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.