Bodywork, Enlightenment and Meditation in the Martial Arts – Part 2

By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2012
We briefly the practices of meditation, visualization, and yogic breathing methods as they relate to the martial arts.

Bodywork, Enlightenment and Meditation in the Martial Arts – Part 2

Meditation, Visualization, and Breathing

In an interview on Larry King Live (August 28, 1991), Kung Fu practitioner and TV star David Carradine stated that if a person wants to be successful in the martial arts, a meditation program is essential. In Kung Fu—the Legend Continues series, Carradine has made it clear that the character he plays, “Cain,” is a shaolin priest[1] whose occult powers are unleashed by martial arts meditation and mind-concentration practices. Indeed, one of the principal methods for spiritual instruction and transformation within the martial arts is the practice of Eastern forms of meditation. We should also remember that the purpose of such meditation is often spiritual (i.e., occult) enlightenment:

Within the context of the martial arts, meditation has generally referred to those practices that involve “the focusing of attention non-analytically in either a concentrated or expansive fashion, the outcome of which can lead to an alteration in consciousness, an increase in awareness and insight, or a combination of such psychological factors. It is said that diligent practice of meditation “leads to a nondualistic state of mind in which, the distinction between subject and object having disappeared and the practitioner having become one with ‘god’ or ‘the absolute,’ conventions like time and space are transcended… [until] finally that stage is reached which religions refer to as salvation, liberation, or complete enlightenment.”[2]

Ninjutsu master Ashida Kim argues that all the Far East martial arts require meditation for efficient practice and that this is particularly true for Ninjutsu:

The emphasis on meditation to cultivate the mind and the body is characteristic of all the Far East martial arts. Nowhere is this more true than in Ninjutsu…. Ninja places much importance on the spiritual and mental aspects of their art as on the physical…. Breath control is the key to proper meditation, which may be defined as the art of consciously altering the state of mind.[3]

A standard text on the martial arts declares, “The fundamental state of meditative practice is also the prerequisite for mastery in the martial arts.”[4] James W. DeMile, one of the original students of Bruce Lee, comments on the importance of meditation in his Tao of Wing Chun Do, stating that various forms of meditation, visualization, yoga breathing, and energy channeling are considered fundamental.[5]

Another authoritative text on the martial arts acknowledges that one more “aspect of martial arts considered of major consequence is meditation:”[6]

In the Middle East the Sufis and in the Far East the Buddhists, Taoists, Shintoists, and Indian Yogis all depend upon meditation to achieve their particular ends. Members of primitive tribes throughout the world engage in one or another form of meditation for spiritual [i.e., occult] development. The meditation practiced by all of these groups has certain mental and physical methods in common…. The individual practice of form in martial arts, when it is used as mental training, also relies upon some of the foregoing methods to bring about in its students various changes in the way they view the world…. Despite the occasional failure of their teacher to point the way, students will notice a change in themselves nonetheless.[7]

Tai Chi is also described as a form of meditation having a spiritual purpose. An alternate health guide comments:

T’ai chi has been described as “meditation in motion.” It can be regarded as a civilian version of some of the ancient eastern martial arts such as kung fu, and it has some affinities with dance therapy. Unlike dance therapy, however, it is ritualized into a succession of flowing movements, with relatively little scope for individual variations. Each movement or exercise has a symbolic interpretation, and emphasis is laid upon the psychological or psychic element involved…. [The purpose of Tai Chi] is about finding the center of balance, with the physical center gradually leading to the spiritual center. It teaches the individual containment, the way to build up energy in the body, and then to direct and control its release through movement.[8]

One practitioner confesses that Tai Chi can heal a person physically, mentally, and spiritually,[9] and that it can do this because Tai Chi meditation is inextricably bound to the mystical Tao:

It is the meditation which places T’ai Chi beyond a physical exercise or a technique of self-defense, and coordinates the conceptual framework of Taoism with the reality of the healing energy. The key to the system of T’ai Chi Ch’uan, as emphasized by all masters and the classics, is the total reliance on the mind. The consciousness directs; it is that simple. Without it, there is nothing…. It is the meditative state which allows us to move in accordance with the Tao.[10]

But, as we discussed in another text, the philosophy of Taoism is anything but neutral.[11] Because its beliefs and practices are anti-Christian, Tai Chi programs based on Taoism are not going to be spiritually productive, and they can easily lead a practitioner into occult philosophy.

In seeking the spiritual goals of martial arts, we are told that “various forms of meditation are perhaps the most important of these methods. The martial arts can be taught with primary emphasis on their meditative character. Those martial arts teachers with the requisite skill in this area do what they can to help students penetrate their self-created veil of illusion about themselves and the world.”[12]

One aspect of the “veil of illusion” would be the student’s belief that he is separated from God. In Eastern religions, man (in his true nature) is seen as one essence with ultimate reality, however such reality is defined (Tao, Brahman, Nirvana, and so on). The goal of Eastern meditation and its accompanying enlightenment is to enable the student to recognize that he is ultimately one essence with God or ultimate reality.

