Martial Arts and The Zone
On the occasions you delivered the perfect strike; blocked without the need to think or performed a near flawless kata, did it feel difficult? Or did you get the sense it happened by itself? The 'zone' is a place where athletes describe this sort of experience. Studies suggest its a state of 'effortless merging of action and awareness'. So what stops us from getting there? Factors such as stress or attempts to try harder can interfere. Often our efforts to train harder result in unnecessary muscular responses that prevent us reaching the effortless state of the zone.
How you perform a technique and how much effort you use depends on how you have done it before. The process of repeating a technique many times lays down the pattern at a subconscious level until it can be executed with minimal thought. But can you be sure that what you have learnt is the most efficient? Try these two experiments.
1. Fold your arms and look to see which hand is tucked.
2. Now reverse the pattern, fold them the opposite way.
3. Notice the difference and your reaction to it.
The pattern in step 1 is your habitual 'folding the arms' programme that is activated without conscious thought and will feel familiar and comfortable. The pattern in step 2 requires some thought to achieve and will probably feel wrong, as this is different from your usual preference. This shows how strong the force of habit can be. Not only does it select the pattern of the movement in step 1 but also determines what feels right and wrong in relation to position and movement. There is nothing wrong with the pattern in step 2, but is it a move you would choose to do automatically? Probably not, because you will only perform movements that feel right. However, when you do what feels right you engage habitual movement patterns; those performed often enough to establish the habit.
1. Sit on a chair and get ready to stand up.
2. Before you move, observe what preparations you want to make. Do you hold your breath? Do you push forward with the lower back and raise the chest? Do the muscles in your neck stiffen and pull back the head? Do you feel the need to push with your hands on your legs? Spend a little time to study this before attempting the next step.
3. Now try to stand up from the chair without doing what you have just noted (it may be necessary to ask someone to observe your actions to give you feedback). How far can you execute the move before one, or all of these patterns appear?
To successfully execute the last step can be difficult because the usual preparations you make are a part of your habitual 'getting out of a chair' program and are ready to go before you even begin to move. You would not attempt to start the move until the familiar conditions such as the sensation of muscle tension associated with the act are present. From a mechanical point of view the common actions mentioned in the second step actually reduce the efficiency of the movement. If your preparation and subsequent actions for this exercise are unnecessary, why do you do them?
Do the techniques of your martial art contain inefficient movements? Do they feel right because they are good or purely because they are a comfortable habit?
It is my belief that our natural state is to be in the zone. Diligent practice of the martial arts can help us to experience this shift of consciousness. The zone is an altered state where things can happen with little or no perceived effort. In these moments our response appears to precede conscious thought and is executed near to perfection; right timing, right effort and entirely appropriate to the situation.
I am sure we have all experienced moments like this. For example, in one competition I scored ippon with a jodan mawashi geri to the side of my opponents exposed face. Afterwards my opponent congratulated me on my technique commenting he didn't see it coming, to which I could honestly reply, "Neither did I". I was only aware of the execution of the technique once my leg has started its recoil. Where had it come from? At some level my senses had registered the target, selected the most appropriate technique, fired it off, made the lightest of contact and started the recovery before I had become aware of it! This was probably my 'finest hour'. But how can we be capable of such remarkable feats one moment and be totally incompetent the next - I lost the next round and was appallingly slow.
Whilst the patterns (techniques) residing at a subconscious level can be called upon with incredible speed and effectiveness, I believe this can only happen if we are in a balanced state. Another word for this is poise, this is not to be confused with posture. Poise is a state of totally appropriate activity, both at a muscular and 'mental' level. When we are in this state there is 'optimum integration of the postural reflexes, consciousness and appropriate use of learnt patterns'. That is, we can get out of the way and let the processes just happen. Nerves, tension and stress will interfere with this process if we allow ourselves to react negatively to these situations such as stiffening the neck, an action that will impede the balance reflexes. Likewise, over-confidence has a similar affect of preventing the unity of self and action as, in my view, it will reduce our level of alertness and state of readiness. The ego really should be left at the door of the dojo!
So perhaps to heighten our chances of getting into the zone we need to focus on 'being in the moment'. Only by being consciously aware of the moment or 'the here and now' can we ensure inappropriate muscular activity is not present in our actions. This takes time and involves going back to some very basic movements (pre-martial art techniques) such as everyday simple activities and zazen to experience a stillness and awareness that will help in more demanding activities.
Roy Palmer is a Teacher of The Alexander Technique and author of The Performance Paradox: Train Smarter to enhance performance and reduce injury. More information can be found at http://www.artofperformance.co.uk
He works with sports people of all abilities to recognise and overcome performance-limiting habits.
A Few Things Everyone Should Know to Keep Themselves Safe
The following are a few thoughts about how to decrease your chances of being a victim of a violent crime. I know a lot of times we focus on the nuts and bolts of a fight and we assume most of us know these things and this information is common knowledge for some of you, but it some times it's always good to review.
Samurai Sword Basics, A Brief History
Capturing the spirit of old Japan and recognised by its deadly curvature, the samurai sword is widely recognised throughout the world as the most deadly of all Japanese weaponry. Although gaining modern fame and notoriety in modern epic cinema in such films as The Last Samurai and the Kill Bill series by Quentin Tarantino, samurai swords have long being an iconic symbol of Japan and its history.
Samurai Swords and The Swordsmiths
Back in the early times of sword manufacture, the production of super strong high-grade carbon steel wasn't even a vague dream. But we know, as history has taught us, that sword makers of ancient times still managed to produce superb quality, strong weapons.
