Martial art is nowadays seen as a collection of techniques that must be studied in order to recall them when needed and use them in a specific situation. Fighting becomes like a question-answer game: If the attacker does technique a), I can counter with technique c), d), x) or y).

Such a system is based on conscious application of movements, i.e. my consciousness decides on a technique and gives instructions to the body to execute the movements. Without wanting to go into further detail, it can be said that this is a cortical (starting from the cerebral cortex) way of moving.

So I always have to decide consciously which technique I want to do, because a movement is linked to a concrete application in my brain (“If he holds the arm like this and like this I can do the and the technique”). Even if the movement of a “technique” has been internalized for so long that it has been filed subconsciously (in the striatum), it is only recalled when certain, concrete, instructions are received (e.g. “arm in the and position”).

Subconscious centers

Learning movements via abstract images (e.g. balls, water, Qi etc.) and emotional connections starts on a completely different level. I activate subconscious centres such as the nucleus accumbens, the limbic system, the Formatio reticularis (and thus the vegetative nervous system), the ARAS and create the connection to the basal ganglia and thus to motor functions.

Certainly a movement is still cortically controlled (I “think” these pictures consciously), but it is filed abstractly. Pictures are the basis for principles of movement (e.g. “dropping” and “hanging up the spine”). So by giving the body only certain “basic conditions”, I let it do the rest the way it is most effective for it.

This requires a relaxed, loose body with a healthy statics. I have to learn to release tensions and to reduce too much muscle tension by means of the pictures. A method that is also widely used in the West (e.g. Feldenkrais and Alexander Method).

The health exercises of the Chinese system (the “standing pillar” and the umpteen other Qigong systems) make use of exactly this. The exercises are ancient (well over 2000 years old) and come from the shamanistic traditions of Central Asia from which Daoism (and later Zen Buddhism) emerged. Also the different yoga traditions have their common origin there, which can be seen in the quite similar pictures.

Abstract images

Abstract images are now the basis for a relaxed, functional body and a relaxed mind. Through these images I initiate movements that have basic principles. The extension of these images then leads to basic applications in combat. Through these images I learn to “adhere”, “push”, “pull”, “fill”, “empty”, “explode” and much more. I can apply these abstract pictures through all possible movements.

Now we come to what makes the martial arts different in the first place: The basic complex movements. Every system has a certain basic repertoire of movements and hand positions, which are taught in the most different ways (e.g. hand positions in bagua, “fists/forms” in Xingyi and the most different forms, Kata, of the martial arts).

In addition, the martial arts teach the principles of throwing, choking and grabbing, which are, however, closely connected to the teaching of the anatomy of the human body. Once you have understood how the human body is constructed and how to block joints, then you also know how to hurt the body. The pictures then connect this knowledge for application.

So how are images and principles linked?

Images form the basis for principles of movement and a “functional” body. A small extension of these pictures leads to the basic fighting principles. In addition, there is the knowledge of the anatomy of the human body and its functioning. From this, the principles of punching, kicking, throwing and grabbing can be derived, whereby every punch and kick can also become a throw or grab.

These images and principles are combined with basic movement patterns.

Principles are like seeds and techniques are like trees. I can hold an entire forest in my fist when I’m teaching principles…

This article can of course only be a rough overview of the teaching system with pictures and principles. Much of the text will probably remain unclear or too abstract, or “esoteric” for the readers. However, the exact implementation of this concept can only be shown “on the mat”, because you have to feel the effects the pictures produce in order to understand them.

A large part of this work takes place, as one can imagine, in the mind. Martial art is therefore for us “thinking in relaxed movement”. Such a work with body and mind also has an effect on other parts of life, because the above mentioned subconscious brain centers have various tasks and especially the emotional connection strongly influences our consciousness.

The images used in martial arts are thus also used in various lines of meditation (they come from shamanistic traditions) and can thus also influence psychological growth and healing processes. A process called LTP (long-term-potentation) ensures that circuits are created and strengthened in the brain when used often and continuously. Working with images reinforces exactly these connections in the brain between the different emotional centres and the body. My consciousness gets a stronger connection to my subconsciousness through the work with pictures and the body. But this intensified access also has an effect on us outside of martial arts training and influences us.

The path to the innermost core of our being does not lead past our deepest fears and emotions, but into and through them.

Martial arts confront us with our fears, with our anger and can teach us to accept and dissolve them with love. The images and bodywork can help us in this process, whereas pure “technique training” can never create these connections.

Fighting is always also fear and how to deal with it, so fighting is a good catalyst to learn to deal with our everyday fears.

Violence and dealing with violence results from our fear, as well as our anger. The pictures give us the opportunity to look at, accept and let go of all this, in all areas of our lives.

Training on images and principles is therefore beneficial to the whole person, it creates an access to our “True Self”.