Guy's Blog

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Tag: how to start meditation

I'm working on the latest instalment of The Swordsman's Quick Guide, which will cover my foundational breathing exercises. The book is already out to my test readers who have kindly volunteered to wade through the sewage of extraneous verbiage and excessive punctuation in search of the faintest glimmer of useful text. My fellow writers will recognise that moment when first draft hits first readers…

I intend to release this book with a lot of extra material, such as video of all the exercises and audio clips so you can play the instructions into your ears, leaving your eyes and hands free. This is completely new territory for me so I don't expect it to be very good right away. The only way that I know of to get better at anything is to do it, get feedback on the results, then do it again. A tiny amount of that feedback can happen internally- I can usually spot the utter crap and kill it before it escapes. But it's far more effective, I find, to ask the community that the work is intended for to try it out and let me know what works and what doesn't.

To that end, here are two clips, one for “Walking Breathing” and one for “How to Stand”. This is the worst way to encounter the material – out of context of the book it goes with. If it survives, in other words if you can follow it, then it's robust enough. Please listen to the clips, and let me know in the comments on this page, or by email to me at, whether it works for you. Is it clear? Can you follow the instructions?

Walking breathing exercise:

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How to Stand:

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So, how was it? Posting the most amusing comment will get you a free copy of the book when it's done, but the most helpful will get the book package with audio clips and audiobook. Carry on!

I'm a Luddite, it’s true. I resist the march of technological progress because I think that most new technologies aren't labour saving life enhancing devices at all. I was saying this back in the ‘80s when people were extolling the new ‘desktop publishing' thing. “What used to take two weeks can now be done in a single day!” they cried. “Great” I replied. “Do you get the rest of the fortnight off?”

No. What happens, every time, is that as capacity increases, expectations rise, and so you end up with an increase in productivity and more work being done for the same pay. Not fair, and not helpful, except to those who own the fruits of your labour.

But, and this is a very big BUT (I like big buts), there are areas where all this new-fangled gadgetry does actually help people. HEMA would barely exist without the internet, because it is such a niche interest that finding fellow enthusiasts was very hard before the web came along. And for those of us trying to make a living serving those enthusiasts, I think it would be impossible without things like print-on-demand technology, easy-to-use web building tools, and communications of all sorts. I have students in Chile who can send me videos of themselves doing my Longsword Syllabus Form for me to comment on and help them improve. Fantastic.

This is a screen capture not a video link because the video is set to “Unlisted”. Chaps, if it's ok to share it, let me know…

I've also come round to the idea that while the actual use of force (responding to pressure in the bind, that sort of thing) cannot really be taught over the net, there is a place for online courses to help self-study. Lots of people use my Syllabus Wiki in various ways to help them learn, but I am taking a great big step right now and am plunging into creating online courses. The first one is now live, and you can see it here.

I'm using the Teachable platform, because it seems to be the best in class for what I need it to do; unlike Udemy, for instance, I can directly control things like pricing, and tracking student progress.

Another major benefit of the internet is that I can reach vastly more people virtually than I ever could in person. And some of those people are excited by the work I’m doing and want to help. My School and I have benefitted enormously over the years from people volunteering their skills to help. Ilkka Hartikainen shooting the photos and laying out two of my books, for instance. Jari Juslin shooting the photos for the last three. And when I arrived in Ipswich, Curtis Fee (of The Barebones Company) showing up to help unload the lorry for another instance. And when I mentioned the projects I was working on, well, turns out he has a bunch of useful professional skills, which he has applied to making the online school interface vastly more beautiful than it was.
Isn’t this pretty?

It's an exciting time to be teaching swordsmanship, that's for sure. Right now my head is simply buzzing with ideas for other courses that I can create to teach online. Breathing. Meditation. Mechanics. Dagger. Longsword. Imagine if when students finally find a group they can join, or start one themselves, and they already have decent fundamentals in place. Wow.

I have been meditating in one form or another for about 18 years. Of all the things I do to be a better human, and a better martial artist, writer and teacher, I think meditation is perhaps the most important, and the most effective in terms of time spent to results obtained. This is because 95% of training happens in the brain, and you need your brain to do the other 5% too. Meditation can work like defragging your hard drive, installing a better CPU, quadrupling your RAM, and upgrading your operating system. Only better. There are a dozens of studies that suggest that meditation is good for you. And there are a bagillion pages of hippy crap out there too claiming it will make you fly, or infinitely wise, or good in bed, or whatever other nonsense. Here are two articles, both from major government health organisations: the UK National Health Service, and the US NCCIH, which seem to conclude that it's healthy.

