Friday, March 24, 2006

Correct Training

Correct Training

by Vince Morris

This short article may at first seem a little technical, but if you are really intent upon developing fast, spontaneous reflex defence skills, it will be worth your while to persevere with it.

One advantage we have over the old masters, is that we can avail ourselves of all the modern knowledge gained from medicine and sports science.

Our current understanding of how the body and mind work has made tremendous advances in the last fifty year, and athletes and martial artists can make use of this greater knowledge to enhance their training regimes.

I have written before of the need to learn the lessons of history and follow Master Funakoshi's admonishment to : “Cherish the Old but embrace the New!”

One area in which I continually make use of the lessons of modern sports psychology and science is in the training I develop and present at Police Academy for Officers and Special Intervention Squads.

Essentially I have to distil complex techniques and manoeuvres into their primary elements and devise teaching programmes which enable non-martial artists to understand the principles of the techniques and master their use so comprehensively that they go out onto the streets armed with effective defensive, restraint and control techniques which they have complete confidence in, and which are immediately effective in high stress situations.

Obviously, the time I have in which to develop this level of skill with the officers is limited, therefore it is vital that each minute is spent to optimum effect.

The essence of how this can be done is based upon an understanding of how the human brain processes input and learns new physical tasks.

Basically, when new techniques are repeated over & over again, a complex pattern of neural activity takes place in the billions of brain cells.

This new pattern of behaviour is initially only slowly processed into the memory, but as it is continually rehearsed the brain releases a fatty substance called myelin. This covers the new synaptic connections made between the neurons which are used in the process of learning the new behaviour, response or technique.

Every time the pattern is repeated, a new layer of myelin is laid down, and the thicker the coat, the faster & easier messages flow between the dendrites, those parts which act as the transmitters and receivers of the brain's neurons,

With sufficient repetition, the desired task is carried out with increased speed and power as the function is now 'grooved' into becoming a rapid response which needs less brain processing, due to this function of myelin.

This is sometimes spoken of as training 'muscle memory' and the value lies in the ability of the body to act spontaneously in high stress situations where split seconds can determine life or death.

Although time often seems to slow down in such instances, the truth is that initial defensive reactions must be spontaneous, and delivered immediately as a reflexive reaction, and this allows no time for conscious thought.

Having survived the initial assault, then the brain can intervene to propose specific control and restraint techniques, once the immediate task of survival is accomplished.

If, however, you are more concerned with developing excellence in martial technique in the Dojo, the lessons can still be useful.

I have spoken before of the problem of 'grasshopper' sensei, who - as a by -product of commercial demands to fill the Dojo - keeps the students' attendance rate high by continually moving on to something new, on the premise that the students are attracted to 'bright shiny objects' and must be indulged.

The minimum training time for this 'muscle memory' -grooving to start to take place is about 15 minutes, and then this must be repeated many times.

This time interval is seldom allotted to one technique or combination. Usually after only a few minutes of stopping and starting (ostensibly for the sensei to correct bad practice) the students are moved on to another combination or a further refinement of the original.

This seldom, if ever, allows the first waza to be properly assimilated, and in a few hours time the student will be hard pressed to remember it - even less to apply it correctly!

There is little wonder, then, that spontaneous reflex defences, triggered by appropriate stimuli, are seldom if ever learned by these students.
Paralysed with Fright

An officer in a violent situation, a student attacked in the street, neither can guarantee that their initial reaction will not be of a paralysing, mind-numbing overwhelming feeling of weakness and fear, unless they have trained specifically to avoid this reaction.

The experience of being paralysed by fear, fright or a sudden shock when startled by someone, or when suddenly accosted or assaulted is not necessarily due to the officer or the martial artist having no confidence in the efficacy of his or her defences.

Nor is it that they do not possess powerful defensive techniques.

Of course, it could be due to this if their training has been insufficient, but even a really well-trained and capable Dojo fighter can experience this, and it is not because of not knowing how to act, but derives from a lack of training with the correct stimuli to recognize the situation and immediately & spontaneously respond with the appropriate manoeuvre.

Highly repetitive training such as is required to build responses into fast reactions will not on its own be sufficient. What is required is a more scenario based training which as closely as possible reflects reality which will then be 'tied' to the repetitive training and immediately evoke it when the situation demands it.

A 'triggered' response is quite useless without a trigger!

To push the analogy even further, there would seem little point in loading a full clip of nine millimetre into a firearm, and then removing the trigger mechanism!

Continual repetition of a defensive manoeuvre in the Dojo will certainly increase the speed and efficiency of the technique itself, but without the correct stimuli it will not be triggered as a spontaneous reflexive technique in that vital half second which must be survived.

This is why I advocate that most officer training (and at least a part of Dojo training) should include scenario training.
More than One Option.

There is, however, another factor to consider when deciding upon the correct type of training.

For officers in the academy, and for experienced special squad members, the choice is simple, as in both cases they need only a few, simple techniques. They are not concerned with how pretty these might look, but only in their effectiveness.

I advocate the simplicity of defensive responses, and the concept of the multifunctional 'one tool'.

The human brain under the severe stress of an attack or assault is quite incapable of what I call 'horizontal' or linear thought.

That is deciding quickly between a number of existing alternative actions.

When the heart rate is sent very high by sudden shock or fear, the brain selects options 'vertically' - that is, one problem - one answer.

Much experimental work has been done to show just how drastically choosing between options increases the response time; and there is a proven correlation between the number of alternative choices available and the time in which a response can be effected.

Then experiments carried out by the PPCT (Headed by Bruce Siddle) demonstrate that simply by offering a choice of two responses instead of one, reaction time by increases 35%.

Another experiment demonstrated a 58% increase in reaction time, plus the addendum that the more complex any technique, the longer the reaction time involved.

When four different blocks to a punch were given as options, the response time leapt from an initial 183 milliseconds to huge increase of 481 milliseconds!

To sum up. If you are specifically concerned with training in a self-defence based martial art, you must find which techniques work best for you and then you must continually repeat them.

Do not become a `collector' of ever-more complex waza, these may possibly get you badly hurt or even killed

You must not just train all the time in a Dojo environment, but frequently in as realistic a one as you can devise, with the sights, sounds and actions reflecting common attack scenarios.

Finally you must put aside the quest for ever more fancy and complex techniques and concentrate on the few simple ones that are proven to be effective!

It is simply incorrect to assume that as a martial artist you have to be 'entertained' by new and 'interesting' methods of subduing an assailant.

More is not better, and to be honest, it will take you all your life to really master the essential waza.

Vince Morris
7th Dan
Kissaki-Kai Karate-Do


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