4 Principles of Martial Arts Skill Development

4 Principles of Martial Arts Skill Development

The core of talent in martial arts is not dependent on the presence of remarkable attributes but rather the absence of limitations imposed on yourself by society and your subconscious. Society and self-interference can hinder your mental, physical and emotional performance and the four principles which embody this lack of obstruction are non-resistance, accommodation, balance and the natural order. All humans are naturally born free of all obstructions, and it is only through external influences of society and our upbringing that we unconsciously develop these restrictions that stifle our development as martial artists.

These four principles can all be witnessed in the natural world and explained in proverbs with which you might already be familiar. Trees that bend in the wind are examples of the principles of non-resistance, a gentle stream that can cut through stone is a case of the principle of accommodation, life thriving in moderate cycles is an example of the principle of balance and the regular changing of seasons is an example of the natural order.  Nature can reveal these principles in action, but they are all psychophysical forces that transpire both equally in the human mind as well as the human body. It is said that training in the martial arts is 50 percent physical and 50 percent mental, or as former UFC heavyweight champion Bas Rutten would say it is 100 percent mental as you have to use your brain to want to get out of bed and go to training. A connection between the natural environment, the human psyche and body that creates a psychophysical hurdle that can be overcome by the four principles mentioned. Including these principles in your martial arts practice will change your training from a mere repetition of physical movements to natural movements that are influenced by your mental state, energy and environment. Embracing these principles can lead to reawakening your learning abilities and create benefits that will be developed through martial arts that can transfer to your daily life.

The Principle Of Non-Resistance

The forces of life will impact upon people in various forms, yet the ways to deal with these effects can be broken down into four different ways. You can disregard these forces them and risk having accidents that are caused by your ignorance; you can attempt to resist them in a manner that is inefficient and turbulent uses of energy, or you can implement the principle of non-resistance and use these forces to naturally blend with and energise your life. H is like building a sail that catches the wind to cross vast distances or how a bird can use that same wind to fly or a fish that swims with the current. All are examples of working together and in harmony with natural forces as resistance is not found in nature but is constructed in the minds of humans.

“Non-resistance is the key to the greatest power in the universe” – Eckhart Tolle

It should be clarified that non-resistance is not merely passive inaction in the face of life events as anyone with a lack of motivation can resign themselves to do nothing of consequence. Rather non-resistance is actively cultivating a sensitivity and intelligence to discern and interpret life’s subtle forces and then be able to naturally flow with them in peace. Problems of day to day life can be handled using the principle of non-resistance, but martial arts training and competition will also benefit from this concept. Through non-resistance, you use an opponents movement to your advantage and you can understand your opponent is a teacher that will educate you on your weaknesses and help you to improve and better yourself. Redirecting an opponent’s force to use it against them is a common theme in martial arts and is an excellent example of the principle of non-resistance in action.

“Do. Or do not. There is no try.” – Master Yoda

Unfortunately, most actions of humans are endeavours to push or pull on the river of life rather than flow with it in harmony, and this constant resistance is what causes physical and emotional anxiety. Anxiety or tension are subtle signals that something is amiss and should be carefully listened to so you can take responsibility for actions that may be causing this pressure and not resist by shifting the blame onto circumstances out of your control. The most common way a martial artist will experience resistance is by “trying” because the moment you begin to “try” you are immediately assuming a weakness to the challenge ahead of you, and this will cause tension. The tension created by “trying” is entirely a mental construct generated from trying too hard instead of flowing with nature.

“Aikido is the principle of non-resistance. Because it is non-resistant, it is victorious from the beginning. Those with evil intentions or contentious thoughts are instantly vanquished. Aikido is invincible because it contends with nothing.” – Morihei Ueshiba

A talented martial artist will never “try”, they will instead be smooth, relaxed, calm, confident and have a naturally continuous and flowing approach when training and competing. Trying to make or force things to happen creates turbulence and will be met with direct opposition, you can still achieve your goals by working with nature and flowing. Let things transpire naturally based on the complexities of circumstance and train without tension and resistance. For an example of this, consider placing a balance beam on the floor and walking across it and you will find the task relatively simple. But if you place the same balance beam across two skyscrapers you be in a different mental state that can cause tension despite it being the same physical task you have to perform. As soon as you begin to “Try” in martial arts you have created a mental opposition to your work instead of flowing, this psychological opposition will then create physical symptoms causing muscles tense and breathing to be interrupted.

