Almost every traditional martial art contains some form or kata designed to teach the fundamental movement patterns of the art. Wing Chun, known for it’s simplicity and economy of movement, has a modest three empty hand forms of increasing complexity(with three more forms incorporating wooden dummy, butterfly swords and pole). Shotokan Karate on the other hand has twenty six kata, each developing from the previous form. More contemporary arts, that eschew traditional forms, still use predetermined drills and sequences to create a solid foundation and understanding of the mechanics and principles. Even Jeet Kune Do, the punk rock of MA, prescribes systematic drills to establish movement.
Within these forms and drills are the seeds of balance, structure, alignment, spacial awareness, speed, timing, power and agility. Each form or drill is not a goal in itself, it is a stepping stone on the journey towards mastery.
I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand. – Confucius
We take movement for granted. For most of us, our days are linear, walking, sitting, driving, we move, unchallenged, in straight lines. Our bodies, predisposed to homeostasis, look for the shortest route between two points. Unchallenged, we atrophy. And it is not just muscles that become dormant, the neural connections in the brain get “pruned”, what we don’t use, we lose. Great for freeing up space on the hard drive but not so good if we delete the “drivers”. Conversely, as Neuroscientist Donald Hebb as says, “Neurons that fire together wire together.”
Of the many learning models available one that seems consistent comes from Fitts and Posner* who suggested that learning and mastery have three distinct components -
- Cognitive phase – Identification & development of the component parts of the skill – creating a mental picture of the skill
- Associative phase – Linking the component parts into a smooth action - practice and progression, using feedback to perfect the skill
- Autonomous phase – Developing the skill until becomes automatic – requiring little or no conscious thought whilst performing the skill – the holy grail of performance and flow state. Becoming the Movement…
Much has been written about the time and effort required to master a particular skill. The real pay off here is that by applying that same level of focus, attention and mindfulness we can embed these skills more efficiently as the “Neurons that fire together wire together.” We are laying down the connections that facilitate movement. So, as you approach the bar, pick up the kettlebell or simply perform a push up you can embody the movement, pay attention as you learn, develop, realisng that this is a skill, or you can switch off, zone out and wonder how some people make it all look so effortless and easy. Be the movement…
“Jeet Kune Do uses no way as way. The consciousness of self is the greatest hindrance to the proper execution of all physical action” – Bruce Lee
*FITTS, P.M. and POSNER, M.I. (1967) Human performance. Oxford, England: Brooks and Cole