Once there was a student who came to a master asking to be taught the art of swordsmanship. The master agreed and quickly gave the student a broom and assigned him menial duties of sweeping, washing dishes, etc. This continued for a month. Then, one day the master snuck up behind the student and hit him with a stick. The student was surprised and thought this was the master’s invitation to begin learning swordsmanship. But, the master simply told him to continue with his duties. For many years this scenario would repeat itself: the student would be engaged in a menial task, expecting the master’s attack to come from around the next corner and then the attack would come from a totally different direction. One day, the master snuck up on the student and started to strike him, when the student turned around quickly and blocked the blow. The master then said: “Now, your training can begin.”

This seems like a strange way to teach. However, its approach prioritizes the mental over the physical.  The master knew he needed to get the student’s attention in the moment to learn the physical skills of swordsmanship effectively. In the beginning the student would not have his attention in the moment. The master knew this because we all tend to create expectations that focus our attention on end results that occur in the future, instead of processes that occur in the present. The student had his attention focused on what he expected to occur, not on what was actually occurring. The master hit him from behind so the student expects the next attack from behind and focuses his attention there. Then, the next attack comes from the right side. The student expects the next attack from the right side and it comes from the left side.

The problem is that the student’s expectation about the direction of the attack focuses his attention in that direction. Intention is attention focused in the direction of a choice. The student chose to focus his attention in the direction of his expectation: the end result of where he thought the attack would occur. Then, when the attack came from a different direction, he had to withdraw his attention from where he had directed it and redirect his attention in another direction. This takes time, which makes him ineffective. Only when he gives up creating expectations is he able to focus his attention on processes. This creates an intention that supports what is occurring in the moment and allows him to respond to wherever the attack originates.

The Warrior’s Way teaches students specific processes that keep their attention in the moment so they can respond effectively. When they make a decision to climb, they focus their attention on the bodily processes for climbing: breathing, moving, and eye contact. This decision aligns their attention in the direction of climbing, focused on the climbing itself, and creates a powerful intention. The swordsmanship student needs to have his attention on whatever processes he’s engaged in so he can respond to an attack from any direction. The climber needs to have her attention on processes she’s doing for climbing so she can respond instantaneously to solving the climbing puzzle from whatever direction it requires.

Most climbers start a climb and hope it turns out the way we want. Warriors are intentional in how they engage climbing. When they make a decision to climb, they align their attention with climbing processes, which creates a powerful intention. Doing this engages warriors in the present moment so they can respond effectively.

Teaching how to physically do a skill is important, but the master knew that refining the mental approach of the swordsmanship student was primary. Once the mental approach is refined, physical skills are learned more quickly and effectively.

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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Marta Reece

    You obviously know the story, so you know it’s original version. It did not speak of attention being in the moment. That was only a prerequisite. The ability to perceive the mere intention to attack, to become aware of an attack before it even takes place, being the essential one. It is certainly a mental ability but a totally different one.

    I too believe in staying in the moment on the rock, just not in using some of the techniques for getting there. Anything cluttering up attention field is doing just that, even if it’s designed to take your mind off non-climbing thoughts. Only full attention is a full attention, and there are no shortcuts to acquiring it. As the story is also saying.

  2. arno

    Hi Marta, I wanted to point out parts of the story that weren’t addressed but that are there regardless. Intention and attention are related. There are many lessons a story can teach.
    How does one perceive an attack? And why is one ineffective in responding to that attack? These are questions that have everything to do with intention, attention, expectations, end results, and processes. I don’t see these as techniques for having attention in the moment. We need to intellectually understanding such concepts first and then apply them experientially.
    Anyway, this is all from my perspective obviously. Thanks for sharing yours. a

  3. Martial Arts focus on the same theory… Be in the moment & respond when the attacker makes his move… If you anticipate his move to soon, and are wrong, you don’t have enough time to correct your move and will be hurt or killed… Love, steve

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