Japan Snowboarding, Martial Arts, and finding flow: Part 1 – The individual

March 3rd, 2010By Category: Uncategorized

Not too long ago, while helping out as an assistant at a friend’s ski camp, I had the chance to go snowboarding for the first time this year. Although I’m certainly not the best snowboarder in the world, I came to the slope knowing what I wanted that day- the feeling of an effortless run- and I wasted no time in getting started. In the beginning I was a bit awkward -partially because I’m goofy, but the staff had given me a regular board instead, and it took me a minute to figure it out-, but by mid-morning, (and after a board switch) I had begun to get comfortable. At first, most of my time was spent looking down at the board and the snow ahead of me, trying to brace and prepare for every oncoming skier or bump in the snow.

As time went on however, and I continually worked towards my goal, I stopped focusing on the ground ahead of me. Of course it was in my field of vision, but instead my concentration shifted to the ebb and flow of the board beneath me, and visual concentration on the slope wasn’t as necessary.

By early afternoon, my awareness of the slope, my board, and the snow had caught up with the skill level necessary to achieve my goal, and make my runs effortlessly. It was at that point that I not only started to actualize peak performance- but also peak enjoyment.

I was in flow. Dr. Mihaly Csikszentimihalyi, the architect of the notion of flow defines it as  “an experience that is rewarding in and of itself, a state in which we feel we are one with the experience and in which‘ action and awareness are merged” For myself, this equated to runs that were going by in what seemed like a heartbeat. On each run, I was in a heavenly, almost blistful state of perfect balance, and it stayed that way for most of the afternoon. Unfortunately however, having achieved my goal on this slope, I started to get bored, and the feeling started to wane. Eventually, my mind began to wander and I (painfully) wiped out, and ended my heavenly experience with a crash. At that point, I decided that that meant it was time to up my game, and move on to the next higher slope, and the process began all over again.

Oddly enough, on a microcosmic scale, the pattern actually reminded me of my competition days in Taekwondo. My first local tournament was nerve-racking to the point of almost making me nauseous, but with time, experience, failure, and adaption, stepping into the ring became a natural process that I could acclimate to. With that acclimation came relaxation; and with relaxation came success. So much in fact that only 6 days after receiving my black belt I was able to sweep my division and become a state champion. After that peak however, I became bored competing at the state level and with time, I lost the focus again. My mind began to wander (in both training, and competition), and my performance became lackluster- until I decided to go Korea for higher level training.

It is this balancing act between challenge and relaxation that I’ve found is the essential element in not just effecting progress in the development of a skill, but in truly enjoying the process as well. As Professor Tal Ben Shahar put it in ‘Happier’ , if the difficulty of a task is high and our skill is low, we experience anxiety; if our skill level is high and the difficulty of the task is low, we experience boredom. We experience flow [only] when the difficulty of the task, and our skill level correspond.” Either way, without this balance, we get ourselves nowhere.

I had once read that only one out of every one hundred people who starts a martial art ever becomes a blackbelt, and that only one out of every one hundred black belts ever becomes a master. Perhaps, be it by design or by chance, that one individual out of a thousand who finds his way to mastery is not the toughest, smartest or the strongest- but that 1 person out of a 1,000 who found their flow.




Chuck Johnson is an internationally recognized martial arts action actor, and published martial arts author.
He currently lives in Japan, and teaches action and martial arts in Tokyo, and Saitama. His next film, Sukeban Hunters will be released this summer.

Chuck’s action demo reel

Author of this article

Chuck Johnson

Chuck Johnson is a Martial Arts Instructor/ Action Film Actor based in Tokyo, Japan, and Michigan, USA. He has been teaching for 16 years, holds ranks in Taekwondo, Judo, Capoeira, and Karate, and is an experienced bodyguard. He is also a member of the Screen Action Stunt Association, and Society of American Fight Directors. Additionally, he has 10 years of ELT experience, and is the developer of Phat English, a system that uses specialized hip-hop music to teach the subtle nuances of GAm English pronunciation. For more information, visit www.chuck-n-action.com or follow Chuck on twitter at chuck_n_action

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  • James says:

    I agree that be it by design or by chance, that one individual out of a thousand who finds his way to mastery is not the toughest, smartest or the strongest- but that 1 person out of a 1,000 who found their flow.

  • tombo77 says:

    cool Chuck, I love the comment about flow. I hope you stick with snowboarding. good luck.