Martial Arts & The Positive Cycle (Part 1)

Dan Couzens Martial Arts Explored, Self Development

dan couzens in zai zen on cliff next to ocean. bushido bristol martial arts

Martial Arts & The Positive Cycle (Part 1)

Before we take a deeper look at what I call the positivity cycle, there are a couple of assumptions we need to make about life and human beings for the cycle to work.

Assumption one is that the human being is an adaptable creature and that we have the capacity to change, learn and evolve not just in childhood but also at any stage in life.

Assumption two is that the situation of life can be influenced by behaviors, actions and choices.

So we start with the idea that we do in fact have a modicum of control over the circumstances of our life and our character, and perhaps this modicum of control and influence increases the more we realise it.


The first step on the positive cycle is developing vision, without a picture, a goal, an imagined future there can be no direction to follow. At Bushido Bristol Martial Arts we create a vision in multiple ways, the first and most obvious way is the demonstration of technique. The students see how the technique should be done, then they go away and practice it. Through practice we draw a mental map that orchestrate the physical coordination required in order to execute technique. Here the adaptation process is taking place, as the martial arts student progresses, the vision gets bigger and we set a goal to get to a martial arts grading.

As Vision increases in its size and complexity, we have to assume more responsibility and develop more actual ability in order to achieve the vision.


I don’t listen to what people say, I watch for what they do; the old cliché of actions speak louder than words, is very true. You have to summon the drive to achieve, what is Drive? It is your will power, it is your passion, it is the level of care you have, it is commitment and the focus.

It is common for people to not really know what to do; we often don’t know what we want or what we have to offer. If you don’t set down the vision, you are rudderless and will float around in circles going nowhere whilst the tides and winds of life give you a battering. Life left to its own devices can be extraordinarily harsh.

Drive is about making a decision and then sticking with it; of course the vision can change and evolve, you can realize at any step that you are going in the wrong direction for you but do this too often and you’ll end up going nowhere.

Make the decision and then drive towards it.

Dan Couzens




Martial Arts & The Unification of Spirit (Part 1)

Dan Couzens Martial Arts Explored, Self Development



Before we begin exploring the unification of spirit, lets first define what I mean by spirit. I mean intent, determination and the focusing of your energy, I mean summoning your will to go in the direction of your choosing; adopting the best quality attitude to take on this life and live it to the full.

The human being is a marvellous thing, we are the result of 3.8 billion years worth of evolution, living on a planet around 4.5 billion years old, currently spinning at 1000mph and moving around our Sun at roughly 67000mph. Your life is already extraordinary! The human species is both beautiful and ugly in every sense of the word, we are loving and hateful. We have grand ideas and petty squabbles, we are motivated and we procrastinate, we exude the brightest intelligence and the dimmest stupidity, we seek grand knowledge whilst battling with profound ignorance. More likely than not, these polarities of the human psyche exist within you, the good and the bad, the ugly and the beautiful, the grand and the petty. The question is which one is going to win?


A peaceful warrior does not wage battle against others; they acknowledge the battle within themselves. When they look in the mirror they don’t look to improve their image, they look to improve their content; and what they see staring back at them is the person who stands in their way. Great sports teams understand this, they are always talking about working on their own game and the score will take care of its self.

We are adept at self-sabotage, wishful thinking and warped observation. Elon Musk once said, ‘all we are trying to do is be less wrong’ and look at what he is achieving! If any of us compare ourselves to his achievements, do we not fall a little short? The key is not to compare to others but to allow great achievement and great people to inspire us to go further. To wake us up and ask ourselves the question, what could I do that would benefit humanity in some way? Elon Musk is solving some of the major issues that we as a species are facing. What if we all did the same thing in however big or small way?

What’s all this got to do with Martial Arts? The unification of spirit. The unification of spirit is the pursuit of the gradual organisation of our selves. When we are organised we become more capable of achieving any thing we set our minds to. My focus for the last 16 years has been about becoming a better martial artist and a better martial arts teacher. This is because martial arts for me, has been a profoundly enriching experience. A major key is to seek out your affinity or affinities. Martial arts training has led to the understanding of how to develop a multitude of other skills that are both varied and seemingly unrelated, however, to me its all related; in everything there exist principles that are the same. If we look for the principles we will find the most logical way of moving forward.


