Monday, August 25, 2008

Zen and the Warrior Mind

“Zen” is a word recently used to criticize counterinsurgency doctrine, as if “Zen” were some kind of touchy feeling kind of thing. One thing is clear is that the author of these remarks is that he knows zip about Zen, ground warfare, or for that matter warfare itself, in particular that of the fighter pilot.

Zen Buddhism was adopted by the Japanese Samurai during the twelfth century as a formulation of a comprehensive philosophy of life including earlier techniques to quiet the mind for effective combat. These techniques exist to combat adverse body reactions to stress such as hyperventilation, narrowed field of view, muscle strain that slows reaction time, and the misdirection that an excited mind has on combat efficiency. The most common techniques include deep breathing, lowering the center of gravity (both used to maximize air intake using the diaphragm instead of the chest), and clearing the mind of distracting chatter. The breathing techniques are called “Zazen” and involve mental visualization to assist in calming the mind.

These techniques are also included in Western medicine in such practices as bio-feedback, and have been described for athletic endeavor as being “in the zone”. The deep breathing and visualization processes in Zen are used in the Lozanov accelerated language learning used successfully in the Soviet Union, and at the University of Houston.
The use of these techniques is counter intuitive for what one expects for combat. It is very much of the mythical role of the “Warrior” to be red eyed blood mad and ferocious. Aside from the Nordic Berserker, this sort of madness is a good way to be cut down by the cold eyed (Zen) killer.

As a Military Channel addict, the accounts of fighter pilots recounting their exploits display far more accuracy and detail concerning what happened when and who did it to be from a maddened mind. The simple fact of the Zen state of mind is that time appears to slow down. This is exactly what most of us have experienced in accidents, a sudden awareness that time slowed down, and a corresponding feeling that the body isn’t moving fast enough … the latter is a matter of training.

This is the state of mind that fighter pilots live or die on. It has saved my life a number of times
at the edge of death. And,

Beware of the opponent who calms down before the fight.

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