What Meditation Teaches Us

What Meditation Teaches Us

What Meditation Teaches Us

The following is adapted from Step on The Mat.

Meditation offers us a chance to find focus and self-reflection, to practice and remember the importance of breathing, and to find inner balance—all things that are essential for a true martial artist.

It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that we should expect something from meditation. Meditation does have lots of benefits. But the tricky thing about it is that when you get caught up in thinking about those benefits—if you’re waiting for them to happen to you or trying to make them happen—you can defeat the whole purpose.

The best thing to do is just, well, meditate. Over time, you will notice the benefits. You just can’t force them to happen.

Just breathe.

Focus and Self-reflection

Focusing can be hard, and it’s harder for some of us than for others. Meditation is, in a sense, just practicing the art of being focused. When we’re sparring, playing a video game, or doing some other fun activity, it’s easier to be focused and engaged. But when all we’re focusing on is our breathing, it’s tougher. It can seem boring at first! But as you get better at it, you learn what it is to be truly focused. You also get to know yourself a bit better as you acknowledge all those thoughts passing through your head. (More on this in just a moment.)

When my students learn to control their breathing, they learn to be more calm. It’s important to feel calm before you train. Just as you don’t want to be lost in distracting thoughts during meditation, you certainly don’t want to be lost in thoughts when you train. If you’re lost in thought, how can you focus on improving your technique? How can you be truly listening to your teacher? Imagine sparring with a skilled opponent and being lost in thought—that could be dangerous!

When you learn how to focus on your breathing, you experience being in the moment. And when you’re training—and especially when you’re fighting—you must be in the present moment.

You must also remain focused on goals. In my class, I give students a goal every day. When they bow onto the mat, they are acknowledging that goal. When they meditate, they are focusing their minds on that goal. When we begin to train, they take that goal with them.


The first step in meditation is to simply breathe. Get into a comfortable position, close your eyes, and feel your body breathe. Listen to the breath. Pay attention to it.

To meditate, you don’t have to close your eyes. It’s enough to sit still and focus on your breathing. Or you can engage in walking meditation. If you choose this option, simply walk slow, listen to your breath, and take time to notice the things around you and be present with them.

Breathing is the rule because, well, that’s all there really is to do. When in doubt, lost in thought, or doing anything else other than breathing, remember the rule. Go back to the breath.

There’s no right or wrong way to breathe. There shouldn’t be anything to fight or overthink. While you’re meditating, all you need to do is focus on your breath.

Just breathe.

Find Balance

Physical balance is one thing, but what about mental and spiritual balance? This is the ultimate goal of meditation. At first, it can be hard to even know what this is. If you’ve never meditated, you may not even know how out of balance you are!

That’s okay. Meditation, like martial arts, is something we practice over the course of our lives. I’m still seeking balance myself, and I’ve been doing this my whole life!

Meditation helps us recognize when we’re out of balance—when our emotions or negative thoughts are overtaking our minds. Often, when we’re having negative thoughts or feelings, we never take the time to really notice. We just act on them without thinking. Meditation helps us take a step back, notice these things about ourselves, and act deliberately.

In other words, it offers us balance.

Whether in or out of the dojo, we can all benefit from the balancing effects of meditation on our thoughts, emotions, and decisions.

For more advice on applying the principles of martial arts throughout your life, you can find Step on the Mat on Amazon or visit www.steponthemat.com.

Ninja Nguyen​ started his martial arts journey when he was four years old, growing up in a small fishing village in Vietnam. He continued to train in refugee camps, where martial arts served as his guiding light while he struggled to learn English in unfamiliar classrooms, preparing to come


to America. Ninja originally worked in security for nightclubs before finally opening his own dojo and building the life he has today. A devoted husband and father of three, he is the owner of Xtreme Ninja Martial Arts Center in Boston, which currently trains more than 500 students.

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