So how do we go about organising ourselves towards the unification of spirit? Over the next few blogs I will go through my take on how to approach achievement by going into more depth on the positivity cycle. I will also explore ideas on how we can go about developing better internal awareness through the practice of martial arts, breathing techniques and meditation.

Dan Couzens



Dan Couzens Martial Arts Explored, Self Development

Martial arts discipline bushido bristol martial arts blog picture.

Discipline is one of the keys to potential, it is how to move your ability forward, and it is a principle for how things work. Lack discipline and just rely on natural talent and luck and you’ve just given up a great deal of your ability to influence the outcome.

Discipline does not care about your emotions, your disadvantages, your circumstances, your opinions or beliefs, you cannot wish for discipline to be easier but you can work towards a love of discipline.

Once you have developed a certain degree of discipline you will gain a perspective that shows you what is possible if you cultivate yet more discipline. In this way you will always lack discipline, it will always be outside your reach, so, the key to discipline is to understand it’s importance yet don’t base your self worth on it. Life is not black and white and whatever you are disciplined enough to do consistently well, is invariably going to equate to a narrow picture of what is really important.

For martial arts to have any real worth it should lead to a more positive experience of being you. This means that when you practice martial arts it should create a positive uplift. If it doesn’t you are getting something wrong!

But we are emotional creatures, we need to see improvements and when we know we haven’t put the work in to get better we give our selves a hard time. This self-criticism is seldom constructive! Just get back on track and begin the process of acquiring discipline again.

5 Misconceptions about Discipline.

1/ Restrictive

Discipline is the opposite of restrictive; discipline is the key in creating physical liberation. What’s this? Physical liberation is the ability to do what you want, with whom you want, when you want. Sound selfish? Only if what you want to do doesn’t benefit humanity in anyway.

2/ Takes From Me

Discipline gives to you, it gives you the ability to be do martial arts well, drive a car, play a guitar, run a business, manage a workload, get fit and stay healthy. Discipline doesn’t take anything from you it gives to you the ability to meet life’s demands and gain real worth from doing so.

3/ It’s Not Enjoyable

Discipline is one of the most vitally enjoyable things you can do and experience in your life as long as what you are putting effort into is fully in line with who you are. Know thyself is the ultimate discipline.

4/ It’s Hard

Actually, this isn’t a misconception, it is hard, it’s hard because the world is full of distractions, negative influences and easier options that promise the same outcome! Go the harder route it’s usually the right one.

5/ I Can’t

Part of the issue with discipline is self-perception; in an earlier blog I write about positive cycles where vision is the first step on the cycle. You have to be able to see yourself doing it for a reason that is highly motivating for you.

My observation is that discipline doesn’t happen without a formula;

Vision + Reason + Motivation = Discipline

Make the vision exciting; make the reason bigger than you, keep yourself motivated and discipline will begin to happen. Start with what you have an affinity for, continue by understanding how this helps others and you are already half way there…

Dan Couzens



Dan Couzens Fitness & Martial Arts, Martial Arts Explored, Self Development


Combative training is necessary and an extremely important aspect of martial arts, however, it doesn’t need to be about violence. Tuesday’s blog looks at the benefits of training with the combative stimulus in mind and how we can view the combative scenario both as a literal situation and as a metaphor. Here are 5 benefits of using the combative stimulus.

1/ Alertness

Combative stimulus is a powerful way of training alertness, one needs be fully awake in order to deal with an assailant, not only does your awareness of the situation (observational skills) need to be at it’s height but your body must also be full of vitality and energy. If there is any dimness or dullness anywhere in your human system this will decrease your chances of a positive outcome (your survival with minimal or no injury, having only done what is necessary). The first stance you learn in Bushido is the ready stance (Yoi Dachi) the physical shape of this stance is less important than the mental aspects of readiness. What is the best way to increase vitality and energy?