Martial Arts Sparring and Training Protective Equipment
The benefits of Martial Arts has always appealed its practitioners. The disciplined training of the mind and body give a sense of well being but some aspects of Martial Arts training do present a problem.
Have No Misconceptions
I just received an Email from a woman who has a child (3 year old) and about to have another. Considering my wife is in a similar situation, this question couldn't be more relevant. This idea can be expanded to those of us getting older, injured or of smaller stature. Keep in mind, a little common sense goes a long way.
Are You Frustrated Yet?
I was talking to a parent recently and they told me that their son was not going to compete in wrestling because they were afraid they would get frustrated when he lost. The parent felt the child was far too sensitive to handle the frustration of failure and may get 'burnt out'. My response was, "What will they do when they get frustrated in life?" What happens when that kid has got to suck it up and go forward when it REALLY counts? Being a new parent, my daughter is 2 and I have another on the way, I only want the best for my child. What parent doesn't? It's obvious this parent I mentioned loves their child, but that's not the issue. The issue is what's best for everyone involved. What this child is being taught is to quit when things get tough. In an effort to protect the child, the parent winds up doing a disservice to the child. The result is undermining the ultimate goal- the training of the child.
Most people have only been exposed to John Styers work through the book "Cold Steel".
Who Created Tai Chi Chuan (Tai Chi Boxing)?
I have read a number of books, articles, and novels, and have watched movies and television series that touched on the origins of Tai Chi Chuan (Tai Chi Boxing), and the question, "Who Created Tai Chi Chuan?" made me concern very much!
New Book: Positive Aikido
A new book with a practical look at Aikido and its history. The Co-authors are direct students of the legendary master Kenshiro Abbe Sensei from 1957. the following is an indepth look at how the book came into being.
5 Steps to Choosing the Right Martial Art for You
One of the questions I get asked most frequently, in several different variations is about which martial art an individual should study. Generally which martial art, and more importantly which school to choose are fundamental decisions someone should make. My answer is usually something along the lines of, "choose the school and the system that you are going to stick with and stay with it for the rest of your life."
Women in the Martial Arts
1st Lady Assistant to Sensei Henry Ellis Ellis Schools of Traditional Aikido
So You Think You Train Hard
"Tokio Hirano (1922-1993) 8th DanThe Man Who Revolutionized Judo"By Jim Chen, M.D . and Theodore Chen
Catholic Self Defense
Note: I wrote this essay regarding the development of Tekkenryu jujutsu. However, I think it is applicable for all methods of self defense. It may also explain why martial arts are the way they are.
Learning the Modern Dynamics of Judo
You may have the erroneous idea that force is not necessary in judo, especially when you see a sixty-year-old instructor throwing many young- and strong men seemingly without effort. Dynamics, however, denies this illusion. A body begins to move only when an external force works on it, as will be explained later. A human body is a physical entity. Therefore, if you want to break your opponent's posture and make him fall down or hold him down on the mat;, you must apply the proper force to him.
Traditionally, people trained in Martial Arts in order to utilized their skills as a form of attack and defense in both armed and unarmed combat. Today, people train in Martial Arts in order to keep fit, as a form of meditation, to learn self-discipline and as a competitive sport. Although Western culture associates Martial Arts with Asian countries, many countries developed their own Martial Arts as a form of military defense, prior to modern technology. There are many different styles of Marital Arts, such as Ju Jitsu, Tai Chi and Karate. All styles of Martial Arts follow a system of teaching. During teaching, a student is taught a series of forms. These forms, once learnt, help the student to develop a technique that they can then utilize when needed. There are also different levels of training that a student can progress through, once they have mastered the first level.All students must study under a Master of the particular Martial Art that they wish to learn with the hope of one day becoming also a Master. This is the traditional way in which the skills all Martial Arts has been handed down over the generations.
The Best Martial Art
It is a very difficult task to determine which martial art is the best so first of all let's take a look what a martial art exactly is and what not.
Samurai Armor Part 1
The first prototype for Japanese samurai armor came about in the form of the yoroi during the Gempei War of 1181-1185. The weight of the yoroi was around 60lb. The upper-body armor of the samurai was known as the 'Do'. This comprised of the 'Sode', the suspended shoulder and upper-arm protection plates. The Sode had hoops by which silk cord was tied and then fixed to the back of the armor in an 'agemaki' / decorative knotted tassel. Guards were also placed over the shoulder cords, and a leather plate placed across the bow cords to prevent them from been cut or becoming ensnared during a skirmish.
So you are thinking of starting to train in okinawan karate. There are a lot of choices as far as okinawan karate schools are concerned. Which school do you choose ? What is the best school or system? If you are a parent, what okinawan karate school is best for your children?
Interesting Facts on Samurai Sword Manufacture
A samurai's sword is his most sacred and prized possession. Not only did the samurai rely on his sword to defend him, but spiritually the sword held greater significance as the samurai actually believed his soul inhabited the sword. Therefore it comes as no surprise that the same discipline and respect in which the samurai wielded his sword, went into the actual making of the sword itself.
Real Life Self-Defense Starts From...
"Nicky Bats" was an "old school" kinda guy. He was "street" thru and thru. He was a hard bark tough as nails S.O.B. He was a survivor. His definition of "success" in life was dying peacefully at a ripe old age of natural causes, not dying on some frozen blood-soaked battlefield in Korea after being over run by a human swarm of Chi-Coms. Not winding up in a landfill dead of lead poisoning and not dying in some filthy gutter with your innards spilling out from a gaping knife wound.
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