Following on from Part 1, many people will tell you that fighting is more mental than physical and that is especially true of the pre-fight build-up as discussed in Part 1. The aggressor shouts, swears and threatens to intimidate you and take away your will to fight. At the same time, he is building himself up and preparing himself for his assault. It is at this stage that fights are very often won or lost, before any blows are exchanged. This is why (as previously mentioned) I think it a good idea for people to do some kind of scenario/adrenaline training fairly early in their martial arts training.
Traditional martial arts do however have some built in factors to deal with the effects adrenaline, albeit a much longer route. One method is the emphasis on perfecting techniques. The continual repetition of technique builds up a strong neural pathway in the brain. When under pressure, we know that our technique will not be 100% perfect, but the stronger that neural pathway is, the better that technique will be and it will fire under pressure without having to think about it. The worst thing under pressure is for you to have to stop to think, “how” do I punch/kick/strike/strangle/whatever. You want to be able to just think “punch”, the neural pathway fires and body just does it. You don’t want to be thinking, “I should twist my fist at the end of the punch” or “I mustn’t pull my hand back before I punch”, or any other such detail of the technique. By the time you’ve thought it, its too late. Training good basics over a long period of time will ensure a reflex responses which could be vital at that split second when you most need it.
Also, as mentioned in Part 1, an effect of adrenaline is that blood goes to the major muscle groups when threatened. Well in the main, our basic techniques primarily utilise the major muscle groups, so they are designed to work under these pressures.
The pre-arranged sparring is also useful, especially as you get onto the higher level exercises. Now people will criticize these exercises as unrealistic, and to a certain extent they are. Thugs do not step back into a stance, announce their attack from safely out of range, then attack you with a nice clean cut martial arts technique. They are more likely to be up in your face, shouting and swearing, posturing (pea-cocking) rather going into a formal stance or guard, then launch a surprise attack.
However, our formal sparring exercises do serve several functions. They help us to learn a sense of timing and distancing. After you have bowed and taken up your position, you should have an expression of deadly seriousness. No smiles or nods to your training partner because he’s your friend. This is where you learn to apply psychological pressure to each other. You learn to project it and to receive it. This is not quite the same as the scenario based training mentioned above but it does have some similarities. When somebody steps back into his stance, looks you straight in the eye with a deadly serious expression, even though you may know his attack in advance, you also know that it will be fast and powerful and if you don’t block or evade it, you’ll get hit with it. This is a form of pressure training. If you are used to doing this exercise in a “friendly” manner with your training partner, then you are missing the point!
What about Kata (forms/patterns)? When practising, you should put your full intent into your movements. This is a mental exercise as well as a physical one. In an earlier posting, Kata: Training Beyond Technique, (which I recommend you read if you haven’t already) I described an old basketball experiment involving 3 groups of volunteers. Each group shot balls at the hoop. One group practiced, one group did nothing and the third group just visualised shooting balls through the hoop. I’m not sure of the exact results, but it was something like this:
The group that practiced improved by about 24%.
The group that did not practice made no noticeable difference.
The group that merely visualised (but did not actually practice) made about 23% improvement.
You see, the subconscious brain does not does not recognise the difference between what is real and what is imagined. If you watch a scary movie, you find your heartbeat increase . . . . yet your conscious mind knows that you are safe and sound snuggled up on your sofa.
The subconscious mind however, reacts to the fantasy of the film and your body responds accordingly. When practicing your kata, you should not just practice to perfect the movements (though that is important too), but you should visualise yourself fighting real opponents. Visualise with as much intensity as you can, actual combat as you practice your moves.
In the words of Gichin Funikoshi (who introduced Karate from Okinawa to Japan and founder of Shotokan):
“Since karate is a martial art, you must practice with uttermost seriousness from the very beginning. This means going beyond diligent or sincere training. In every step, in every movement of your hand, you must imagine yourself facing an opponent with a drawn sword. Each and every punch must be made with the power of your entire body behind it, with the feeling of destroying your opponent with a single blow. You must believe that if this punch fails, you will forfeit your own life. Thinking this, your mind and energy will be concentrated, and your spirit will express itself to the fullest.
No matter how much time you devote to practice, no matter how many months and years pass, if your practice consists of no more than moving your arms and legs, you might as well be studying a dance. You will never come to know the true meaning karate”.
The old Okinawan masters understood the power of visualisation and training the mind. Today, we often focus too much on the form of the technique rather than the function. This does not train our mind (and I’m guilty of this too). If we train as Funikoshi says, we introduce on-going scenario/adrenaline training into every aspect of our martial art.
An arguement sometimes put forward is that the finer applications requiring fine motor skills and co-ordination will not work well in an adrenalized state as the blood goes to the major muscle groups and away from our brain and smaller muscles. However, I partially disagree. Note . . . I said, “partially”.
If you train as Funikoshi says, will utmost seriousness, imagining that you face a man with a sword (or bottle/knife), then you train these fine skills under the regular effect of a small amount of adrenaline. If you only train for form, or if you only train with a very “friendly” training partner who does not put you under pressure, then yes, I agree that your fine motor skill will not work under the influence of an adrenaline dump. The power of your mind and imagination is a very important tool for making your martial art much more functional as it was designed to be.
In the words of Albert Einstein:
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”