Get Out of Your Head

Get Out of Your Head

Building Martial Memroy

Martial Arts training is effective when it taps into the body’s ability to link memory to motion — or muscle memory. The more the medical, biological, psychological, and anthropological sciences learn about the human mind and memory, the more we realize that our brains are not computers in the way memory works.  Where computers utilize descriptions and dates to store isolated and static components of information or commands, humans use emotions.   Memory is grounded in situation, and allows humans to translate information into motion much faster than computer commands. 

Declarative Memory

No time for checklists! Just Move!

The first category — declarative memory — is where humanity falls short of computing’s recall abilities in speed and accuracy. This is the realm of grocery lists, addresses, and emails. Many martial arts instructors fall into the “if-then” trap of teaching. As declarative memory is closer to our analytical surface, it’s what we think of when we talk about memory. The temptation is to leave training to our declarative memory, and not dig deeper. “IF” there is a high attack, “THEN” use a high block. On its face, this is a fine statement.

However, “remember” that this area of memory is where we are weakest. When under attack, it takes far too long for declarative processes to: recognize a dangerous situation; confirm a threat; identify an attack; assess the attack; recall defense options; link defensive options to identified attack; choose the appropriate defensive option; and activate the appropriate defense technique. To be effective in martial arts, that entire sentence has to occur BEFORE the reality of the “IF.” If it seems impossible, don’t worry, it is

Implicit Memory

In human memory, our abilities are generally divided into two categories: explicit and implicit.  The second category — implicit memory — is where humanity excels beyond any computer.
Implicit memory is the realm of emotions, peripheral vision, feelings, reflexes, and autonomic responses. There is no “if” in this realm, rather a memory-triggered procedural response that unleashes your movements with blinding speed.
 Building muscle memory by repetition is one part of this category. Through exercises, you develop process memory and teach your body the “how” of movement (no “then”). In many ways, implicit memory has already given us all the raw material we need as martial artists. When a baseball is flying towards your head, you will likely react to dodge or brace yourself before you can even process the details of the “why.” If you see something out of the corner of your eye that startles you, adrenaline and immediate evasive motion occur as quickly as a blink. These responses are vital, and immediate. They effectively process an overwhelming amount of contextual, structural, and situational information, link this information to an immediate response, and initiate a physical action over an immense network of “you” faster than most computers open a program. This is the raw processing power of implicit memory.
In martial arts training, we seek to refine, improve, or strengthen the body’s procedural responses while providing the body a chance to update or expand the student’s implicit memory to include martial arts situations. Learning a “technique” or a “move” is useless if the mind cannot link what the body has learned to implicit procedural memory. Inversely, the most basic martial movements can be devastating through timing with the simplest linking to implicit memory. Effectiveness in this approach does not come from a list of things you learn and repeat. Rather, true power comes from instilling the procedures of martial movement in the students’ implicit memory.
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