be so present, that even someone punching you in the face no longer bothered you?
This is why I think an embodied, action oriented approach to learning mindfulness is so unique and practical. In action, in an experience like boxing that has all the ingredients we all experience in everyday life, when you are able to be mindful there, you can then be mindful anywhere. I hear it every week from my students too.
PS. If you are interested in learning more about Mindful-Boxing, and the EmbodiedMBA program, shoot me a mail to firstname.lastname@example.org I would love to hear from you!