Zen Boxing & the Role of Karma in Fisticuffs

Contrary to popular opinion, boxing is also a mental discipline that combines courage, willpower, concentration and strategy with the physical aspects of strength, endurance, speed and the ability to take a punch. You have to be able to concentrate on your foe whilst being punched in the head.

In that respect boxing is similar to kendo or zen archery (kenshin kyudo) in that it combines physical prowess with mental discipline, perhaps more so because a boxer needs to maintain that mental discipline for a lengthy period while being subjected to physical punishment. The ability to meditate on your foe, concentrate on their movements, understand what they're doing and how to defeat them, is the epitome of zen boxing.

To explain how to do this I am going to summarize some of the wisdom of Zen Master Takuan Soho, who advised samurais on matters of Zen. For more on this topic see my chapter on Zen Swordplay.

To generalize Takuan Soho believed that a warrior must combine physical discipline, training in technique and mental discipline. A boxer who loses control of their emotions, loses their temper, will lose swiftly as their opponent will find the upper hand.

More so Takuan Soho taught that a warrior must free their mind, allow it to wander to wherever it is needed, and once there the mind should not pause or hesitate, but again go to the next place it is needed. This way a warrior's mind will always be moving to where it is most needed and they will not become distracted. It is very easy to imagine a boxer in the ring being distracted by say "a pretty woman", and then promptly losing the bout because they weren't concentrating on the task at hand.

Learning how to free your mind is not something done lightly. It takes years of meditation, practice and testing yourself under rigorous / stressful conditions. A boxer's mind should be 'grace under pressure', and this is not something which can be learned through any crash course or in any single book. Understanding this concept however is tantamount to beginning the process however. Once a person understands that they need to both discipline their mind and free their mind from distractions / hesitation, only then can they make progress.

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