Thursday, July 13, 2006


Kan (intuition) is knowing without thinking. It is arriving at a conclusion without evidence, without having to invoke any logic, information, or prior knowledge of something. It is a flash of lightning; you just know. We all have it. We were born with it. As martial artists, it behooves us to not only become aware of its existence, but to honor it as part of our human heritage. The master teaches; this is tuition. Intuition is that faculty within; the inner wisdom. And wisdom is that which can never be borrowed.

During moments of possible danger, ordinary perception (ken) - seeing and hearing, can be weak and unreliable. Intuition can allow us to short circuit the actions of a perpetrator before something happens. Feeling the presence of imminent jeopardy allows us, for example, to change directions when walking alone at night. This is not to be confused with fear or paranoia, by-products of the lower consciousness. Intuition can be developed through an activity that requires clear mindedness, such as the practice of kata, or meditation (mokuso). Martial arts teachings lay the groundwork for the practitioner to follow. In the end, we have only ourselves, and our inner-knowing. Intuition represents the inborn essence of the most sought after attribute in the martial arts: self reliance.

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Blogger Mathieu said...

"As martial artists, it behooves us to not only become aware of its existence, but to honor it as part of our human heritage. "


7:46 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

I really wonder how much of this is taught/honed anymore. For example, how many martial artists are truly aware of their surroundings? Are they in tune with their senses enough to avoid danger?

I hope we, as martial artists, are constantly developing/strengthening our intuition.

9:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you ever read, "The Gift of Fear" by Gavin DeBecker? (I think that's his name.) It's an interesting read. I read it years ago when Oprah had a woman on who escaped her rapist right before he was going to kill her. She used her intuition and it told her the exact moment to get up and get out of there. I'd recommend reading it. They say with women, it's built in.

10:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Springboarding off of Mark's comment:

I don't know if "intuition" is necessarily taught. Certainly, the concept of space (ma'ai) is. Is there really a difference between the two concepts? Perhaps not. But I tend to think of ma'ai as a tangible manifestation of intuition. Students that need some sort of tangible feedback on progress seem to learn better when studying space than the more abstract concepts of intuition or awareness.

I guess my point is that any decent martial arts school requires that you learn and understand correct spacing or distance. Whether you can move from that to developing your own sense of intuition becomes more a responsibility of the student, as opposed to the instructor.

As a side note: I've not read "The Gift of Fear," but I did read "Fear Less." Interesting book, interesting author.

1:27 PM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

I'm not sure about other styles, but in Isshinryu karate we're taught, "The eyes must see all ways", and "The ears must hear in all directions". When this type of awareness is combined with intuition, it's called kan-ken futatsu no koto - both physical and psychical perception operate in times of danger.
Black Belt Mama:
I'm not familiar with The Gift of Fear - actually, the title is somewhat of a misnomer (fear) regarding intuition.

Women and children on the average have more developed intuitive powers than men.
I doubt it, especially in external styles like karate. As I understand it, ma'ai is the physical space between you and your opponent. As for internal styles, like aikido, ma'ai could include intuition. I hadn't really thought about it, but it sounds like something to look into. It's true that concepts like ma'ai and intuition are best developed on the student's own terms.

12:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In Pa Kua, we were taught an excercise that enabled you to focus on nothing . . . and therefore see everthing. I've found this really useful in sparring (when I've been able to do it) because it's like you enter a quiet space where you can see/feel/hear everything and because of that, you can react to everything. And I have read The Gift of Fear - he helps people who have survived really awful situations identify what they did to come through them. In other words, he gives them their power back. I'd also recommend it.

Great post.

6:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I suppose, in my mind, I've started to think that to have correct ma'ai, you must develop some sense of intuition. The correct spacing between you and your opponent depends on a number of variables; your intuition is what allows you to process those variables without even realizing it.

You are likely right--the use of ma'ai in aikido might require more intuition than in other styles. I do think that the study of something internal (like intuition) can be aided by looking at its external compliment (perhaps ma'ai, perhaps something else). Like learning how to throw or block by experiencing it as the uke. How much this helps, however, is an open question...

10:51 AM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

...focus on nothing...and therefore see everything. That's it! Intuitive abilities, art, music, literature, inventions, have all sprung from the void. In dangerous situations (or sparring), the best response is derived from our ability to enter open (quite) space; the ground state for intuition. (I've done some research in the past on Pa Kua -- it sounds like an interesting art)
In iaido, the idea is to be able to draw the sword from the scabbard without looking, and strike the target perfectly. This would certainly be an example of combining ma'ai with intuition. (I know aikido practitioners are curiously drawn to some weapons styles - I've heard of iaido being taught in conjunction with aikido in some schools)

12:59 PM  
Blogger Mir said...

Intuition! I've relied on that as a mother constantly.. It has made me aware of dangers to my children before the possiblity even approached itself. Many awful situations were avoided before anything happened.

I think that we just need to get in touch with that inner "hunch" feeling that warns us within.. easier said than done.

2:54 PM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

Intuition's strongest aspect is probably between mother and child. The etymology of intuition is related to guardianship - to provide protective care. So I do believe intuition's primary function is to watch over us, or a loved one, such as a child.

11:08 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Excellent comments! We've all learned alot.

I believe it was written that Morihei Ueshiba, founder of Aikido, had a heightened sense of awareness and intuition. His use of ma'ai prevented many an uke from even touching him, before they were thrown.

8:43 AM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

Some of those stories about Ueshiba are incredible. I've read a couple of works by John Stevens, who has written extensively about aikido and its famous founder. Invincible Warrior includes vintage photos from Ueshiba's pre-aikido daito-ryu days you might find very interesting.

4:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another take on intuition:

Personally I think some people are naturally better than others at keying in on their surroundings. I think it has something to do with how we evolved. I know after having worked in two prisons that you can teach people this skill and also help them improve (law enforcement calls it "scene awareness").

The dojo/dojang is certainly a good place to develope this skill. In fact, after the trouble I've been having with my forms I've realized that it can be very hard to focus on a task, not let your surroundings make you lose focus, and yet be aware of your surroundings at the same time!

Personally I've never had much luck with sitting meditation to acquire this skill. I tried that seriously for about a year when I was studying wing chung. I can say it was great for relaxation and stress relief. However, I much prefer the moving meditation of forms/kata.

I believe it was either Bruce Lee or Chuck Norris (maybe both?) who encouraged their students to constantly be thinking about how they would react if attacked--be it on the street, at the mall, in a movie theatre, etc. Keep your eyes on the surroundings, imagine "what if" scenarios, and envision how you would react if the scenario really happened.

Good advice that is easily practiced with a little discipline.


6:09 AM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

As a meditation tool, I find the use of kata (forms) more challenging, than the traditional sitting method.

It's interesting how in external styles -- like karate and TKD, the more subtle topics of awareness and intuition are sort of glossed over or dismissed as unimportant (at least as taught today ). I can see how critical and useful they would be in the prison system!

11:29 AM  

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