The Principle Of Accommodation

Placing demands on yourself to encourage growth in training will need to take the form of progressive overloading where you repeatedly demand a little more of yourself than you are currently capable of dealing with comfortably. Progressive overload will require patience and the ability to tolerate repeated failures as you continually push yourself and take risks to achieve your life goals. Tolerance for failure will come with an intuitive understanding that each failure is an opportunity to learn and to make accommodations for these failures and lessons. To be able to build tolerance for your inevitable failures you must make your expectations realistic and achievable, so you know that with patience and continued perseverance you can achieve the goals you have set if you make your goals unrealistic and unachievable you will create frustration at your repeated failures.

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill

Martial arts training then becomes a process of consistent development through an incremental progression of practical and sensible demands of your body and emotions. The principle of accommodation is much similar to a bodybuilder who wishes to increase muscle the muscle fibres must be broken down over time so that they can grow back stronger and evolve over time. Or think of grinding a rock into the shape of an arrowhead, this can be achieved if you grind the rock slowly and with patience but if you attempt to rush it and grind the rock quickly you risk breaking it. The demands you place on your body, mind and emotions must be gradual and within your capacity, taking one step at a time and this is the principle of accommodation. If you ever find yourself asking if you can become good at a skill, thinking that a particular skill would be too difficult you are not embracing the principle of accommodation. These question to yourself will create tension in your body and chip away at any motivation you have to achieve your goals. Instead, you must look at the gradual demands you can place on yourself and start making the steps on your path to whatever higher goal it is you wish to achieve.

“Failure is the key to success; each mistake teaches us something.” – Morihei Ueshiba

The Principle of Balance

Essentially the principle of balance can be summed up by stating “Neither too much nor too little.” and it is a principle that can be used in every aspect of your daily life, martial arts training and body and emotion. For a martial artist, balance is seen by not moving too fast or too slow, not being too aggressive or too tentative and not being too far high, low, left or right. The balance will control the pace and timing that every martial artist relies upon to be successful, and this will also filter through to your mindset in training. Understanding balance in training will allow you to accept that you will have good days and bad days and not become frustrated or impatient with an unrealistic expectation that every day of training should constantly be “good”. This understanding will free your mental state from the dependence of your outcomes of any particular training session and instead leave you to focus on the practical process of training and realise that the cycle of good and bad days will balance itself. Training becomes a balance of body, mind and emotions and any days where your physical performance is not excellent should be used to pay more attention to your mental clarity and emotional stability.

 “Everything too fast is not good but everything too slow is also not good. You need balance. That’s why I like martial arts: it always tells you how to control your body, your mind, your heart. Balance. Balance can keep the world’s peace. I think that’s a very good thing.” – Jet Li

A martial artist will become centred and in balance with your physical body, mental and emotional states all simultaneously and notice how they all affect each other and are interconnected. The opposite effect of this can be seen in an opponent who is mentally out of balance or emotionally upset as they become much easier to defeat. Upsetting an opponent’s composure is what some prizefighters look to exploit when they trash talk an opponent in an attempt to emotionally unbalance their opponent so that their physical performance also becomes unbalanced. Physical balance and emotional turmoil are like fire and water as they do not mix.If you spend too much time thinking about your emotional problems, then you will become unbalanced, but if you meditate on your balance, then you will get rid of your emotional problems.  

