This essay is an exploration and review of a martial arts academy and the types of altered states of consciousness (ASC) and trance states that could be accessed during the physical training of the class. Sources are minimal in this area of research, but they have been used where applicable in the discussion of the different types of ASC and how they can be accessed.
The place that was observed, as a place of trance and altered states, was Advance Martial Arts (AMA), a full-time martial arts academy and gym based near Brisbane's central business district. Advance Martial Arts teaches a variety of styles: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, a ground based grappling art; Muay Thai, a kick-boxing art native to Thailand; boxing; wrestling, a combination of the Olympic sports of Greco-Roman and Freestyle Wrestling; and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), a combination of all the 'best' techniques from the other styles taught to provide a well-rounded self-defence in both striking and ground based grappling.
Classes, at AMA, are held at a selection of times throughout the week, providing a flexible training schedule seven days a week. Advance is aware that there are people that train there from all walks of life and experience, and, thus, the training provided is also heavily influenced by the other people you train with. Everyone is welcoming and friendly, and ready to help if you ask any questions. The mantra of all AMA classes is a simple one: "we teach only what works in the real world". Rules are set so students can train in relative safety; they know what is allowed and what is not.
Students learn how far they should apply a technique or how hard, with practice. Through the nature of learning through each other, training partners become empathically aware of what is occurring while they perform an action—of course, this also differs in certain ways depending on individual flexibility, awareness and experience.
Training is spiritual. Even if the finished product is viewed as too violent, or orientated as a violent act and is seen by most to take away from the spiritual ideal does not change the act of training. To train in a realistic setting, is to place one's self in a consensual environment with set rules to minimise all possible damage to one's self and others. Once a student has enough experience they may train in a way that is more indicative of a realistic fight-encounter, using full resistance, trying to perform techniques at a hundred percent speed and power. It is only in this way that students learn how to deal with problems with technique that may come up. Through these set rules a student is able to push themselves to the very limit—of endurance, strength, and mental focus—and possibly beyond to transcend their limitations, in a controlled environment.
The observed and experienced training session was the brazilan ju-jitsu open class, which runs for an hour, Monday to Thursday. The class begins with a basic warm-up (which may change day-to-day, but is fundamentally the same) of light cardio, running around the mat space; and stretches for major muscles groups that are involved in wrestling, thighs, arms, neck, and back.
After this, the class starts to do the fundamental hip-escapes: these are when you are on your back and you imagine an opponent straddling you, the goal is to 'buck' them off-balance with your hips, turn to your side with your shoulders lined up horizontally to point to the ceiling, and 'wiggle' to get your leg or legs out from their straddling position. A few laps of the 'shrimping' technique are done up the mat a number of times, start to finish.
After this, the class will focus on a technique for the night—repeating it during drills numerous times before moving on to wrestling rounds, this is where the techniqes that have been learned can be applied in a resisting environment. In essence, the goal is to "drill-in" the importance of these basic techniques, so if in a time of crisis one will revert back to instinct and rely upon what the body remembers from all the repetitious training—the muscle memory.
Within the training it is possible to transcend the normal physical limitations that restrict a person, through altered states of consciousness and trance states. One can push on—and past normal endurance—while under extreme physical and mental pressures, and pain. The trance states that can be achieved during the physical exersion of martial arts training are both psychological and physiological. Through the repetitive motion in training it is possible to reach a trance state, similar to shamanic ecstatic dance.
Respitory maneuvers, controlled breathing while in stressful physical situations; moving meditation; and rhythm induced trance are all states that can lead to Alpha or Alpha-like brainwave states (Vaitil 104-108). The Alpha brainwave is at a frequency of 8-12hz, which is indicitive of relaxed yet focused sports activity (Griffiths 2). These ASC are being increasingly researched due to the importance they hold in sport performance increases. The Alpha brainwave frequency is similar to that of 'being in the zone' (Griffiths 1): the zone is a state where body movements seem to occur automatically and without conscious effort.
By the hundreds or thousands of technique repetitions the body goes through during the course of training, it can result in the induction of an altered state of consciousness (Vaitil 107). A practitioner of martial arts, through this repetitive intense training, can reach a key or peak state in which they can induce or enter an ASC, due to their constant physical and mental training (Devonport 103, Henry 395).
The repetitive motion and focusing of the mind on the 'task at hand' narrows awareness to the moment and action being performed, the mind is completely absorbed in the activity of moving and performing the technique that is being done. Speaking to a training partner and friend after training about what he thought of trance states during the brazilian ju-jitsu training he had this to say, "You know, I never really thought about it as religious, but when we are training there is definitely something weird happening. I feel different mentally, it's hard to explain or put a finger on, but something is definitely happening—I feel like I'm in a trance."
Griffiths, M. J. Et al. "Recent Advances in EEG Monitoring for General Anaesthesia, Altered States of Consciousness and Sports Performance Science." IEE International Seminar on Medical Applications of Signal Processing, November 4, 2005, Vol. 3; pp. 1-5.
Henry, James L. “Possible Involvement of Endorphins in Altered States of Consciousness.” Ethos, 1982; Vol.10, No.4, pp. 394-408. Blackwell Publishing.
Vaitil, Dieter Et al. “Psychobiology of Altered States of Consciousness.” Psychological Bulletin, 2005; Vol. 131, No.1; pp. 98-127. American Psychological Association.