≡ Menu

The Virtues of Not-Thinking: Lessons in Handling the Mind from the Martial Arts

Thinking is good—until it’s not. In the martial arts, too much can get you punched in the face. Too little can leave you with a weak or misunderstood strategy.

Thinking in martial arts and in life can be the life raft or the ocean

There’s virtue and value in thinking. To a point.

A fighting art is a complex pursuit. Matters of positioning, force, counterforce, attention, weight distribution, technique, personality, and skill (to name a few) are available for consideration in every moment.

Analysis, questioning, clarifying, challenging, and critiquing are strategies of mind that can and do lead to deeper levels of understanding. But, when I’m at my best as a practitioner, I am aware of the line that differentiates exploration from rumination.

And when I start to feel the physical sense of constriction that comes with over-analysis, I try to shift focus.

It’s a matter of letting go of the need to understand fully right then, which I can often achieve with a little humor—”ah fuck it” usually works pretty well—and a dip back into the waters of not-knowing.

For a mind conditioned to knowing, the sensation can be a bit brisk—er, biting. But, as the darkness closes in, and the chill cuts to the bone, not-knowing becomes its own kind of relief. I guess you could say I become comfortable with drowning.

And that’s when I start to make progress.

I talk quite a bit on this blog about self-defense, mindset, and practical philosophy in the martial arts. If you liked this post, you can read similar entries here.

The drowning metaphor was inspired by Sam Harris’ blog post The Pleasures of Drowning.