We always hear about ‘martial arts spirit’. But what is it? Is it intensity? Is it faith? Is it Anger? What an elusive concept!

Consider this clip-

Even eclectic guys like Bruce Lee concerned themselves with martial spirit. It’s very universal.

If we analyze the above scene from Enter The Dragon, we see that Lee is quite unimpressed by his student’s first kick. It was merely a technique. When kicking the second time, the student showed ferocity in his face and kicked with greater power. Again Lee was unimpressed. This anger was not what we wanted. Upon his third try, the student briefly achieved what Lee calls ’emotional content,’ a kick exhibiting the true character of the student. Unfortunately, the success is short lived and the student must suffer more taps to the head. So what’s the difference between an angry attack and a spirited one?

Experiencing Anger and Spirit

Let’s start by analyzing both states-of-being. Anger is a primal urge that we all understand. When angry, we feel our temperature rise and our face redden. Adrenaline strikes our system and we are prepared to lash out. In many ways, being angry enhances our readiness for the rigors of combat.

Unfortunately, it also comes with some serious side effects. When very angry, we experience tunnel vision and lose some of our fine motor skills. The worst symptom is the clarity of thought we forfeit. How many times have you heard, either in person or on tv, ‘I don’t know what I was thinking…I was just so angry…I flipped out!’

Martial spirit is not the same. Sometimes referred to as kiai – focused or concentrated life force. Sometimes referred to as aiki – united spirit. Martial spirit is the lightning expression of everything that makes you you. When exhibiting martial spirit, you will still feel signs of physical stress. It’s different for everyone, but some tunnel vision and adrenaline pumping are likely to occur. The difference is, when utilizing martial spirit, you forfeit no clarity of thought and no consciousness of action. There is no ‘flipping out’ here, only dominant intent.

After Effects

Let’s take things one step further. After suffering from a bout of sever anger, how do you feel after all is said and done; after you’ve taken a walk and cooled your head? Generally speaking, you would probably feel very drained. A small amount of depression is likely to set in, both in regards to your actions and the situation in general. You would also likely feel a burdening amount of stress, and desire to be alone. (Please remember these are just common results, you may experience anger differently).

But if you were to use spirit instead of anger, the result would be different – you would feel invigorated! You would experience a sense of power and forcefulness, as if you could have handled a situation twice as bad with no regrets. You would also feel appreciative of those people around you – both the friends who are behind you, and the opponent whom you dominated.

The Taking and Giving of Life

There is another concept in the martial arts that relates to what we are discussing. In Budo, there is such a thing as Satsujinken and Katsujinken – The life dealing sword and the death dealing sword.

Katsujinken – The sword that takes life. If a Samurai were to kill for the sake of pride, ego, or out of agitation, it was considered Katsujinken. This killing was not meaningful, and protected neither family, nor honor, nor state. Anger can be considered Katsujinken in that it is fueled by that which is negative. Even more perplexingly, sometimes the action of the Samurai (or an angry individual) is correct – but he still has followed a negative path to achieve positive ends.

Satsujinken – The sword that gives life. Often Samurai were called upon to perform meritorious deeds that involved murder, espionage, and warfare. Furthermore, there were occasions when a Samurai took it upon himself to slay bandits or dangerous Ronin (rogue Samurai). These are the same violent acts as an angry, vengeful Samurai might commit – but when done with Satsujinken, right reason, the Samurai knows he may have saved many lives by his actions. This Samurai proceeds invigorated by his martial spirit and will likely show his opponent full respects.

People often wonder how Samurai acts of suicide and dueling could be done ‘respectfully.’ This provides a small peak into that mindset.

Cultivating Martial Spirit

Luckily, you and I rarely have to make such monumental, life and death decisions. Most of the time, like Bruce Lee’s student, we just have to figure out how we want to express ourselves.

In order to cultivate martial spirit instead of anger, jealousy, etc., it’s important to keep the end feelings in mind. After training, if you feel powerful, capture the essence of that training session as best you can. If, after training, you feel bitter, let it go as best as possible. Before you know it, you’ll be able to summon that forceful spirit when you need it.

And when you do, I see it going a little something like this –