The Principle Of Natural Order

The principle of natural order is understanding the continual progressive development and changes that occur over time. For instance, the four seasons always stay in the same order and a tree always grows from a seed and never goes from a tree to seed. These processes cannot go backwards and cannot be rushed; it is human nature to want to accelerate the natural order, and this causes our mind to race faster than life is capable of moving. Although progression in the martial arts can still be seen as an equation of both time and concentration where you can spend less time to make the same progress if you concentrate your intensity, it still must remain in balance at all times. Training too long and too intense will cause you to overtrain, which is where your body cannot properly recover from the stress you are putting it under. Also not training enough and without any passion will cause you never to achieve your goals, so it is something that must be balanced and follow the natural order. A great sign that you have a balanced attitude to training is that you are happy and have a sense of humour, as you understand that no matter what achievements you make in martial arts they will not matter in the scheme of the universe or on the scale of the cosmos.

 “There is no quick way to grow a tree that is strong enough to withstand a storm”

If you ever find yourself thinking that you should be doing better or you should be progressing faster, it is a sign that your mental state is not in the natural order as the word “should” has no place in the mind of the martial artist. As with the word “Try” the word “Should” suggest you are dissatisfied with your current state of being and will cause tension and emotional turmoil. Time is better spent taking action on what you can control rather than spending time thinking about the way things should be which can eventually lead you nowhere other than into neurosis. To continue your martial arts training with the principle of natural order, you must look to always be happy with your training and keep the enthusiasm and inspiration of a beginner.

These four principles of developing talent in martial arts will help you with your enjoyment and growth of both your martial arts practice and your daily life. You want to balance between the positive and negative aspects of life and practice nonresistance with whatever circumstances life will bring towards you. Do not get stressed if things do not happen fast enough for you and realise this it part of the natural order and instead embrace accommodation and work on the process of achieving small goes and make continued progress. You will use all these principles to transcend illusionary self-concepts, break down emotional obstacles and develop martial arts talent.

Reference: Millman, D. (1979). The Warrior Athlete. Walpole, N.H.: Stillpoint Pub.

The Book of Five Rings By Miyamoto Musashi – Notes

The Book of Five Rings By Miyamoto Musashi – Notes

Miyamoto Musashi - The Book of Five Rings

Miyamoto Musashi – The Book of Five Rings

 The Book of Five Rings Summary

By Miyamoto Musashi

The Earth Scroll

  • · Martial arts are the warriors way of life.
  • · The martial way of life practiced by warriors is based on excelling others in anything and everything.
  • · The exact science of martial arts means practising, and the in such a way that they will be useful at any time and teaching them in such a way that they will be helpful in all things.
  • · Efficiency and smooth progress, prudence in all matters, The body, does not drag the mind real courage, understanding different levels of morale, instilling confidence and the mind does not pull the body what can and cannot be reasonably expected.
  • · An essential habit is to have sharp tools and keep them well maintained. It is up to you to use them masterfully. Even when doing menial tasks.
  • · When you have developed practical knowledge of all the skills of the craft you can eventually you can become a master.
  • · The large scale is easy to see. The small-scale is hard to see. To be specific, it is impossible to reverse the direction of a large group of people all at once while the small scale is hard to know because in the case of an individual there is just one will involve and changes can be made quickly.
  • · Practice daily to attain familiarity, treating them as ordinary affairs, so the mind remains unchanged.
  • · Unless you understand others you can hardly accomplish your self-understanding.
  • · If you do not pursue an absolute path to its consummation in the mind then a little bit of crookedness in the spirit will later turn into a major war.
  • · No warrior should be willing to die with his swords at his side without having made use of all his tools.
  • · As human beings, it is essential for each of us to cultivate and polish our path.
  • · You should not have any special fondness for a particular skill or tool. Too much is the same as not enough. Pragmatic thinking.


On Rhythm in martial arts:

  • · Rhythm is something that exists in everything.
  • · In all arts and sciences rhythm is not to be ignored.
  • · There is an even rhythm in being empty.
  • · There are rhythms of rising to an office and stepping down, of fulfilment and disappointment or becoming rich and losing one’s fortune.
  • · Harmony and disharmony in rhythm occur in every walk of life.
  • · It is impossible to distinguish carefully between the rhythms of flourishing and the rhythms of decline in every single thing.
  • · The rhythms of the martial arts are varied.
  • · First know the right pace and understand the wrong rhythm. And discern the opponent’s rhythms from among the great and small and slow and fast rhythms.
  • · Know the rhythms of spatial relations and know the rhythms of reversals.
  • · These matters are specialities of material science.
  • · Unless you understand these rhythms of reversal your martial artistry will not be reliable.
  • · The way to win in battle is to know the rhythms of particular opponents and use beats that your opponents do not expect, providing formless rhythms from rhythms of wisdom.
  • · Be diligent, practice daily and night, the mind is naturally broadened.


