I believe you have to focus your mind before starting to train. I would like to know how teachers help their students gain and retain their discipline for the duration of the class.

I am interested specifically in Kung Fu, but would welcome insights from other martial arts.


3 Answers 3


There are many aspects to this. The most important things during training are:

  • to pay extremely close attention to yourself and others, especially the instructor and senior students

  • to contrast, analyse, reason about and research what you observe, then practice and target experimentation accordingly both for the results that brings and to identify further challenges and insights and test your understandings

    • this applies to stances, footwork, techniques, timing, distancing, strategy, stamina/efficiency, explosiveness, conditioning, pain tolerance, body mechanics, awareness (where you look, what you pay attention to, your posture/balance/relaxation etc.) / even your mental attitude, focus of attention, thoughts, and psychology

    • specifically for mental attitude, sometimes it's good to be passive, other times aggressive (but mindful of other participants' safety), reactive vs. proactive, defensive vs. offensive, sometimes humble, other times let yourself try to fill shoes that may be too big for you and see how it pans out etc..

  • to identify both what you want to achieve, and experiment to find out what you can achieve, and work efficiently to combine them optimally

  • to push yourself to/beyond your limits sometimes and learn from the experience

Overall, the more actively you seek and make useful and varied learning opportunities, the faster and further you improve.

If you're ever in a real fight, you may not have time to get into some special/particular frame of mind that you've learnt to be comfortable in at the dojo - rather, you need to be able to use your technique effectively spontaneously from whatever state of mind you happen to be in at the time. If your martial arts / life experience is too limited you may even find yourself thrown into an unfamiliar frame of mind by the fight, whether it's an endorphine or adrenaline reaction - whether it's fear or immense calm - either can be debilitating and dangerous. For the first couple years just getting used to whatever your school offers is probably good... then it's probably good to at least try 10 minutes in a ring with a full contact striker, another 10 with a wrestler, some "self defense" school or exercises where they come at you yelling etc.. Variety.


Frankly, the difference between mentally preparing for a martial art, or for any physically intensive activity is minor at best. You need to motivate yourself to do a lot of hard work, possibly painful work. Most people motivate themselves by visualizing their goals, but that may work against you, particularly since many people have unrealistic ideas of how rapidly their skill will advance. Make small goals, and if you fail, try to figure out why. Sometimes, you just need to approach your goal from a different angle.

On that topic, a certain mental flexibility helps too. There is a famous parable of a highly trained martial artist going to a new master, and refusing to stop using his old techniques. The master invited him to tea and poured him half a cup. He then proceeded to upend the pot and pour more and more until the cup was overflowing. The student leapt up and informed the master that the cup was full and that nothing more could be added. The master explained that indeed it was, and that was why the student could not be trained until he was willing to empty his cup and the student was enlightened.

  • Was the master Jackie Chan? Commented Apr 11, 2014 at 9:58

Depends greatly on the teacher's teaching style.

Style #1: I've been in classes that were very structured and where we were constantly moving from one thing to the next. In those classes, we didn't have much time to worry about being disciplined. We simply did as instructed and we weren't left a lot of time to structure our class time for ourselves.

Style #2: Other classes I've been in were very laid back. We were left to our own devices much of the time. From time to time the instructor would come over and correct our posture or add some other detail. When he saw we had what he had shown us down, he would show us the next portion. This is where discipline actually kicks in. When you're left by yourself, what do you do with that time? A lot of kung fu instructors will not push you like taekwondo or karate instructors will. They will let you do what you want to do. It's not that they won't help you, but they won't help you if you won't help yourself. The reasoning actually makes a lot of sense. Those who lack the discipline to do it on their own are not going to excel in the art, so there's no need to bother with those people.

So there's your answer. They're either going to keep pushing you as in Style #1, or they're going to let you do whatever you want to do as in Style #2.

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