Tim Ferriss has an interesting podcast where he interviews overachievers of every kind, and one thing that they all seem to have in common is they meditate. I've written before on how it can help to manage fear, but I thought I'd introduce it in a more practical way to those for whom it's unfamiliar.

There are lots of different ways to meditate, with lots of different effects, and of course every system claims wonders for its own special style. But really, meditation is about two things: focus and awareness. The easiest place to start, I think, is with “mindfulness of breathing”. It goes like this:

  • Set a timer. I recommend perhaps 3 minutes if this is your first ever go.
  • Sit comfortably, or lie down. I like sitting cross-legged on a kicking pad, at the salle, or on my pillows in bed if I've just woken up, or on the floor in my study if I don't want to wake my wife.
  • Close your eyes, and notice your breathing. Don't interfere with it, just pay attention. if that's a bit vague, try noticing the feeling of the breath coming in through your nostrils, and out of your mouth.
  • Start counting your breaths, one in, out, two in out, three in out, etc.
  • When (not if) your mind wanders, just notice that it has wandered, and bring it gently back, starting the count at one.
  • If you get to ten without distraction, go back to one anyway.
  • Keep doing this until the timer goes off.
  • Repeat this every day. First thing in the morning is probably best, but any time will do. I do it on waking.

I usually set my timer for about 10 minutes, or 20. No more, because I'm not a Buddhist monk. On a good day, I get up to about six breaths, sometimes even 10 without distraction, but quite often it goes one, one, one, one, one, one, one two Yay I got past one! oops, now I'm distracted again one, one, one. That's ok. The practice is the process of gently returning your attention to the breath. Nobody cares that you did 10 rounds of 10 breaths without your mind wandering even once. Any computer will do that for you, and better. This meditation teaches you a relaxed, gentle focus. If the timer going off feels like a surprise, that's great. Try adding a minute or two to the time on your next session. Or not. If you can't wait for the damn thing to beep already, that's ok too. Be gentle. And set your morning alarm three minutes earlier. You can manage that, right?

The next stage is to apply that focus to something beyond your breath, such as the feelings in your body. I have used this extensively to help me deal with the feelings that have been boiling up during my boarding school recovery. The idea is that by making space for the feelings, and being aware of them, they cease to control you and fade away. When, for instance, a wave of grief would hit, I would just sit with it, and it would pass. It's also generally useful in that it teaches mindfulness as a specific skill unconnected to your daily tasks. I have recently come across Tara Brach's guided meditations, which seem pretty good. I've linked to her page of basic, beginner-friendly guided meditations, but I personally use a couple of the longer ones. I'm also trying out the “Calm” app, which has a free course of seven guided meditations, which is a really good introduction for complete beginners to the practice.

Give it five minutes a day, every day. After 10 days, if it's doing nothing for you, stop. But I'm confident you'll already be giving it 7 minutes. Or 10. Because it's wonderful.

I'm giving a lot of thought these days to the parts of my practice that are not directly sword-related. Over the last 15 years of being a professional swordsman I have spent perhaps 10% of my training time sword-in-hand. This may seem odd, but as I see it, the sword is just the tool; a drill-bit in a drill, the head of the spear, the arrow not the bow. So I have spent most of my time upgrading my hardware (with breathing exercises, strength training, mobility training, joint maintenance, this sort of thing), and my operating system (with meditation, study, research, interacting with other practitioners and so forth). This makes running “Art of Arms 1.0” easy (though creating “Art of Arms 1.0” has been really hard!). Sword practice, such as striking targets, solo forms, pair drills, fencing, and demonstrations in class, combined add up to only a fraction of the total time. My results speak for themselves; you can google my fencing matches on youtube if you want to see how I fence, or just ask my students.

This is why my book The Theory and Practice of Historical Martial Arts includes a lot of practical advice on things like nutrition, sleep, and yes, meditation too. You need your body and mind working properly to practice! The book also covers breathing practices, some of which are also a form of meditation. For an in-depth look at my breathing training, you should have a look at my breathing course. You may also find this article from Groom and Style interesting as it goes into some variations of breathing exercises that I don't cover, and gives some background information with fancy graphics.

I recommend sharing this post with everyone you know who is even a little bit stressed out!

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