Rules for learning the art.

  1. Think of what is right and genuine.
  2. Practice and cultivate the science.
  3. Become acquainted with the arts.
  4. Know the principles of the crafts.
  5. Understand the harm and benefit in everything.
  6. Learn to see everything accurately.
  7. Become aware of what is not obvious
  8. Be careful even in small matters.
  9. Do not do anything useless.


  • · The science of martial arts should be practised with such thoughts in mind.
  • · You can hardly become a master unless you see the immediate in a broad context.
  • · Keep martial arts in your mind and work diligently in a straight forward manner. Then you can win with your hands; your eyes can also defeat people by seeing with your eyes.
  • · Furthermore when you refine practice to the point where you attain freedom of your whole body then you can overcome people using your body. And since your mind is trained in this science you can also defeat people using your mind. When you reach this point how could you be defeated by others?
  • · In whatever field of endeavour knowledge of how to avoid losing to others, how to help oneself and hoe to enhance standard honour is part of military science.


The Water Scroll

  • · The science of martial arts is not just a matter of reading these writings. Taking what is written here personally, do not think you are reading or learning and do not make up any imitations. Identify with them continually and work on them carefully. The field is king!


The State of Mind in Martial Arts

  • · The state of mind should remain as normal. Let there be no change at all – with the mind open and direct, neither tense nor lax, concentrating the mind so that there is no imbalance, calmly relax your thoughts and savour this moment of ease thoroughly so that relaxation does not stop its relaxation for even an instant.
  • · Even when still your mind is not still, even when hurried your mind is not hurried. The mind is not dragged by the body, the body is not pulled by the mind.
  • Pay attention to the mind, not the body.
  • · Let there be neither insufficiency nor excess in your mind.
  • · Even if superficially weak hearted be inwardly strong hearted and do not let others see into your mind.
  • · It is essential for those who are physically small to know what it is like to be large and for those who are physically large to know what it is like to be small. It is essential to keep you mind free of subjective bias.
  • · Let your inner mind be unclouded and open, placing your intellect on a broad plane.
  • · It is essential to polish the brain and mind diligently.
  • · Once you have sharpened your understanding to the point where you can tell whatever is good or bad. When you are experienced in various fields and are incapable of being fooled at all by people of the world, then your mind will become imbued with the knowledge of the art of war. It is imperative to master the principles of the art of war and learn to be unworried even in the heat of battle.


Physical bearing in Martial Arts

  • · Your face should not be tilted.
  • · Do not wrinkle your forehead but make a furrow between your brow.
  • · Keep your eyes unmoving and try not to blink.
  • · Narrow your eyes slightly.
  • · The idea is to keep a serene expression on your face, nose straight, chin slightly forward.
  • · Focus strength in the nape.
  • · Generally speaking it is essential to make your ordinary bearing the bearing you use in martial arts and make the bearing you use in martial arts your normal bearing.


Focus of the eyes in Martial Arts

  • · The eyes are to focus in such a way as to maximise the range and breadth of vision.
  • · Observation and perception are two separate things, the observing eye is stronger, the perceiving eye is weaker.
  • · A speciality of martial arts is to see that which is far away closely and that which is nearby from a distance.
  • · In martial arts, it is important to be aware of the opponents swords yet not look at the enemy’s swords at all. This takes work!
  • · Find the state where your eye focus does not change no matter what happens.


Gripping the long sword

  • · Grip neither tightly or loosely.
  • · There should be no slackness in hand.
  • · Let there be no change in the grip even when slashing opponents.
  • · Your grip when cutting slashing opponents.
  • · Your grip when cutting to test something and your grip when slashing in combat should be no different.
  • · Fixating and binding are to be avoided. Fixation is the way to death; Fluidity is the way of life!


