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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Review of the year

Review of the year

This year I made some advances in the forms / Jurus I have because I used my own private language to make sense of the moves to me. It was no good someone saying to me 'show me juru 3 left side' - sorry I don't think in numbers I am not Leibnitz.
Breathing. A problem was identified in that I was holding my breath in my drills. Had to overhaul the way I breath in and out now and be really conscious about it slipping into a mismatch between movements and breathing.
Towards the end of the year I started using small weights and these have made some physical difference to me. They are not heavy enough to affect my joints or make me like Arnie, but I can feel a difference in my muscle composition. I will keep this up to see what long term affects this has.
I can root myself better now, as I can sink like a sack of potatoes more readily, rather than remain standing up straight.  Like the breathing, I knew you are supposed to do this, but it is becoming automated, more so now.
Found more ways to do silat moves on the dummy. This is not really hard, but you need imagination.
Got a camera to record myself on the dummy and shadow boxing. Been meaning to do this for ages. It does show you finesses to adjust and change. E.g. leaving the centre open and having 'chicken wings'.

Maybe I ought to have some New Year resolutions ....

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Theory - what is it good for?

Here are two videos of two disparate activities: chess and martial arts. You do often get comparisons between the two but these are not always that detailed.

Here is one similarity - reverence for 'the center'.

In chess, if you can occupy or control the center, then, you take space away from your opponent. Also, you can swing your pieces left or right, or crash through more economically - i.e. take less moves to make more threats.

In Wing Chun, the center too, is important to defend and attack down, at the same time. If your hands occupy the center you can deflect on-coming attacks from the left, right and center economically, as your arms do not have to move as far, as if they were parked on the edge of your body. Also, if you occupy the opponents center then, you can enter more easily to create threats on them.

So what? The point is the role of theory is to simplify and explain things. In chess you have a forest of possible moves and things to do. The role of theory and, here - 'the center' for instance - is to simplify your task and make meaning of the game and where you should put your pieces. Same for Wing Chun. The theory gives you something to think with and about. I.e. where should I defend and where should I attack? What should I be doing with my arms. This simplifies the choices to be made when interpreting a scuffle.

Theory is not actually to complicate. It is to simplify, that is why in academic courses such as social sciences effort is made in introducing learners to theory, to actually show how it is a tool to make meaning of a messy world by focusing on just a few prioritized ideas. You do not have to come up with novel ideas why things operate, or how they operate. You take the theory off-the-shelf, as someone else has done the spade-work.

The last theory we looked at was Beck's theory of 'the risk society'. I am not going into detail about that - but will say it gives us a focus on a few ideas to make meaning of why modern life offers anxiety and paradoxically decreased trust in experts, but yet also a reliance on experts in the modern age, as the threats we face are invisible and we need their help.

A theory I was learning about was 'existentialist counseling'. There  the theory focuses us to realize what it is like to live life and understand it is not pre-determined, but we have freedom - i.e. choices to make. The weight of these choices is crushing upon us - and causes anxiety. Anxiety is part of life, which we need to embrace and according to Nietzsche we need to love our fate. If we can do that we live life authentically and not in bad faith. The issue of freedom and the problems it gives us is the core of this type of counseling. It has its principles in its theory to make meaning out of troubled lives in the counseling setting.

The theory is 'the center' then to be focusing on here, and also showing us what to ignore in doing your thinking. It is a simplification, but it speeds up analysis time in any of these activities when you think with these precepts, and take them as a given.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Implied and applied

I can't stop watching this video it is Junko Fukuda doing a form from Tai Chi. Wathcing her and listening to the chosen music is really hypnotic.

Watching this is not a dreamy passive activity, however. Think about some of those shapes

she has. How might they have martial art applications? There are direct attacks in there

like pushes. There are indirect shapes in her movement that need a tweak to be applicable

for self-defence. Sifu Slippers uses a distinction in his speech, (and therefore thinking),

between applied and implied actions and meanings in forms.

Applied, are direct one-to-one uses for shapes in forms. A punch - in the form = a punch

anywhere. An implied shape, is one that is suggesting the existence of of moves ... subtlety and

deliberately vaguely, I think, to maximize it's use to diverse situations. [I see her knee

to chest as a defence to kicks - they do this in Thai boxing, but it can also be an obvious chambering

for her kick subsequently, too]. Seeking out the implied moves is half the battle, half the

mystery and half the frustration of classical arts. It involves homework and repeated viewing

and learning and relearning. Using the language of our social science course at the Open

University - it is making and remaking .... of understanding. The practitioner is also making

and remaking these moves and gaining new insights as well as building the body and mind,

(but I cannot really talk about Chi flow etc. as I do not do Tai Chi - which has a medical

side to it).

