Martial arts and the subconscious

Have you ever heard expressions like:

  • Practicing martial arts without thinking?
  • Going with the instinct?
  • Thinking is too slow in a fighting situation?

The main purpose of learning complicated moves and combinations during most martial arts practice brings two main advantages:

  • improving the muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints involved in that move
  • building connections in our mind to assimilate the move, storing it at subconscious level where most of our natural and instinctive actions are performed;

In the Western world many of us might have grown up playing some kind of ball sports and the action of catching or kicking a ball is natural for many of us. When somebody throws a ball at you and a natural instinct can be to catch it if it’s aimed at you upper body or to kick it if the ball is aimed at your legs. Other actions we do naturally are breathing, walking, running or perhaps driving: these usually require minimum conscious involvement, by this I mean that you don’t need to consciously think in order to walk and you can do it while talking, listening to music and so on. Sometimes you might require involving conscious thought if you are walking in a dangerous area or on unfamiliar terrain.

If you have never practiced martial arts and somebody throws a punch toward your face the instinctive response could be to over reacting or covering your head with both hands in a defensive position. Months or years of martial training will improve the reaction to same attack, depending on the martial art you practice. Different styles will suggest a variety of defences against the same attack (punch to the face in this case). The most important achievement will be to have an instinctive reaction where no conscious decision must be taken and when your subconscious mind takes over and deal with the attack in a simple and efficient way.

The latest neuroscience discoveries confirm that some of the principles that the ancient masters have been teaching for centuries have strong scientific backup. When you learn a new thing, being that a pure theoretical exercise like calculating mathematical formula or a physical operation such as swinging a golf club, you are creating connections in your brain that initially will require conscious thinking. If you keep repeating the same action over time you assimilate it, store in the subconscious. Our brain literally thrives on subconscious actions and whenever possible it tries to store things we are learning in our subconscious: from there it can be used and retrieved in a much faster, direct and more efficient way than when it requires conscious action.

Parents, children and martial arts

Somebody told you that martial arts are good for everyone? What about children, are martial arts good for them? I would say most definitely yes so let’s see together how.

Martial arts, particularly the traditional ones (e.g. Karate, Judo, Kung Fu – this is a non exhaustive list) maintain a heritage of the master-pupil rapport that instils discipline and respect.  Teaching children in very young age, should be done like a game: movements and techniques are not shown or explained in their full expression.  In the mean time the young minds develop body awareness that help them with their balance and coordination.  The repetitive work of the same techniques tried, improved and mastered over long period of time allows muscles to be worked out and to be strengthened.   By the same metric joints, muscles and tendons are stretched and exercised in a way that develops a lean, strong, tonic and fit body.  When techniques are practiced or even during sparring (kumite, randori…) the focus goes toward competitiveness while at the same time learning respect for the opponent, for the referee and people around you.

Children that have tendency to be violent toward their peers learn to have a better sense of self control and to avoid excessive expression of aggressiveness.  The physical training causes over time, like in adults, an improvement of self confidence in every life situation, not just for self defence.  The perseverance that a child has to put in learning and mastering a martial art will not just be useful for itself: the same perseverance can be later in life applied to studies and work.

Blogtalk 2008 and the future of blogging

I am simply overwhelmed: I have just spent two days checking what directions blogging is going to take and what to expect in the future.

The whole blogosphere might take a completely new shape in matter of months or years with all the new semantic web applications and the growing role of social networks. It’s nice to be part of it and let’s see what the future is going to bring to us.

Bruce Lee: man or legend?

It is unlikely that anybody involved in martial arts doesn’t know who Bruce Lee was; even today, nearly 35 years after his death he seems a very actual character.  Personally I have read many articles and books about him or written by him.  I have also watched all of his movies and heard many interviews about Bruce Lee from people that lived, trained or worked with him.  All these documents agree on the same things:

  • A great martial artist highly dedicated to express himself and his art.
  • A very powerful fighter, somebody who learnt how to transform the body of a small size Chinese man in a deadly weapon that could deliver strikes so powerful that were unseen at that time.
  • An innovator as he first mixed training methods from Oriental martial arts with methodologies taken from Western sports such as American football, boxing, weight lifting.
  • A visionary, somebody who saw that martial arts, being free expression of the practitioner cannot be kept secret and segregated to a minority of people. That was the biggest innovation of his way of thinking: no borders or frontiers for martial arts. Before him many styles were kept secret and just taught to Chinese people.
  • A philosopher that applied the way of living his martial arts in everything he did. In fact the depth of understanding of ancient philosophers and masters he had is one of the things that most amazes me when I watch his interviews. Aged just above 20 years he speaks with the wisdom of an ancient master.
  • A great business man and marketer, as he soon realized that the best way of promoting the expression of his art was to make movies that many million people would have watched for many years to come.

Without intending to diminish the great fame of a man that inspired millions of martial artist to train and improve themselves (including myself) there are a some of doubts about this person and his skills, just by analyzing what was written, said and filmed:

  • Wing chun, the martial art that Bruce Lee first introduced to the West is a very powerful, out of the ordinary style: it can very easily outfight Karate or Judo practitioners making them look clumsy and defenceless. Even nowadays a skilled wing chun practitioner can easily demonstrate this superiority against a number of different styles.
  • Being the first person in challenging the traditions and cross training different styles from different countries (even non Chinese, kind of heretic behaviour in the ‘60ies and early ‘70ies) he was also the first to achieve these results that are nowadays reachable by a broad range of martial artists.

My conclusion is that although great and amazing he became so famous because he was a precursor, he was the first in most things he did: if he lived today he would surely be a good martial artist but one of the many that walk the Earth.

Well, in fact, if he did not live, perhaps, martial arts today would not be as well known as they are… or would they be?