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When martial artists refer to “timing”, they are usually discussing anticipatory skills. Anticipation is the ability to predict outcomes of an action (largely external, for our purposes), plan an appropriate response, and initiate it with the correct timing relative to the external action. Numerous studies have shown that superior anticipation timing is indeed what sets expert practitioners apart from novice practitioners in a given activity. The person who can successfully anticipate the outcome of an opponent’s actions before they are completed, and then formulate and initiate a plan of their own response with the appropriate timing will be able to effectively counter an attack. But the important distinction in quoting this information is the context in which it is applicable. Two people facing each other for a match or duel-type fight have the following advantages:
In Random Training Note #6 , I noted that:
Evasion is: Perception + Agility.
To elaborate further, perception is cognitive processing of sensory input, and is crucial to both attack and defensive skills. Fast and accurate perception depends upon having a large vocabulary of relevant experiences for cognitive processes to compare to incoming sensory input. This perceptive processing may be consciously directed or below conscious thought. We have multiple systems of sensory input, yet much of martial arts training relies on only the visual realm. This may be fine for the optimal, controlled conditions of the average dojo/club etc. However, surprise attacks, or those involving multiple people will likely present other types of sensory input, such as tactile contact or acting on “bad feelings” about a situation or person. Visual perception will not help against threats that cannot be seen or on conditions that prevent clear sight. Learning to perceive and act upon these is a critical skill for fighting and self-defense.
It’s important to keep your eyes on a partner or opponent as you duck under a strike (see RTN 2 for more on ducking). If you bend too far forward at the waist and round the back, eye contact is lost, peripheral vision is diminished and the head is at greater exposure to being kneed from below or struck from above. A rounded back also inhibits the gluteal muscles, which are vital for driving forwards or stabilizing against pressure from the front. Keeping the eyes up means that the back will be closer to 45 degrees, and slightly extended as opposed to rounded.
If you or a student has a hard time keeping the eyes on the other person while ducking, this is a sign of weakness/imbalance in the muscles of the neck and upper and lower back. If you notice that someone starts to bend at the waist and round the back after a few reps of a ducking exercise, have him slow down the pace and decrease reps so that he can maintain eye contact and keep the back more upright, and begin him on a program to increase the strength of the neck and back. Asking training partners to tap the back of the head when it is exposed can provide a good physical cue that the eyes are dropping. Several exercises can help to improve strength and performance in these areas:
- Isometric neck strengthening and stabilization exercises. Standing or sitting with good posture, press your palm into your head with moderate pressure and keep the position of your head from changing. Do this against the forehead, temples, rear of the skull, under the chin and at angles. Hold for 20-30 seconds, 1-2 sets each direction. Incorporate 3-5 days per week. Use a mirror to ensure that you are not excessively protruding or retracting the chin throughout.
Upper and Lower Back
- Floor Cobras. Start with 3 sets of 3 repetitions 3-5 days per week.
- Ball Cobras. As the Floor Cobras can be done with stability and control, begin incorporating 3 sets of 3 repetitions 3 days per week.
- Back Extensions. Depending on how easy these are, incorporate 3 sets of 5-15, 3 days per week. Don’t swing- stop for a second at the top and at the bottom.
- Pull ups. Grip an overhead bar at shoulder width or slightly wider. Contract glutes and abs, squeeze the shoulder blades together, and pull your chin to the bar. Avoid jack knifing or bouncing to achieve the pull. If these are difficult or impossible for you, try squeezing the shoulder blades together so that your feet are lifted from the floor and hold for 20-30 seconds, or as long as you can maintain good form. As this improves, use a bench or jump up to get to chin height and hang in the top position for as long as good form can be maintained- shoot for 20 seconds. Lower yourself with as much control as possible, repeat. Start with low reps per set, increase as this improves, begin adding in full pull ups once you are capable. Some gyms have assisted pull up machines which can be helpful as well. Incorporate 3 days per week.
- And as always, stretch the hip flexors before conditioning and class time. If these muscles are tight and dominant, they will encourage excessive forward lean at the waist.
*As with everything else described on this blog, these suggestions assume that you are in good shape and do not have any back problems that would make these exercises unsafe. If you’re not sure, consult your doctor and enlist the services of a qualified fitness professional.
The terms “stress” and “fear” are often conflated when martial artists begin talking about real-world encounters and training experiences. The physiological and cognitive effects of both are different, and the methods for dealing with both are different. And they will be different across different people; one person’s stress might be another person’s trigger for a panic attack, something that puts one person into a full blown fear response might be moderately stressful to someone else.
Stress and fear are different:
We can retain rational thinking, higher cognitive functions and perform complex skills under stress. We can learn to control the effects of stress and become habituated to working under it’s effects.
Fear can override rational thinking, short-circuit higher cognitive functions and make even basic skills unreliable. We can not learn to reliably control the effects of fear.
Moderate to extreme stress may be encountered frequently in the training environment. The vast majority of people will never experience true fear in the training environment. Do not mistake controlled stress with uncontrolled fear.
Rory Miller’s Meditations on Violence is strongly recommended for useful observations and suggestions on recognizing and dealing with the effects of both.
Experiencing the failure of a technique is just as important as experiencing success of the technique. When failure is experienced, take the time to explore contingency options.
In the dojo, people often unintentionally manufacture success by creating optimal conditions for a technique- certain distancing, against a certain attack in a certain way, or unconscious complicity on the attacker’s part. Be aware of this tendency. Sometimes this is necessary in the initial stages of teaching or learning new techniques. Be up front about this fact with students and with yourself. Know when to take the “training wheels” off.