2/ Timing, Rhythm & Tempo

It was all over in a flash! I have heard this statement many times, the combative stimulus requires one to act quickly and decisively, and you can’t hesitate or in anyway restrict your actions with ponderous movement or thought. Training at various tempos is highly enjoyable as well as necessary and your combative tempo can vary; you can slow your physical moments down, speed them up and create various rhythms. Each time you do this you are challenging your co-ordination, your body awareness and technique in multiple ways; this is also mentally stimulating.

3/ Determination

Determination can be defined as, YOU decide the outcome, however, to do this you have to be able to self motivate and you need to develop self-belief. No matter what the odds are, you mentally set yourself as someone who will continue, no matter what. Determination is about training your will power and disciplining your mind, because, your best chance of deciding the outcome is to be totally unified in your direction.

4/ Physical Conditioning

Fitness! You may need it all to be effective in a combative situation; over time you will develop anaerobic capacity, aerobic capacity, strength, and flexibility. You name the type of fitness and to some extent it will need to be developed. Your physical conditioning will never be complete, however, because you need a well-rounded set of physical attributes, martial arts training creates overall well rounded physical health.

5/ Creativity

What is going to happen in a combative situation? No one knows. Yes we can train for common types of attack and study many strategies that will increase the likely hood of a positive outcome. Once a basic level of knowledge has been acquired and a certain level of fitness developed, it’s time to begin creating answers. A great way to be prepared for uncertainty is to become adaptable and creative. Creating the answer, doing something new is what makes the game of martial arts infinitely stimulating.

It’s Not About Violence

Martial arts is about the development of character it is not about violence, yet a martial artist should be capable of dealing with violence and be able to express themselves combatively. The mind-set, the skill set, the physical fitness, the determination and the confidence acquired from training using combative stimulus may never and hopefully will never be used in a real situation, however, the attributes that this type of training develops in the person goes with them everyday of their lives.

Dan Couzens



Dan Couzens Martial Arts Explored, Self Development

dan couzens blog picture. bushido bristol martial arts

How is it that the study of violence can lead to peace? How can learning to punch and kick improve someone’s confidence? How can combat lead to kindness?

If you watch a great movie it will have a great story, great characters in a well realized world of fantasy or fact.

But for the characters to be great there must be dimensions to their personality and their character will need to evolve throughout the film, bad to good, good to bad, small to big.


In martial arts, people join for various reasons, they want fitness but they also want mental stimulation, they want a genuine sense of confidence, they want to learn to fight or they want to explore the esoteric and they want to grow.

There are many reasons people take their first step into a martial arts dojo, whatever the reason, your initial reason to train probably won’t be the reason you continue to train. How so? Because martial arts training will evolve with you and you evolve with training. Regardless of the club you choose or the style or the teacher you train with, your perspective will inevitably shift as you develop in your abilities.


I have students who are really enthused and energetic but commonly struggle with technical refinement, and I have students with great technique but struggle to enthuse their movements with spirit. I have people training who aren’t’ afraid of mixing it on the mat and love the physical but often lack artistry and subtlety.

My observation is that the values that the student holds are the attributes they will display and are both their strength and their limitation; so the journey in martial arts is to learn the thing that has the attributes outside of the your assumed set of values or to do the thing that you are not naturally gifted at.


You want to deal with a street fight? Fine learn the no nonsense approach we have to combative ability, learn the mindset required, however, I encourage you not to stop there; push yourself to explore the artistry of Kata, the flow of the softer aspects of martial arts and the wisdom martial arts has to offer.

You want to learn about breathwork and meditation? Fine, but don’t stop there either, keep your martial arts honest and your feet on the ground by learning how to deal with the harsher side of life head on and develop your street fighting capability. Street fighters have got spine, intelligent thinkers have perspective, artists have a type of awareness and expression and a warrior has all of these capabilities.

What I am saying is don’t limit your character by limiting your exploration of what martial arts can be. YOU are the writer of the movie, the director of the story and you can even craft your own character.


As you craft your character, there will be choices to make along the way; the choice is, do you want to make your martial arts training about punches or peace?