That this is also the goal of many martial arts systems is evident. Aikido master Koichi Tohei states that “our lives are a part of the life of the universal,”[13] and that the methods of aikido lead to spiritual enlightenment. “Sink your spirit into the single spot in your lower abdomen and you will become unconscious of the act of breathing. You will then forget yourself, become one with the universal, and enter the realm in which nothing but the universal exists…. In the first stages of practicing seated Zen, this method is often used because it is extremely good in leading one to a deep enlightenment.”[14] Another text states, “The secret of Aikido is to harmonize ourselves with the movement of the universe and bring ourselves into accord with the universe itself. He who has gained the secret of Aikido has the universe in himself and can say, ‘I am the universe’.”[15]

In some martial arts, the ancient goal was immortality itself. “The search for immortality, a constant theme of Taoism, may be considered under two aspects, the first positive and the second negative. In its first aspect, what is envisaged is an abnormal longevity leading to an actual physical immortality, a goal obtainable by observing the moral law, by magical means (via magica), and by mystical elevation (via mystica).”[16]

While many instructors incorporate Eastern forms of meditation into martial arts practice, this does not mean that all use of the term “meditation” is necessarily religious. For many instructors “meditation” only involves concentration upon one’s lessons, placing all distractions aside so that full effort may be expended on the physical technique being mastered. Athletes do this on a regular basis, whether it be the concentration required of the high jumper, the free throw of the basketball player, or a golfer putting.

Meditation is not the only accompaniment of martial arts practice. In some martial arts forms, one also finds similarities to the religious goals of various yogic practices that stress proper physical posture and movement, or the proper regulation of one’s breath. Concerning physical postures:

In all martial arts teaching (as in all movement systems), great attention is paid to detail in posture and gesture. This is not because what is desired is a certain precise technique; rather the master’s correction says to the student, “If your spirit were in the right state it would manifest in your movement, and it would be thus.” What is important is the spirit…. The above explanation deals with Tai Chi in particular, but it conveys the principles behind body movement systems in general as means toward spiritual change…. In Hatha Yoga, for instance, it is said that in each asana [posture] a yogin obtained enlightenment; through entering into the [spiritual] essence of the asana [posture] the practitioner will attain communion with the energy of this enlightened being [i.e., state or condition].[17]

Breathing methods also perform an important part of the meditation practices leading to enlightenment (cf. Yoga). For example, “Breath and Body are vital to the pursuit of both spiritual unfoldment and the mastery of the martial arts. It is vital to understand the basic structure of Breath and Body accurately and in detail. This understanding may be gained intuitively in the presence of the true master over a long period of time; this has been the traditional way of teaching.”[18]

One aikido manual discloses: “Breathing methods [are introduced] as a method of spiritual unification,” and the “ultimate aim of breathing practice and quiet seated meditation in both Zen and Yoga is a comprehension of our basic essence, which is one with the universal, and a manifestation of the divine soul.”[19]

In these methods, yogic breathing techniques are used to regulate the flow of mystical energy (ki or chi) within the body, to “draw” it within (from the universe) or to project it outward into the environment for physical power or even psychic healing, as Steven Seagal does. In “the Asian systems of martial arts, chi is directed by will power to specific points of the body, resulting in apparently paranormal feats of strength and control.”[20]


  1. See
  2. Erwin de Castro, et al, “Enter the Dragon?”, Part Two, prepublication copy, Christian Research Journal, 1994.
  3. Ashida Kim, Secrets of the Ninja (Secaucus, NJ: Citadel Press, 1981), pp. 5-6; cf. Interview, “Humble Teacher, Deadly Master: The Thoughts and Techniques of Harunaka Hoshino,” Ninja Masters, Winter, 1986, p. 55, first emphasis added.
  4. Peter Payne, Martial Arts: The Spiritual Dimension (NY: Crossroad, 1981), p. 94.
  5. James W. DeMile, Tao of Wing Chung Do: Mind and Body in Harmony, Volume 1, Part I (Kirkland, WA: Tao of Wing Chung Do Publishers, 1983), pp. 27-36.
  6. Herman Kauz, The Martial Spirit: An Introduction to the Origin, Philosophy and Psychology of the Martial Arts (Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press, 1977), p. 27.
  7. Ibid., pp. 55-56, emphasis added.
  8. Brian Inglis, Ruth West, The Alternative Health Guide (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1983), pp. 144-45.
  9. Jerry Mogul, “Tai Chi Chuan: A Taoist Art of Healing, Part One,” Somatics: The Magazine-Journal of the Bodily Arts and Sciences, Spring, 1980, p. 36.
  10. Jerry Mogul, “Tai Chi Chuan: A Taoist Art of Healing, Part Two,” Somatics: The Magazine-Journal of the Bodily Arts and Sciences, Autumn, 1980, pp. 44-45.
  11. John Ankerberg, John Weldon, Can You Trust Your Doctor?: New Age Medicine and Its Threat to Your Family (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1990), pp. 110-18.
  12. Kauz, The Martial Spirit, p. 96.
  13. Koichi Tohei, Aikido in Daily Life (Tokyo, Japan: Rikugei Publishing, 1973), p. 17.
  14. Ibid., p. 36.
  15. Payne, Martial Arts, p. 36.
  16. Pierre Huard, Ming Wong, Oriental Methods of Mental and Physical Fitness: The Complete Book of Meditation, Kinesitherapy, and Martial Arts in China, India, and Japan, (Trans. Donald N. Smith) (NY: Funk & Wagnalls, 1977), p. 51.
  17. Payne, Martial Arts, p. 43.
  18. Ibid., p. 38.
  19. Tohei, Aikido in Daily Life, pp. 24, 103.
  20. de Castro, et al, “Enter the Dragon?”, Part 2.

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