Don’t think feeeeeeeeeel – Bruce Lee
This has always been one of my favourite MA quotes. Most people seem to over-think during motor skill acquisition, often getting so wrapped up in the detail that they block their progression. From personal experience, in addition to what I have read and know from others, developing keen body awareness, or heightened kinaesthetic and proprioceptive perception, new motor skills can be more readily absorbed. Furthermore existing skills can be developed, but how should we go about developing this awareness. In the last post I mentioned how push hands develops sensitivity, but here I want to discuss other methods of developing kinaesthetic and proprioceptive perception that may help when learning motor skills.
A lot of time in karate and other Martial Arts is devoted to learning forms with emphasis often directed toward attaining perfect performance. Despite this aim, kata practice does not necessarily afford an ideal environment for developing kinaesthetic and proprioceptive perception, if too much time is spent thinking rather than feeling. For instance, on her blog Karatebarbie describes how kata performance is often little more than a race to the end! This clearly is not an environment facilitating the development of kinaesthetic and proprioceptive perception, and ironically it also fails in achieving correct form. She goes on to describe
“what kata was really meant to be about. My own kata was stiff and upright, a series of disparate movements, whilst hers seemed to rise and sink and flow. Each move showed the principle she was trying to achieve and you could actually visualise what she was doing to repel the attacks of her far larger opponent.”
Now, if you are going to spend such a long time perfecting kata surely it has to be better to perfect the underlying principles contained within, and express these rather than concentrating on the form per se. The trouble is a kata performance demonstrating loading, posting and explosive movement, for example, may very well do so at the expense of the stylised perfection. However, surely this trade off is more desirable than identikit pretty performance across a dojo population? Put another way, if a kata is teaching us something important, and if not why bother with it at all, then surely it is essential for this to be apparent in the kata performance even though the performance would be unique to an individual and perhaps a little untidy.
In addition, through practicing these principles as part of the kata performance they are being demonstrated and reinforced, forcing one to focus on reliably producing the movements and feeling them as the techniques are performed. So rather than superficially focussing on the detail of the action (i.e. hand/foot position), by focussing on the body actions required to drive the technique ones attention is naturally drawn deeper thereby allowing an awareness of how the body works. Personally, I really began to develop kinaesthetic and proprioceptive perception in this way through practising sanchin kata.
I initially came across Sanchin performance, different to the huffing and puffing version I was used to, through some of the instructors from the United Goju Forum, either at one of the Seminars or elsewhere. Steve Rowe of Shikon helped me improve kinaesthetic and proprioceptive perception through sanchin performance, combined with other methods. By working at being aware of how my body felt while rooted in sanchin stance and then when pulsing from the foot I was able to use this kata to develop this awareness. Further Steve encouraged the training of these concepts in everyday life. So, on the tube station stairways, during my journey home, I’d practise the pulsing as I bounced up the steps or being rooted on the tube trains or on the bus as the vehicle rocked about. Combining these methods helped immensely.
In a response to a letter, Steve Morris goes into great detail on how to develop kinaesthetic and proprioceptive perception through walking. He relates it to how he used to train horses; it’s a long piece but well worth the read. He describes, in detail a relatively easy method of developing full body awareness, although it does take time. Even by just exploring how the actions of the foot affect movement it is possible to begin to get a better understanding and awareness of movement. The beauty of this approach is that you can practise it everyday. This of course can then be developed and fed back into your kata performance, if you so desire.
Ultimately, all of this needs to be used in drills relavent to the desired outcome, if that is kata performance, you probably won’t win any medals. If it’s for the production of power you will get results as you develop the ability to feel or sense the power or potential power as you move. This can then transfer to skills useable in a fight, given correct training.