Also, watch the background. How does that grid on the wall help the viewer?

It shows her moving in 2 dimensions: imagine her moving into the boxes (X-dimension), and

also moving up and down them (Y-dimension). What is missing? The Z dimension - although her

body remains on one plain, her feet and arms do stray - which is hard to capture in 2D,

unless she has a straight line on the floor and we can see her feet - especially - when

they move into and out the Z dimension.

That music. Think about that. That dreamy violin does not play any broken sounds but bends

the pitch of the sounds. This implies the moves are not broken either, perhaps but flow

from one to another. Yet also the pitch stretches back and forth - like the practitioner in

her movements. The way the key changes in the other sounds and repeats also shows a

pattern of repetition. There is no beginning or end in this tune. Although there are 24

moves in this form - you are meant to keep these up everyday ... forever ... as life moves

on in a cyclical pattern like the tune. There is no break. 24 hour cycles go on, and life-

death-new life patterns are made and remade. I *think* this is why the ying and yang shape

is a circle - as there is no begging or ending in that. Like the music.

One of my goals in life is to learn this form. I know it can be done - but it will be no 

joyride. It is called the Yang 24 simplified form. Simplified because it used to have

something like 80 moves in it and take up more space to enact. But the Chinese state

wanted a shorted exercise to fit in with workers life patterns to perform before work, hence the 'simplified'.

This does not mean simple, however. Look at her balancing on one leg, in parts of this. Wow.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Psychological Skills Training
This clip shows some athletes and a sports psychologist talking about the value of psychological skills training.

After training, the other day, I had a discussion with Sleeve and Slippers, my training partners. The discussion orientated towards the value of PST and what can be expected out of it. One moment of the talk focused on a hypothetical point about Mike Tyson and how PST could or could not help his opponent. One of my training partners was skeptical as Tyson's skills are untouchable and out of the equation. PST would not be of value here. (I hope this reflects the point being made).

I tried to counter saying that PST would be of value to the practitioner in achieving their potential, in order to maximize their chance against even world class opposition.

I sensed the debate was talking in parellel as there were different standards being applied here to the point or 'needs' of the althetes using PST.

Maybe these concepts help: In terms of goals, it is possible for an athlete to be outcome orientated. That is be just concerned with 'win / loose' scenarios.
Winning and losing is the point in sport and this is fair. It has been said that this type of outcomes only type goal causes pre-competition anxiety. And is not the best goal to have alone. Better is to include or replace this with ....

Process orientated goals, where the 'doing' of a specific skill is perfected - as you can be in control of this; and the same for performance orientated goals - where you seek to maximize your behavior in competition - so Sleeve gave the example of a personal best time for a runner.

The point is these latter two goals are in control by the athlete but the outcomes oreientated goal is not controllable, as the opposition has something to say about it and want to mess up your chances.

  • Slippers once told me that you have to be in control of yourself to be in control of others. In this last respect maximizing and optimizing your performance is a valid focus for training *IF* removal to mental barriers to performance exist. [We all have off days in training, where we leave that jab out - but do not normally, or get tired sooner than usual etc.].

Examples of where practitioners are not in control of themselves is in choking, where they underperfom and that memory of a missplayed technique haunts them and reurfaces in their play to mame other skills and the vicious cycle continues. That is the self - defeating the self - not just the competition. A way of controlling choking is needed, to eliminate bugs in the software.

In the video link above, you hear about techniques such as
  • self-talk or 
  • pre-competition routines
These serve some value for practitioners to be in control of themselves in their question to optimize their performances.
Weinberg and Gould (2007) in their book, do note studies that show that the more successful athletes do practice PST, than those who are less successful, who don't.

The issue is PST is a skill and like physical skills, it needs repetition to hone as you are mastering the way the mind is habituated, which is as hard as a physical skill. Plus, training the mind to learn new ideas and new routines is not something that we are taught at school or easily picked up without some help. Adhering to acquiring these skills is as hard, I assume, as keeping up the physical training.

Do you agree / disagree with this, anyone ?

Saturday, March 26, 2011


I was training with Slippers a few months ago, hitting pads and doing drills. One drill we were doing looked potentially dangerous and I was slighlty worried I may hit my partners teeth.

To protect teeth we usually use mouth guards, but they need to go in early in the routine or else you loose momentum and flow in the training, in order to take a time-out, to fit them.

I told Slippers "This is dangerous and I may hit your teeth".

Slippers replies " Don't say that you will jinx it".

I was surprised at that reply, as Slippers is part of the Enlightenment moment and subscribes to science and reason and all things the Renaissance, too, brings in.