Dan Couzens


Should Everyone Practice Martial Arts?

Dan Couzens Martial Arts Explored


I have long thought that if you’re passionate about your subject, enjoying the study, the practice and the pursuit of excellence then there is also the deep feeling of wanting to share it..

I feel like this with martial arts, it’s been an incredibly rich and rewarding journey, sure there has been up’s and downs and the road has often times been bumpy, but that’s life.

Here are 10 reasons to get involved
(not in any particular order)

1/ The Focus

In an earlier blog I talk about getting organised and gaining focus. When you learn a new technique you are organising your mind, developing awareness of the body to understand the pattern of technique.
I am making a guess here but I sense that this is a very healthy thing for the brain and the body to do; to concentrate on a single task with such intent nothing else matters. I see it week in week out, people turning up to the dojo with work on their minds feeling tired after a hard day, then after some more hard work on the mat they leave the dojo feeling energised and mentally refreshed. Amazing!

2/ The Fitness

You need aerobic, anaerobic, flexibility, strength, coordination and stability, you need them all and they will all develop with you as you progress. Also it is common for people to train in martial arts for decades. What is better, a 6 week fitness blast or decades of consistent physical work?

3/ The Camaraderie

Each dojo is unique, unique style, unique approach, unique teacher and therefore the journey you go on in each dojo is unique and only shared with others in the same dojo.
Over the years you’ll recognise this in each other and a strong bond forms. New starters can sense this as soon as they turn up for the free intro. The atmosphere created by the work ethic of the Bushido Bristol students is palpable; come along and see for yourself.

4/ The Combative Skill

If martial is in the title, then martial should be in the content. The combative skills you will learn with Bushido Bristol Martial Arts are highly effective. The speed, power and accuracy of the techniques as well as the force of spirit and mental attitude that we can help you develop will equip you well for a real life encounter.
Combative skill is not just about your fighting ability, it’s about awareness, alertness and behaviours see blog on self defence circles

5/ The Confidence

There is no doubt about it, martial arts training leads to greater confidence. I irreverently refer to confidence as kung-Fu. I know its cheeky but I love the line your kung-Fu must be strong, your confidence must be strong. I joke with my students on this all the time, we can over react when we feel an element of us is threatened and sometimes this threat is simply a lack of confidence meaning your kung-fu is weak!

Martial arts not only deals with the threat but also gives you the awareness to notice when you feel threatened. Kung-Fu practitioners, please don’t take this as disrespectful, we wear pyjamas with different coloured belts, so lets not get too serious!!!

6/ The Challenge

People can be at their happiest when facing some kind of challenge in a direction they wish to pursue. Again, this is a guess but I think this is because we have to tap into potential and push our abilities onwards in order to meet the challenge. Pushing ones ability can be totally stimulating especially if there is risk. Read the book, ‘Rise of the supermen’ by Steven Kotler and you’ll find an extreme version of what I am saying.

7/ The Artistry

Sometimes the movements in martial arts are like poetry in motion. If you are watching, it’s inspiring and if you are the person who’s performing the techniques and expressing themselves there is no feeling like it. It can arise from any of the techniques in fact; it’s not about the technique it’s about you and the space you are in.
You see it in sport sometimes, there are athletes that have that extra bit of time, that extra bit of finesse and control, and the best athletes are also artists of their discipline.

8/ Awareness

Martial arts can be a personal development system that uses the combative scenario as stimulus for learning and performance. Development of body awareness is the first step to greater awareness. Awareness can mean your ability to directly observe you internal and external environment and therefor make better choices, but it can also mean the ability to learn and gain new knowledge and understanding. You cannot know too much, but you can overvalue what you know.

9/ Creativity

Creativity is part of what it is to be a human being, it’s one of our universal traits, however, it is one area that seems to be underdeveloped and undervalued in our society. Watch the Ted Talk by Sir Ken Robinson – Do Schools Kill Creativity? I love what he has to say. The good news is that creativity can flourish in later life. I push myself to find new ways to teach, this is because if I am not excited and enthused about the subject, how can I expect you to be!

