The shadow exists in the unconscious parts of an individual. It contains hidden traits present in all of us such as desires, shortcomings, wildness and chaos, but is also the root of creativity. The shadow may manifest itself in dreams, or visions, and can take shape in a variety of dark monsters or exotic figures.
Children can be extremely imaginative, often engaging in make pretend mode. They may even become fearful of imaginary creatures or situations they create. To them these dark monsters and demons are real. Typical fears are Halloween masks, television fantasy figures such as the Witch of Narnia and the fear of being alone in the dark. As long as the sun shines upon the face of the moon, you are never alone in the darkness because you will always have a shadow.
For adults, recreation tends to have more of a purpose such as to maintain one’s general health. Tai chi, for example, is often described as a form of meditation in movement. It is an internal style of kung fu adopted by the West, more because of its potential health benefits than for combat training. Practiced as a slow motion exercise, the relaxed flowing movements of the tai chi forms calm the mind while enhancing concentration, awareness and physical fitness. However, the forms can be quite tricky to learn and the self-defense side, which is based around the principle of yielding to force and redirecting the attack, can take many years to master.
Despite its reputation, Western boxing isn’t just for people who want to beat the hell out of people they don’t like. It is an art form in itself. The movements are easy to learn and although practice is often physically demanding the health benefits may be well worth it. It can increase your life expectancy, reduce stress and weight, improve mental health and build muscle.
It is also possible to move away from the extreme physical aspects of boxing and take a look at a gentler side which combines meditative movement and visualization, the simplest approach being through imaginative shadow boxing.
Master Leo Fong (ex-training partner of Bruce Lee) describes his own practice of meditation in motion. In his book, Beyond Kung Fu, he outlines some easily learned routines. Boxing-like movements are executed slowly and deliberately, from a relaxed state, in a similar way to the forms of martial tai chi chuan. He stays extremely focused and at all times maintains inner body stillness. According to Fong, when you want to control your opponent’s power you yield to the force, and when you want to achieve speed you train slowly. He demonstrates in photos a series of combinations. These sharpen punching skills, develop flow and continuity within and, because of the relaxed motion, develop striking with speed due to the free flow of energy.
Fong then goes on to describe how he incorporates visualization to sharpen his martial arts skills. He adopts a comfortable relaxed position and conceives visual scenarios in his imagination. Then, believing and acting out the pictures from his mind’s eye, he practices the scenario in shadow fighting, starting with the opponent’s first attack. He demonstrates a particular example, with photos exhibiting the content of the inner mental images.
Fong maintains the key to visualization in action is through maintaining a relaxed-focus mindset. An opponent is continually giving out signals as to his next move and if you have developed a mindset to enter his rhythm, moving subconsciously just as he moves, you can always remain one step ahead, easily dissolving and deflecting his attacks.
The whole process of meditation, movement and visualization integrates body and mind resulting in superior mental and physical abilities.
In times of stress, why not try hanging a punching bag from a tree in your garden? Train on it in the moonlight and watch the shadows come alive as you revive the battles of old knights. Then feel a shiver down your spine and your spirits lift as you are lost completely in the moment.
If this doesn’t sound like your thing, you can always consider the benefits of catharsis. This is the purification and purgation of emotions, resulting in renewal and restoration, that comes from putting on a pair of boxing gloves and then punching the hell out of a bag while imagining it is your worst nightmare. Build your confidence to overcome your fears. After all the real battle is within yourself.
But please remember—no street fighting!