Yesterday when reading my sports psychology book on 'concentration', I came across a related idea, that may link up with this idea.

Apparently research called 'ironic processes in sport' has shown that trying NOT to perform X, actually incites the chances of move X actually occurring. The reason for this is, when you say or are told 'don't do X', your brain can conjure up the idea of X - that it knows how to do, as it is in the detail of the command. (Source Weinberg and Gould 2007,p.380).

 This means that a jinx can be based on probability then, in this context.

Does this tally with anyones experiences in their activities ?

I know when I am making notes in my book and I start over-thinking how to write my idea, (e.g. in a limited space at the bottom of the page I need to squeeze in a sentence), more than likely the sentence is messed up and I have to cross out and re-write the sentence and there is even less space now than before.

According to the chapter I read, this is possibly because an automated process, (writing), when elevated to a conscious level, labours the brain and chances for errors increase. The chapter mentioned, this is how an aspect of gamesmanship can work: complement your opponent on his technique "great follow through" - which is automated ... and you provoke the move to become propelled,  instead, by the conscious part of the brain and over-control the move. (This may also take away the brains capacity for performing or analyzing other tasks).

When learning a move you want to be consciously controlling your body but when reviving the move in performance in competition, for example, conscious thinking is not optimum. The brain needs to be looking and analyzing other variables such as external context - where are others stood - what will be the best person to pass to, etc. The narrow focus of move performance is a distraction, or rather, a miss-matched attention style to what is needed.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Why else jurus, forms and Kata are good for you

Beyond mood, jurus and forms could be of benefit is related to the link between exercise and mental health.

Here is an extract taken from a report: Physical Activity and Mental Health: the role of physical activity in promoting mental wellbeing and preventing mental health problems - An Evidence Briefing May 2008, (Whitelaw et al. 2008).

"The notion of there being a range of possible explanatory mechanisms that explain the nature of the association between physical activity and mental health was introduced in outline earlier. In more detail, these are:

biochemical & physiological: improved mental health is linked to increased core body temperature; increases in endorphins; changes in the serotonergic systems and effects on neurotransmitters;

improvements in fitness and weight loss: improved mental wellbeing is associated with the feeling that the body is fitter or more ‘toned’;

‘mastery’: effects are linked to increases in self worth and personal control that come with the mastering of new physical activity tasks;

‘distraction’: positive outcomes are associated with the tendency for physical activity to take us away from stressful parts of our lives;

social interaction and sense of belonging: mental wellbeing benefits can arise from the collective experience of being active as a group38;

social and cultural value: physical activity is largely seen as socially and culturally ‘virtuous’ and therefore has the potential in itself to increase self-esteem"

(Source: Whitelaw et al, 2008,section 3.6.1).

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Forms and jurus are good for your mood

Generally when I train solo, I feel better for it.

 A reason for this is a change in mood state. This link between exercise and mood has been noted in the sports psychology and exercise literature and I wanted to share one or two points I came across.

  • Rhythmic abdominal breathing: Both aerobic and anaerobic can be useful here. (Previously only the former was seen, as beneficial). This means thinks like Tai Chi swimming and yoga count here ! The particular juru, that I use, emphasises breaking in for some moves and out for other moves. This may explain why I feel better in my solo training. The rhythmic effect of the breathing is at play. (NB not much in the Wing Chun literature emphasises breathing patterns during the forms. One notable exception if Randy Williams' work - he does place emphasis on this in his videos, I recall). 
  • Rhythmic and repetitive movements. This is tied to the above as well. It is obvious forms and jurus rely on this. My book says this frees the mind to focus on more important issues - but I am not totally sure I do this in forms. Although, going for a 'walk in the rain', is often an activity cited when inverters have eureka moments. The rain clears the air from dust and maybe purer oxygen gets to the brain ? (Same in the shower ?).
  • Closed and predicable activities : where the environment is controllable (in the exercise activity) distractions can be ruled out and you have control over your circumstances. You can pace yourself. The jurus are contained activities and no novelty enters into this. 116 movements too on the dummy - same thing. No novelty involved in that cycle of rhythmic repetition.
(Source: Weinberg and Gould 2008,p.404. Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology).

Monday, January 10, 2011

Sticking to things

I suspect the New Year has brought in many 'must do' and 'things to do' promises for people.

Gain muscle, lose weight, run faster, pass that grading, start that philosophy or sports fitness course etc. These are all worthy goals but will people stick to the regime of work to achieve these ends ?

This post is about adhesion  and sticking to your path of activity. I am doing a sport psychology unit and this diagram comes from one of the models of adhesion we looked at. It really caught my eye, (I will say later, why). To achieve the new goal we have to behave in a new way.

