Monday, May 23, 2016

Muscle Memory (Override)

I attended the MAPA 9 gathering recently, and I had a frustrating moment while I was working on one of the techniques being taught there.

Guro +David Beck was showing a variety of disarms off of a forehand and backhand strike, where you place the punyo (butt end) of the stick against the wrist and lever the opponent's stick out.

One of the disarms I'm talking about versus a backhand
I have done these disarms, and many like them, many times, so it wasn't exactly new material to me.

But for some reason, on the forehand, I ended up having to force myself to use the punyo rather than the tip on the disarm.   I'd practiced this so many times using the tip that I had the tip there on the back of the hand before I realized it was there.  That reaction of mine I've trained so much that it was now in muscle memory.

I had to slow it down big-time, and make the punyo lead, versus the tip, to do the disarm as we were being coached.  

I felt all clumsy and newbie-ish again, and it was annoying.

Training something so well that you don't have to think about it is a huge advantage in stressful or fluid situations.  That's what the concept of "muscle memory" is all about - knowing it so well that you don't have to give it conscious attention.

Most martial arts and martial artists have this concept.  We train certain techniques or concepts so much that we just don't think about it any more.

It almost always includes some type of footwork and range principle, and a core set of "things" to do that vary widely based on what kind of art it is (strikers, grapplers, kickers, and weapons based stuff like I do).

It turns out, blocking vs. a forehand and getting the tip of my weapon against the back of the hand (for a variety of different purposes) is now muscle memory for me, and I didn't even realize it.

Another name, of course, for muscle memory is habit.  It's my habit to block and place the tip against the back of the wrist for a disarm.  In order to override that habit, I had to slow things down so that my brain could catch up with my body.

Ain't that the truth.

In this case, while what I was doing is in no way wrong, it just prevented me from adding another good tool to my martial arts toolbox that's as easy to get as the one I've already trained into muscle memory.  There are good reasons to use a punyo on the disarm versus the tip.

So I have to decide if I want to override that muscle memory to use the tip vs. the punyo version of that disarm. If I do, I have to train it a lot, to overcome the habit I've already built.  I can make a case either way (and I'm still thinking on it, to be honest).

This process and consideration has to be made when people start cross training in different arts.  You may have something trained to the point of muscle memory from one art, but then you add on a different art and you discover that you'd like to do something from the new art instead.  So you have to train that new technique so much that it overrides the old one in muscle memory.

This is why I believe it's important to have a core, base art - any art you like - before you train a lot in other martial art styles.  In a stressful situation, you want to do something, anything, even if it isn't "optimal".  If you don't have enough practice, it won't be in muscle memory, and you'll have nothing in your toolbox ready to go when push comes to shove.

Knowing something so well you don't have to think about it is something that takes time, patience, and a ton of practice.  It can take years before you get enough practice in for something to become so well known you can do it without giving it too much conscious attention.

That's why you spend so much time doing things over and over and over, and there is no shortcut to this. Repetition makes habit.  You have to put in the time to make it so.

Tell me about a time where you realized you wanted to override something in your muscle memory.  What tips or tricks do you have to help something become a habit?  Let us know in the comments!