10/ The Norm

Doing something in your week that’s outside the Norm can be hugely beneficial, I aim to make training like pit stops for your professional and personal life. You turn up and leave feeling revitalised.
Focus on something other than the serious stuff, give yourself a break and discover something new.

Dan Couzens



Dan Couzens Self Development

BUSHIDO BRISTOL MARTIAL ARTS KICK AT CLIFF EDGE TO SUNSETWhat would happen if you pitted the greatest Will against the greatest technical skill? A stalemate? A clear victory for Skill, or a clear victory for Will? Would one contender just edge it?

Will & Skill are two very different aspects of martial arts; if you can combine the two then you have a warrior, someone who doesn’t know how to quit and also possesses the intelligence and understanding to be a virtuoso in his/her discipline.

“FALL 7 TIMES GET UP 8” Japanese proverb

There is a great phrase in sport, which says, ‘you have to keep you head in the freezer and your heart in the oven’. For me, this points to a profound aspect of human nature. It points to the possibility that there exist levels of our self that need to be accessed and mastered in order to reach our potential.


I think of skill as a surface based practice. You learn the technique and repeat it until the maps are well drawn and well known and eventually you can execute this without thinking, it becomes like a tool at your disposal.

Will is harder to train, the old Japanese proverb “fall 7 times get up 8” sums Will up perfectly. The Will is the force of nature, the skill is the ability to organise this force and apply it accurately to the laws of nature. Skill is about the mechanics. Will is about the desire.

So when your martial arts instructor pushes you and asks you for more and your first thought is ‘I can’t’, consider the teachers position. What are they trying to train? They are trying to get you to tap into that profound and invisible force that they see in you and perhaps in this particular hypothetical moment you are not acquainted with and therefor not tapping into it.

Training the Will is a hugely challenging and difficult thing to do. It takes time, patience and timing to get it right, the teacher must have skill, however, the best way to teach Will is to be someone who posses Will and practices making it stronger.

My favourite parts of films are often the training montages. I know they are often cliched but they more often than not resonate with me. To see someone pushing their limits, focused on the goal, willing to give of themselves everything to get there. This is the way of the warrior.

Dan Couzens



Dan Couzens Martial Arts Explored

dan couzens bushido bristol martial arts blog picture. four elements of martial arts CHOPS

The first element of martial skill is the need to develop your chops; your chops are your technical skill. You need to learn the stances, the strikes, the punches, the blocks, the holds, the subjugations and the releases. Practicing the individual techniques is really were it all starts and bedding these movement patterns in is fundamental to your progression. Practicing chops needs to become a habitual practice; enjoyment is key, make your practice fun, here’s some ideas on how to go about this:

1/ Tempo – practice at varying tempos.

2/ Have your goals in mind – see where you are going.

3/ Recognise advances in skill – this creates uplift and awareness that you are getting somewhere.


Now comes the theory, you need to know how the techniques are applied to varying combative situations. Here you will develop your combative strategy, your street security and your vigilance. See earlier blog on the circles of self-defence. But lets not get too lost here, theory is only useful if it can be applied and this is achieved through partner training. To keep partner training safe there are number of variables that shift, depending on what specific skill we are trying to better.



If you look at great martial artist, great athletes, great public speakers, and great musicians, they have great timing. They know when to execute the next technique and because there timing is so good, it looks as if they have more time then everyone else to do their thing.

Timing and rhythm is key, however, like a great drummer, it doesn’t make you predictable it makes you the opposite. The better your timing the more you’ll see the rules of time and be able to break time down into smaller and smaller segments expressing both higher tempos and syncopated rhythms at will.


Expression is the most elusive of the elements; this is where you bring yourself into the game. Expression is what it’s all about. If you are simply regurgitating someone else’s ideas then you knowledge lacks something fundamental. YOU. You need to own your martial arts; martial skill should be part of you, expressed uniquely by you; this is encouraged through creative expression in Bushido Bristol Martial Arts. Creativity and expression go hand in hand. What we live for in martial arts is where your physical skill is so well honed that it truly becomes martial arts. Everything up to this point is simply learning.