 "Figure 8.3 shows how an individual goes through a cyclical series of stages when they change a behaviour. They may start off having had no thought or desire to change their behaviour (precontemplation), but then something may cause them to think about changing their behaviour (contemplation), which will lead to a period of preparation followed by action, which, if sustained, will in turn lead to maintenance. However, the individual may not sustain their changed behaviour, which will lead to the termination of that behaviour".

Rea,S. (2010) 'Adherence and group dynamics' in E233 Sport and exercise psychology: a case study approach, (2010). The Open University.

I can map this model onto my own 'journey' in martial arts, (and other activities that involved behavioural investments).

So precontemplation is when I did no martial arts but way well have been aware of Karate from playing computer games and films. Contemplation is when you start toying with the idea of doing the art but it is in the 'things to do / nice things to want to do list'. Here I saw someone at church who new Wing Chun give me a demo. He was Chinease and I was under the assumption this was a magic power he had, as his sticking hands and blocks were of good quality and he showed me the theory that underlies what he was doing. (Theory is the blue prints to any activity - get your hands on that to make your life easy - from academia to chess etc.).

'Preparation' for doing some martial arts came from buying books and borrowing library books. I wrote the British Kung Fu association for a local group. (note the singular here this was the 80s and there was not that much available that was not Shotokan). Note too, this is actual activity that is compatible with my goal. I am doing something not just mental.  This is 'work'. But it cannot stop here.

Action. Doing it. I took JKD lessons. I could not believe I had actually rung up someone and had the courage to do this. I remember when I had committed myself to the first lesson thinking 'what have I done now'. But I did it and had more lessons and did another martial art when I left home. I was stretching and drilling in private. Etc. This was maintenance work. BUT after a few years things stopped. no training partners or classes even. This was a relapse.

Then the cycle began again from 2002 onwards .... where I think it would be a good idea .... and we are back to contemplation again.

This shows us how adhesion is not linear but like the tide, comes in and out.It is cyclical.

The processing of getting and using the wooden dummy is very similar. The contemplation stage lasted about 9 months. I have not relapsed in my use of the dummy. I have never stopped for a long passage of time, just weather affects me sometimes.

The model is useful as if you can plot yourself / others on the cycle then you can find interventions that will modify their behaviour relative to where they are. So if you want to provoke contemplation for a weight loss regime you may want posters of tubby people versus a slim person, (often the same person), laying about. This plants a seed in their mind, 'what if'. Someone who needs help with maintenance would need a different form of intervention - maybe a study buddy, or training partner, as a poster would not be of value there.

Friday, January 07, 2011

What have the Red Baron, 'Mick' Mannock & Georges Guynemer all got in common ?

All 3 of the named pilots, in the title I give here, were elite pilots or 'aces'. They were all, therefore, highly skilled and survived as they knew and adhered to principles that kept them going in stressful circumstances.

BUT that is not what I am focusing on, for their common ground. Rather, they all died as they broke basic rules. Target fixation & flying in a straight-line too low to the ground:

"...Richthofen's behaviour after his injury was noted as consistent with brain-injured patients, and such an injury could account for his perceived lack of judgment on his final flight: flying too low over enemy territory and suffering target fixation.[48]
There is also the possibility that Richthofen was suffering from cumulative combat stress, which made him fail to observe some of his usual precautions. It is noteworthy that one of the leading British air aces, Major Edward "Mick" Mannock, was killed by ground fire on 26 July 1918 while crossing the lines at low level, an action he had always cautioned his younger pilots against. One of the most popular of the French air aces, Georges Guynemer, went missing on 11 September 1917, probably while attacking a two-seater without realizing several Fokkers were escorting it.[49][50]"

(Source: Wikipedia : accessed Jan 2011).

My point is ... if even these elite pilots get into trouble and break laws of 'the basics' then we will. It must be a question of probability that is the question here. Basic rules and skills, therefore, will probably be forgotten on some occasions no matter how expert you are.

(The Barons article is interesting. I accessed the Lancet to read the paper they mention. He had taken a bullet to the head the year before but still carried on. The sense of duty even when brain damaged increased his chances of being killed. He should not have been up in that plane at all. All of them should have been retired and passed on their skills not burned out like this). 

I chose pilots as an example, as I know the 'OODA loop' is being used from fighter pilot tactics as a way to think in self-defence. That is an ideal method to employ - but does not mean it can be implemented every time. The knowledge of that would increase  your chances, and chances involve probability. In other words luck can be involved in foiling that scheme or just bad judgement in it's deployment.