On Footwork

  • · Flighty steps, unsteady steps and stomping steps are to be avoided.
  • · Complimentary stepping is essential.
  • · Do not step with one foot alone.


Five kinds of guard

  • · Whatever guard you adopt do not think of it as being on guard. Think of it as the act of killing.
  • · What is important in this path is to realise that the consummate guard is the middle position.


The way of the long sword

  • · Even when wielding the sword with two fingers you know just how to do it and can swing it quickly.
  • · The idea is to swing the sword calmly so that it is easy to do.
  • · Perfect the use of the longsword, sensing the minds of opponents, using various rhythms gaining victory in any way.


Having a position without having a position

  • · Even though you may catch, hit or block, or tie up and obstruct these are all opportunities for cutting the opponent down.
  • · It is crucial to think of everything as an opportunity to kill.
  • · Fixation is dangerous.


Striking down an opponent in a single beat

  • · Finding a position where you can reach an enemy, realising when the opponent has not yet determined what to do, you strike directly as fast as possible, without moving or fixing your attention.


The rhythm of the second spring

  • · This is when you are about to hit and the opponent quickly pulls back or parries. You feint a blow and then strike the opponent as he relaxes after tensing.


Striking without thought and form

  • · When your opponent is going to strike, and you are also going to strike, your body is on the offensive and your mind is also on the offensive, your hands come spontaneously from space, striking with added speed and force.


The flowing water stroke

  • · When going toe to toe and an opponent tries to pull away quickly you become expansive in body and mind and swing your sword in an utterly relaxed manner as if there were some hesitation and strike with a large, powerful stroke.


Striking and hitting

  • · Striking is a stroke you employ and make a deliberate and certain strike. Even if you hit an opponent and he dies on the spot this is a hit. A strike is when you consciously and deliberately strike the blows you intended to hit. TO hit is to “feel out” for a powerful strike.


Stabbing the Face

  • · When you have the intention of stabbing your opponent in the face he will try to get both his face and his body out-of-the-way. When you can get your opponent to shrink away there are various advantages of which you can avail yourself to win.



  • · No matter how many opponents you beat, as long as you do anything in contravention of training then it cannot be a correct path. When this principle comes to mind, you should understand how to overcome even dozens of opponents all by yourself.


The Fire Scroll

  • · In the course of practising how to kill opponents, little sissy things never occurred to me. When on is in full combat gear one does not think of small things.
  • · After training and refining day and night with he determination to eventually consummate it, after having perfected it, one gaining an individual freedom, spontaneously attains wonders and is endowed with incredible powers of penetration.


The Physical Situation

  • · To look down on the enemy understand that you should always take the highest ground, indoors the seat of honour is the high ground.


Three pre-emption

  • · When you attack with your initiative “Striking from a state of suspension. Steel your mind to the utmost, accelerate your pace a bit and make a violent attack as soon as your opponent rears.
  • · Pre-empt an enemy making an attack on you, pre-emption from a state of waiting. When an opponent attacks and you aggressively meet his attack, the moment you sense a change in his rhythm you can win.
  • · When you and your opponent attack simultaneously, “Pre-emption” in a state of mutual confrontation. When an opponent attacks swiftly you attack calmly yet powerfully, tighten your being to absolute resolve, when your opponent slacks, over come him.


Holding down the Pillow

  • · When you manoeuvre opponents around freely by whatever means you may.
  • · When your opponent evinces any sign of intending to make a move you perceive it before he acts.
  • · Stop an opponent at the initial outset, not letting him follow through.
  • · Let an opponent go ahead and do anything that is useless while preventing him from doing anything useful.
  • · Thwart your opponent’s very first impulse to try something thus foiling everything.


Crossing a Ford

  • · Sense the state of opponents, aware of your mastery, you cross the ford using appropriate principles, put the adversary in a weak position and get the jump yourself, then you will quickly prevail.