Dan Couzens



Dan Couzens Martial Arts Explored, Self Development

dan couzens blog martial arts bushido bristol

Martial arts can be broken down into three overlapping areas of study. The Martial, The Art and The Way.


The martial is the physical approach and the ability to be able to deal with a combative encounter. What skills do you need, what is your mental approach. It is the harsher side of life, the side that is challenging, where you need to step up to meet it, rather than expecting it to meet you. That said, as seriously as we take this approach, we also add a healthy dose of humour and approach the lesson with enthusiasm and energy; they are really enjoyable sessions.

The martial is about developing speed, power, focus, accuracy, strategy etc. and testing this in training. The training will constantly shift the variables so you are able to safely develop your martial skill. This is an on going ever-evolving process.

I use the combative aspect of martial arts to drive performance. It is the stressor that pushes one’s ability and keeps your martial arts training honest and grounded. Once you have developed knowledge of technique you also need to develop specific types of fitness. This brings into consideration conditioning ideas around martial arts, such as mobility, flexibility, strength, endurance and power as well as spatial awareness, coordination, balance, timing, fluidity and the ability to read what is going on in your environment. No small task!


Art is about developing creativity and expression, the technique should be more than just effective, it should be graceful. Art implies depth; this is why Kata is still relevant. You are painting a picture with your body; the tatami (mat) is the canvas, you are the brush and your knowledge of the subject is the paint.

Creativity is a highly valued aspect of martial arts training in Bushido, and as you advance in your studies, your creativity will develop. Just in case you consider yourself non-creative, don’t worry, it is in our human nature to be creative, it is like a muscle, it just needs to be worked and your creativity will flourish.


The way is about noticing principles that can apply to all aspects of life as well as developing a greater level of inner awareness. In a previous blog I talk about getting organised and gaining focus. It’s about situational management through inner understanding of the mind and body, therefor, giving you greater control over your actions, this applies directly to self-defence.

Here you can look at your motivations and its correlation to your goals; what you will see is that we have multiple motivations often pulling us in different directions. On top of this, our minds can be our own worse enemy; self-doubt, fears and habitual behaviours can all get in our own way.

The way of martial arts is to point to the realisation of what an amazing opportunity being you really is, and what an incredible experience life can be once we get out of our own way.

Dan Couzens



Dan Couzens Martial Arts Explored

DAN COUZENS IN YOI DACHI. MARTIAL ARTS STANCE IN FRONT OF WATERFALL. BUSHIDO BRISTOL MARTIAL ARTSBefore you begin learning martial arts it is important to consider the commitment required to get value out of the training.

At Bushido Bristol Martial Arts we recommend 1 hour training per week. This may not sound allot but because we are focused on education, in small adult only classes, you will easily gain enough information in that 1 hour class to fill a week of practice in between lessons.

Of course as you develop your skill, and decide you want to pursue higher grades as well as increased levels of ability then more time is required both in the dojo on the mat and in your practice schedule between lesson times. If you want to gain your black belt then you need to get organised and gain focus.

The key though is to take small consistent steps and get into POSITIVE CYCLES or positive routines.


I have trained in BUSHIDO now for over 15 years and there have been the naturally talented, and the grafters but what reign’s supreme is the guy who can be consistent, gradually improving their techniques and practice at sustainable levels over long periods of time. Yes there are peaks and troughs in training as our energy levels change, bodies adapt, circumstances shift, and goals evolve, but in amongst the changing tides of life there must be consistency. Combine consistency with tenacity and few things can stop you.

“A river cuts through the rock not because of its power, but because of its persistence.” anon


Martial Arts is an art form, it takes time to develop the skill sets required. One of the great things about Martial Arts is that it can evolve with you. You can practice martial arts all the way into later life, it may not be the high kicking full on intensity stuff of the twenty something’s, but it will have a different kind power. A power that only a lifetime of consistent dedication can give you. The body needs to move, the mind needs to be stimulated and the situation needs to be mastered. Consistency is king.

Dan Couzens